Time for Real Climate Action

panel

the panel at the UNGA side event. President Buhari (Middle), President Mahamoudu Issoufou of Niger Republic,  sits 4th left, Nigerian Minister of Environment (3rd left)

Time for real climate action. Polluting countries must do their fair share of emissions reduction and that should be at source, not through carbon markets.

I thank President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Environment (Amina Mohammed) for providing this August space to outline the efforts Nigeria is making on tackling climate as well as overall environmental change.

The Niger Delta clean up based on the UNEP Report on the Assessment of the Ogoni Environment is an excellent example of government concern for the health of the peoples and the environment as opposed to corporate focus on only profit. Coupled with the plans to end routine gas flaring, we can say that these will add up to reduce green house emissions, tackle global warming and allow the people a chance to breathe fresh air after decades of ecological despoliation. This task requires the support of the global community. Thank you Mr President.

It is good that Nigeria spent time studying the Paris Agreement before signing it. The importance of taking such steps makes deep reflections a necessity. The big questions now are with regard to the implications at a global level of contributions determined at national levels. Overall, such contributions are largely shots in the dark since they are not predicated on some scientifically allotted quantities towards meeting global emissions reduction targets.

Mechanisms should be put in place to encourage countries to urgently review their NDCs, on the basis of historical responsibility and on equitably assigned targets based on a fair sharing of the global carbon budget. The aggregate commitments currently on the table simply do not measure up to what is needed.

Considering the number of climate refugees meeting their deaths in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea, no effort should be spared to get polluters to step up to the plate and do their fair share in tackling global warming.

Currently, we see countries like ours setting targets that would see them doing more than their fair share in terms of emissions cuts – than the powerful nations that are also the most polluting whose NDCs do not generally rise to much more than 20 percent of what they ought to do.

Nigeria proposes to stop routine gas flaring, invest more on solar and other renewable energy sources. She also plans to ensure efficient resource utilization, including through mass transit. Reforestation and “climate smart” agriculture are also on the cards. On that point we believe that what is needed are culture smart, ecologically sound agriculture devoid of genetic engineering or gene drives.

But who will fund the lofty NDCs that Nigeria has committed to? We submit that it is time to robustly enthrone climate justice in the climate negotiations. It is time to elevate the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) beyond being a mere notion as it now is in the Paris Agreement. It is also time to to support the vulnerable on the critical issue of loss and damage caused by climate impacts.

nb-speakingPermit us to repeat the crucial issue of historical responsibility. Historical responsibility cannot be denied for ever. Someone has eaten up the climate budget. I’m sure our president could characterize this as climate corruption. If someone has polluted through the years and somebody else is condemned to suffer the impacts, the call for payment of the ecological or climate debt should not be denied or delayed. This will pay for the technology and finance much needed for the transition to clean energy far more than what their national incomes could hope to do in the near term. Climate debt trumps the current Green Climate Fund (GCF) plans.

Considering the number of climate refugees meeting their deaths in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea, no effort should be spared to get polluters to step up to the plate and do their fair share in tackling global warming.

Thank you for your attention, excellences, ministers, ladies and gentlemen


Talking Points used by Nnimmo Bassey at the Nigerian event – Taking Climate Action for Sustainable Development on 22nd September 2016 at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA)

Only tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF

NABMA ogaOnly tests can assure Nigerians there is no GMO rice in Nigeria, says HOMEF 

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

The attention of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) has been drawn to the response of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), through its Director General (DG) at a recent press conference, to the fears of Nigerians as to the presence of genetically modified (GMO) rice in the markets here. While trying to allay the fears of Nigerians, the DG was reported as stating that “there was no iota of truth in the report” and that no GM rice has either been imported or released officially into the country.

“The DG missed the point,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF in reaction to the NBMA response. “The clarification the agency should make is whether there is GMO rice in Nigeria even if such were brought in illegally. It is also not enough to say that since there are no known commercially grown GMO rice in the world and no legally released GMO rice in Nigeria, or since there is a ban on the importation of rice, therefore there is no imported rice in Nigeria. That argument cannot stand. The job of NBMA is not only to approve GMOs or to track only approved products. The Biosafety Agency has to oversee everything biosafety in Nigeria, illegal or not.”

On whether GMO rice has been commercially released anywhere in the world, we wish to recall that illegal LibertyLink variety 601 GMO rice was tested for and found in the Nigerian market by Friends of the Earth Nigeria in 2006 as well as in 2007. 

“I was part of the team that collected rice samples and we tested rice from Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Cameroon,” says Mariann Bassey Orovwuje, Food Sovereignty campaigner of Friends of the Earth Africa/International. “That illegal rice variety was approved for release in the USA in November 2006 after complaints of its contamination was raised around the world. Indeed, at that time, the illegal rice was pulled off the shelves in some countries in Europe. Unless, and until, tests are conducted the assurances are mere talks.”

According to Gbadebo Vivour-Rhodes, ” the matter of GMO contamination of our foods cannot be waived off by hosting a press conference. NBMA should talk less and get to work on addressing fundamental deficiencies manifest in the regulatory system and ensuring that risky technologies are not allowed into Nigeria.”

HOMEF and other concerned groups are concerned that our regulatory agencies, such as NBMA and the NationalAgency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) may use the cover of “non official release of GMOs” to avoid monitoring the markets and thus allowing illegal flooding of our markets with risky and unhealthy GMOs.

“If NBMA has the laboratories and capacities it prides itself to have it should immediately audit all suspected food products in the Nigerian market, including those distributed to IDPs. Once suspicion is raised, it is results from laboratories that we want to hear about. The risk of contamination is always there and cannot be wished away,” Bassey added.

HOMEF reiterates its call for the urgent repeal or drastic review of the highly permissive NBMA Act 2015 to assure Nigerians of protection of our biodiversity and safety of our food systems. We also repeat our call for the withdrawal of permits hastily granted to Monsanto to conduct field trials of GMO maize and to grow GMO cotton in Zaria and neighbouring areas.

 

Cadmus Atake

Project officer

HOMEF 

 

For more information contact: cadmus@homef.org and home@homef.org

A Vote Against Genetic Extinction Technologies

Open letterGovernments and NGOs Vote Against Genetic Extinction TechnologiesPotentially Dangerous Genetic Engineering Tool Rejected by International Group of Scientists, Conservationists, and Leading Environmental Advocates

OAHU, HAWAI’I — As thousands of government representatives and conservationists convene in Oahu this week for the 2016 World Conservation Congress, international conservation and environmental leaders are sounding the alarm about the use of gene drives — a controversial new synthetic biology technology intended to intentionally cause species to become extinct. In a digital vote release August 26 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, scientists and government representatives voted overwhelmingly for IUCN and its commissions to adopt a de facto moratorium on support or endorsement of research into gene drives for conservation or other purposes. News of the vote comes as an important open letter is published on the topic.

Scientists and environmental experts and organizations from around the globe  have advocated for a halt to proposals for the use of gene drive technologies in conservation. Announced today, a long list of environmental leaders, including Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, genetics professor and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki, Dr. Fritjof Capra, entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Indian environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, environmental justice advocate Nnimmo Bassey and organic pioneer and biologist Nell Newman, have lent their support to an open letter, “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation.” The letter states, in part: “Gene drives, which have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts, should not be promoted as conservation tools.”

“Gene drives are basically a technology that aims for a targeted species to go extinct,” explains ecologist and entomologist Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, President of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). “While this may appear to some conservationist professionals to be a ‘good’ thing and a ‘silver bullet’ to handle complicated problems, there are high risks of unintended consequences that could be worse than the problems they are trying to fix.”

Both the leading developers of the technology and also those concerned about gene drives will be attending this week’s congress and holding events to raise awareness, hype promises or highlight the potential hazards of gene drives. One near-term gene drive proposal, promoted by U.S.-based non-governmental organization Island Conservation, intends to release gene drive mice on islands to eradicate them. Another led by the University of Hawai’i would develop gene drive mosquitoes for use in Hawaii to combat avian malaria which affects honeycreeper birds. The debate around gene drives is likely to resurface later this year at the negotiations of the United Nations Biodiversity Convention in Cancun Mexico in December.

“Gene drives, also known as ‘mutagenic chain reactions,’ aims to alter DNA so an organism always passes down a desired trait, hoping to change over time the genetic makeup of an entire species,” explains Dr Vandana Shiva of Navdanya. “This technology would give biotech developers an unprecedented ability to directly intervene in evolution, to dramatically modify ecosystems, or even crash a targeted species to extinction.”

“To lose sight of the problem of biodiversity loss in favor of false solutions and short-term techno-fixes such as gene drives is a dangerous path,” said Erich Pica, President of Friends of the Earth. “There are real community-based conservation efforts that are truly sustainable and should be scaled up and supported. We are very concerned gene drives will drive forward destructive agricultural practices or be used for military purposes — speculative conservation claims are at best an unfounded diversion or smokescreen.”

Signatories of the letter, which include indigenous organizations and legal experts, raised legal and moral questions, citing an “ethical threshold that must not be crossed without great restraint.”

“From military testing to GMO crops, and now gene drives, Hawai’i should not be treated as a test zone for risky and experimental technologies,” said Walter Ritte, Native Hawaiian activist and hunter. “What happens in Hawai’i must be discussed with residents, not decided from a lab on the other side of the continent. Hawaiians should decide what is best for Hawai’i.”

Some of the signing organizations will be holding a Knowledge Café event as part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress at 8:30 am (HST) on Monday, September 5. The event will be live streamed at http://www.synbiowatch.org/gene-drives.

In response to upcoming proposals to release gene drive organisms in Hawaii, the local organization Hawai’i SEED will be hosting an educational session on gene drives in the evening on Tuesday, September 6.  See http://bit.ly/2bwZEuG for details.

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Note to editors:

  1. A short briefing outlining concerns about gene drives prepared by the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives is available at http://www.synbiowatch.org/2016/08/reckless-driving/. A copy of the letter “A Call for Conservation with a Conscience: No Place for Gene Drives in Conservation” and a complete list of signatories is available at http://www.synbiowatch.org/gene-drives-letter/.
  2. The organizers of the letter are inviting other organizations to join as signatories. Additional organizational signatures can be sent to: genedrives@synbiowatch.org.
  3. More details about the Island Conservation Project to release gene drive mice are available in this article: http://baynature.org/article/re-coding-conservation/. Plans to develop gene drives for Hawaii are being developed by the lab of Dr. Floyd A, Reed of Hawaii University: http://hawaiireedlab.com/wpress/?p=2270.
  4. The IUCN Motion on Synthetic Biology and Conservation (motion no 95) was supported by 71 Governments and 355 NGO’s (out of a total of 544 votes cast). It includes the following amendment on Gene Drives: “CALLS UPON the Director General and Commissions with urgency to assess the implications of Gene Drives and related techniques and their potential impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity as well as equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources, in order to develop IUCN guidance on this topic, while refraining from supporting or endorsing research, including field trials, into the use of gene drives for conservation or other purposes until this assessment has been undertaken”. A breakdown of the vote was today made available to IUCN members.

Expert contacts: Dana Perls, (925) 705-1074, dperls@foe.org; Jim Thomas, (514) 516-5759 jim@etcgroup.org

Communications contacts: Kate Colwell, (202) 222-0744, kcolwell@foe.org; Trudi Zundel, (266) 979-0993, trudi@etcgroup.org

Further contact: You can also reach us at home@homef.org for more information

Nigerian Biotech Experts Met

Biosafety Act reviewWhen Nigerian Biotech Experts Met. If anyone needs sensitisation in Nigeria about GMOs, it is the biotech promoters. They need to be sensitised that Nigerians don’t want GMOs and certainly do not want to be ambushed into eating what they do not want to eat. We have a right to choose what we eat. No one should have anything forced down his or her throat. There are other areas that modern biotechnology can focus on without having to tamper with our food systems in a process that would also introduce toxic chemicals that accompany their herbicide tolerant monocultures.

Three Nigerian ministries had top level representation at the Biotechnology and Biosafety Experts Meeting at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja on 15 August 2016. The Minister and Minister of State for Environment were present. So were the Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the Minister of Science. Interestingly, rather than the Minister of Science making remarks at the opening session of this meeting, he ceded the space to the Director General (DG) of the Nigerian Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

In his remarks, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, asked, ‘Who will educate the politicians?’ That quote, he informed the gathering, was from a one-time president of the USA, Richard Nixon.  He then went on to say that genetic engineering is about science but that it had a cloud of fear, doubts, sentiments and political agitation hanging over it. He pointedly stated that at the end of the day ‘science will prevail.’ Probably because his comments were brief, he did not expatiate on what he meant by that statement. He, however, said that the truth lay somewhere between the fears and the facts.

When the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, took the floor she emphasised that the meeting was a starting point from where further conversations would be held and the larger public would have the opportunity to weigh in. She stressed the need to invest in knowledge and to strengthen the nation’s biosafety policy. She also touched on the communication gap between the scientists and the public. According to her, the wide store of indigenous knowledge must not be ignored in the building of broader understanding of the issues at stake. She generally called for healthy debates on the issues.

time-goldenrice-228x300

GMOs Prime poster: 2000 Time Magazine cover

The progress of golden rice is not hampered by Greenpeace but by its failure to deliver on its promoters’ promises.

The outcome of the meeting has been presented to the public as being a plan by the Federal Government to sensitise Nigerians on the benefit of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). To some of us that were at that meeting we would not endorse such a summation. Why do we say so?

The meeting, although jointly called by the three ministries mentioned above, was driven by Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), a biotech industry (non governmental?) organisation headed by an assistant director in NABDA and deeply embedded in NABDA. Indeed, before the meeting started, a continuous stream of video clips were used to serenade participants with the success stories of GMOs and the wonderful process that gave birth to Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Act 2015 and the National Biosafety management Agency (NBMA). When the Minister of Science gave way to the Director General of NABDA, she took the stage to sell GMOs to the crowd of mostly converts to the technology. Those of us with strong doubts and who reject modern biotechnology as the panacea for Nigeria food issues were a token sprinkle you could count on the fingers of one hand.

The Director General stated that GMOs started from the time of Adam and Eve in the Biblical Garden of Eden. Imagine modern biotechnology as old as Adam and Eve. She further on cited the roundly discredited letter signed by 109 Nobel Prize laureates that claimed that Greenpeace was hampering the adoption of the so-called Golden or GMO rice engineered for enhanced levels of vitamin A. The truth is that the rice in question is yet a failed project and is not hampered by anyone other than its failure to deliver on its promoters’ promises. The Institute of Science in Society and the Third World Network had this to say of the Golden Rice: The ‘golden rice’ – a GM rice engineered to produce pro-Vitamin A – is being offered to the Third World as cure for widespread vitamin A deficiency.[Our] audit uncovers fundamental deficiencies in all aspects, from the scientific/social rationale well as financially bankrupt agricultural biotech industry. The scientific/social rationalization for the project exposes a reductionist self-serving scientific paradigm that fails to see the world beyond its own narrow confines. The ‘golden rice’ is a useless application. Some 70 patents have already been filed on the GM genes and constructs used in making the ‘golden rice’. It is a drain on public resources and a major obstruction to the implementation of sustainable agriculture that can provide the real solutions to world hunger and malnutrition.

There were three panels, all of which had a paper presenter followed by panel discussions. The first panel was on the Socio-Economic Effects of GMOs and the lead presenter was Prof Ishyaku Mohammed, a key player in the development of GMO beans in Nigeria. The second panel was on Strengthening Biosafety Institutional Framework with Jeremy T. Ouedraogo – Head of NEPAD West African Biosafety Network Regional Office of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise. The third panel looked at Strategies for Effective Education and Communication. The lead presenter here was Prof. Diran Makinde, Senior Adviser, African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE).

Some of us do not accept that nutrition and food security must be manufactured in science laboratories. And we should never forget that Nature is the ultimate scientist. The wise person works with Nature because fights against Nature are not only often futile but could become fatal.

The good thing about this meeting was that there were some voices on the panels speaking up on the known socio-economic, health and environmental dangers of GMOs and citing examples of countries that have banned agricultural/food applications of the technology. The biotech promoters used the platform to characterise food sovereignty campaigners as acting out scripts of supposed funders in exchange for a life of luxury in air-conditioned officers, cars and what not. The response to that was that this was cheap blackmail that would not deter opposition to risky technologies.

In the panel on strengthening biosafety institutional framework, the lead speaker mentioned two errors that National Biosafety laws could fall into were either being too permissive or being too restrictive. A close look at the National Biosafety Management Act 2015 shows that it is highly permissive and was couched for easy entrance of GMOs and related products in Nigeria. We gave examples. First is the fact that the Governing Board of NBMA is populated by biotech promoters, besides the statutory membership of federal ministries. The only slot for NGOs is conditioned on the representative being from a conservation NGO. Membership of the Board includes NABDA, an agency set up to promote GMOs in Nigeria. This agency teamed up with Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Limited to apply and receive permission to conduct confined field trials of two GMO maize events in Nigeria. This shows a clear case of conflict of interest and we duly called for the removal of NABDA from the board of the Biosafety Agency. If NABDA partners with Monsanto we need to be convinced that they are depending solely on funds from the Ministry of Science for the discharge of their duties and that they are working under undue external influences.

Neither farmers nor consumers are represented on the NBMA board. Indeed, the Biosafety Board as presently constituted by the Act can be seen as an old boys’ club. If, as was agreed at this meeting that, the Biosafety Act is basically not to stop GMO, we need to know if it is NBMA’s duty to promote GMOs.

We also stressed that there should be a board that would consider recommendations of the Biosafety Agency before permits for GMOs are granted or rejected. At present decisions by the leadership of the Biosafety Agency with regard to applications are not subject to any form of oversight in the Act. This must be redressed. Recommendations should be subjected to consideration by either the Agency’s Board or preferably by an inter-ministerial committee. It is too risky and utterly dangerous to place the food safety and future of Nigeria into the hands of one person. The GMO approvals given to Monsanto and their partner NABDA, were approved within a few months of the filing of the applications – a record of Olympian proportions.

The present Act allows for the display and receipt of comments on GMO applications to be made within only 21 days. In the case of the approval for Monsanto’s GMO cotton, the application was displayed only at Zaria and Abuja. There was no public hearing or consultation before the approval was given. The Agency was acting as empowered by the clearly deficient Act. This must be rectified to ensure that sufficient time is given for submission of objections/comments and that there are public hearings before decisions are made. Such applications must also be displayed at accessible locations across the nation and where possible in language that the public can understand.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s review and comments of the Nigerian Biosafety Act identifies many loopholes that raise red flags about the Act and thus demand action.  http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/national-biosafety-act-homef-review.pdf That is the Act that one of the lead presenters declared is so robust it requires no review!

Knowing the trend in development of GMOs – veering towards extreme biotechnology such as gene-editing and what is termed gene drives, scientists are working to overturn nature, avoid the sharing of traits that happens in natural reproduction, and instead pass on a predetermined trait in every reproductive event, to the extent that wiping out species through having offsprings that are of same sex becomes a possibility. The danger in this trajectory is that for some organisms a release of just one engineered individual could wipe out all relatives in the environment over a short period of time. Experiments are ongoing on utilising this technology to fight rats on an island.

If the public requires sensitisation, what is needed is to inform the public about the Biosafety Act, so that Nigerians can judge for themselves whether GMOs are the solution to food shortages in Nigeria. It is also essential so that the public would know their rights or lack of rights in the biosafety administration in Nigeria.

Some of us do not accept that nutrition and food security must be manufactured in science laboratories. And we should never forget that Nature is the ultimate scientist. The wise person works with Nature because fights against Nature are not only often futile but could become fatal.

It cannot be the duty of government to sensitise Nigerians about the desirability of GMOs. Government has a duty to assure Nigerians that we have a sound and truly robust Biosafety Act that they can depend on for environmental and food safety. The biotech promoters should campaign for funding from government to carry out their experiments in their laboratories and continue to build knowledge and expertise. We are fed by smallholder farmers and experts assure that it will remain so into the future. GMOs are not silver bullets that solve all problems. Our farmers need extension services, rural infrastructure and access to markets. We must learn from the failure of GMO cotton in India, Pakistan, Burkina Faso (watch the video) and elsewhere. Having experts make excuse for a failing and risky technology cannot be said to be the best way to do science.

If anyone needs sensitisation in Nigeria about GMOs, it is the biotech promoters. They need to be sensitised that Nigerians don’t want GMOs and certainly do not want to be ambushed into eating what they do not want to eat. We have a right to choose what we eat. No one should have anything forced down his or her throat. There are other areas that modern biotechnology can focus on without having to tamper with our food systems in a process that would also introduce toxic chemicals that accompany their herbicide tolerant monocultures.

 

 

 

Wicked Genes

gene drivesWicked Genes

Have you considered the many techie graveyards littered with DDT, Agent Orange and all?

Peddler of wicked genes, will you slide on gene drives?

Knocking out, annihilating traits and yellowing all fruit flies?

Have you considered the many techie graveyards littered with DDT, Agent Orange and all?

Malaria will not be an excuse for you to unleash wahala on our already broken backs

You create a poison and sell the antidote

You create a virus and market anti-virus

Don’t crush my cultural webs, ecosystems and bio diversities

Just because you can spit in Mother Earth’s face

Trample on Genesis

And flaunt genetically modified technocrats

HIV-AIDS, Ebola, Zika…

Scratch your pouch and unleash some more

We see through your shady genetic scissors, errors and terrors

Your hypothetical benefits drowned in oceans of unquestionable risks

Time it is to break your addiction to crooked technofixes cause our DNA is not for sale,

Nor are we guinea pigs for your gene driven exterminator technologies

Will Ogoni Breathe Fresh Air Again?

todayFive Years after UNEP Report – Will Ogoni Breathe Again?

As the water gushed the smell of petroleum products filled the air. Indeed, one would be right to wonder if he was pumping up petrol. We asked to know what they use the water for. All sanitary needs. Plus, drinking at times. Mind boggling.

August 4, 2016 marks the 5th anniversary of the submission of the report of the assessment of the environment of Ogoniland to former President Jonathan by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report etched for Nigeria and the world, the damning levels of hydrocarbon and other toxic pollutions in Ogoniland. The report more or less indicated that a state of environmental emergency should have been declared in Ogoniland. Nothing much happened, and each passing year, since the submission of the report, has witnessed more groaning and sighing by the people that have no option but to live in the horrendously polluted environment.

The first inkling of action by government was on the eve of the first anniversary of the UNEP report. That was on 24th July 2012 when the government hurriedly cobbled together what was known as the Hydrocarbons Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP). The name was quite anachronistic, but it was aimed at calming nerves of locals who were getting impatient that a year was rolling by with nothing being done with the report that showed that they were living in an environment that was killing them. The first visible actions of HYPREP included the mounting of huge billboards in Port Harcourt denouncing oil theft and tampering with oil pipelines.

While this was going on, the people were drinking water that has been shown to be laced with hydrocarbon pollutants and at places with carcinogenic benzene. They are still drinking such water. On 26th July 2016, after a monitoring training of a team of Ecological Defenders of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) we decided to visit one of the community leaders at Ogale, Nchia-Eleme, Ogoni. Our host turned on his electricity generator and pumped water up from a borehole he had sunk. As the water gushed the smell of petroleum products filled the air. Indeed, one would be right to wonder if he was pumping up petrol. We asked to know what they use the water for. All sanitary needs. Plus, drinking at times. Mind boggling.

Another sign that the recommendations of the UNEP report have been seen by HYPREP is the ubiquitous sign posts in Ogoniland erected at polluted creeks, streams, rivers and boreholes. They all warn citizens not to drink, fish or swim in the contaminated water. Besides the water trucked in by the Rivers State government at that time, the people have largely been left to cater for themselves as best as they can, or to wallow in the toxic waters.

A meeting of rotten oil facilities, oil spills, third party interferences and oil theft give the best example of how to brew environmental disaster. Visits to Bodo, K-Dere, B-Dere, Ogale, Goi and other polluted in Ogoniland literally leaves one breathless. And angry.

Efforts to commence the clean up of Ogoniland took a more determined turn under the current leadership of the Ministry of Environment. To begin with, HYPREP was decoupled from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources, a ministry deeply complicit in the polluting of Ogoniland and the rest of the Niger Delta. The project is now domiciled in the Ministry of Environment which should provide a more credible platform for the tasks that need to be done.

The ceremonial flag off of the clean up of Ogoniland (with expected expansion to other highly polluted parts of the larger Niger Delta in mind) took place on 2nd June 2016 at the Numuu Tekuru Waterside, Bodo. Several questions have trailed the ceremonial flag off. Is the government sincere about the exercise? Is there a budget for the clean up? When would the structures to oversee the clean up be set up? What roles would local people play in the exercise? Will this be another avenue for dispensing political patronage?

One of the best responses to the situation has come by way of a briefing prepared by Social Action, titled Cleaning in a Vacuum: Framework Gaps in the Implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoniland (July 2016). The Briefing pointed out among other things that HYPREP did not receive the approval of community and civil society groups because what UNEP recommended was the creation of an Ogoniland Environmental Restoration Authority whereas HYPREP had a mandate that covered the entire Niger Delta. The embedding of HYPREP in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources did also not gone well with many. Same with the lack of transparency in the operations of HYPREP. Social Action believes that HYPREP would face serious hiccups unless it has an enabling legislation establishing it, especially because the clean up will be a long drawn process transcending many administrations. The group, and other stakeholders, would also like to see a clear roadmap for the planned clean-up.

Some of the issues flagged by Social Action also emerged at the HOMEF training of 26th July 2016 and we quote:

  • There is need for a comprehensive health impact assessment which should detail the health impacts of pollution on people who reside in pollution impacted sites.
  • The process of consultation and sensitization should be intensified and carried on throughout the stages of the clean-up implementation process to ensure that communities understand what each stage entails and what is expected in order to avoid possible confusion and misunderstanding which could result in conflict.
  • Inclusion of all segments of the society, including consideration for women, youths and people living with disabilities in the clean up processes.
  • Clear and verifiable milestones should be established to ensure an active and healthy feedback cycle with all stakeholders.
  • The training of community members to act in different capacities in the clean-up, must be instituted as a critical means of community inclusion.

As yet another anniversary comes, we note that the much vexed issues of reviewing the structure of HYPREP and the setting up of the structures for the clean up have been done. We hope that Ogoni will one day breathe fresh air again.

Super Evacuation Highway

thumb_IMG_1104_1024 2Government says the Superhighway is essential as an evacuation route for the proposed deep sea port on the Atlantic coastline. What we are not told is where the goods (or indeed, what goods) would be evacuated to!

Will the Superhighway be used to evacuate imported goods to Katsina Ala or would it be to evacuate timber from thousands of trees to be felled to destinations outside of Nigeria? That would be the an historic fantastically super-timber-evacuation-highway.

Watch a report back during HOMEF’s forest Community Dialogue at Old Ekuri on 10 June 2016 here: .

Watch Aljazeera’s visit to, Old Ekuri, one of the threatened communities at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BveWIzyCEs