The people of Ekong Anaku Village had a difficult decision to make. Their village in southeastern Nigeria lies in one of the countries’ few remaining tropical rainforests. Conservation groups and the federal government wanted it conserved as a reserve. The villagers were keen for the extra protection against illegal logging, but they were worried about losing access to the hunting, foods and medicines the forest provides them and to lands that future generations would need for farming.
So in 1992 they made a deal with the government. They agreed to allow the conversion of a 10,000 ha section of their traditional forest into a reserve. In exchange, the government promised to provide programmes for agroforestry and rural development and credit for small farms and businesses.
“The government’s promises were only ever on the drawing board,” says Linus Orok, a village leader from Ekong Anaku village. “And this was only a small piece of the betrayal we encountered.”
Ten years after convincing Ekong Anaku village to hand over its forest for conservation, the governor of Cross River State gifted the same lands to a company owned by Nigeria’s president at the time, Olusegun Obasanjo.
“They never consulted us, not even the local chiefs,” says Orok.
Obasanjo’s company, Obasanjo Farms, planned to convert the 10,000 ha of forest into a large scale oil palm plantation. It lacked the capacity, however, and soon turned to outside investors…