Deprivation, Accommodation and Resistance

B6640FCF-F25E-47B0-8C5A-5B20341E1E94Education on Watery streets. There are some things that are better learned by personal experience than by stories we hear from other persons. However, it is also true that we do not desire to learn or experientially learn everything. There are things we would rather hear about, and others we prefer not to learn of at all. We choose to be willfully blind to certain things so as to maintain our aloofness from the glaring realities around us. Our choices of what realities to be open to, or immerse ourselves in, demarcate the boundaries of our willingness, readiness and availability to intervene in dire situations.

There are lessons that remain indelible in our minds and are scarcely eroded by the passage of time. One of such lessons for this writer was learned on a trip to oilfield communities in the Niger Delta in the late 1990s, organized by Oilwatch International as part of a cultural exchange between friends from Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. It was a long and tortuous trip made on foot, by bus and by boats. We were thoroughly trashed by bumpy, dusty, muddy and broken roads. At a time the bus ride was so bumpy we had to individually decide whether it was better to endure the ride standing up or sitting down. At the end of the bus ride, which literally was the end of the unpaved road, we were glad to place our feet on solid ground.

Have you ever been in a community where children pay school fees on a daily basis? Can you imagine that a child has to pay 50 (fifty) Naira daily to be able to sit in classroom to learn? Can you also imagine that because of the difficulty of raising 50 Naira on a daily basis, many children are out of school and others can only afford to go to school on a certain number of days per week as their parents can afford to pay the fee?

That was not our destination for the day. We pressed on, but this time by boat. It was already dark and the creek ahead of us presented a foreboding picture of an uncanny mystery. As paddles plowed through the dark waters, a guide held a paraffin lantern to ensure we didn’t make a wrong turn and to assure us that we were on the right path. Verdant boughs formed canopies over the creek at some points, mangroves provided staging platforms for frogs and other active contributors to that hum and chime that arises from rich ecosystems. Were they singing for joy or where these sounds plaintive whelps for help? Soon we saw flickering lights ahead of us and then we were at the village where we were to pass the night.

We were welcomed by joyful community folks who had prepared rooms for us in a guest house whose doors were barely hanging unto their hinges. The joy of the reception, the hot dinner and the beauty of the dark night were enough to erase any worries about dusty roads, muddy paths, doors that stayed ajar and mosquitoes that quickly assembled in uninvited orchestra. Before calling it a day or night, there was an assembly with community youths and leaders.

All these did not strike this writer as anything exceptional or out of this world. Having experienced the deprivations suffered by resource rich communities in various parts of Africa and others in the global south, and having been born and raised in another part of the Niger Delta, I was at home. Literally. What struck me was a statement made by a friend from a neighbouring country. He was absolutely aghast by what he saw. He was overwhelmed by the poverty, the neglect and the dire situations of the communities whose only access to energy was the polluting paraffin lamps or the roaring flames of gas flares a little way off. As we walked to our guest house that night, this friend declared that he would have become a revolutionary if he had been born in any place like the ones were were visiting. Before anyone could respond to our friend, a sage from Latin America answered, declaring that being a revolutionary is the inescapable path for anyone that is attentive the objective realities of his or her environment. Many years have passed and I have had to recall this episode on different occasions and in different ways, but the import remains fresh in my memory, proving light as we plow through the often spooky creeks of life.

That admonition comes alive whenever I visit Makoko communities in Lagos, the aspiring mega city and the economic capital of Nigeria. Understandably, many residents of Lagos do not even know where Makoko is, although it sits on the fringes of the Lagos Lagoon and is visible from the Third Mainland Bridge. The task of making it through the traffic on that bridge could actually keep motorists focused on the many stickers on the bumpers ahead of them other than to be distracted by a smog smothered community on the lips of the lagoon.

Makoko is home to over 100,000 Lagosians. It is made up of vibrant, thriving communities with a large number of the people living above water, moving on water and conducting their businesses on water. The housing here gives an indication of what residents of Lagos may resort to in adaptation to sea level rise and other impacts of climate change. The environment is clogged with plastic and other wastes pushing their way to the open lagoon and to the sea. Residents are weary of pollution tourists and others who are constantly going through the watery streets with cameras at the ready, clicking away at the exotic buildings and colourfully decorated boats.

Here is where some environmental and human rights activists have stood with the people, resisting the persistent attempts by property speculators who hide in the folds of the gowns of political leaders, and are working to demolish rather than upgrade these communities. Among activists that have stood by the communities are Felix Morka, the director of Social Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) and Betty Abah of Children’s Health Education, Orientation and Protection also known as CEE-HOPE. Their joy in working in these deprived communities must be fired by the conviction that the human spirit can thrive on solidarity and rise above the constricting realities of pervading neglect.

The streets of Makoko are clogged by boats piloted by kids, some probably as young as five years old. Others learn the skills splashing about in basins on the fetid waters. Their hope of having more schools in their communities were raised by the once iconic Floating School which had gained global attention but was knocked down by a storm and left the hapless kids watching as their dream was shattered and the debris floated away.

Have you ever been in a community where children pay school fees on a daily basis? Can you imagine that a child has to pay 50 (fifty) Naira daily to be able to sit in classroom to learn? Can you also imagine that because of the difficulty of raising 50 Naira on a daily basis, many children are out of school and others can only afford to go to school on a certain number of days per week as their parents can afford to pay the fee? You would be excused if you wring your hands or noses and snort that primary eduction is free. What options do children have in places where there are no public schools and only a handful of spaces are available in struggling private establishments? That is the reality in Makoko. That is the cry of the children of Makoko. What would be your response if you lived in this reality? Accommodation? Resistance? Transformation?

Perverse Corporate Investment Benefits

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Let us look at forces that lock in perverse corporate investment benefits. The quality of political leadership of nations is often judged by the volume of corporate investments they are able to attract, or trigger. These investments could be from national or transnational corporations. A favoured manner of describing some of the inroads made by, or with, the transnational corporations is one that encourages foreign direct investment. Diplomatic travels by political leaders is often geared towards showcasing business opportunities in their home countries by selling the notion that such investors would enjoy political protection as well as the best business environments.

Nations also make laws and regulations to ensure that local businesses are integrated in the areas dominated by transnational corporations. Such moves are sometimes termed backward integration, economic empowerment or indigenisation processes. Whatever is the case, governments work hard to ensure that these entities enjoy a good level of ease of doing business. The quest for ease of doingbusiness has become such a desirable thing that indices for measuring achievements in that mode have been developed and governments work hard to ensure that they are not found on the wrong end of the measuring stick.

Transnational corporations are especially favoured in the viewing lenses of national governments because they are seen as a major source of foreign exchange earnings and their flourishing encourages the influx of other corporate entities. The corporations are also seen as major job creators and politicians do whatever they can imagine would help ensure that the job numbers are higher than those recorded by their predecessors, or are unassailable by the promises of their competitors.

Followers of international politics will notice the way some political leaders are fixated or deeply immersed in following the job indexes as well as the outcomes of each trading day at the stock exchanges.  To some of us who are not experts in the economic fields, the posture of political leaders with regard to the indexes and indices sometimes appear comparable to the way people focus on games, rejoicing when things go our way, then sulking and laying out blames when things turn against our favoured teams. Whereas spectators at a sporting event cannot determine the outcome of the competition, officials sometimes engage in what is termed match-fixing in the soccer arena, for example. Match-fixing distorts the spirit of the game and attracts sanctions when uncovered. However, political leaders engage in what can be regarded as match-fixing through tariff wars or when they manipulate the value of their national currencies. Who sanctions them?

Having political leaders deeply focussed on their national, and even global economic fortunes, does make sense to the extent that a state of health of the nation can be gauged by the health of her economy. However, the economy can give a distorted sense of the wellbeing of nations when the measures are inclined mostly to the production and movement of goods and services in the formal sectors.

The forgotten and often purposely ignored sectors are populated by citizens that are not employed by governments or by corporations. They lie in the informal or unorganised sectors, if we take note of the term ‘organised private sector’ as is used in countries, including Nigeria. The notion that government has no business in business has led to the general belief that it is not the duty of government to provide jobs for the people. This has pushed governments to strive to reduce their workforce and forever moan over the fact that recurrent expenditure spent on civil service wages is bloated and a blot on the health of national economies. While the workforce continues to be constricted, the work to be done by government remains and to justify keeping citizens in an endless search for jobs, duties that ought to be carried out by government workers are farmed out to the private sector.

While the private sector is a vital part of any nation’s economy, the general belief that government cannot effectively and efficiently deliver services is a myth entrenched by neoliberal propagandists. Making the distortion worse is the reality that after giving contracts to private entities, governments also provide financial coverage for these entities when they obtain loans for the execution of the contracts. The reality that governments access loans at a cheaper rate than the private sector does not bother the promoters of the dubious creed that government has no business in business. With layers of consultancies and a web of invisible services, corporations are sometimes able to obtain a pile of financial benefits for providing services that only they can see. This phenomenon has been characterised as official larceny by Nicholas Hildyard of The Corner House in his book, Licensed Larceny: Infrastructure, Financial Extraction and the global South.

The matter of invisible services is heightened in the extractive sector where transnational corporations enter into agreements with governments but act as the operators of the businesses, determining what needs to be done, how it is done and what is expended on carrying out such activities. This is the case in the petroleum sector in Nigeria, for example. The operators determine the cost of operations, and such costs are recovered at source and the balance of the earnings is what is then shared with the government and other players in such joint ventures. This state of affairs subsists, and the Petroleum Industry laws stagnate in their primordial forms, because the corporations ostensibly bring incredible benefits to the nation.

The ease of doing business requirement is also enhanced by the creation of export free zones where corporates escape the requirements of national laws and to a large extent operate more or less as colonial enclaves. Besides, in the quest to ensure corporate profits, there is no accounting with regards to health and environmental harms inflicted on the people and communities. And, although national laws governing the extractive sector demands that exit plans by made, and resources kept aside for closure of mine or oil wells at the onset of the projects, these are neither enforces nor adhered to. Thus, oil wells drilled in the 1950s have been abandoned and were never truly decommissioned and are leaking crude into the environment to this day. The benefits brought by transnational oil corporations remains perverse if the question as to when the damage done to the environment, people and communities will be accounted and when the heavily impacted environment will be evaluated and restored are not addressed.

 

 

 

 

These are Revolutionary Times

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Poster by Chaz

These are Revolutionary Times. A revolution becomes necessary when it becomes obvious that bringing about change will take too much time. This underscores the reason why a revolution necessarily is a challenge to business as usual. It could challenge political orthodoxy and may not be palatable to those whose interests are rooted in the status quo.

There are many reasons why we can reasonably say that we have come to the point when a global revolution has become an inescapable necessity. Think of the rapid species extinction, water stress, increased deforestation and desertification. Bear in mind the current trend of organized and even random violence, rising inequality and xenophobic politics. Think of the fact that we are at the precipice of an ecological catastrophe with looming runaway climate chaos coupled with inordinate consumption and wastage of resources.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

The socio-political situation in Nigeria has been calling for a revolution for decades even though the word ‘revolution’ may not have been used. Today the word has been presented as one with incendiary connotations. This could be due to the fact that the term has been used in that manner in the past. For example, Isaac Adaka Boro declared a revolution in the 1960s only to have the uprising crushed in twelve days. Since then we have had governments embarking on programmes that were fundamentally conceived as seeking to birth a revolution in Nigeria. No eye brows were raised.

Let us stay in history for a moment. Have we always been averse to revolution? The answer is a resounding no. The government of President Shehu Shagari mounted what was called an Ethical Revolution, while the government of General Muhammadu Buhari waged a War Against Indiscipline (WAI). In the days of the military presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida there was the programme tagged Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) which was one of the recommendations of the Political Bureau that was headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey.

The 2015 election saw the birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which ran and won the election with a clarion call for CHANGE. At that time, the ruling party was campaigning on the tracks of Transformation, which in itself can be said to be more radical than Change. And to up its drive for Change, the current ruling party has promised to take Nigerians to the Next Level. While we may debate what that Next Level portends, it does seem that when Change steps up its game the result is bound to be revolutionary.

Having these historical and current antecedents in mind, it can be said that a revolution is not necessarily a bad thing. And, we don’t have to be fixated on so-called sponsors of revolutionary activities. The truth is that a revolution may not need to be funded. It is people who make radical changes happen.

The meaning of the word revolution is admittedly broad and can be given a bad slant so as to deter its effectuation. A concept that is similarly misunderstood is anarchy or anarchism. Anarchists are opposed to unjust societies and work to support individual creativity, human development and opportunities while eliminating domination and oppression. It’s about realigning the way power is distributed in society, including by extending gender justice. Anarchy is not disorder or the reign of violence, even though some may argue that situations generally point to that direction. But politics is not an arena where terms are given precise definitions.

Clearly, a sitting government can be revolutionary or it can become revolutionary. That would not be termed a rebellion. The call for CHANGE, by some definition could be termed a revolutionary call. As earlier noted, an election was contested and won on that platform. No one screamed rebellion or treason.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

Some of us get really troubled when official spokespersons to political leaders behave more like attack dogs than as persons carrying out a duty that requires careful thinking driven by defined strategic pathways. We must tolerate dissent and not escalate every contrary expression.

Seeing #RevolutionNow as rebellion is just one of a thousand possible interpretations. Incarcerating Omoyele Sowore in the long run cannot add a positive notch to the image of the government or to the nation. It has been said that history depends on those who organize. Sowore is an organizer whether or not anyone likes to admit that as a fact. He has proven it. He is resilient. He is convicted of his convictions. Jail cannot upturn that. Neither would incarceration eliminate the demands he and associates demand of the system.

Every nation needs dreamers, especially when the night hours become exceedingly lengthened. With dreamers we also need those that sound the alarm, that proclaim when it is time to wake.

A Knife to the Throat

ChangeA Knife to the Throat. Think before you dance to the GMO beat. A popular saying has it that the person that pays the drummer dictates the tune. That saying may not hold true at all times because the drummer may on occasion allow her innate artistic flair to take over. The saying, however, finds a wide parallel in situations where governments do not fund their research institutions and agencies, thereby pushing them into the embrace of funding agencies with motives that may not be in sync with that of the governments.

A case in point has to do with the way we are handling issues of biosafety. We do not appear to worry that the surveyors of genetically modified (GM) crops and products, apart from their pretentious messianic posturing are mostly concerned with making profit out of our miseries. We do not worry that our staple crops are targeted and that these marketers are the ones declaring our vitamin or mineral deficiencies and presenting GM crops and foods as silver bullets to solve all our problems.

We are happy when we are assured that GM foods and products will be labelled and that we will definitely have a choice with regard to whether or not we wish to eat them. We do not consider the fact that most of our staples are sold in ways that do not permit labelling. We do ourselves harm when we gloss over this issue. We do know that in the global north you can know the origin of the bananas, oranges and other fruits you buy from the labels stuck on them.

We have said several times that our socio-cultural context does not allow for labelling in our informal marketing and sharing systems. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (ATF) announces that GM beans will be planted in Nigeria in 2020. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are in breach of the law if any GMO is released into our environment and to our markets if it is not, and cannot, be labelled. Without the right of choice, we are forced to eat GM foods with a knife to our throats.

Back to the payer and the drummer. Sometimes the drummer may go into a flourish, but that often happens when the payer starts what may look like limitless spraying of currency notes. If the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Monsanto sprays you with seeds, or a laboratory, the dancer can go into a frenzy.

The fervour with which we are open to being used as testing fields of hypotheses dreamt by speculators, and even by students in foreign laboratories, should capture our attention. We recall when the great work IITA did in developing natural cassava varieties and methods for controlling the dreaded cassava leaf mosaic disease. These days they appear more bent to working on GM cassava for the increase of starch content in the tubers, not for foods for humans, but probably for industrial purposes. One such GM cassava was developed in a student project in a laboratory in Switzerland and brought to Ibadan, Nigeria, for testing. The so-called confined field trials have since been concluded but information on the outcome is not in the public sphere.

The routine response of the agency when asked for information on the basis of which they issue permits is to refer the enquirer to their website. When told that the information is not on their website, their response is to again reiterate their blanket reference to their website.

The same laboratory from Switzerland recently sent another GM cassava for a willing Nigerian institute, the Nigerian Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) located at Umudike, to obtain a permit and carry out confined field testing of a cassava variety engineered to contain high levels of iron and zinc. Despite very detailed comments sent to show why approval should not be granted for its field testing, the approval was granted by mid-July 2019.

Expert comments sent to show why certain applications should not be approved are treated with contempt and brushed aside. The agency is averse to giving a response as to why they reject the contrary points raised by concerned citizens and groups. The arrogance and hostility towards those who do not dance to the GM beats keeps increasing by the day. This has to stop.

The NRCI got the permit to carry out a confined field trial of the GM cassava on a plot measuring not more than 200 square metres. That is small, right? However, NRCI is to ensure a buffer or exclusion zone of 1.5 kilometres in which there must not be any non-GM cassava planted or growing wild. Is that possible in Abia State, or anywhere in Southern Nigeria? 1.5 kilometres without a cassava plant? Another requirement is that the place in which the GM cassava is to be planted must have security personnel keeping watch on a 24 hours basis. Really?

The immediate area of the trial zone is to be surrounded by a pollen trap to prevent the spread of pollen grains from the GM cassava. The trap is not something mechanical, like a mouse trap. It is rather a planted area where the crops planted there must flower at the same time as the GM cassava in the confined trial area. If that is not preposterous enough, consider who would ensure that the area is decontaminated after the field trial. That task will be done by “persons trained by the permit holder.” It is doubtful if such a person can be trusted to be objective in carrying out the task. It is obvious that entire scheme is a wild, needless gamble.

Some of us are wondering if the biosafety regulatory agency in Nigeria should bother to advertise applications for introduction of GM crops and call for comments when they already have their minds set on being little besides a permitting agency. Expert comments sent to show why certain applications should not be approved are treated with contempt and brushed aside. The agency is averse to giving a response as to why they reject the contrary points raised by concerned citizens and groups. The arrogance and hostility towards those who do not dance to the GM beats keeps increasing by the day. This has to stop.