Monday, 15 October 2018

SUPER HIGHWAY: Emerging Issues that cannot be Ignored —by Efio-Ita Nyok

15 October 2018
Mr Otu Bassey Okon, youth leader of Ikot Abasi Effiom standing on the path of the controversial Superhighway 

Development if not sincerely thought out and implemented can leave in its wake humanitarian crisis of varying proportions that will require enormous resources to tackle than would have been needed for the development itself.

The apparent pomp and pageantry with which the news of a super highway berthed almost three years ago in Cross River State at the inception of the administration of the Governor Ben Ayade-led Cross River State Government, left the atmosphere impregnated with hope —hope that the project would open new vistas of opportunities for socio-economic activities in the state.
Three years after, it appears that no one, not even the man who envisioned it, is talking about it anymore. Is the super highway now a closed chapter in the Prof. Ayade-led administration?

In this special report, NEGROIDHAVEN embarked on a fact finding visit to some communities in Akpabuyo local government area that fall on the super highway corridor, to assess the level of work progress and the impact of the project on the people of the area.
NEGROIDHAVEN first port of call was Ikot Ndarake village in Akpabuyo local government area of Cross River State. In the village, our vehicle hit the breaks at a spot which we were later told is the super highway corridor. But nothing in that place could give it out as a highway under construction, let alone a super highway! The whole portion of the supposed super highway is like a bed for sprawling shrubs in endless romance with overgrown bushes, waving at us as the zephyr lashes softly on them, while we stared in bewilderment.
An indigene of the community, Chief (Comrade) Ekpo Abasi, who spoke with NEGROIDHAVEN, said the super highway project has impacted negatively on the people, as their farm crops and buildings were destroyed with no compensation paid, even when the state government had pledged to pay for the damages.
While expressing sadness over government's insincere disposition to the project, he called on government to pay compensation to those whose means of livelihoods were destroyed.

His words: ''As you can see, this is the super highway we are standing. It has a negative impact on us because all our economic trees and some buildings that were up to the point of roofing were either damaged or the owners asked to stop work on it. There's nothing like compensation even after we did the valuation and enumeration the government asked us to do.

''So, as you can see, it's very bushy now. Nothing is going on here. Most of our people are farmers. They have lost most of their crops which were their economic mainstay. All we do hear is that when you go out to Calabar, you hear people saying super highway is going on, but we that are staying here, we've not seen anything. As you can see, the grasses are almost covering us. If you stand here, you can't see there because the grasses have grown too much.
''The message I have for government is that, whether they are ready to do the super highway or not, they should try as much as possible to make sure they pay those people whose means of livelihoods were destroyed''.
Village head of Ikot Ndarake 

Chief Comr Ekpo Bassey 

Mrs Arit Isaiah Edet husband to visually impaired Mr Isaiah Edet 

Visually impaired husband of Mrs Arit Isaiah Edet

Rev Elijah Okon Zion

Corroborating what the first speaker had said, another member of the community, Rev. Elijah Okon Zion, affirmed that the state government brought in Caterpillars to clear and destroy all their cash crops which were the main source of their livelihoods. He said even when government requested that members of the community should engage the services of valuers, at their own expense, to valuate the cost of damages to properties and crops, they complied, but only for government to reneged on its promise to pay compensation. The situation, according to him, has thrown so many people into frustration, saying some had lost their lives because of shock and heart attack.
''We have a lot of problem since they started this project. Unexpectedly, we saw caterpillars and workers entering the village and started clearing our crops. Most of us rely on the crops. Our lives depend on the crops. All this compound was filled with crops -cassava, pumpkin and plantain. The governor promised that he would pay for the crops, but since then we have not heard any information about the super highway and no compensation has been paid. There is no sign to show they are going to do the work. The grasses are now growing and covering everywhere.'', Rev. Zion stated.

At our arrival in Ikot Okpo-Ene village, we were quickly greeted by sad faces of complaining youths, who initially thought us to be government officials concerned with the super highway project. It was not until we introduced ourselves as journalists on fact finding visit before we had friendly reception and conversation with the youths. This has gone to show how disappointed and furious people of this community are over government's neglect of the super highway project and the resultant hardship it has occasioned here.

Speaking, the community youth leader, Mr Edet Etim Okon, said from the way the state government was going about the project and the issue of compensation, he knew that the whole thing was a scam and one that would not see the light of the day. He said what the government ought to have done was to pay compensation to those whose properties were affected before moving in to destroy people's sources of living. The youth leader stated that the action of government has brought untold hardship on his community, maintaining that farming is their only occupation. Mr Okon however advised government to forget about the project since it is already obvious it lacks the capacity to execute a project of such magnitude, saying government should instead redirect its effort at maintaining the existing roads. He concluded with a passionate appeal for government to ensure that the community is adequately compensated for the damages arising from the super highway project.
He said: ''About the super highway, I knew this thing won't work because government was supposed to pay people before moving in to destroy their properties. But instead, they came and bulldozed everything and left. It's been two years now, nothing has been heard. To me, I will advise the government to leave the super highway because as I'm seeing it, it doesn't have the capacity for a project of this magnitude. Government should rather focus on maintaining the existing roads.''
Also from the same community, an elderly man, Mr Nna Edem Akpan, decried government's attitude toward their plight. He blamed the state government for the current suffering in his community, adding that the destruction of their homes and means of livelihoods caused by the super highway project has led to the displacement and relocation of some members of the community. The situation, he said, has made the community to become vulnerable to robbery attacks.
''The super highway has taken all we depended on to care for our families. When they came, they said we were going to be compensated for the loss of our farmlands, crops and buildings, but since then nothing has been done. Our houses have been affected; there's nothing left for us to live on. Many of us have relocated since there are no more houses for them to stay. There's no means of survival here anymore.
''Because of this super highway, our community has become vulnerable to robbery attacks. The little we have left are taken away by robbers since people are not here to watch over the community due to relocation.'', Mr Akpan lamented woefully.
From one community to another, tales of woe continue to trail the super highway project. From all indications, it seemed life has been anything but normal for people of these communities until the caterpillars and excavators hummed and panted their ways through this idyllic and sleepy countryside to deal treacherous developmental blows on their livelihood, with its repercussions quite conspicuous and far reaching.
When NEGROIDHAVEN visited the residence of the village head, Ikot Abasi Effiom, His Highness, Chief Silver Bassey Effiom Duke, he was glad that our visit had something to do with the super highway project, as he then ushered us into the village council hall, which was just a stone throw from his residence.
Addressing NEGROIDHAVEN, chief Duke said the community is not happy with the way government is going about the project. He said apart from the desecration of his community, such as destruction of cemetery, shrine, streams and farmlands, the government took away sources of livelihoods of many members of the community which cannot be quantified in monetary terms.

The village head stated that government has put the people in a state of dilemma, and that they are at a point where they do not know what to do as their lands had been taken for the super highway project which has been abandoned. He expressed dismay over the enormous loss and damages the community suffered, while government on its part has refused to compensate them.

Hear him: ''Concerning the super highway of a thing, we are not happy. For the past three years we 've been suffering. In my community, we have a blind man who had a palm estate. It was cleared. There is also an 86 year old man who had a palm kernel estate. Everything was bulldozed off. So we are not happy. We don't know what the government is doing. Along that side, people had plots of land there which were taken and graded.
''Our problem now is that, is the government still going to do the super highway or not so that people can know what to do. Even now, if they say they are not continuing, nobody can use those lands again because the trees have been cut off. It's a shame for government to play with people's lives. We in Akpabuyo we depend on our farms. So when you come and take that from us... You can see for yourselves. What does the government want us to live on? How do we send our children to school? What do we eat?'', Chief Duke queried.

However, for the youth leader, Ikot Abasi Effiom, Mr Otu Bassey Okon, it is high time the federal government and the international community step in to prevail on the Cross River State government to pay compensation for the damages done to people's means of livelihoods. He said issues arising from the super highway project have dealt serious blow on people's confidence in the Prof. Ben Ayade's administration.
Also, a 54 year old wife of a visually impaired man, Mrs Arit Isaiah Edet, from Ikot Abasi Effiom, who spoke with NEGROIDHAVEN, lamented bitterly over the loss of her husband's palm estate to super highway. She said instead of the project becoming a blessing, it has become a curse to her and the family, as it has visited abject poverty upon them. She pleaded that government should compensate them for the losses.
Her words: ''I am Mrs Arit Isaiah Edet. The super highway has affected us so much because large portion of our land has been taken. Our economic crops had been damaged, leaving us with nothing to live on. My husband is visually impaired. There's nothing he can do for himself. His palm plantation which was our only source of income had been bulldozed, leaving us completely helpless. I have seven children. I cannot feed or even pay their school fees.
''The small portion of land left is what I am using now to plant waterleaf, cassava and water yam. But this is barely enough for me and my family. Even the business I used to do has collapsed because there is no more money from my farm produce to augment it.''
In his submission, the village head of Ikot Okpo-Ene, Akpabuyo local government area, His Highness, High Chief Emmanuel E. Okon, who later spoke when NEGROIDHAVEN visited him at his residence, maintained that he is not against the super highway project, saying what he and his community demand is that government should do the right thing. He said government should adhere strictly to the 23 conditions contained in the provisional approval of the super highway project.

Reading from a document which he then made available to NEGROIDHAVEN, Chief Emmanuel Okon said: ''Cross River State government shall ensure that the initial land clearing of the road corridor that was carried out without due inventory of the third party properties/farmlands is revisited to adequately compensate the project affected persons(PAPS) in line with national and international standards of practice on resettlement and restoration plans. This shall be done prior to project commencement.''
Based on the information gathered in the course of this investigative report, it can be evidently concluded that the super highway project initiated by the Prof. Ben Ayade's adminsitration about three years ago has become a problem of its own as people in communities which the highway corridors pass are reeling in pains occasioned by the destruction of their properties and means of livelihoods without any form of compensation from the state government.

Efio-Ita Nyok
Blogger-in-Chief, Editor-in-Chief & Publisher of NegroidHaven

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