WCS helped communities successfully re-route a superhighway

WCS helped communities successfully re-route a superhighway


WCS worked with local communities, Nigerian authorities and international groups to persuade the Cross River State government to re-route a proposed superhighway so that it no longer jeopardizes the wellbeing and cultural identity of local people, nor threatens biodiversity. By successfully re-routing the proposed superhighway, local communities with the help of civil society organizations secured the traditional lands of 180 villages and critical habitat for Cross River gorillas and other endangered wildlife. By narrowing the right-of-way from 20 kilometers to 100 meters wide, communities minimized the risk that land speculation and anarchic colonization not directly linked to highway construction and operation would degrade community lands and destroy wildlife habitat.


In 2015, the Governor of Nigeria’s Cross River State announced plans for the construction of a six-lane 260-kilometer-long superhighway, which would traverse Cross River State from north to south, terminating at a planned new seaport near the city of Calabar and its free trade zone. The proposal for the highway also included a right-of-way that extended for ten kilometers on either side, covering approximately 5,200 square kilometers, or about a quarter of the area of the entire state. The proposed route of the highway, including its unprecedented right-of-way, threatened the existence of 180 traditional communities, whose land rights were unilaterally revoked by the Cross River State government in January 2016, as part of the preparations for building the highway. The highway also would cut through five globally important protected areas (Cross River National Park, Ukpon River Forest Reserve, Cross River South Forest Reserve, the Afi River Forest Reserve and the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary). These national and state parks and reserves constitute the last remaining habitat patches for critically endangered Cross River gorillas, Preuss’s red colobus monkey, and slender-snouted crocodiles, as well important refuges for endangered chimpanzees, drills, pangolins and grey parrots, as well as vulnerable species like forest elephants. For WCS and for the critically endangered wildlife of the Cross River landscape the Ekuri people have been vital allies for conservation, because in vocally and physically defending their livelihoods and their cultural identity, they are the essential local voices advocating for protecting the ecological intactness of their forest. Interestingly, the Ekuri initially supported the idea of the highway, because they were told it would provide opportunities to improve their wellbeing by offering durable employment for their children and better access to urban markets, and health and education services. However, when they learned that the plans for the highway included the wholesale clearing of the forest, and the displacement of the people who lived there for the benefit of powerful political and corporate interests, they became leaders of what was to become a growing powerful grassroots opposition to the proposed highway. To their great credit, Nigerian authorities responded positively to the combination of international concern and grassroots pressure. Following the federal government’s refusal to approve a flawed draft EIA, the state government announced in February 2017 that it would reduce the right-of-way from 10 kilometers on either side of the road to 100 meters, which is the standard right-of-way under Nigerian law. This would reduce the risk of displacing local people, as well as the opportunity for land speculation. In March, it announced it would also re-route the highway to avoid important protected areas and community lands. This coalition has shown that a combination of courageous local community action with the support of international civil society can influence government driven infrastructure develop. Together we encourage governments and their financial backers to promote infrastructure develop that: a) complies with international protocols such as IFC Performance Standards 1-8, and b) mandates the transparent and publically accountable implementation of Environmental and Social Impact Assessments and Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) for all infrastructure projects.


Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: To avoid the proposed Cross River superhighway from becoming another economically pointless, despoiler of culture and nature, the international environmental community, led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wildlife Fund, were able to coordinate with grassroots resistance led by the Ekuri Community, and the NGO Coalition for Environment, as well as national organizations, including the Wise Administration of Terrestrial Environment and Resources (WATER) and the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre to present a unified voice, advocating against the current design for the superhighway. This coalition pressured the government and donors to hold off on “green lighting” the project before the receipt and approval of a satisfactory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and thorough consultation with all stakeholders. WCS and the coalition will continue to encourage the development of an appropriate EIA, while advocating for thorough and continued stakeholder consultation. If the state government and highway developers stay true to the revised plans, we will have gone a long way toward averting disaster for communities like the Ekuri and for wildlife that cannot speak for themselves.

Rights IconRIGHTS: In 1997 the Ekuri people won an exceedingly hard fought battle with the state to formally recognize their rights to 33,600 hectares of forest of which over 90% is intact. Since then they have continued to manage their lands and resources sustainably following a community designed and enforced forest management plan. Today they now sustain their heritage in just two remaining villages and continue to live by farming, hunting and gathering forest products. Some like bush mango, gnetum leaves, rattan and garcinia chewing sticks are head-carried for 6 hours to sell at the nearest market. In 2004 their tenacious defense of their forest territory in the face of under-the-table inducements, political pressure and physical intimidation by commercial loggers, was recognized by the international community by their selection as a UN Equator Prize winnner.

Wellbeing IconWELL-BEING: Road development is a complex issue. If done well it can connect people to markets and increase their access to health and education services, reduce the cost of trade and effectively shorten value chains, whilst minimizing adverse impacts on waterways, flood regimes, forests and grasslands. Sadly, most infrastructure projects are not guided by lofty ideals of improving citizen wellbeing and avoiding environmental loses. Rather, they are driven by the enormous profits some firms and individuals can capture through lucrative, often inflated, contracts to design, build and maintain roads, railways and canals. Across the world, roads are often built at huge environmental cost, providing no tangible benefit to local families, and at best allowing the easy export of raw commodities that add to the profits of international private sector companies but contribute little to the long-term wellbeing of a nation.


Ekuri women protesting against the Cross River State Superhighway-Martins Egot Ekuri initiative
©WCS Nigeria

EIA review meeting with the Fed Min of Envir of Nigeria and the Cross River State Govt in Calabar
©WCS Nigeria

USE - 53 Imong a view of the Mbe forest
©WCS Nigeria

logging near Afi
©WCS Nigeria

Superhighway-Map (September 2016)

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