Victory for Africas Forests
Nigeria is well known for its oil-producing region of the Niger Delta, which currently feeds a large portion of Americas oil addiction. Roughly the size of Texas, Nigeria is home to over 130 million people. As in many oil-rich regions around the world,
|Colorful Male Drill Monkey, IUCN’s highest conservation
priority for Africa.
James and Lynn Lobdell photo.
over 80 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar per day. Nigeria is also home to one of West Africas last remaining intact tropical forests, where one third of Africas primate species are found. In 2000, West Africa Rainforest Network (WARN) was established to provide international support for the protection of West Africas most endangered forests and their inhabitants.
According to the World Resources Institute, over 90 percent of West Africas original forest is gone, and what remains is heavily fragmented and degraded by human use. Large, intact, connected West African watersheds remain only in one region in Cote dIvoire and along the border between Nigerias Cross River State and Cameroon. These fragments contain an extremely high number of West Africas indigenous plant and animal species, including such endangered primates as drill monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees; hippopotami; and an incredible array of migratory and resident birds.
Cross River State contains more than half of the remaining five percent of Nigerias original rainforests. Over 60 percent of Nigerias endangered plant and animal species are found only in these rainforests. Many endangered plant species are of great economic importance to local people. Half of this forest is legislatively protected in the Cross River National Park (CRNP); the other half is split between state-owned reserves and community-owned forest. Established by presidential decree in October 1991, the Cross River National Park (CRNP) was an important first step for species protection, but is widely considered too small and too vulnerable to protect many of the endangered and threatened species it contains.
In May of 2000, a year after Nigeria inaugurated its first democratically-elected government after almost 30 years of military rule, the government of Cross River state, in collaboration with four other NGOs (Pandrillus Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Fauna and Flora International, and Nigerian Conservation Foundation), created the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary (AMWS), where wild drill monkeys, the Nigerian chimpanzee, and the Cross River gorilla known as The Big Three still survive.
Despite the creation of the Park in 1991 and the Wildlife Sanctuary in 2000, the integrity of these tropical forests continues to be threatened by logging, plantation establishment, slash-and-burn agriculture, and unsustainable hunting for the commercial bush meat trade. The resulting deforestation is ultimately devastating to the rural people who depend on the forest for economic benefits, and destroys the inherent biodiversity of these forests forever. Forest loss hits the poorest of the poor in the forest villages hardest.
The greatest single threat to the rainforest of Cross River is Western Metal Products Company LTD (WEMPCO), a Hong Kong-based metal processing firm that branched out into logging. WEMPCO originally obtained a 540-square-mile logging concession, virtually all of it in primary rainforest adjacent to Cross River National Park. Additionally, WEMPCO was given approval in the mid-90s to build a hardwood-processing factory with a capacity of over 2,200 cubic feet of wood a day. Directly upstream from Cross River National Park, WEMPCOs veneer mill released poisonous chemicals into the river, polluting the water supply of over 300 downriver communities, and dumping toxins directly into one gorilla sub-populations habitat. WEMPCO, whose total logging concessions nationwide cover 250,000 acres, has been reprimanded several times for its blatant flouting of forestry laws, especially in Ogun state, where it was finally expelled in 1996.
Pressure from Nigerian and international environmental groups forced WEMPCO to eventually produce an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which contains only shreds of scientific credibility.
WEMPCOs activities promote an unsustainable rate of cut. The company began logging by proxy, purchasing the vast majority of its lumber from the nearby community forestslegal, but a clear violation of the EIA and a huge increase from previous community use. The WEMPCO facility, according to the EIA, would strip veneer from select commercial trees locally before shipping it to a plywood factory near Lagos for lamination. But according to all observers, WEMPCO is not currently processing veneer, even though it still buys the logs from the community forest and illegally logs its concessions.
Over the past four years, WARN has worked with indigenous communities and organizations in Cross River State to stop WEMPCOs destructive and illegal logging practices. This campaign originally began in 1996 with the support of Rainforest Action Network and Global Response, which helped put the threat to one of West Africas last remaining tropical forests on the international radar. Achieving a temporary success with the enforcement of a logging moratorium and the production of Nigerias first EIA by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA), the groups stopped WEMPCOs practice of logging its legally allotted concessions.
Instead, WEMPCO began logging by proxy in community-owned forests. WEMPCOs strategy was to bypass all logging regulations by purchasing wood from poor communities, paying only a few community members the equivalent of $50 for an entire old-growth mahogany tree. Not only did this lead to massive environmental degradation (loss of topsoil and water supply), it also led to social unrest, corruption, and violence.
Finally, eight years after the campaign against WEMPCO began, Cross River State governor Donald Duke has ordered WEMPCO to halt all operations and leave the state. The statement from the governors office, dated July 7, 2004, said WEMPCO, which started prospecting for wood in the state since 1992, has continued to operate in a most unsuitable manner and in contravention of extant forest laws and regulations including habitual patronage of illegal loggers; illegal exportation of unprocessed wood materials such as veneer and sawn timber, contrary to the original intention of siting the factory at Ikom; acceptance of logs into the factory even when there is a current ban on movement of logs in the state and total failure to adopt environmentally sustainable forest conservation techniques.
While people in Cross River and abroad celebrated this victory, WARN also felt it necessary to build on the shift of the governments attitude toward WEMPCO by calling for a one-year moratorium on all logging activities by any company to allow time for a reevaluation of the states forestry policy. Within two weeks, the State House of Assembly voted to place a ban on all logging activities for an indefinite amount of time until a new forestry policy can be adopted and ratified. The state can now pursue a new economic agenda focused on eco-tourism and sustainable development.
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This is a huge victory for the forests, communities, and animals of Cross River State. WARN wants to congratulate and thank all the organizations and persons who have spent these past eight years dedicated to the protection of these precious forests and the rights of local communities. Special thanks to Odigha Odigha, 2003 Goldman Prize Winner; Oronto Douglas, who first stirred up resistance to WEMPCO; and Odey Oyama, who led the charge against WEMPCO for labor violations, tax evasion, and corruption. Thanks to all those who sent a letter, provided moral or financial support, and most of all, believed in the possibility of such an achievement. WARN would also like to thank all of our colleagues in the US for their guidance and support in making this victory a reality. Our success is yet another testimony to the power of people everywhere to support indigenous struggles and help make a better world!
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