Communities in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State are demanding compensation for the destruction of their economic assets by the construction of the 275km Super Highway, Bassey Inyang writes
It is about two years now since the Cross River State Government flagged-off the construction of a 275 kilometre Super Highway from Bakassi Local Government Area in the south to the extremities of the northern part of the state.
During the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the road, the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, said the construction of the road would be done simultaneously with the construction of a proposed Bakassi Deep Seaport.
Ayade stated that both projects were designed to open up the state for commerce and industrial activities as well as open-up the hinterland for the economic prosperity of the contiguous communities to both projects.
He has envisaged that the super highway and the deep seaport would be completed in record time because a lot of investors were already falling over themselves as prospective investors in the projects.
But two years after, not much has been done about the construction of the projects, except the initial de-bushing of the track where the 275 kilometres of asphalted road would run through.
Much of the track that was initially cleared has long been overgrown by trees and shrubs due to over two years of inactivates.
Residents of communities where the tracks were cleared complain that for upward of two years, they have suffered untold hardship, and in some instances, some of their people have died having lost their means of livelihood due to the destruction of their farms, economic trees, and in some instances their residential houses that have been exposed to erosion, and elements of the weather, without any form of compensation from the state government.
Three communities in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State, along the route of the proposed 275 kilometres Super Highway, lamented recently, that that has been their fate since the state government initiated both projects.
At a press conference addressed recently at Ikot Ndarake, Akpabuyo, the communities namely Ikot Okpo Ene, Ikot Ndarake, and Ikot Abasi Efiom, lamented that the mode of implementation of the road project in the last two years has brought untold hardship to the people, as their means of livelihood have been completely destroyed.
The communities raised the alarm against the backdrop of what they described as resumed clearing of site on the proposed super highway around the Akpabuyo axis without the fulfillment of twenty-three given to the state by the Federal Ministry of Environment, and the non approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the implementation of the project.
Community Head of Ikot Okpo Ene, Chief Emmanuel Okon; who addressed journalists through a prepared text he jointly signed with the village head of Ikot Ndarake, Chief Bassey Effanga Okon; and Village Head of Ikot Abasi Effiom, Chief Silver Effiom Duke; said since two years ago when bulldozers, and other machines were rolled into their communities to clear farmlands, and some economic trees nothing more has taken place, neither have they been paid any form of compensation for the destruction of their means of livelihood.
â€œOn the 30th of October 2015 the President of Nigeria performed the groundbreaking ceremony to commence the construction of a Super Highway from Bakassi to Obanliku in Cross River State. Without delay the Government of Cross River State mobilised machines to our communities in Akpabuyo and began clearing of farms, and economic trees which are the major income base of the community. This was done on the 6th January 2016 without consultation with the community Chiefs or owners of the farms. No inventory was taken by government of the number of plants and crops destroyed, rather individuals took up the task of carrying out inventory which cost them so much money to hire estate valuers thus adding more burden to the community members. Till this moment, no plan has been made by the State Government to pay compensation to affected communities and individuals.
â€œWith the clearing of the standing trees around our houses, the roofs of houses have been pulled down by wind storm. There are no trees any longer in our communities to serve as windbreakers and erosion sites are beginning to emerge around the communities
â€œThe sources of livelihood of our people especially women have been destroyed, people including women and children now resort to begging for survival. There are recorded higher incidents of youthâ€™s restiveness and crime due to idleness and lack of reasonable sources of income. This untold hardship has quickened the step of many to their graves. There is increase in the number of school dropouts. There are recorded cases of children withdrawn from school by parents because they are no longer able to pay their fees. We have suffered severe infringement on our right to living by the destruction of sources of livelihood.
â€œWe see this project shrouded with deceit and illegality as anti people, it has come to impoverish and enslave community people and plunge Cross State into perpetual poverty and indebtedness, and so should not be allowed to continue.
â€œThe government should be compelled to pay compensation to communities and individuals affected by the bulldozing already carried out.
â€œThe government should embark on massive regeneration of the cleared land, reconstruct houses destroyed by wind storm as a result of the cutting down of the trees that hitherto protected the houses from windstorm.
â€œThe status of the EIA after the expiration of the two weeks deadline for compliance to 23 conditions should be made public,â€ the spokesman of the community said.
In the views of the communities, the resources so far budgeted for the construction of the super highway, and the deep seaport should rather be channeled to other viable projects that would benefit the people, just as they advised the state government to seek other alternatives at bringing development to the people.
â€œThe presidency should withdraw commitment to support the super highway project through any of her agencies.
â€œThe Government of Cross River State should liaise with NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) and other relevant federal government agencies or international partners to provide support for our agricultural ventures introducing less expensive agricultural processing methods like the renewable energy agricultural processing equipments.
â€œIt is our conviction that if the Government of Cross River State goes back to the drawing board with adequate consultation with all stakeholders, far less than N200 billion will be needed to turn Cross River State around touching all facets of development- road, water, electricity, education, health, agriculture, security and others,â€ Okon said.
Aside from the community leaders, some members of the communities lamented that they have suffered serious losses since the government moved in machines into their communities for the purpose of constructing both projects.
Some individuals from the three communities in Akpabuyo also spoke about their experiences.
An elderly blind man, Isiah Edet Etefia, about 80 years old, from Ikot Abasi Effiom, lamented that since the machines were moved into the community, all he had to survive have been destroyed, without any compensation paid to him or any members of his family.
Speaking through an interpreter in his native Efik Language, he said the oil palm plantation, cassava farm, plantain plantation, which he used to raise funds, and food to fend for his entire household had long been destroyed.
Etefia said since no compensation was paid, he now survives as a destitute, depending on handouts from those sympathetic to his condition. Etefia appealed to the state government to pay compensation to him for his economic trees and farms destroyed about two years ago.
It is alleged that a Bethel of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star in Ikot Abasi Effiom, was not spared the ordeal caused by the bulldozers. A missionary in charge of the Bethel, and Christ Ambassador of the BCS, Nazario John Nazarien, spoke about the demolition of a section of the premises of the church, and the destruction of his economy when the machines were rolled in.
He said the land on which the Bethel is located was acquired on lease for 99 years, and was fenced with economic trees, while inside the premises, he had established a farm to support himself, and his family. The missionary, however, said about two years ago after the state government announced the construction of the road, tractors were brought in to demolish the fence, and the farmlands he had laboured to establish. He lamented that compensation has neither been paid to the BCS nor for the farms that was destroyed. Almost in tears, Nazarien, who is a family man with children, disclosed that the cassava, plantain, and other crops he cultivated as a means of keeping the economy of the family alive have been completely destroyed.
He appealed to the state government to come to his aid by paying compensation for the property of the church, and the farms that were destroyed.
From Ikot Ndarake, it was the same tales of woe from Deaconess Ikwo Offiong Okon, a widow, who said her children have been out of school for sometimes now due to the loss of her means of livelihood to the destruction of the farms she was relying on to feed her family, and sponsor her childrenâ€™s education.
Ikwo story was not different from others, except that she said members of her family have been left to survive on the mercy of good Samaritans.
Also Okon James, from Ikot Ndarake, narrates similar experience, and called for the payment of compensation to him, so his children can return to school.
From Ikot Abasi Asikpo, Etim Orok Edem Ndarake, the story was not different. Ndarake said they need their means of livelihood back through the payment of compensation. Ndarake said at the moment, his house cleared of the surrounding vegetation has been exposed to the elements of weather.
The state Commissioner for Lands, Dr. John Ofem Inyang, reacted to some of the issues raised by the communities.
The commissioner said the state government was doing a lot to ensure that compensation was paid to the affected communities.
â€œIt is rather unfortunate that at a critical time like this where the state government has done much of what it is supposed to do to bring development to Cross River State and some people who do not wish us well are raising issues that will take them nowhere.
â€œNow we are into financial computation such that the final copy will be presented to His Excellency for disbursement. So, there was no time we said we are not going to pay, and there was no time we said we will start work without capturing the necessary data as it affects the people. All these, we have.
â€œBut there are people now who are thinking that we have come down to the narrow space of 70 metres, they may be counted out so, letâ€™s see how we can make noise,â€ the commissioner said.
Ofem said communities from Bakassi to Gakem where the super highway would traverse would be adequately compensated.
â€œThey should be patient, nobody has been paid yet. If they are patient we will pay. Why are we compiling if we will not pay? Whatever agitations they are putting up, you know this de-bushing was done a year ago and they were with us,â€ he said.
The commissioner disclosed that the 23 conditions for the final approval of EIA, given to the state by the federal government were met within the two weeks deadline.