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In Nigeria, a highway threatens community and conservation interests

09 / 07 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

OKUNI, Nigeria — The bulldozers returned to the forests of Cross River state in southeastern Nigeria in January. Their metal blades resumed tearing down rainforest, rubber and cocoa plantations, homes and farms to make way for a six-lane superhighway, dispossessing thousands of villagers and threatening precious habitat for endangered species along the route. The original route, proposed by Cross River Governor Ben Ayade in 2015, would have slashed more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) through intact forest. Half of this length was to have run through a national park sheltering the critically endangered Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli); the proposal claimed an astonishing 20–kilometer (12-mile) buffer on either side of the route. The original superhighway route would have run through 115 kilometers (71 miles) of forest inside the national park and nearby community-controlled forests. Map courtesy of WCS Environmentalists, NGOs and local communities have fiercely resisted the project, launching a series of legal challenges and numerous petitions to state and national authorities. Environmental impact assessments for the project have been rejected three times by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment for failing to meet required standards; the assessments have been found to be comprehensively inadequate — missing baseline data, engineering specifications, and required environmental safeguards — as well as failing to properly consult affected communities. In July 2017, the ministry mandated the state government to reduce the buffer to 70 meters (230 feet), and to reroute the road away from the boundaries of the national park and community forests, among…

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