Conflicts and the Idea of Land Ownership

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Jens-Petter Kjemprud (Norwegian Ambassador), Pricilla Achakpa (WEP), Nnimmo Bassey (HOMEF) and Jaoji Alhassan (CORET) at the event

Our conception of ownership of any piece of the Earth depends largely on our relationship with the Earth. When land is treated as a commodity, as an article of trade, conflict becomes inevitable. This is the driver of the call for the formalization of land titling and ownership — a means of personal acquisition and dispossession of others based on the strength of the individual’s financial or political strength. In this context the value of land is seen in its geology or fertility.

When land is seen as territory, or through a communal lens, the idea of private ownership or trading of land becomes unthinkable, because, in this case, land is a vital piece of cultural life and not just as an object of exploitation, trade or transformation. In other words, you can sell land, but you cannot sell territory. Seeing land as a non-tradable object consolidates the notion of persons as sons or daughters of the soil, as inextricably tied to their territories in all ramifications – including socioculturally.

Farmers and pastoralists see land in distinctly different ways than speculators and governments do. Consider the idea of laws governing land as a resource. Whereas communities of peoples, whether farmers or pastoralists, see land as an integral part of their lives, economic reproduction and culture, governments see land as a thing that should be appropriated and utilized mostly for its economic value. Nigeria’s Land Use Act of 1978 concretizes this concept and takes the sense of oneness with the soil away from vast numbers of our peoples. With a stroke of the pen, government can disposes and displace individuals or communities from their territories, take over from, or hand over to, others. However, government does not just take over lands. Those who had claims over such territories are compensated for their loss. This compensation is for economic crops or improvements that such persons may have brought to the land.

Improvement or transformation – that is the key. And where nothing of the sort is found on the land, the dispossessed is left with no claim. It is not difficult to see why the Land Use Act is supposedly inviolate in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. To the herder, the fact that he had moved away from a place does not render that place of departure a no-man’s land. To the farmer, the fact that he has left a parcel of land fallow, does not mean there is no improvement on the land as the very act of having fallow land brings about soil improvement.

The matter we are examining today relates to the question of whether we see our piece of the Earth as a commodity or as territory.  It is a matter of our relationship with Nature. Is our piece of the Earth defined by a surveyor’s beacon stone, or is it what defines our lives? Is it what we relate with deferentially or what we cut in pieces and trade as we please? The relationship of humanity to the Earth has brought about much harm, the most critical at this point in time being climate change evidenced by global warming.

Without doubt, the world is fed by farmers, pastoralists and fishers. And these are the small holder or family farmers. Industrial food production, as one world expect, largely feeds industry – maize produced this way goes largely to serve as animal feeds and others into biofuels production. Industrial fishers trawl our seas and harvest species into extinction. In all, 30 to 50 percent of food produced in the world today goes to waste, while over 850 million persons go to bed hungry every day.

Let us emphasize that the impact of climate change gets worse by the day and cannot be wished away. We see the impacts through shrinking water resources (such as Lake Chad), increased desertification and loss of land through coastal and wind erosion. Add to these continued deforestation and massive pollution of our water resources and it is clear that we have a crisis situation. The crisis that takes the headlines, however, is the deadly conflicts between herders and farmers in our country. With a high rate of fatalities and a cycle of attack and counter attacks, the trend seems set to continue. Should it?

Conflicts between herders and farmers are not inevitable. We must agree that this is a recent phenomenon both in Nigeria and in other African countries. If that is so, we have to interrogate the causative factors propelling this unwholesome development. What are the economic roots and what role does careless relationship with the Earth play, especially with regard to the preservation of our forests and grasslands? Why are we not utilizing the symbiotic relationship of animal husbandry and farming – where animals help fertilize the soils of fallow lands that also serve as pasture?

If climate change escalates the movement of herders, is migration the only way to mitigate the impacts? Would better soil and water management impede the rate of desertification in Nigeria? If the Great Green Wall project restores its area of focus, would that reverse the migration and conflicts? What are the lessons, (for example of land restoration techniques used in neighbouring countries) that groups like CORET sharing among pastoral groups across the Sahel and what is the interface with farmers on soil fertility and peace building efforts? Are there cultural practices and political factors that lock in the crises?

We are gathered to share knowledge and contest ideas around issues of climate change, pastoralism, land and conflicts. The cooperation of HOMEF and CORET to bring about this conversation today is the beginning of a series that we will continue to have because we believe that when there is clear understanding between farmers and pastoralists a big part of reasons for conflicts will be eliminated.

This is a unique gathering today. We are grateful to all the herders and farmers in our midst today. We are thankful to the distinguished personalities here today. We do not expect to tease out all the answers at one sitting. We, however, believe that one beginning step is to have a learning space and a conversation.

So, let the conversation begin.

Opening words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) – the ecological think tank – at the Sustainability Academy co-hosted with the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) on 18 October 2017 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

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Resolutions of the 10th Sustainability Academy Themed “Climate Change, Pastoralism, Land And Conflicts” Organized By Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) In Collaboration With Confederation Of Traditional Herder Organizations (CORET) On 18thoctober, 2017, At The International Conference Center, Abuja, Nigeria.

Health of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF) in collaboration with Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) convened the 10th Sustainability Academy on building deeper understanding of the underpinnings of the intense manifestations of conflicts between Pastoralists (herders) and farmers in Nigeria through the lenses of climate change, land and resource access and ownership. The meeting was attended by stakeholders in the sector and included pastoralists, farmers, government officials, diplomatic community, community people, members of civil society and the media.

Discussions on the subject matter were preceded by two presentations which instigated discussions among participants after an overview from the convener, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey who stressed that the gathering was for the sharing of knowledge and finding ways by which the conflicts occasioned by climate change can be addressed.

The first presentation was delivered by Mrs Priscilla Achakpa titled: Climate Change, Pastoralism and Land Conflict: The Gender Perspective, while the second presentation by Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq on the topic climate change, pastoralism and land conflict. was made by Jaoji A. Alhassan on his behalf.

After exhaustive discussions on the issues raised in the presentations, all the participants agreed that climate change is a global threat to human security and it impacts are contributory to conflicts in Nigeria. The Academy noted that pastoralists, farmers, women and children are some of the most vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

Recommendations:

To address the impacts of climate change and prevent incessant crises between farmers and herders that arise as a result of land and other environmental issues, the Academy recommended as follows:

  1. There should be greater engagement of extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists
  2. Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distorts development efforts.
  3. There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existents as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
  4. The fact that climate change impacts differently on different categories of people should be considered in preparing climate actions.
  5. The Great Green Wall Programme aimed at combating desertification amplified by climate change through improved use of land and water resources should incorporate the pastoralist in their fodder production scheme for sustainable development.
  6. Government should carry out livestock development policy review to align them with regional and international practices.
  7. The Federal Government should initiative actions to produce a detail land use plan for the country.
  8. Youth restiveness should be addressed by all stakeholders through capacity building, mentoring and skills diversification. Development partners have a role to play in this direction.
  9. There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re-orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
  10. Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing.
  11. In the brokering of peace and the implementation of all forms of conflict management initiatives, it is pertinent that women are carried along. Their full participation and inclusion should be entrenched in such processes.
  12. Media should engage more in investigative journalism in reporting conflicts rather than stereotyping pastoralists and others.
  13. The Federal Government should create a Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as is obtained in several other African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Tanzania
  14. Climate change is not a boundary-limited issue. Nigeria should approach this issue from this perspectibe in pursuing adaptation, funding, resilience and mitigation strategies in communities.
  15. There is need to take inventory of the all existing grazing reserves, traditional grazing areas, transhumance corridors, major stock routes, fully develop at least one per state in line with the recommendations of the recommendations of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Livestock Development in Nigeria of 2015 and implement the Report of the Presidential Committee on Pastoralism and Insecurity.

Signed

Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq — Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET)

Nnimmo Bassey — Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

 

 

 

Climate Change, Land, Food and Pastoralism

Ikal speaksSoil quality has direct impact on the quality of harvests. Poor soils produce poor yields and climate change affects the quality and availability of soil for food production. We experience this directly when there are floods or droughts. The increasing desertification in Nigeria can be attributed in part to climate change. Poor soil management is equally responsible for incidents of desertification that is sometimes erroneously described as the “southward march” of the Sahara Desert.

Global warming is already having impacts on farming and food supply across the world. Projections for food supply if global warming trends are not reversed, or at least slowed down, are quite worrisome. We are witnesses of the impact of floods on farmers and farming in Nigeria this year, 2017. We cannot forget what flooding has meant in the recent past. In the 2012 floods, 6 million Nigerians were displaced and  over 300 deaths were recorded. More than 100,000 persons were displaced by flooding in Benue State alone in 2017. Several deaths have also been recorded this year as a result of floods in Lagos and Borno States and other parts of Nigeria.

Without argument, change of rainfall patterns and volumes have direct impact on agriculture, including herding activities. Climate change has effects on access to land, as well as water, for cultivation and for pastoral activities. The effects can also contribute to conflicts arising from the shrinking of these and related resources. Drier lands contribute to migration or displacement of populations. The same happens with flooding or coastal erosion. Pastoralists and farmers can work in ways that are mutually beneficial rather than in the current conflict-ridden ways. With herders and farmers gathered in this dialogue today, we have opportunity to share concerns and build solutions.

Degraded land sometimes get labeled as marginal lands thus setting them up to be grabbed and taken away from communities. Global warming may lead to an increase of pests, diseases and post harvest losses. Even small increases of temperature will negatively impact the production of cereals such as maize. In addition, unusual weather variability coupled with extreme weather events also lead to:

  • Damaged infrastructure
  • Coastal erosion and loss of land and fishing grounds
  • Intrusion of salt water into fresh water systems, thus affecting marine ecosystems
  • Possibilities of rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50% by 2020
  • Reduction in grassland and grains production will adversely affect animal husbandry
  • Increase of family and other social emergencies

Zero hunger by 2030?

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 sets the important target of achieving Zero hunger by 2030. If conscientiously pursued the world would drastically reduce the impacts of global warming on food production. Specifically, among other things, this important SDG seeks to:

  • By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
  • By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed

The target of Zero Hunger by 2030 may seem impossible to attain in the face of climate change, but with suitable approaches and intensive extension services, food supplies can be sustained and farming can help to cool the earth rather than accelerate Global warming. The sort of farming that would do this would enrich soils rather than degrading poisoning them. They would protect soil organisms rather then killing them. This farming method would be agroecological, and deeply climate and culture smart. Culture smart farming works with the best indigenous knowledge and technologies and protect crop varieties. Such indigenous technologies include the zai method used by farmers in Burkina Faso and others to retain water and nutrients and thus maintain and enrich soil quality and thus protect biodiversity.

Culture smart and climate resilient farming are contrary to what is offered by modern biotechnology by way of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). When GMOs are presented as being climate smart, there is a willful denial of the massive erosion of species that they represent. There is also a willful denial of the soil degradation by the agrotoxics that are applied in such farms.

Today, we are fortunate to have in our midst a pastoralist from Turkana Region of Kenya. She works with pastoralists and fishermen and women whose livelihoods depend on the predictability of weather patterns. She comes with a rich experience of what it means to raise livestock in a semi arid area and in a region that has both internal conflicts as well as the challenges of oil extraction. Her region in Kenya faces the combined challenges of climate change and oil extraction impacts.

Our hope is that through our dialogue, we will share experiences and pick out lessons that will help us manage our lands better, avoid or resolve conflicts and equally extend the lessons to those who couldn’t be a path of this Dialogue.

Permit me to now step aside and invite Ikal Angelei to take the floor and set the Dialogue rolling.

 

 

FishNet Wisdom at Makoko

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Group conversation

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.

FishNet

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.

 

 

FishNet Dialogue At Okrika Waterfront

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.

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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

Superhighway Map

Map of highway in EIA vision 4. Road to be realigned to avoid key forests

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.”

Superhighway Lessons

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

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.

Moi moi

Moi moi wrapped in leaves, not plastics!

 

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.

What Changed?

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.

Biodiversity

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

 

Forests: Connecting People to Nature

FOREST TOWN HALL RESOLUTIONS: What Nature has connected, let no person or government put asunder

Health of Mother Earth Foundation held a Forest Town Hall Meeting on Monday – June 5, 2017 in commemoration of World Environment Day, at Apo Apartments in Abuja. The meeting was attended by 150 people including representatives from forest communities, CSOs, government and the media. At the meeting, it was resolved that we will continue to demand for justice for our environment and communities. The following are the outcomes:

  1. Clarification of the Funding Source of Ekuri Community Forest

The following questions needs to be answered clearly and transparently: where are the funds for the Ekuri Superhighway coming from, what are the conditions attached to the funds and what are the implications for the economic autonomy of the community and state?

  1. Community Sensitization, Mobilization and Empowerment

Any successful community effort will require proper sensitization, mobilization and empowerment. The entry protocol will include identification of the power structures in the community, individually sensitize the opinion leaders, organize collective community dialogues and connect the community with resources to exercise their human rights provided according to the law. This will enable the community negotiate appropriate compensations, where necessary.

  1. Land Belongs to the People

A key bone of contention in environmental issues comes about from the lack of clarity (or wrong awareness) of the ownership of land. It was brought to light that land belongs to the people, according to combined interpretation of the Land Use Act as well as the Constitution of Nigeria. The government is a ‘keeper’ of the land and cannot carry out activities that will infringe on the rights of the people, without their consent.

  1. Regard for the Forest

The forest is more than a collection of trees. The town hall meeting resolved to demand a holistic regard for the forest and the intricate values it provides ecologically, socio-culturally, and economically. A plantation of trees cannot be used to replace a forest and the dependent communities that have existed for hundred of generations.

  1. The Super Highway is Unlawful and Unwanted

The community representative expressed severally that while they are in need of good roads to serve their needs, they require a repair / upgrade of the currently existing road which was abandoned by the previous government, instead of an unjustifiable ‘Super Highway.’

  1. Sustained peaceful protests and campaigns

HOMEF and all its partners belief solely in peaceful methods to creating  change, including the use of all forms of media. Sustained protest and campaigns will continue to create the pressure required for the government to pay attention to the needs, voices and rights of stakeholder communities.

  1. Community Organizing

When there is a desecration of the environment, several communities suffer the impact. It is imperative for communities to come together, work in solidarity and ensure that they combine efforts to get their voices heard.

Group


Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at the Forest Town Hall:

What Nature Has Connected

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, Connecting People to Nature, could not have been more apt, considering that humankind has lost the vital connections that make us conscious of our being a part of a community of beings on Earth.

Today we want to particularly look at the disruption of that connection by the politics of infrastructure that is sometimes pursued without recourse to national or even natural laws. We see roads build without drainages and where they are constructed, they are invariably emptied into streams and rivers without any consideration of the wellbeing of the aquatic life in them and of the people that depend on the water downstream.

I once asked the manager of a phosphate factory dumping toxic effluent into the Atlantic Ocean at Kpeme, near Lome, why such a harmful practice was permitted. The answer was that “you cannot make an omelette without breaking the egg.” If you ask why international oil companies have been routinely flaring gas in the Niger Delta over the past fifty-nine years, they claim it became “industry practice” because there was no market for the product when oil extraction commenced. Can you seen how low we can sink?

One of the infrastructural projects that has astonished the world and stunned local communities is the 260 km Superhighway proposed by the Cross River State Government (CRSG) to originate from a “deep sea” port at Esighi in Cross River State and rip through the National Park and community forests to terminate at Katsina Ala in Benue State.  This Town Hall meeting will examine what has been lost due to the commencement of the execution of the project without adequate public consultations, before an approved Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and presumably before any detailed site-specific designs had been made. We will also examine what has been saved by the self-reversal of the order by which the CRSG had grabbed an amazing 10km span of land on either side of the proposed highway. That land uptake would have meant the displacement of several communities, conversion of pristine forests, decimation of wildlife and possibly the extinction of some species.

The idea of shaving pristine and protected forests for the installation of a highway of any form indicates a clear disconnection between people and Nature. The farcical community consultations so far carried out underscores the disconnection between the wielders of power and the citizens. The struggle waged by the communities to ensure that they are duly consulted and that their free prior informed consent is obtained before any project execution is an indication that a people connected to Nature would not readily allow any force to disconnect them from Nature on which they depend for livelihoods. This Town Hall will also seek to assure our threatened communities that we are united in the efforts to ensure that they are allowed to live in dignity, enhance their systems of knowledge and that the best interest of all beings is respected.

“We were not consulted before the superhighway was routed through our communities. We just saw bulldozers mowing down our trees, crops and properties. We insist that we must be consulted and that our consent must be obtained and due compensations paid for what has been destroyed and before any further work here. Our livelihoods depend on our environment. We cannot be treated like slaves in our own land.”

The forest dependent communities of Cross River State have shown exemplary commitment to protecting and managing their community forests. In attestation of their excellent performance, the Ekuri people were conferred with the Equator Prize by the United Nations Development Programme in 2004. Forests provide a variety of services to humans and other beings. Forests help to cool the Earth, protect our rivers, maintain soil quality, house wildlife. They provide food and medicine for humans and are home to pollinators. While the communities deserve to have good access roads, building any superhighway through the well managed forests would spell disaster of global implications.

Regrettably, Nature has become to many of us “a thing” that is to be appropriated, transformed and traded. We have gone so far from Nature that one sounds ridiculous to insist that we do not need to attach monetary values to Nature before we can protect her. This is the logic that undergirds the concept of Green Economy and promotes market environmentalism. We have forgotten the intrinsic values of the gifts of Nature and of Nature herself. We believe that all is not lost. We can wake up from the present nightmare and dream of better ways of living, of connecting with Mother Earth.

Today, we have deliberated chosen to mark the World Environment Day by having a Forest Town Hall Meeting. We note that parts of our nation are not being denuded by processes of desertification and the forest regions are rapidly becoming Sahellian.  The transformation cannot be blamed on climate change alone, although it does play a part in the area of desertification. Our disconnection from Nature has permitted us to clear our forests, destroy complex ecosystems, food systems and our social heritage without any reflections on the consequences of our actions. The loss of our forest ecosystems translates to the loss of culture, of ways of life, of possibly irredeemable destruction of species. These loses translate to direct deprivation of livelihoods and the exacerbation of poverty in our forest dependent communities.

We are pleased that the Federal Ministry of Environment has stood ready to review Environment Impact Assessment documents presented by the CRSG and that a nod would only be given when it is clear that all requirements of the law are met, including full consultation of the communities that would be impacted by the proposed project. We look forward to hearing thoughts and experiences from development and environmental experts as well as from representatives of communities threatened by the proposed that project.

I and my colleagues took part in an ecological community dialogue in Akpabuyo, one of the already impacted communities, last week. The lament of the people that still rings in my ear is this: “We were not consulted before the superhighway was routed through our communities. We just saw bulldozers mowing down our trees, crops and properties. We insist that we must be consulted and that our consent must be obtained and due compensations paid for what has been destroyed and before any further work here. Our livelihoods depend on our environment. We cannot be treated like slaves in our own land.”

What was implied is that we must not be disconnected from our land, from Mother Earth. In other words, what Nature has connected, let no person or government put asunder.