Nigeria: “superhighway” project through the rainforest stopped!

Rainforest in Nigeria Afi Mountain rainforest (© Mathias Rittgerott)

Jan 5, 2021

The construction of a “superhighway” to nowhere that would have slashed through one of Nigeria’s last rainforests has been stopped once and for all. Rainforest Rescue and other environmental organizations had campaigned against the plan since 2016 – with success! The state government has now finally buried the controversial project.

Cross River Governor Ben Ayade originally wanted to build a four-lane highway through Cross River National Park and the protected forest of the indigenous Ekuri people. A stretch of land 260 kilometers long and no less than 20 kilometers wide was to be expropriated and the inhabitants of 185 villages displaced.

From the outset, massive protests led by the Ekuri dogged the project, which would have slashed through the forest habitat of chimpanzees, gorillas and forest elephants and violated the rights of the local people. Critics warned that the highway project was merely a convenient way to open the previously inaccessible forest to loggers and plantation companies.

Rainforest Rescue was engaged in the resistance against the superhighway by raising funds for several organizations on the ground. 459,621 friends of the rainforest signed our petition. Time and again, protests prevented the construction work from continuing.

Governor Ben Ayade has now officially buried the vanity project he had hoped would be his legacy. Officially, he gave financial reasons, claiming his government wants to prioritize investment in training young people, the labor market and housing over major infrastructure projects. Critics also note that he is simply running out of time: It is highly unlikely that the highway would have been completed before the end of his term in two and a half years, so nothing would have come of his monument to himself.

“His dream has been laid to rest,” says Martins Egot, head of the local NGO DevCon. He is confident that nature will heal the wounds and reclaim the swathes of land already cleared.

Unfortunately, the end of the “superhighway” project does not mean that the rainforests there are safe. “The massive level of illegal logging here is unprecedented,” warns Ekuri Chief Edwin Ogar: “Politicians are involved in the crimes.” He is also very concerned about poaching and the spread of plantations. Moreover, a wedge is being driven between the traditional chiefs and the younger generation.

We will continue to raise funds to support the work of activists such as Martins Egot and Chief Edwin Ogar.