A planned road construction by the Cross River State government across the Calabar National Park has pitched the state against the federal government.
Gov. Ben Ayade recently unveiled the plan to construct a super highway from Calabar to Obudu via Ikom, linking a new ‘seaport’ in Calabar.
The road will cut right through the middle of the Oban Division of Cross River National Park, a proposed World Heritage Site and the richest site in Nigeria for biodiversity and indeed one of the richest sites in Africa.
Daily Trust recalls that on assumption of office, one of the first actions of the governor was to sack the management of the state forestry commission and open the forest up for exploitation, an act widely criticised by stakeholders.
Created in 1991, the Oban Division of Cross River National Park where the super highway is expected to pass through covers an area of around 3,000km2 of lowland rainforest – the largest area of closed-canopy rainforest in Nigeria and contiguous with Korup National Park in Cameroon.
Oban is an important watershed with hills rising above 500m and one peak reaching approximately 1,000m. The Oban Hills once formed part of one of the lowland rain forest refuge during the last glacial period, today the area is a center of species richness and endemic particularly for primates, amphibians, butterflies, fish and small mammals.
Oban is an internationally recognized biodiversity hotspot and contains a number of important species such as the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee Pan troglodytes ellioti, the drill Mandrillus leucophaeus, Preuss’s red colobus monkey Procolobus preussi, leopard Panthera pardus, forest elephant Loxodonta cyclotis and the grey-necked Picathartes or rockfowl Picathartes oreas.
Already, the park is facing the threats of widespread hunting and as a result the density of all large mammal species is very low. Illegal logging is also a major problem despite a state-wide ban on logging, with timber often floated out of the park along major rivers.
Reacting to the development, Alhaji Haruna Tanko Abubakar, Conservator General National Park Service said that the service will resist the attempt to destroy the park.
“The park is on the exclusive list and therefore owned and managed by the federal government but Cross River State is the host so the government cannot just destroy what took several years of painstaking efforts and public fund to establish,” he said.
He said that already, the park was seeking an audience with the state governor to discuss the issue.
“The park is a national heritage and it won’t be good to watch such facility being destroyed for no reason,” he added.
Daily Trust check at the Environmental Impact Assessment Department of the Federal Ministry of Environment to ascertain if the Cross River State government has obtained the EIA for the project proved abortive as the director said he needed time to search the department system to see if any application came in regard to the proposed road project.
Daily Trust also observed that following public outcry, the state government claimed it was not aware that the proposed road traverses the National Park and appear willing to consider alternative routes that will preserve the integrity of the park.