Tuesday, 22 August 2017

C’River State have fulfilled all conditions for Super Highway EIA Approval – SA Technical

 Amongst the conditions, there were certain things that needed to be submitted to the Federal Ministry of Environment. All what we needed to have submitted we have submitted, environmental management plan, social management plan, all those ones we have submitted; we have finished with all the submissions to them and we have also made a commitment for them to know that we are in the process of compensation... —SA Eric Akpo. 

On Saturday 19th August, the Special Adviser to the Executive Governor of Cross River State on Technical Matters, Arc Eric Akpo, granted some journalist an interview session particularly bordering on the Superhighway. 
It was quite an interesting 90 minutes session as the SA took us through a detour of the controversial pet project of His Excellency the Governor of Cross River State, Sen. Ben Ayade. SA Akpo intelligently addressed questions on the manner of funding for the Superhighway, made clarifications on the EIA, and compensation plans for those whose properties has/will been affected by the construction, etc. 
To avoid boredom, this publication on the interview will come in bits of at least two. What follows, is the interview as it transpired last week. Happy reading.  

JOURNALISTS: Can we get to know you, please? 
SA: My name is Arc Eric Akpo Special Adviser to the Governor of Cross River State on Technical Matters.

JOURNALISTS: Can you give us a rundown of your stay in office as SA Technical to Gov Ben Ayade? 

SA: The journey so far been an SA to a governor known as the 'digital governor', you know, means that you have to be the reason behind the 'digitality' of the governor. Being the SA Technical... it’s not been an easy ride I must say because the Governor is a very dynamic person, a very dynamic thinker; he thinks like there is no box all the time, he believes that he can achieve anything so when he mentions something, you know it falls back to you as the SA Technical to decide how to achieve that particular goal.

Good enough, when he mentions those things he already has one or two guidelines to give to you to do those things. But at the end of the day the bulk of the work falls back to you because you have to do the nitty-gritty to ensure that his goals are achieved. So, it’s not been an easy ride.

I think I can say that unofficially, I was one of the first persons who had an appointment with him unannounced even before he was inaugurated.
We conceived the idea of the Superhighway and the Deep-sea port together before his inauguration and he told me, go ahead, go to Federal Ministry of Environment let them recommend a consultant for you so that we can start work on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

I had to step out immediately. And when we moved from Abuja coming down to Calabar for his inauguration, he told me take that car, I want you to put a sticker on it because immediately after my inauguration as people come out, I want them to see a car with the superhighway and the deep-sea port already inscribed, so that they will know that I am serious pursuing these projects. That is how I started my work on the deep-sea port and superhighway before my appointment was eventually announced.
So, it’s been work, work, work all along for the past two years for me. There are so many projects, so many creative projects and so much planning to do and most of these plannings have been my responsibility. Of course, carrying out the feasibility, carrying out the pre-project planning process and everything, it’s my responsibility as the SA Technical. I liaise with the consultant, I liaise with the prospective investors for whatever project it is; they come first to my office. I hold the preliminary meetings with them. I tell them what and what we need to do, and off course, he had given me the guideline for our engagement with investors in whatever project. Which is why I think we were very vested here.

Some people raise so many issues which we from the origin and the conception of any project had already taken care of. For instance the issue of you are partnering with this company, you are going to give them counterpart funding, you are going to give them equity contribution and all that; our guideline with these people is straight forward whatever investor, wherever you come from.

So if you are coming in as an investor, you are coming in as an investor to put in your funds 100%. We do not have any guarantees for you. If you are coming in to invest, you have to carry out your feasibility, you have to be sure that this is a business that you can run profitably and recover your money, so it is your technical know-how that should guarantee your fund recovery, not we tieing our own future down. When you come to do an investment, when the profit comes, you take it; but, if the business fails we bear the loss? It doesn’t make sense at the end. These are the things we discuss with these prospective investors or consultants on any of these projects before we set out to discuss terms of contract and other things generally.

So, yes I have been engaging with almost every prospective investor that has come into the state; I have been going about the budget planning process with most of them and of course I supervise most of the project in the field. For the past two years, that has been what has been keeping me busy besides making sure that Governor's Office and most other facilities are very functional as a duty of my office.

JOURNALISTS: For the purpose of clarity and specificity, can you itemise some of these projects whose planning and supervision you have been involved in for the past few years?

SA: Okay, I will start with our signature projects: we have 2 key signature projects but generally we have 3 key signature projects which include the Garment Factory, the Superhighway and the Deep-sea port.

Economic transformation is one of the key targets of this administration and that is wrapped around the Deep-sea port and the Superhighway as solutions to this economic transformation drive that we have. The deep-sea port, the superhighway have been since we hit the ground running, we are still on course, they very heavy projects. Now, the planning of these projects takes time even though we try to devise different means to see that we save time, because most times, why most of the projects like that are started and not completed or not even stated at all is because when you look at the bureaucracy of achieving these projects, it take too much time, before you know it, you only have four years in the first instance and you have another four years in the second instance and then the time is gone and you are not able to complete it and meanwhile you have put in so much resources into it and because you have not achieved the result, people think you did not do anything.

Look at the international conference center, Liyel Imoke sunk in so much to it but was not able to officially commission it before he left office; Ayade came in and put in some funds to tidy the place up, but most people give the glory to him for having commissioned the project; so, that is how it is.

So, we try to see how we can save time on some of these project; at some point it looked like we were infringing on the law even though we know very well that the law itself is a bit flexible to make these things work somehow; that is for the superhighway and the deep-sea port projects.

It was expected we would have procured the EIA which of course everybody knows that it took us two years to get the approval, we started with identification of site, we started clearing after determining the route of the superhighway, we started clearing while we were still doing the EIA which was an infringement on the law.

But, the law is very clear on that, anybody who starts a project before procuring the EIA certification pays a fine, a well stipulated fine, and I can tell you almost all federal projects in Nigeria do not have EIA, they just go ahead and start the work. I think also that superhighway project has actually given a different out look to the EIA process in the country because it was sensitive and attracted so much interest, I can bet you that not so many people knew what the EIA was all about, but now people can talk about the EIA comfortably. 

I do not know if any of us has been in any public hearing for any project ever before on an EIA? In fact, we don’t even hear about the EIA but we have the Odukpani Power Plant; we have the NIPP power plant. When did anybody ever come for a public hearing? We have electrification projects going on everywhere I have never seen a gathering of a public hearing, to tell you that the laws were there but nobody was actually following them.

It is only the Superhighway that everybody in the country is now looking at to say okay, we actually press on this EIA to know how things are done; for me it is a plus.

JOURNALISTS: The statement you made that almost all federal project do not have EIAs, is it across Nigeria or just in the Cross River state?

SA: No! It’s nationwide. If you ask them for EIA, they don’t have and even if they do, it is actually after the project has been executed just to have something to show.
That's why am telling you that, we have so many federal projects in the state, so you would have been hearing of several public hearing everyday but you hardly hear of any because they don’t actually carry out EIA. 

However, the governor in his wisdom had told me to secure the services of a consultant for EIA even before he was sworn in as governor.

JOURNALISTS (cuts in): What is the name of the consultant?

SA: PGN Resources. We had recommendation of three companies, we engaged the three companies and luckily we had PGN who knew the terrain around Cross River and Akwa Ibom, so we procured their services. Precisely, on the 9th of May, 2015 that was when we engaged their services for the EIA. 

The governor knew we needed the EIA and as an environmentalist, he wasn’t going to undermine that; even though negative publicity made it looked like he was going to undermine that. No, he didn’t, he took it very seriously.

Under my office, for every where we had contractors clearing the superhighway we had somebody called an Environmental Management Assistant (EMA), employed from within the community and we always asked the community when we go to engage them, if you have any of your children who studied Environmental Science, Agriculture, Forestry please recommend one for us we need someone to serve as environmental management assistant (EMA) with us.

They are all engage in my office. They are the ones who took records of all the farms, economic trees, take measurement of the farm size, etc. So, they record it against your name, phone number and other contact details. We had all these records because these were supposed to be components of the EIA; so we gathered all these information. There is nobody whose property was touched, be it cash crop or economic trees, we have records in my office. We have details of everyone. It is people from your community doing this job, so if you think you are been marginalise or cheated, it is your own son you will call.

JOURNALISTS: Are there plans for compensation?

SA: Of course, why we are doing this is because there will definitely be compensation for what you have on the land —not for the land; government does not pay compensation for land according to the Land Use Act. But you pay for any valuables on the land. There’s what you pay for economic trees, melon farms etc the stipulations are there, when it has to do with places of critical or cultural importance to the various communities, it depends on what the community demands. The community will say you need to give us so so and so for us to carry out some particular rituals to relocate our shrines, grave, deity to so so and so place. In the clearing so far, none of those ones were touched, if you tell us that this is a sacred area, this tree or from here to here to here is a sacred area, our machines don’t go there, they just avoid that area. Before now, before we do that we must have negotiated with them to do the needful. You are not just going to sweep through somebody’s father's grave, we must strike a balance between communities and the people.
The answer is compensation will be paid for any valuable that will be affected on the Superhighway and the Deep-sea port.

JOURNALISTS: How far have you gone with the 23 conditions given by the Federal Ministry of Environment as it regards the Superhighway? 

SA: Amongst the conditions, there were certain things that needed to be submitted to the Federal Ministry of Environment. All what we needed to have submitted we have submitted, environmental management plan, social management plan, all those ones we have submitted; we have finished with all the submissions to them and we have also made a commitment for them to know that we are in the process of compensation. 
May be I should explain something about compensation. Compensation is not something any government does one-off. It is usually a gradual process, Compensation begins with enumeration. What you have to prove is that you are in the process. There is no government that will just demolish somebody's house and walk away; it's not obtainable unless the house in the first instance is an illegal structure that was marked hitherto for demolition, that’s a different case.

But first of all, what we do is enumeration which is usually a very tedious process. You know why? It would have been very easy to say bring your claims and then we settle, but people go and proliferate the numbers. In fact, if you allow it like that you will pay billions and billions and you have not finished paying. 

To be continued...