Conservation researcher Hazel Chapman weighs in on worrying developments in the mega-diversity nation of Nigeria.
A Litany of Problems
Chaos is reigning in Nigeria. And the nation's remarkable environments have never been more imperiled.
Nigeria’s new, proactive, and efficient Minister of the Environment, Amina J. Mohammed, faces enormous challenges.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with over 170 million people and a staggeringly high population growth rate of 3.3 percent per year.
Corruption is endemic. The national currency, the naira, has recently dropped by 20% in value, and oil revenues have plummeted.
Boko Haram insurgencies in the North have led to the displacement of millions of people and there are growing conflicts between farmers and nomadic Fulani pastoralists.
And on top of all this, the potential effects of climate change appear dire.
No wonder, then, that it is tempting to raise income by exploiting the nation's natural resources.
President Muhammadu Buhari obviously wants to improve Nigeria’s economy. To do this he has proposed several initiatives around road building and dams which, while laudable in their intent, would have potentially disastrous environmental consequences.
One of the most worrying is a new high-tech, six-lane, 260 kilometer-long superhighway that would slice through Cross River State, connecting a shallow water port -- that has yet to be built -- near Calabar with a small town in middle Nigeria’s Benue State.
Cross River State, home to Cross River National Park, harbors half of Nigeria's remaining tropical rainforest and is home to sixteen primate species, many of which are rare and imperiled.
In addition, Cross River State is home to the Ekuri People, who depend on the forests for their livelihoods.
The highway is being championed by the newly elected Governor of Cross River State, Senator Ben Ayade. He and President Buhari formally initiated the project with a grand ceremony in October, 2015.
However, there was no adequate Environmental Impact Report -- and in the face of huge national and international opposition, construction of the highway was theoretically put on hold.
In reality, however, the only concession Senator Ayade has made is to reroute the road just outside the National Park -- but cutting through community forests and still with a remit to destroy 10 kilometers of forest on either side of the road.
Already tens of millions of trees have been bulldozed, and to my knowledge this is still ongoing.
Minister for the Environment
Thanks to the integrity of Environment Minister Amina Mohammed there is now a ban on continued bulldozing until an accurate Environmental Impact Report is produced by the Cross River State Government.
Alarmingly, however, the State is not obliged to listen to Federal advice. In the words of Amina Mohammed, “You can take a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it”.
The Cross River superhighway is the most worrying threat to Nigeria's diverse environments. International pressure is vital to support the Environment Minister and halt this disaster in the making.