Resilience, Resistance

Building a Resilient and Ecologically Engaged Citizenry. Cross River State is generally seen as a green state, with some of the last tracts of pristine rain forests – some of which have been preserved through community forest management efforts. Some of us believe that what the State needs is an economy creatively built on her bio-economic endowment. Such an approach would release the creative potentials of the citizens in an inclusive manner with inbuilt resilience. The rich soils and biodiversity of the State have however become a compelling pull for plantation or monoculture developers. Their incursions have put pressure on the local communities, especially the forest dependent ones. The incursions also have grave implications for national and global efforts to tackle global warming.

The suggestion that plantations are forests has been rejected by our peoples who insist that forests are biodiversity hotspots and that there can be no mono-cultures without the destruction of biodiversity. Biodiversity erosion degrades the resilience of communities at many levels – ecological, spiritual, economic, social and cultural. Biodiversity destruction can come from many actions including land use changes arising from conversion of forests into plantations as well as from infrastructural projects.

The controversies surrounding the Superhighway project idea have been consistently on rather basic premises. While some ask to know what would be exported at the Sea Port where the highway is to begin, others ask to know if the imported goods would terminate at Katsina Ala or where else they would go and how. These questions skirt the issue of the prime reasons offered for the Superhighway project – the urgent need to open up the State to investors and for development. The clouds over the project have been sustained by the lack of adequate public consultations on the routing of the highway, its necessity, its finance and viability and the trade-offs with regard to the massive community displacements and biodiversity destruction that would accompany it. Non governmental organisations (NGOs) like GREENCODE and Peace Point Action (PPA) have proposed that a railway system would be more cost effective in conveying goods from the seaport to the hinterland, besides having less impact on the environment.

These concerns have led communities and other citizens to demand a transparent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. That process has been unexpectedly tortuous for the Cross River State government (CRSG) because consultants engaged to help prepare the documents could not know, as pointed out by Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), that there are no Chinese alligators, blue monkeys or even dams that would be found on the proposed Superhighway route. The versions so far seen appear to be cut-and-paste documents with scant relevance to the localities to be traversed by the Superhighway.

The CRSG has struggled to listen to public complaints and has reversed itself on the astonishing move it had made to grab 10km on either side of the proposed superhighway in order to create what had been described as a “development corridor”. That land uptake would have grabbed 25 percent of the landmass of the state and displaced up to 180 communities in the process.  Secondly, the CRSG is said to have realigned the superhighway so that it doesn’t traverse forest reserves. The problem with this is that with the route still falls within the fringes of forest buffer zones, the threats of illegal logging and opportunistic poaching remain very high.

Unfortunately, the CRSG has not been able to build the confidence of the public on the gains that the changes could have brought. This situation arises from the fact that while renouncing its initial edict to grab 10km on either side of the Superhighway, as well as sending out signals that the routing has been reconsidered, there have been threats and ultimatums made to the effect that the CRSG would proceed with the project even if the requirements of the law are not met; that they would consider revoking the ownership of the Cross River National Park. Moreover, the new routing of the proposed realignment of the Superhighway is still a conjecture as the revised map is not in the public view. The only maps that are accessible are those produced by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). This speaks volumes about the preparedness of the State for the prosecution of this project in a way that addresses the concerns of the people and the unassailable need to protect our ecological heritage.

Today we are gathered here in Akpabuyo for a diagnostic Community Dialogue on the state of the local environment. We will examine issues including threats to our biodiversity and livelihoods. We will also examine what steps can be taken to preserve and enhance local livelihoods especially under the canopy of our reconnecting with nature, discussing re-source democracy and examining how to promote positive changes in the communities while minimising those with negative impacts. The purpose of our engagement today is to facilitate a process of distilling existing knowledge and bringing out action points that would build an ecologically engaged, resilient and proactive citizenry.

Our series of dialogues cover many ecological zones and have been supported by hosting communities, SGP-GEF of the United Nations Development Programme, Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and Grassroots International. We thank leaders of Akpabuyo Community for making our dialogue today possible. We are also grateful to all the civil society groups and the media that are with us on this ecological journey.

We are only as resilient as our environment is. Let the dialogue continue.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the Community Diagnostic Dialogue on the theme Building Resilience for Resistance held at Akpabuyo, Cross River State on 30th May 2017

Women, Re-sources, Peace and Matters Arising

 

Nnimmo May 24Although women are rarely those that trigger wars and the arms race, they are often the victims and bear the brunt of the harms that occur during the conflicts. Each International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament gives us a unique moment to reflect not just on what women suffer from the needless primitive conflicts raging in the world today, but on what women contribute to peace building in our world.

Whether conflicts are of the low or high intensity type, people suffer. Women suffer multiple deprivations in conflict situations. They bear the scars of injuries from weapons of war and also of being taken as trophies of war by deviant arms bearing men.

It is a common saying that peace is not necessarily the absence of war. In other words, the fact that there is no war does not mean that there is peace. Can we say there is peace when women are deprived of their rights to own or inherit land and other properties in certain nations? Is there peace when the environment is polluted and livelihoods are destroyed without any sense of responsibility? What about when citizens have no say as to what extractive activities are conducted in their territory or communities? Is there peace simply because deprived citizens do not bear arms?

These are questions that a day like this provides space for us to reflect on.

It is a day for us to pay tribute to women who have made valiant efforts to halt the reign of terror in the world. It is also a day to remember the girls and women that have survived the worst that terror and security forces have thrown at them. On this score, we remember the Chibok girls – released and in captivity. We salute the courage of women who have unashamedly stood up against oppression by adopting the naked option. Here we call to mind that the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors used this method in their protest to the Rivers State Governor’s office and to the Rivers State House of Assembly in November 2010 demanding for action to restore peace to their community.  Others have done the same in protests against the despoliation of their environment by international oil companies operating with recklessness that would not be condoned anywhere in the world. And we cannot forget the Abriba women who a few days ago adopted the naked option peaceful protest in the face of brutal naked power.

These are matters that a day like this provides space for us to think about.

Our women have been outstanding Amazons as they tackle very hostile environmental realities in the Niger Delta. Oil spills, toxic wastes, and gas flares pose unique challenges to the health of our environment and peoples. Climate change adds to the growing list of woes that our women must contend with. These range from the shrinkage of Lake Chad, loss of coastal lands to erosion and unpredictable weather conditions. The impact on food production weigh heavily on the shoulders of our women. And how about the phenomenal conflict between herdsmen and farmers that often manifest in the rape and killing of women?

These are happenings that a day like this provides space for us to chew upon.

Our women have literally built peace with bare knuckles, so to speak, while governments around the world invest on the machines of war – cutting down and shedding innocent blood in their quest for power and control. With climate denialists in high political offices, investment in warfare puts women at greater risks, reduces humankind’s resilience to global warming, makes nonsense of efforts to pursue the United Nations Sustainability Goals. With almost 2 trillion dollars wasted on warfare yearly, whole cities destroyed as though in video games, there is little or no money for climate mitigation and building of resilience.

These are issues that a day like this provides space for us to act on.

In a series of community dialogues and sustainability academies, HOMEF’s instigators will examine how the concept of Re-Source Democracy can be interrogated and implemented to ensure that the rights of Mother Earth are not trampled underfoot and that conflicts related to the use of the gifts of Nature are eliminated as we all reconnect to hers. As we salute our valiant women who have done much to build peace in our part of the world, I invite you to sit back and receive the words that will be coming from the indefatigable Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo and the high achiever, Mrs Joy Akate Lale. We will also today be honouring the excellent legacy of peace built by the Rumuekpe Women Prayer Warriors. We are thankful to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Ndowa Lale, and the entire management team of the University of Port Harcourt for providing an excellent space for learning and for the contestation of ideas. We are also honoured to have a great peace activist in our midst, Alyn Ware, winner of the Right Livelihood Award 2009, all the way from New Zealand.

The issue of Re-Source Democracy is worth a peep on a day like this.

Re-Source Democracy by HOMEF is available online at http://www.homef.org/sites/default/files/pubs/resource-democracy.pdf. Let us see an excerpt:

Re-source Democracy requires that we recognise the fact that we do not have to exploit a re-source simply because we have it. Some places must be off limits to extractive activities especially when such re-sources are found in fragile ecosystems or in locations of high cultural, religious or social significance. Lack of respect for certain ecosystems lead to the over-harvesting of re-sources and habitat loss. These in turn could lead to biodiversity erosion and species extinction. There are examples of nations that have decided against the exploitation of certain natural re-source in order to support the higher objectives of clean and safe environments ensure citizen’s wellbeing. Examples include El Salvador where mining has been proscribed and Costa Rica where crude oil is le in the soil.

The benefits of re-source democracy include elimination of conflicts, community involvement in re-source governance and protection based on knowledge and assurance of access. It ensures an integrated and sustainable use of natural re- sources in a manner that is fully in consonance with socio-cultural, religious and political dictates. Re-source democracy ensures that we all join together in acts of solidarity to defend the natural re-sources on which we inevitably depend for our survival. It does this by recognizing the rights of nature to replenish itself, maintain its vital cycles and do so without destructive interventions by humans.

Re-source democracy gives us rights and also responsibilities. It is an inescapable construct in an era where human greed massively damages ecosystems, depletes re-sources and threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Sustainability Academy on Re-Source Democracy/Conflicts on the occasion of International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament co-hosted by the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on 24 May 2017.

 

In the Shadows of the Future (Poem)

In the Shadows of the Future

In a hide-away in Rustlers Valley

Lodged where the EarthRises to meet the mountains
Drawn by the call of caves and waterfalls
Enraptured by the pull of ancestral footsteps
Sucked into the silence of wisdom
Etched in the solidity of memories long grafted in our blood
We knew we were here thousands of years before
Humbled
We stooped
We rose
And beheld far flung horizons
Future Africa etched in a rocky vista
Global and Greengranting
Hope and solidarity
Pole pole

Things start from the bottom
Yet many prefer the summit
With eyes set at the pockets
Ladders kicked to secure lonely spots
Alone, encrusted in gold and diamond debris while
Folks at the bottom drown in acid mine drainage and still
Buffoons in power relish their tango in gilded caskets

In a hide-away in unnamed valleys
Taunted by numerous sunsets men celebrate
Burials in twisted metallic mind-sets
Dozing blinded by blinkers of exaggerated self-glory
Blind to
Soft trees
With roots tucked in stubborn soils
Split rocks
Yes, we are soft saplings
On the edges of the future
Ears pressed to the rocks we hear
Ancient rhapsodies we hear
Unspoken questions wafting in the air
Which is firmer as you ponder this mountain
Grass or rock?

Beholding solid shadows
We hear the oft whispered queries as
Hearts pump as we ponder the mountains of life
Are you ascending?
Are you descending?
What is the spiral locked in your DNA?
Standing in silence we
Untwist our minds as we
Stand at liberty at the feet of Mother Earth as we
Eliminate blinkers of exaggerated self-glory we
Know that saplings
With roots hooked in stubborn soils
Will split the most stubborn rocks
Pole pole

As we ponder the shadows and the cracks
This poem will be finished…
In the valley or
on the mount


(For Jay Naidoo & Stephen Pittam)

11 May 2017