The New and Old Ekuri community of the Cross River state in Nigeria are resisting the illegal logging of their forest to pave way for a proposed highway. The ICCA Consortium stands with the Ekuri community and calls for the immediate end of the illegal logging and violation of the community’s rights, including free, prior and informed consent, and continuous undermining of their longstanding efforts to conserve their forest
The Ekuri community forest (33,600 ha) in the Cross River state in Nigeria is conserved and managed by the Old and New Ekuri who joined together to resist threats of logging and destruction to their forest. In 1992, the Old Ekuri community initiative was started by the community chiefs to enable the Ekuri people to manage their community forest. The aim of the initiative was to be a vehicle for community development, conservation, sustainable forest management and address poverty by improving access to sustainable livelihoods. Through this initiative, the community had roads for their local road construction projects and have therefore moved with ease through the forest. The Ekuri community forest is rich in fauna, including chimpanzee, drill, monkeys, buffalo, black duiker, pangolin, chevrotain, eagles, parrots and owls, among others, all of which are being threatened by unsustainable logging, hunting and farming.
The community’s self-determined efforts to conserve and sustainably manage their forest were recognised by UNDP with the Equator Prize in 2004. The forest later became a pilot site for the UN REDD+ program for maintaining their forest. These efforts have also been published as one of the best practices of community forest conservation in Nigeria. This initiative would surely be one to be emulated by other conservation initiatives across the world.
In 2015 the Cross River state authorities announced plans to build a six-lane, 260-kilometer (162-mile) superhighway that would link a port in the capital city of Calabar to neighboring Benue state in central Nigeria. Since 2016, threats of destruction of the iconic Ekuri community rainforest for the development of a highway have been on the rise. This is despite the community’s efforts to keep their forest through initiatives from as early as the 1990s. The community organised protests in the same year to oppose the destruction of their forest for the construction of the highway.
The construction of the Highway was proposed with further destruction of the forest 10 kilometres on either side of the road. The community petitioned the state to recall the revocation of occupancy rights for public purpose land use following a notice on the Week Chronicles dated 13 January 2016. In the petition, the community sought the revocation of the order for:
- Protection against the loss of their culture against UNESCO’s Convention for Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
- Protection against landlessness, which is likely to happen with the 20-kilometre expansion of the road, which is against fundamental human rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other international laws.
- Recognition of the community’s long-standing efforts in the conservation and management of the community forest for its rich biodiversity and ecosystem services for development and the whole world.
- Protection of the forest for its carbon sequestration abilities and its importance in helping Nigeria to adhere to the Paris Agreement and UNFCCC.
- Protection of the community’s social, economic and cultural rights as they depend on the forest for food subsistence, economic income and cultural uses.
Through their leaders, the community advised that the road be constructed to the immediate north of the community land rather than have it go through their forest.
The Governor of Cross River State and the Forestry Commission failed to respond to the petitions sent by the community. Local community efforts to hold demonstrations and lobby decision-makers have not yielded any fruits either. Since 2019, logging of the community forest has continued and even intensified. These events have informed fresh protests and developments in the Ekuri community.
On 4 May 2021, 24 Ekuri community Chiefs and elders wrote a letter to President Bohari, requesting him to intervene and bring to a stop the illegal leases issued to Sibawood company and Agriculture Nigeria to log timber on the community forest. The petition attracted international media but the Presidency has yet to respond. The community has also written many other protest letters against the logging of their precious forest.
Recently, the Ekuri community was joined by their neighbouring communities and organised more protests to decry the illegal timber logging from the community forest. As has been the case with many Indigenous Peoples, the Ekuri community and their neighbours have become victims of criminalisation (in the name of forestry banditry) simply for demanding the protection of their basic rights.
In support of the Ekuri community and on behalf of our membership, the ICCA Consortium calls on the Nigerian and Cross River State governments to:
- Immediately halt the threats to and destruction of the Ekuri community’s award-winning forest, on which they depend for their identity, culture and livelihoods, particularly from unsustainable logging and infrastructure projects.
- Revoke the logging concessions given to the Sibawood company and eliminate perverse incentives for unsustainable logging and large-scale infrastructure, which threaten not only the Ekuri community but also the natural and cultural heritage and future of Nigeria as a whole.
- Respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the Ekuri Indigenous Peoples to their customary lands, resources and cultural practices, as required under international human rights and environmental law, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and UN Convention on Biological Diversity, among others.
- Respect the Ekuri community’s right to provide or withhold free, prior and informed consent to any activities that affect them, in accordance with their self-determined governance and decision-making systems.
- As a member of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, work closely with the Ekuri community and other Indigenous Peoples and local communities to review and revise Nigeria’s policy, legal and institutional frameworks to enable appropriate recognition and support for their contributions to the effective and equitable conservation of biodiversity, as part of Nigeria’s contribution to the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
Updates on support: With networking and technical support from the ICCA Consortium, the Ekuri community has secured financial support for emergency needs from the African Environmental Defenders Fund (an initiative of Natural Justice in collaboration with the International Land Coalition, ICCA Consortium and the African Activists for Climate Justice Coalition; apply to the fund here) and from the Rights and Resources Initiative’s Strategic Response Mechanism for advocacy and legal needs.