Don’t Call Me at 9 O’clock

2020

Design by Chaz Maviyane-Davies

Don’t Call Me at 9 O’clock. Once upon a time, there were very few television stations in operation in Nigeria, and they only operated for a few hours a day. In those days most stations came on in the afternoon and went off at about midnight. The stations would open with a hissing sound which was followed by the national anthem before the presenters popped up to give a rundown of the programme of the day. Watching TV was a big deal as not every family had one. It was not unusual to see kids peeping through the window into their neighbour’s homes to snatch a few minutes of their favourite programmes.

In the 1990s many states in Nigeria had television stations, but they were obliged to join the national station at 9:00pm for the network news. That was prime time and it was a standard routine for some of us to watch at least the headlines. Watching the news was important if you wished to keep abreast of the thinking of the military dictatorships that held sway at that time. The radio was also useful, but in the tumultuous days of pro-democracy agitations, it was wiser to tune to foreign stations to confirm the reason for the commotion on your streets rather than tune to the local stations. It was that bad.

So, for over twenty years it has become a tradition in my family that we dedicate 9:00-10:00pm as a time for coming together. This has meant keeping the phones aside and not watching television. Although this has become a family tradition, we have thought it wise to regularly remind ourselves of the origins of this routine.

As twisted as some of the official media had become in those days, they provided fairly good sources of information if you learned the art of paying attention to what was not said. On one occasion watching a special broadcast by a military governor following a major uprising in my city gave some of us an inkling as to who the jackboots were targeting for arrest, assault and incarceration.  And we took some preventive measures that were partially successful, at least for a while. But that is a story for another day.

At a point, using the publicly owned mass media for propaganda to promote self-succession or transformation became the standard fair, especially in the regime of General Sani Abachi. There were advertisements extolling “who the cap fit.” Although the general was known to always spot a beret, he was getting itchy to switch over to a taller hat. The national network news at 9:00pm became so cluttered with officially sanctioned alternative news that there was little room to actually get to know what the real situation in the country was. It was at that time that my family decided that having that news hour as our family time was more productive than opening ourselves to servings of officially fabricated fake news.

So, for over twenty years it has become a tradition in my family that we dedicate 9:00-10:00pm as a time for coming together. This has meant keeping the phones aside and not watching television. Although this has become a family tradition, we have thought it wise to regularly remind ourselves of the origins of this routine.

It has been so bad in recent days that a presidential spokesman even justified the presence of a cabal in Aso Rock, claiming that this was simply equivalent to having a kitchen cabinet. Unfortunately, a cabal cannot be equated to a “kitchen cabinet” in the Nigerian context. It is a much more sinister construct, speaking of a clique that works assiduously to subvert public interests while ensuring the rule of personal or sectional interests.

In recent times, the travails of Omoyele Sowore, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd), Sheik Zakzaky, Agba Jalingo, Jones Abri, and some judges arrested in peculiar manners, and for sundry reasons, have raised a number of questions on the state of the democratic space in Nigeria.  The brushes of these Nigerians with the law, judicial processes and security agencies have led many to ask questions about the direction suggested by the drift. One of the key indicators that things are not well has been the role of the judiciary in protecting the human rights of citizens and then the obedience of court orders by security agents and actions and statements from the executive arm of government. An alarming apogee was reached when Sowore was wrestled down in the hallowed chambers of justice and whisked away into another round of detention while he had been released on bail.

The assault of Sowore rightly drew national and global condemnation, thanks to the wide sharing of the sordid spectacle through social media. We should note here that because President Buhari appears to be a man of few words, his spokespersons have resorted to speak even when silence would be more salutary. The unsavoury courthouse incident was presented as being essential for national security and other nations were told to mind their business. The Department of State Services (DSS) came up with the story that the incident was stage-managed and that Sowore was actually wrestled down, and rough-handled, by his supporters to give the security outfit a bad name. What they could not deny was that they were the ones that took him back into custody.

It has been so bad in recent days that a presidential spokesman even justified the presence of a cabal in Aso Rock, claiming that this was simply equivalent to having a kitchen cabinet. Unfortunately, a cabal cannot be equated to a “kitchen cabinet” in the Nigerian context. It is a much more sinister construct, speaking of a clique that works assiduously to subvert public interests while ensuring the rule of personal or sectional interests.

In all, we can say that the brashness displayed by the security forces, sections of the judiciary and the executive are very troubling indeed and needs to be checked before things deteriorate further. The spokespersons of the president and the governors should probably use this holiday season to have a retreat, to retool and to be reminded that abusive and unrestrained language cannot be the hallmark of governance or diplomacy.

So, Sowore was released from incarceration on Tuesday 24 December 2019 on the directive of the Attorney General to the DSS to let him regain his liberty. The same Attorney general had stated on Monday 16 December 2019 that he could not ask the DSS to release Sowore. Femi Falana, Sowore’s lawyer, had on the previous Friday asked the Attorney General to seek the release of his client since he had taken over the case from the DSS.

It came as a surprise that a few days later, he did not only ask the DSS to release Sowore but cited Section 150 (1) of the Nigerian constitution to back up his directive. It was a long, tortuous road to obeying court orders, especially when the case of Colonel Dasuki is also taken into account. Will that constitutional provision now be routinely respected or is what has transpired a fluke?

Bailed

At 9.00pm on Tuesday 24 December 2019 I tuned into the Network News to see if the release of Sowore and Col Dasuki, the most significant events of the day, would make the headlines. They did. Does that mean that things have changed significantly? Is it time to adjust the family tradition? Should I begin to take calls at 9:00pm? Whatever is the case, have an eventful New Year.

 

 

Walk Back from GM Beans

Not on our Plates!

Nigerians are not ready for GM Beans or any GMO for that matter. The commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) beans has been celebrated by the purveyors and promoters of the artificial variety. The Pod Borer-Resistant Cowpea (PBR-Cowpea) also known as Vigna unguiculata is modified to express the Cry1Ab protein expected to “confer protection from certain lepidopteran insect pests of cowpea, principally the pod borer (Maruca vitrata Fabricius).” Although the insecticidal beans has been advertised as the first genetically modified (GM) crop to be released into the Nigerian environment, and for consumption, it is actually the second crop. The first crop was GM cotton whose application for commercial release was approved by the NBMA in 2016.

Most people see cotton as a crop whose use is only in textiles. However, the truth is that cotton seeds are used in making cotton cakes as well as cotton oil. Cotton is eaten by our peoples in one form or the other. We are emphasizing this because some GMO promoters tend to wave off complaints on possible health impacts of the crop on the false claim that it would not enter our food chain.

Seeing the promoters of GM beans celebrate through press conferences, announcements and meetings is quite understandable. The approval for confined field trial of the variety was first granted in 2009, six years before Nigeria had a biosafety law. Another application for same purpose was approved in 2018. After spending over a decade working on the variety and having a system that authorizes its release into the environment and unto our food bowls, any scientist should be proud of the achievement. But the duration of an experiment does not suggest that the product is needed.

In assessing the application for release of the variety into the environment and market, the National Biosafety Committee decided that the beans was more or less the same as the natural counterpart. They also claimed that “The characteristics and factors affecting survival, multiplication, gene expression and dissemination are not different from those of the unmodified counterpart.” They further claimed that “Interactions with the environment are not different from those of the conventional counterpart, except in the insect resistance trait for which the product was modified.” They also claimed that the GM beans is substantially equivalent to the natural variety. In fact, the only queries on the GM beans application are basically on typographical errors.

A section of the report of the recommendation document speaks to the socio-economic considerations regarding the GM beans. This is what they said: “The introduction of the Bt Cowpea will not stop the continued use of unmodified farmer preferred varieties by any farmer who chooses to do so. The use of the Bt cowpea will increase farmers’ wealth from increased yield and reduce Farmer investment in pesticides, it will reduce environmental pollution by the insecticides due to reduced amount of total insecticide sprayed, it will reduce farmers’ health challenges from insecticide exposure. Introduction of Bt Cowpea will translate to improved food security in the entire country due to availability of much higher amounts of cowpea. This will also translate to higher incomes due to export of the commodity, because less residual insecticide means higher acceptability of Nigerian cowpea in the international market.”

There are a number of contentious ascertains in the above quote. First of all, this GM variety will likely contaminate natural varieties through cross pollination, although beans are usually self-multiplied. There is a possibility that even where a farmer chooses not to grow the GM variety, the preferred natural variety could be contaminated. The release of the GM variety thus poses a threat to the preservation of natural species. A loss of natural varieties would mean that rather than promote food security, Nigeria could be stepping into an era of uncertainty, of unpredictability and food supply instability.

The declaration also claims that farmers will earn more income because the beans would have “less residual insecticide” and would thus be more accepted in the international market are questionable. Apart from the fact that the GM beans is actually an insecticide, it is very doubtful that there will be much international market for genetically modified beans, unless their identity will not be declared in such markets.

Although the Nigerian Biosafety Act requires labelling of genetically modified organisms, we have said repeatedly that our socio-cultural and food systems do not lend themselves to labeling. This is obvious with the way our foods are prepared, packaged, presented, served and eaten. It means that regulating our food systems must take our context into consideration and much more care should be taken than may be necessary elsewhere. We are in a situation where the NBMA and the GMO promoters are ambushing both the farmers and the consumers through the release of these needless varieties into our environment and food system.

It is important to note that there are natural innovative strategies to solve the problem of pests including the Push and Pull method and biological control which have proven effective. The rush to adopt a technology immersed in so much controversy and linked to health, environmental as well as economic problems is unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful.

We have had reasons to warn that the NBMA’s process for GMO approval is stacked against contrary opinions and objections. This position has been strengthened by the Recommendation reports posted by the agency on the website of the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH). Two of the reports relate to applications from the Institute of Agricultural Research (IAR), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. One is for GM Beans, while the other is for “confined field trial of maize genetically modified for resistance to stem borer insect and for drought tolerance.” The NBC members that signed the recommendation document for the GM maize application include vested interests represented by prominent and frontline promoters of GMOs in Nigeria. We cannot expect rigorous evaluation and assessment of applications when the promoter is saddled with the task of such assessments.

Considering the above, it is imperative that the risky beans are recalled before it is too late. It is never wrong to retrace your steps when you find that you are on the wrong track. No matter how far you may have gone.

The Coming Green Colonialism

COP25We have entered the era of Nature-based colonialism. Call it the Green Colonialism. The gloves are coming off. The climate crisis in the world is being approached as a mere unfolding change, as business opportunities and not as an emergency that requires drastic action. Nations are comfortable to spend decades on talks and pretend they have ample time to procrastinate or deflect actions. However, this is not a time for propping up fictional ideas and carbon mathematics as though the cycles of Mother Earth are ordered according to some calculus or algorithms.

The climate COP25 held in Madrid is drawing to a close as this is being penned. Not much progress has happened at the negotiations. Indeed, the technocrats who are saddled with actually negotiating the various clauses of the Paris Agreement’s rule book could not conclude work on a number of articles and pushed them over to be handled by the ministers who arrived in the second week. It should be noted that the ministers are basically politicians, and their inputs tend to be weighted heavily on political considerations.

Beginning from the evening of 10 December, a pattern of selective consultations ensued with ministers and not with heads of delegations or negotiators. Considering that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement remains the thorny matter at this COP, observers feared that some of the ministers will be unfamiliar with the details and may indeed be unable to adequately negotiate it due to its complex and technical nature.

It is clearly not a time for propping up fictional ideas and carbon mathematics as though the cycles of Mother Earth are ordered according to some calculus or algorithms.

Issues expected to be handled by the ministers include adaptation financing in the context of the cooperation under Article 6 and use of the approaches for other international mitigation purposes; delivering on the overall mitigation in global emissions; and the governance of the framework for non-market approaches.

There is a general tendency for nations to strenuously work towards avoiding responsibility. The current government of the USA shows clearly that nations can simply walk away from the multilateral space and allow the world take care of its problems. The only snag in this way of thinking is that unlike the nuclear deterrent scenario where nations hoped to beat others by arming themselves and projecting possibilities of utter destruction, the impending climate catastrophe does not offer the possibility of any nation emerging as the winner or even as a survivor.

It is doubtful that anyone can survive extreme temperature increases, neither can anyone hope to survive for long under flood waters. You would think that this sobering reality would force politicians to have a rethink concerning their posturing at the climate negotiations.

Climate politicians are churning out new seductive words to obscure intentions and to market ideas that would help them avoid both action and responsibility. The narrative merchants bring up concepts such as nature-based solutions (NBS) which, on face value, is hard to fault. How can you reject any action that is based on nature, that respects nature and that works with and not against nature? The catch is that NBS does not mean of that. At the COP, there were side events that showcased how to include nature in Nationally Determined Contributions. Another one listed Shell, Chevron and BP as founding members for “Natural Climate Solutions.”

So-called nature-based solutions include carbon offsetting mechanisms that allow polluters to carry on polluting while claiming that their pollution or emissions are offset by mitigating activities such as tree planting or corralling off of forests as carbon sinks. Indeed, the NBS can be understood as the wheels of carbon stock exchanges.

“the struggle to solve the climate crisis must be tied to the struggle for economic justice and the struggles against inequality, neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The solution is not as simple as greening our economies or having more electric automobiles. It cannot be about greening the global north at the expense of the global south.”

When nations speak of carbon neutrality, they are basically speaking of solving the climate crisis through mathematics and not through any real climate action. It does not suggest changes in modes of production and consumption. The same can be said of having Net Zero carbon emissions.

As the climate negotiation drags on, we must remind ourselves that it is essential for us to understand what we are fighting for before we can forge the real solution. The acceptance of carbon offsetting and similar notions as epitomes of carbon colonialism give reasons for worry. The burden of climate action is being forced on the victims without any regard for historical responsibilities, without regard for justice. This posture rides on the same track as slavery, colonialism, neocolonialism and their cousin, neoliberalism.

Climate activists made a loud noise outside the plenary hall on Wednesday 11 December voicing the critical need for rich, polluting nations, to remove their heads from the sands and take real climate action. They were urged to quit their push for carbon markets and tricks to aid double counting when it comes to climate finance. They were reminded that there is a climate debt that has neither been acknowledged nor paid. The investment of $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel projects and the expenditure of close to $2 trillion in warfare annually were held up as obscene reminders that contributing a mere $100 billion for climate finance ought not to give the world sleepless nights if there is any seriousness to use the hours spent at the COP to tackle the root causes of global warming, cut emissions at source, help build resilience and pull the vulnerable from their miseries.

As Asad Rehman of War on Want said at the Social Space during the COP, “the struggle to solve the climate crisis must be tied to the struggle for economic justice and the struggles against inequality, neocolonialism and neoliberalism. The solution is not as simple as greening our economies or having more electric automobiles. It cannot be about greening the global north at the expense of the global south.” He warned that anything short of the needed system change is nothing but a precursor of a new wave of green colonialism.