FishNet Wisdom: Fish not Oil. There must be a time when we sit back to reflect on the things we take for granted in order to avoid being taken by surprise when such things disappear. No one bothers to answer a question on what one would do if the water well runs dry. Probably, the answer would be to dig another well. If that one dries up too, you simply keep digging new ones. The colour of the question changes when we ask what would happen if the ground water over an entire territory is polluted and you set about digging wells there. The answer is that no matter how many wells one digs, one would end up with polluted water.
Today over 6.5 million Nigerians are engaged in fishing. Most of these fisher folks live on riverine communities along our 850km coastline – without public utilities, no schools, no health centres. Is that situation different here in Makoko? Was it different at Otodo Gbame before the bulldozers set in April 2017 and set hopes and dreams on fire? Was it any different in Maroko before the fisher folks were forcibly displaced in July 1990 and exclusive neighbourhoods emerged from the swamps?
Oil has been found offshore Lagos. As is the case with every offshore location around our continent, security forces bar fisher folks from getting anywhere close to the oil platforms.
The offshore locations in the Niger Delta are very active – with productive oil fields and rampant oil spills. As we speak, fishing communities at Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State are lamenting the impact of yet another oil spill. They complain of fishing grounds being damaged and their fishing equipment being destroyed by the spill.
The combination of security cordon and oil spills places our fisher folks at a very disadvantaged position. The only option for many fisher folks is to go into the high seas before they can hope to have a good catch. The question is, how many fisher folks can afford the boats and equipment needed for fishing in the high seas? How many can tango with the toxic combination of sea pirates and illegal international fishing gangs out there?
Today we are examining the state of our environment and the gifts of Nature around us. We are looking back at what living and fishing here was like some decades ago. We are also looking at the situation today, noting the changes that have taken place, identifying those factors that brought about, or are bringing about, the changes. Finally, we will prepare an action plan by which we hope to recover our ecological heritage and preserve same for future generations.
There must be a time when we realise that we cannot win all battles fighting alone. We must come to the point when we organise and connect to others in similar situations like ours. That way, we get to share ideas, pains, hopes and strategies.
Today is such a day. Fisher folks recently came together at Okrika Waterfront in Port Harcourt while others came together in kribi (Cameroon) and Durban (South Africa). The circle gets wider. Our FishNet Dialogues are opportunities to forge strong ecological collectives and to show the world that we have the adaptive solutions to the ravages of climate change. Our floating homes are pointers to the future of Lagos as the seas reclaim the land that land speculators stole form the sea. We are the people. We are the solution, not the threat. The threat is our dependence on crude oil – the very resource that is firing global warming. Today we present a simple wisdom: it is time to keep offshore oil untapped. Today we present this simple incontrovertible wisdom: our wellbeing and that of the planet will best be preserved when we unit and say: Fish, not Oil.
This post is the EnviroNews report on the outcome of a recent scientific conference hosted by Catholic medical practitioners recently in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. You can also read the entire communique here: 2017 ACMP Communique in PH
We reproduce the EnviroNews report:
Catholic Medical Practitioners have called on the federal government to legislate, regulate and monitor the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Nigeria.
While demanding that attention be payed to the labelling of GMO products, they demanded adequate funding for research and development by the GMO regulatory agencies for the nation to derive benefits from the technology.
“But more importantly, to protect our people and environment from the many possible dangers thereto: decreasing food productivity, food gene extermination, corruption of soil ecology, food insecurity and biological imperialism as well as various health hazards on human beings, the environment, animals and plants,” declared the Association of Catholic Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (ACMPN) in a communique released at the close of its 12th scientific conference and annual general meeting that had “Genetically-Modified Organisms: How Harmful, Harmless or Beneficial?” as the theme.
The event held from Thursday, July 6 to Saturday, July 8, 2017 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The conference called on the government to re-commit to working for all Nigerians, truly developing a national consciousness on shared values.
They also want the government to lead Nigerians to possess, take ownership and protect the nation morally, socially, politically, and economically in a truly independent and progressive manner.
“The protection of lives of everyone, including the unborn Nigerians is a sacred duty for all, especially those in authority,” the medical practitioners noted, calling on the authorities to adequately train the personnel, equip and fund the national agencies mandated to protect the health and lives of citizens, the environment and natural resources.
“In this way, these agencies will not become mere facilitators and local proxy organisations for global businesses and so-called development partners whose underlying targets may be inimical to the strategic interests of Nigeria and her peoples.”
The conference further called on Catholic doctors to engage in health insurance and especially community-based health insurance to help citizens access health care, and for Nigeria to achieve universal health coverage to improve its current low indices.
It also called on all doctors of goodwill to adopt healthier, ethically and culturally adequate approaches in their maternal, child and family health care, rather than the values of the “culture of death”.
The ACMPN also re-committed itself to promote the sanctity of human life, marriage between a man and a woman, natural family planning and NaProTechnology in pursuit of family health and national development.
FishNet Conversations. True change can come from below. Change can begin from below. True change must come from below. Just as it is the root system that makes a tree stand, so it is with changes that must last. We have ignored the roots of our problems long enough and today we are dissecting those roots so that we can clearly see where the proverbial rain began to beat us.
Along the 853km coastline of Nigeria are men and women floating in turbulent tides, seeking to draw out the swirling foods that are in turn seeking their own food. There are epic struggles on and in our waters: our fishing brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers struggle to catch the aquatic beings. The aquatic beings struggle not just to escape the nets and hooks, but also to catch a breath as they are suffocated by myriad pollutants and poisons. These realities extend along the coasts of our inland water bodies as well as the continental shorelines of Africa and around the world.
And, so, our stop today is for reflections on the health of our aquatic ecosystems and the challenge of offshore extractive activities and the economic situation of our peoples. Similar dialogues have commenced in South Africa where fisher folks are fighting for a right to fish on the piers of the Durban harbour without restrictions that blocks them away known fishing grounds. We have also had similar conversations at Kribi, Cameroun, where the entrance of the Chad-Cameroun pipeline has destroyed coral reefs and fisher folks have to go deeper into the seas in hope of having a meaningful catch.
As we gather today on this challenged Water Front in Port Harcourt, our FishNet Dialogue will examine the past and the present and draw up a picture of our preferred future. We are looking back at what the fishing situation was in the Niger Delta before the extraction of petroleum resources despoiled the marine environment. We are reflecting on what species were available and what ecological norms our ancestors applied to ensure a steady supply of nutritious foods and how they built the local economies. We are looking at what has happened since our territories became an industrial waste dump, where mangroves have been destroyed by many factors and where fishing grounds have been largely curtailed by military shields ringing oil and gas facilities. We will touch on the rising sea levels, eroding coastlines and the salinization of our fresh water systems. Importantly, we are reflecting on who are the culprits and what must be done and how.
Our hope is that, as we sit in this and other FishNet Dialogues, we will extend hands to other fishing communities along the entire coast of Africa (and beyond), share our stories and underscore the facts of our common humanity, our right to food and our right to live in dignity. We look forward to the day when it will dawn on all that fish is more valuable than oil. We are looking forward to the day when our voices will echo Fish Not Oil on our simmering tides. We are looking forward to the day when change will truly come from below and climate action will finally have as a pivotal hook the reality that offshore fossil fuels must be left untapped and unburned.
Fisheries contribute substantially to local economies and are a vital source of protein for most of our peoples. It is estimated that fisheries contribute up to N126 billion to Nigeria’s economy annually. Sadly, only about 30 percent of our fish needs are produced locally – and these come from artisanal, aquaculture and industrial fisheries. In the Niger Delta, it is a worrisome truth that many fisher folks have become fetchers of wood as the creeks and rivers have been so polluted that fishing has become largely unproductive. Fishing communities have been forced to depend on imported fish by pollution and by reckless and illegal harvesting of fish by foreign trawlers along our continental shelf. Starkly, some analyst believe that the Nigeria is the highest importer of fish in Africa.
It is time to challenge our policy makers to interrogate the essence of development and determine what truly makes economic sense. The offshore extractive sector employs a handful of citizens, but throws millions out of work due to the taking over of fishing grounds and the pollution of the creeks, rivers and seas. Although GDP measures do not put food on dining table or is not an index of well-being, for a notion of the economic implication, we consider the case of Ghana. As at 2011, the fishery industry accounted for nearly 5 percent of Ghana’s GDP and jobs in the offshore oil industry for Ghanaians were estimated to be around 400 with an expectation that this may double by 2020. Meanwhile, fishing directly or indirectly supported up to 10 percent of the country’s population. Think about that.
We must consider the grave impacts on the global climate by the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels – an addiction that permits extreme extraction and the poking around for deposits in the deep sea. We question the economic sense of investing huge sums of money to set up drilling platforms and Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) stations in stormy, dangerous waters.
Offshore oil production involves environmental risks, the most notable one being oil spills from oil tankers or pipelines, and from leaks and accidents including facilities failure on the platform. The materials used in the process of drilling are also a source for worry. We cite the example of drilling muds used for the lubrication and cooling of the drill bits and pipes. The drilling muds release toxic chemicals that affect marine life. One drilling platform can drill several wells and discharge more than 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the ocean.
We also have to consider produced water, a fluid brought up with oil and gas and making up about 20 percent of the waste associated with offshore drilling. At exploratory stages, seismic activities send a strong shock waves across the seabed that can decrease fish catch, damage the hearing capacity of various marine species and lead to marine mammal stranding. Many dead whales washed onshore in Ghana at the time seismic and oil drilling activities peaked in that country’s offshore. We also had similar experiences during offshore accidents, such as the Chevron rig explosion off the coast of Bayelsa State in January 2012.
Offshore oil rigs also attract seabirds at night due to their lighting and flaring and because fish aggregate near them. The attraction of fish to the rigs deprive fisher folks of access due to the naval cordon around the facilities. The process of flaring involves the burning off of fossil fuels which produces black carbon (a current menace around Port Harcourt) and constitute a source of greenhouse gases that compound the global warming crisis.
Fishery on the other hand has little or no negative externality on the people or environment. It is a source of food and food security as well. It is a source of job creation. And it does not harm the climate. Offshore extraction and its externalities point towards negative indicators and are prime sources of conflicts between nations. Our FishNet Dialogues aim to build local economies, fight global warming at the base and build a movement from below to ensure a liveable planet, support local economies and build peace.
Let the dialogue continue.
Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director Health of Mother Earth Foundation, at the FishNet Dialogue held at Port Harcourt on 7 July 2017
A Hard Superhighway to Travel. The Superhighway project has been controversial from the day it was first announced publicly for many reasons. First, it was routed without regard to the negative impacts it would have on the Cross River National Park (CRNP) and a number of community forests in its path. The path chosen initially for the 260 kilometres Superhighway was carved out in a manner reminiscent of how Africa was partitioned at the Berlin Conference of 1884 – probably over tea and coffee, or as men hunted for game, and for territories. The path showed a disregard for the unique biodiversity of the region and was equally mindless of the climate impact that would ensue from the massive deforestation that the project was bound to cause. There was also no clarity about how the CRSG would ensure that this is not a white elephant project that would only promote the harvesting of timber from the forest and leave a scarred environment and impoverished communities in its wake.
The 23 conditions attached to the approval of the Superhighway project underscore the fact that development must be relevant to its context and must be in the interest of the people and the environment.
The superhighway as initially proposed met stiff resistance because it appeared to have been poorly thought out and directly threatened over 180 communities, water sources, endemic plant and animal species and lacked clarity about what goods would be conveyed from the proposed “deep” sea port at Esighi to Katsina Ala. It also refused to acknowledge that there is an existing highway that is crying out for refurbishing and would very much serve the purpose of linking the end points of the proposed superhighway. What is the allure for this project? Could it be the label “super” attached to it or are there yet to be revealed intentions?
Four Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) submissions down the line, it is now hoped that all stakeholders have learned valuable lessons in project inception and implementation. It should indeed be a sobering and humbling moment with nothing to celebrate for the proponents of the highway that has foisted unnecessary controversy over the supply of a rather basic infrastructure. The 260 km Superhighway has now elongated to 275.344 Km due to the need to avoid the Cross River National Park as well as community forests including the one at Ekuri.
One of the most vexatious impacts of the proposed highway at a point was the revocation of ownership of lands stretching a whopping 10 km on either side of the highway. 10 km on either side of the proposed highway! This was an extremely and ridiculously colonial idea treating the territory literally as a no man’s land. This idea was thrown in the trash bin by the CRSG after receiving much condemnation locally and internationally. We are pleased to see that the Federal Ministry of Environment is insisting that the CRSG should gazette the nullification of that revocation and restrict itself to 70m only as the permissible right of way. This will protect the communities that faced imminent displacement by that attempt at incredible and obnoxious land grab. We also note that one of the conditions is that those that have suffered harm from the project should be compensated. That is the way it should be. The task now is for all stakeholders to monitor and ensure that there is strict compliance with this condition.
The 23 conditions that the Federal Ministry of Environment requires CRSG to fulfil before they would receive the certificate of approval of the EIA necessitates careful study by all stakeholders. It should be carefully and critically examined by communities through which the highway would pass. They also provide civil society and other stakeholders with a template for the detailed monitoring of the overall highway project. Having a conditional EIA approval should be a call on the CRSG to return to the drawing board and get herself ready for the Herculean task of delivering a 275.344km highway that could have been avoided if only she had considered fixing the existing dilapidated Calabar Ogoja highway.
The insistence of the Federal Ministry of Environment that the right thing must be done will eventually help the CRSG to deliver a project that is sensitive to the needs of the people, is not too disruptive of the ecosystems and that will eventually do more good than harm. That is the whole essence of the EIA process. The process has never been political and the resistance by the communities and civil society has been strictly in line with the law.
The conditions require that the Cross River National Park must not be violated by the highway. It also requires that the highway must not tamper with the Ekuri Forest and others. It requires that those whose properties have been tampered with or may be destroyed by the project must be compensated. The gazetting of the cancellation of the revocation order on the 10km stretch on either side of the highway before the project proceeds will ensure that no one’s land is grabbed by stealth. The condition states that the CRSG must “gazette the reversal of revocation order on the acquisition of 10km on either side to the 70km span of the road corridor as well as the gazetting of the boundary of Cross River National Park within two weeks (2) of receipt of this letter.”
The conditional EIA approval is a win for everyone – the Federal and State governments as well as the forest communities and the planet as a whole. With the new routing of the Superhighway, there will be less deforestation and thus lessened climate impacts.
The lesson of the conditional approval of the EIA for the superhighway is that it took four attempts at EIA submission before the proponents of this project could come up with something close to passable. Stakeholders note that the CRSG took many decisions without adequate consultations with communities and other stakeholders. Communities were treated with disdain by aristocratic public officers who preferred monologues to dialogues. At a recent Community Dialogue at Akpabuyo, the community people all said they just woke up one day to see bulldozers destroying their crops, land and properties. In other words, they were not consulted. And they were not compensated. One of the conditions given before the EIA would be fully approved is that this anomaly must be corrected. This is a stiff rebuke for a behaviour that should be avoided in future.
We are also pleased to note that CRSG is to ensure that the updated maps in the new EIA must show that the “re-routed road corridor takes cognizance of the boundary of Cross River National Park and Ekuri Community Forest as well as conform to international best practices on setbacks for highways in critical ecosystems such as the proposed corridor.”
The conditional approval is also a stern rebuke for EIA consultants who believe that the exercise is perfunctory and that they can produce a cut-and-paste document with scant relevance to specific project locations. The entire process speaks volumes about the professionalism and quality of service being provided by officers who are saddled with the duties of watching out for the public good. This is where a huge gulf appears between those at the Federal Ministry of Environment and those at the ministry in the Cross River State. The superhighway saga provides a good opportunity for honing of needed skills, engagement with communities and other stakeholders and rebuilding the Cross River brand as a State that benefits from and is deeply appreciative of her cultural and ecological heritage, and acknowledges the intrinsic value of Nature and her gifts. It must also be kept in mind that projects of the size of the proposed highway have present and intergenerational implications. Even if we assume that we don’t owe ourselves an obligation to do the right thing, we cannot avoid a debt that we owe the future.
Food Security in the Niger Delta can best be examined using the classic rule of thumb of the right to food and the right to be free from hunger. This basically requires that we approach the subject from the premise that we must own our food narrative. We shouldn’t be adjudged malnourished or hungry simply because we do not eat certain prescribed foods, in what manner and in what quantities. This necessitates that we consider the crucial need to approach food security in the context of food sovereignty.
The implication is that we have to focus on food that is produced by the people and that are culturally appropriate. This is vital, because food availability does not necessarily address the issue of food security if the people end up eating junk or are force-fed on foods they don’t really want. In the Niger Delta, as in the overall national situation, while we have spots where few citizens battle with mountains of food, the majority are drowning in the ocean of hunger.
Hunger arises due to a complex of socio-political realities.
Food is a human right. Food security is hinges on agriculture, property rights and environmental management. The deep link to agriculture is inescapable as the majority of our people are engaged in the production of food in one form or the other. And the story of the despoiled Niger Delta environment is well told.
In 1996, SERAC filed a case against the Federal Government of Nigeria at the African Commission Human and Peoples’ Rights denouncing “the widespread contamination of soil, water and air; the destruction of homes; the burning of crops and killing of farm animals; and the climate of terror the Ogoni communities had been suffering of, in violation of their rights to health, a healthy environment, housing and food. In terms of the African Charter, these allegations included violations of Articles 2 (non-discriminatory enjoyment of rights), 4 (right to life), 14 (right to property), 16 (right to health), 18 (family rights), 21 (right of peoples to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources) and 24 (right of peoples to a satisfactory environment)”
When the Commission reached a decision in 2011, the FG was found culpable violating the people’s right to food. Thus, when we consider the food security in the Niger Delta we must keep in mind that there is a continued failure of the governments to uphold the right of the people to safe and satisfactory food and by extension, all the other rights.
Absence of food is a major threat to human security.
Food is available when food producers are able to invest their time, energy, resources and skills in the farming, herding or fishing and attain good harvests for subsistence or for commercial purposes. Food is accessible when it can be found within reach of the hungry, and critically so when they have the purchasing power to acquire it. Food availability is also anchored on the appropriateness of the items within the cultural context.
Production and consumption of food depend not just on current realities, but on the collective and cultural memories of the people. These include how seeds are acquired and from whom, as well as how they are sown and by whom. Are the seeds purchased or do farmers get them from what they had saved? Is planting solely individual effort or does it include the cooperation of neighbours and other communal configurations?
For farmers to supply food in quantities that cover their needs and leave surpluses for the market, they have to sow sufficient seeds of good quality and on good quality soil. The impoverishment of farmers could lead to reduction in the scope of their productive ability – including farm size, quality and quantity of seeds as well as their capacity to work.
Soil and Seeds
When soils are of poor quality, the best efforts of the farmers would be largely futile and unproductive. When the soils are bad, the harvests would be bad and seeds saved to be planted would be of poor quality and are bound to yield poorer harvests. In situations of this nature, farmers engaged in farming as a routine, on automaton, expecting little and getting nothing. With the depth of pollution in the Niger Delta, farming is often mere tradition.
Over the years, local food varieties have been lost or abandoned. Massive deforestation due to logging, land use conversion, infrastructure development and industrial activities threaten vital food sources.
Oil exploration and extraction have brought about major changes in food production and access in the Niger Delta. The impacts come through the entire chain: from seismic activities of the exploration stage to the production, transportation and eventual usage stages. Seismic activities in the seas have direct impact on aquatic life forms and drilling wastes impact both land and water bodies. Dumping of hundreds barrels of produced water into the environment adds to the deadly pollution. Oil spills from equipment failure and from third party interferences add to the tragic situation. Gas flares diminish agricultural productivity and the use of the furnaces to process foods contaminate and poison the people.
Indiscriminate harvesting of fish by international fleets raise unique security issues and wreak havoc on fisheries, further impoverishing local fishers.
Canalizations for oil sector operations have also damaged fresh water systems by bringing in salt water from the sea. This has marked implications for fish and agricultural productivity. Coastal erosion is Eating up farmlands and infrastructure.
The overall situation is so bad that fishermen and women depend on imported fish for sustenance.
When Security Breeds Insecurity
Paradoxically, the presence of security forces in the Niger Delta to some extent promotes insecurity in the region. This happens in the sense that the citizens are insecure in the presence of these officials. Curtailment of certain undesirable activities may also become impossible if those charged with halting them do nothing or get compromised in the process. Collective shaming and punishment as evidenced in the many checkpoints in the creeks and have been seen in the cases of Ogoni, Odi, Odioma, Gbaramatu and many others attest to this.
Military shields around oil and gas facilities reduce the fishing zones and keep fishers away from customary or known fishing zones. Fisher folks now have to go to international waters, at great cost and risks, if they hope to make any reasonable catch.
Dumping of industrial waste at sea further hampers the productivity of the efforts of the fishers. This has raised concerns for fisher folks in the Niger Delta and in nations with offshore extractive activities.
The must assured way of ensuring food security in Niger Delta is the protection/management of the environment and the enhancement of her agricultural biodiversity. Agro-biodiversity is the one of the basic productive assets of family farmers. This will require a halt of the pollutions, including gas flaring going on in the Niger Delta. On a national scale, it would necessitate the repeal of the National Biosafety Management Act 2015 and the enacting of a National Biodiversity Management Act that would not only protect and ensure the preservation of our agricultural biodiversity but would help kick start a bio-economy based on nature’s gifts to the nation.
Working the Future
1. Clean up the Niger Delta, restore the environment and compensate the people for loses suffered
2. Government to support farming and fishing communities structurally – including agricultural extension services, finance, creation of fish markets, storage facilities and rural infrastructure
3. Research into and support biodiversity conservation and promote the building of an economy that is based on local knowledge as well as on the principles of Re-Source Democracy
4. Establish a National Biodiversity Management Agency – and cover Biosafety matters within this agency
5. Demilitarize the Niger Delta and encourage community policing instead.
Speaking points by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF
at the Roundtable on Food Security in the Niger Delta, 29 July 2017 at Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja