A highly controversial super highway construction in southeastern Nigeria is no longer a threat. The Nigerian Super Highway at Cross River National Park was finally buried after widespread protests and environmental campaigns. The massive construction, which would cause irreversible damage to the biodiverse-rich rainforest ecosystem. Not only is Cross River National Park the largest and one of the last remaining rainforest ecosystems in Nigeria, but it’s also part of a biodiversity hotspot in Africa. It’s easy to see why the Nigerian super highway could bring some disastrous consequences.
Fortunately, after facing much criticism, the local government decided to finally put the ambitions to rest. The super highway project, which would have destroyed hundreds of miles of tropical rainforest, is no longer an issue. It also posed a major threat to the local population, as it would have displaced thousands of villagers. But thanks to the efforts from the Ekuri people along with environmental campaigns from all over the world, this story is over. That being said, while the super highway won’t haunt the rainforest anymore, deforestation is still a problem in Nigeria.
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Cross River National Park
Located in Cross River State, southeastern Nigeria, Cross River National Park has a total area of 1,544 square miles. It was initially proposed in 1965, but only established in 1991. The park consists of two separate areas, split by a valley and farmland. Cross River National Park is home to a biodiverse ecosystem, consisting of over 1,500 plant species, 350 bird, 75 mammal and 42 snake species. While its area consists mostly of untouched rainforest, its margins have already been affected by deforestation and other damaging activities. Deforesting, logging and poaching continue to threaten the park.
The Cross River National Park rainforest is among the oldest in Africa. It is also one of the last remaining rainforest areas in Nigeria. Most important, the park is home to several endangered and critically endangered species. The Sclater’s guenon and the common chimpanzee are among the endangered species. Critically endangered species include the African forest elephant, the Preuss’s red colobus and the Cross River gorilla. Chosen as the theme animal for the park, the Cross River gorilla is considered the world’s rarest great ape. Its habitat destruction, combined with poaching, led to an enormous decline in the population. Researchers estimate that roughly 250 Cross River gorillas remain.
The Nigerian Superhighway: An Enormous Environmental Threat
Back in 2015, Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade announced the plans to build the Nigerian super highway. It was a titanic project, the highway costing an estimated $2.6 billion. The six-lane super highway would be 261,5 km (162.5 mile) long and 20 km (12.4 mile) wide. To put it simply, the construction would have absolutely decimated an enormous area (over 5000 km2) of rainforest. The situation became even worse considering that the super highway would slash right through Cross River National Park. Specialists also pointed out that the super highway itself would hardly be the only problem. Its construction would essentially open a Pandora’s box.
Aside from the deforestation and its immediate impact, the super highway brought along other concerns. Specialists considered that it would invite other illegal activities, such as logging and poaching. Its construction would also displace around 50,000 people, turning the super highway into an environmental and social disaster.
But the swift action from activists and the local communities prevented it from happening. The Ekuri community in particular played a very important role in stopping the construction. After making a stand to stop the bulldozers, it worked closely with NGOs and activists. In 2017, the Nigerian super highway changed its course. Instead of cutting right through the Cross River National Park, it shifted to the west. However, the newly-proposed course would also destroy a relatively large forest area. Four years later, the super highway project was finally buried once and for all.
Deforestation in Nigeria
It’s worth pointing out that deforestation remains a major problem in Nigeria. While the campaign to stop the super highway construction was successful, it’s the first step in a long road. Illegal logging, farming, poaching and the indiscriminate use of chemicals continue to threaten the remaining rainforest areas in Nigeria. Just over a decade ago, the country had the highest deforestation rate in the world. Estimates point out that Nigeria has lost 96% of its forest cover. Nigeria is among the most biodiverse countries in the world, with well over 6,500 different species. The current deforestation rate in Nigeria is 3.5%, equivalent to 350,000 to 400,000 hectares per year.
Efforts are already in place to solve this problem. Deforestation in Nigeria is largely driven by the need for fuel wood. Alternative energy production methods are a good option. Working alongside the local communities is another viable solution. The Ekuri community played a very important role in stopping the super highway construction. Considering how local communities rely on the rainforest for their subsistence, preserving the environment is extremely important for them as well.
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