We have just had elections in Nigeria and by 29th May 2023 new persons will step into the saddle of political leadership. Considering the nature of our political system where the major parties are indistinguishable in terms of programmes and organizing ideas, it is a major duty for citizens to make clear demands on the system and to ensure that leaders are held to account based on their promises, declarations, and the constitution.
The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) as a forum for the fusion of voices on the multi-layered socio-ecological crisis confronting the region provides a platform for the promotion of actions to address the problems. It is our hope that this convergence will not be a hand wringing exercise garnished with a long list of regrets. This must be an agenda setting convergence, and that agenda must include both what we expect of our political leaders and what we must do as citizens on the back of whose votes they have ridden into power.
Socio-ecological issues hardly take the forefront in political discussions in Nigeria. We had to push this with a different kind of presidential Town Hall we co-hosted on the 7th of February 2023 at the University of Abuja. Four presidential candidates participated and brought discussions about the environment to the spotlight highlighting why our environment must no longer being brushed aside in policy circles in Nigeria and Africa.
The challenges of the Niger Delta are well known and have been catalogued in the Willink Commission Report of 1958 and the activities of various agencies set by government with some exhibiting a poor focus on solving those problems but gaining a dubious reputation of being cesspits of corruption. Such agencies include the Niger Delta Development Board (1960), the Oil Minerals Areas Producing Development Commission (1992), Niger Delta Development Commission (2000) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (2008).
The key outcome of NDAC 2022 was the Niger Delta Manifesto for Socio-Ecological Justice. The manifesto outlined eight (8) key demands that remain germane as the outgoing governments did not appear to hear the call of the peoples of the region. The Manifesto will again be examined at this convergence as a reminder, and to both reinforce and convey our core demands.
These core demands include the following:
- An immediate comprehensive audit of the entire region Niger Delta covering health, livelihoods, social and economic impacts of crude oil and gas extraction.
- Remediation and restoration impacted territories and reparations for the damage suffered.
- Drawing up a clear policy framework for divestment of international oil companies from the oil fields and communities they have exploited for more than six decades.
- Comprehensively address the issues related to artisanal refining of crude oil, stop all forms of oil theft, and hold accomplices to account.
- Legislators to ensure the review of the Petroleum Industry Act, to eliminate the criminalisation of communities and removing vestiges of colonial authorities given to oil companies to determine who the host communities are and to rig the arrangement for developmental supports of the communities. The earmarking of 30 per cent of profit of the NNPC for exploration of oil in so-called frontier fields should be deleted from the Act and a definite deadline to end routine gas flaring should be set.
- Immediate review of the NDDC Act and the release of the forensic audit ordered by the outgoing government. The administration of the 13 percent derivation fund should also be designed to be transparent, inclusive, and fair to impacted communities.
- Urgent responses to climate change impacts including by setting up mechanisms for emergency response to floods, shoreline protection, restoration of mangrove forests, halting of deforestation and proper urban and rural planning.
- Adequate protection of our coastal communities and continental shelf for the security of maritime transportation as well as fishing activities by our peoples.
Other items that must be on the top burners of incoming governments include a comprehensive energy transition plan that ensures popular ownership and control of such clean energy systems.
Politicians should have zero tolerance for uncompleted and abandoned projects. The drive to embark on so-called legacy projects must be halted. The region will remain a basket case if new players in governments refuse to complete projects commenced by their predecessors and instead chase after projects that may not address the critical socio-ecological and economic needs of our peoples. Completion of projects started by previous administrations should be a cardinal principle.
Finally, permit me to recommend that the Nigerian government should take steps to recognize ecocide as a crime and ensure the prosecution of offenders going forward. Ecocide in simple terms is the destruction of one’s home, the Earth. Any person or entity engaged in activities that lead to large scale and long terms or irreversible destruction of our home, the Earth, should be held to account as an incentive for others to be of good environmental behaviour.
We must regain our dignity as a people. We must rebuild our devastated region. We can do it. And the time to do this is now.