WILL THE AX FALL ON NIGERIA’S NATIONAL PARKS?

Nov 3, 2016 by

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A road winds through the mountains in Cross River State in southeastern Nigeria. Credit Christopher Scott/Gallo Images, via Gety Images

One such community, the Ekuri, has received international praise for its forest stewardship through a program called the Ekuri Initiative, created in the 1980s as a response to the threat of logging. Many observers have speculated that the planned superhighway’s broad corridor is intended to maximize its value for logging. Once again concerned about prevent the destruction of their forests, the Ekuri people have taken their campaign all the way to Abuja with a petition of some quarter of a million signatures.

Opponents argue that these rural minorities and their international supporters are selfishly standing in the way of Nigeria’s growth. Governments everywhere do, of course, use eminent domain to push ahead with major developments, but such projects usually require thorough public consultation and justification, as well as compensation for affected individuals. Neither has been forthcoming in the Cross River case.

Governor Ayade claims the highway and seaport will open up the region for iron ore exports and create thousands of jobs. But the acclaimed long-term benefits of the scheme seem even more dubious when you see, as I have, the way the state’s existing highways are allowed to crumble once built. And despite a recent report that a Chinese manufacturer of heavy-duty machinery has joined the project as an investor, it is unclear how the full $3.5 billion project would be funded or maintained. Nigerian taxpayers have been kept largely in the dark.

What is certain is that the Cross River superhighway would cause irreparable harm to Nigeria’s last remaining rain forests, some of Africa’s oldest.

Even if it were rerouted around the national park, the road would open up a number of protected areas to increased logging, farming and hunting. This would threaten already endangered populations of chimpanzees, red colobus monkeys, forest elephants, slender-snouted crocodiles and pangolins, as well as the Cross River gorillas. And the development would inevitably cause damage to important watersheds and carbon sinks.

If the promised trade and investment do not materialize, however, there will be little for Cross River to fall back on. It is hard to imagine that the prospect for eco-tourism will be enhanced if a quarter of the state has been clear-cut for the construction of one road.

Instead of building up a wildlife tourism industry that can provide sustainable economic growth, the state may end up with barren lands and nothing to show for it. Nigeria’s federal government still intends to submit its World Heritage application — but with bulldozers at the ready, will Cross River still have a national park worthy of the honor?

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