Not an African COP

Countries that have been on the receiving end of  climate change have to carefully examine the narratives driving the conversations and negotiations at the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is important because for years the debates have regressed from demanding real actions to defending lifestyles and dominant geopolitical power positions. Although the COP is presented as a democratic space it has always been clear that it is actually a space for imperial and indeed colonial domination. 

Calling COP27 that will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, an African COP is simply a tale that has a tail aimed at presenting the false notion that this is an opportunity to solve the ravages of climate change on the continent and other vulnerable nations and territories. That this will not be so should be clear. This will be the fifth COP to be held on the African continent — it has been held once in Kenya, twice in Morocco and once in South Africa. Indeed, around the time it was held in Durban, South Africa, storms battered the region leaving stark warnings and tales of woes. Since then cyclones on the South Eastern seaboard of the continent have inched up the latitudes and snuffed the lives out of thousands of Africans. Locust invasions of virtually biblical proportions have stripped dreams of robust harvests and left desolate, hungry populations in the east and horn of Africa. 

Yet, none of the COPs has shifted grounds to take real climate actions, especially recognizing the fact that the now chic notions of carbon capture or even carbon removal must be approached from the sensible understanding that continual extraction and burning of fossil fuels are counterproductive and injurious to the planet, the people and other beings. 

Rather than taking the glaring global heating pathways as real threats to life, and leaving fossil fuels in the ground, the world is locking itself on the path of voluntary emissions reductions and weakly whispering a commitment to “phase down”  the continued use of coal. Whatever that means. 

How can Sharm El Sheikh (SES) be an African COP when Africans ravaged by floods, droughts, receding coastlines and forests are unaware that political leaders and technocrats are toying with their fate under the shadows of the pyramids. How can this be an African COP if the victims of climate change are not at the negotiation tables, and are debarred from defending their life-giving forests and ocean and have no access to the tourist haven where decision makers will be ensconced for two weeks in November 2022 to perpetuate the rituals of carbon trading and hoist distant flags pointing at when their grandchildren will attain net zero carbon emissions. 

The COP has transformed itself into a platform for avoidance of actions and the appropriation of ideas and ideals of indigenous peoples of the world who have been fighting for the respect of the rights of Mother Earth with a clear understanding that to do otherwise spells doom for humans and other species on this Blue Planet. This is why at the COP there will be cheeky proclamations of nature based solutions that do nothing but market the gifts of Nature.

Corporate profit interests, political and military dominance have perpetuated the myths that the climate debacle can be solved with mathematical formulae while certain lifestyles and investments are secured by destructive activities including irresponsible extraction, consumption and wars. 

The coming COP will probably throw down some corn and coins in the guise of climate finance and the payment for loss and damage caused by ongoing climate inaction and false solutions, but will studiously avoid historical harms that have virtually exhausted the carbon budget. Even the net zero and other colourations of carbon offsetting will be couched in languages that permit Europe to throttle Africa with pipelines of discontent as the continent is forced to meet the fossil fuels shortages arising from the Russian war on Ukraine. While the industrialized nations test their bloody war machinery in Ukraine, the fangs of the fossil fuel companies are being sunk into the necks of Okavango in Namibia and Botswana; Saloum Delta of Sénégal and the Virunga forests of Democratic Republic of Congo. Rather than halting the predatory moves in these World Heritage sites, new pipelines of discontent are being planned to suck gas from the Niger Delta for delivery to Europe through Morocco and Algeria. Others are planned to convey heavy crude from the Lake Albert region of Uganda to an export terminal at Tanzania. While it is yet inconceivable for rich nations to take climate action,multinational forces are set in battle array to defend the gas pipelines and other investments in the killing fields of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. 

COP27 could have been an African COP if African leaders and others from vulnerable, exploited and exposed regions were not marching into traps that dangle shinny mirrors that present polluting activities as development and hold up ruinous tipping points as desirable destinations.  It could have been an African COP if our leaders were going there to demand Climate Justice and insist on the payment of a climate debt for historical and current harms. The value of this debt can be approximated to about 2 trillion dollars that the industrialized nations spend on warfare and armament annually. Clearly, the problem has never been one of a shortage of cash.

It could be an African COP if the marketization of Nature, including through diverse forms of carbon trading are denounced and rejected. It could be an African COP if the gathering agrees that investment should be in agroecology with support for the majority of farmers, rather than industrial, colonial or plantation agriculture that depends on fossil fuels, promotes risky technologies and continues to devastate the environment, displace communities and feed climate change. 

It could be an African COP if binding emissions cuts return to the negotiations and polluting nations agree to do their fair share on the basis of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) rather than the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that so far have not dented more than 2 gigatonnes of the 27 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent needed to keep temperature increase to not more than 1.5℃ above preindustrial levels as per the Paris Agreement of 2015. 

It would be an African COP if the Paris Agreement is overturned and a new upper temperature target of well below 1.5℃is set with a clear understanding that 1.5℃ global average means 2.2℃ for Africa and that such a temperature scenario will utterly cook the continent.

Waving off Climate Action in the Heatwaves

Climate change is a result of human activities with reference to production, movement, and consumption of goods. A whole lot of these goods are products of transformation of natural resources, not to meet the basic needs of humans but to aid the drive for dispossession, accumulation, power, and despoliation. 

Climate change is the outcome of fractured socioeconomic systems. If this is accepted, it should be expected that it is within human capacity to act in ways that would stem the tide, mitigate the impacts, and build resilience. Rather than do this, we are seeing a rise of arguments claiming that market forces can solve the climate polycrisis. Market environmentalism cannot solve problems created by the failure of markets.

The unholy wedlock between fossil fuel industries and governments has locked societies on the fossil pathway and made it seem like dependence on dirty energy is both inevitable and unavoidable. In Nigeria and other African countries, we hear top political leaders insisting that moving away from fossil fuels will spell economic doom, intensive energy deficits and a reign of poverty. It is not hard to see how false these arguments are. The average Nigerian has been plunged into excruciating poverty and massive energy deficit despite 64 years of fossil fuel extraction and exports. Politicians cannot convince anyone that two more decades of destructive extraction and pollution would suddenly turn the horrible indices around.

This School of Ecology on Propelling the Energy Transition aimed to achieve what the name says, force change from bad or dirty to good or renewable energy. With our partners in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, we believe that there are lessons that can be learned from available wisdom and applied to fundamentally tip the scales away from polluting and harmful activities. We are actively learning from indigenous wisdom which largely encourage living within planetary limits, in harmony with Nature. Our youths can pick up the wisdom of the elders, process and adapt them in innovative ways to bring about the needed change.

The indications from multilateral actions prompted by the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC are tilting more towards the perpetuation of polluting activities and then embarking on carbon removal from the atmosphere, or at pollution sources — to buy time by delaying climate action while offloading the impacts on the youths and children.

The school denounced the intergenerational crimes connected to insistence on energy forms that harm humanity and the Planet. You have heard of ongoing moves towards divestment which the Niger Delta Convergence Manifesto aptly characterizes as criminal flight, a move to profit from avoiding responsibilities for current and historical ecocide. Still in Africa, there is a push for exploitation of oil in the Okavango Basin in Namibia/Botswana, and insistence on drilling in Virunga (DRC) and in the Saloum Delta in Sénégal. We are already seeing the fires in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and the resistance in South Africa. All these at a time when investment should be in clean energy modes. 

To worsen the situation, the European Union is displaying an unwillingness to be weaned from fossil fuels as the gas taps from Russia gets constricted on account of the war with Ukraine. Suddenly all eyes are on Africa and our leaders are purring like spoilt cats as they jump at the coming reign of fossil colonialism. 

The raging heatwaves in Europe and the USA provide enough warning signals that all regions are prone to freak weather events.  With the intensification of climate impacts by way of heatwaves, floods, droughts, and wildfires around the world, it would be expected that emergency measures would be taken globally to tackle the crisis. The NDCs, the heart of the Paris Agreement, is failing to cut emissions at levels necessary to tackle the unfolding global heating just as was foreseen by critical analysts. As politicians willfully avoid climate action what will bring about a respite is a global and organized citizens action in the line of what is already emerging.   

Together we scan the horizon, map dirty energy hotspots, challenge communities and promote the use of indigenous as well as empirical knowledge to influence policy and action. Therefore, we believe in robust grassroots engagements through discussions, and consciously learning from the wise in intergenerational dialogues.

To propel the needed energy transition does not begin or end with opposing continued burning of fossil fuels.  We must propose alternatives that would democratize access to clean energy to all and especially to communities in sacrificial or marginalized zones. Building and sharing knowledge on the socio-economic and climate justice dimensions of the climate catastrophe is the strength of this push. Organizing and building community owned and controlled clean energy systems are the keyways forward. This demands that citizens must consistently resist expansion of fossil fuel fields and denounce the presentation of fossil gas a bridge fuel.

Some words by Nnimmo Bassey at the School of Ecology on Propelling the Energy Transition on 13 July 2022. Updated 19 July 2022.

Waking from the Fossil Nightmare

The Niger Delta is a territory under siege. This siege did not begin today. It didn’t begin yesterday. The siege has been on prominent from before the 15th Century.

The siege has disrupted our ways of living, our communities, our cultures, and our spirituality. It has brought drastic fissures in our relationship with Nature and other beings. This assaulted our routine patterns of living in harmony with nature, our philosophical underpinnings of ubuntueti-uwem and other norms by which communities were built on the platforms of cooperation and solidarity rather than on violence, dispossession, undue accumulation, and wastefulness. 

This disruption has eroded our resilience, harmed our health or broken our biodiversity. Today we breath poisoned air, fish and drink polluted waters and grow foods on toxic soils. 

We must not forget that we were once organized, productive, and progressive nationalities with moralities and communalities that paralleled or excelled their counterparts elsewhere. At that time farming yielded bountiful harvests, and fishing was a great joy before the downward spiral . Today, with broken local economies and environments our story has become an unending struggle for survival. 

History may have been banished from our curriculum, but no one should banish them from our schools of life. They provide markers and memories of where we have been; what we have built; what we fought for, won, or lost. History provides us with more than mere scaffolds for the construction of our future. It gives us the energy needed to confront oppression, degradation, humiliations, and sundry manifestations of ecological racism.

We remind ourselves that leaders of the Niger Delta were not pushovers when the shove came from brutal precolonial and colonial adventurers. We recall the fact that the battle for the control of trade between our peoples and European markets brought much violence against our people. It led to cruel military invasions and horrendous pillage, with the razing of Akassa in 1895 standing out as one of the reprehensible landmarks on the march to colonialism.  The smoke of that assault was still rising when the Royal Niger Company (Unilever) sold Nigeria to the British crown for £865,000 (Eight Hundred and sixty-five thousand pounds sterling in 1899. 

That Akassa massacre was over palm oil. One hundred years later, in 1995, the bloodletting continued with the judicial murder of Ogoni leaders in a bid to continue reckless exploitation of crude oil, without any concern about the environment or the people. 

Oil spills, blowouts, gas flares, and the criminalisation of a people

Today oil spills have become routine occurrence and responses have remained slow or inadequate. Gas flaring continues and deadlines come and roll by while the people and environment continue to be gassed with no respite in sight. Several well blowouts have been recorded over the decades, including Texaco’s (Chevron) Funiwa -5 well blowout of January 1980 which spilled 400,000 barrels of crude and another blowout and rig fire at the same field in January 2012. In recent months we have been witnesses to the AITEO well blowout at Nembe in November 2021 with an estimated 300,000 barrels of crude oil dumped into the environment and the explosion and sinking of an aged and unlicensed floating, storage and production vessel (FSPO Trinity) off the coast of Ondo State in February 2022. One largely ignored well blowout is the one at the Ororo-1 field. This well blow out occurred in April 2020 and has been burning and spilling crude non-stop for over two years now. In which other region in Nigeria or in the world would a disaster of this magnitude be ignored for two solid year and counting? 

The criminalization of the people of the Niger Delta has been something of concern to many. Transnational oil companies and public agencies continually plead “sabotage’ or third-party activities as the cause of every oil spill. They never pause to ask how these so-called sabotages occur despite the high militarization of the region.  The oil companies and related public agencies have sung this refrain so much that it has become a tattered fig leaf. Now the situation has expanded with horrendous pollution through artisanal refining in the region. We dare say that this deviant economic activity may have been encouraged by corporations and their cohorts as a mean of offloading pollution resulting from their irresponsible environmental behaviours. It has also arisen as individuals and groups ape the Special Economic Zones concept that officially creates enclaves of economic activities with least control on the guise of promoting national economies.

The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence

The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) has been convoked as an inclusive platform for the individuals, civil society groups, political players, community groups, women, ethnic nationalities, and business to come together to address the nagging problems that continue to plague the region. The NDAC is a conference that yields spaces for the interrogation of the outputs of research, community dialogues and the search for alternative resource management pathways as well as examination of laws governing mining and petroleum sectors in Nigeria. The space for engagements of this nature has been often rigged against our communities, but this is a peoples-driven engagement designed to ensure that the communities are heard. It builds on other convening that has been led by many highly respected groups in the region over the years with the aim of extricating the region from the paths of retrogression.

The convergence also aims to produce an inclusive Niger Delta Manifesto for socio-ecological justice highlighting needed alternatives for transformation and social mobilizations for re-source justice. It is hoped that NDAC will provoke a platform for convergence of communities in the region to galvanize action for needed changes for resource access including through demands for legislative changes, debates on the Petroleum Industry Bill, and for critical attainment of re-source democracy – defined as the right of a people to live in harmony with Nature and to retain a right to use, or not use, the gifts of Nature.

Bandages over Festering Sores

We recognize that huge sums of money have been allocated to alleviate the dastard harms caused by petroleum resource exploitation in the region. Such efforts include various Memoranda of Understanding with communities by oil companies, and various government interventions through agencies such as Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) established in 1961, the Niger Delta Basin and Rural Development Authority (NDBRDA) of  1976, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) of 1992, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) established in 1995,  Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) set up in 2000 and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs created in 2009. 

These efforts have been characterized by the throwing of money at the problems without a participatory and due consultation with our peoples. Little wonder the outcome has been reigns of corruption and manifestations of abject failure. They have been nothing short of bandages aimed at covering festering wounds without dealing with the fundamental malaise that over six decades of reckless oil and gas exploitation has inflicted on the people and the environment. 

Life After Oil

Considering that the world is moving from fossil fuels and that Nigeria is struggling unsuccessfully to meet her OPEC allowed production quota; considering that oil theft continues apace, oil spills, gas flares and dumping of toxic wastes and sundry ecological destruction continue unabated, we risk not just being left behind by the world, we risk remaining mortally wounded and utterly stranded if we do not brace up insist on urgent transition from this destructive activity, demand and insist on a clean-up of the entire region. Tomorrow will be too late. This is the time to examine and check-mate the moves by transnational companies to divest from their ancient infrastructure, drying wells, polluted fields and sneak away to enjoy their loot. 

We cannot say this too often, but it is time for us to accept that without a healthy environment we cannot be a healthy people. 64 years of oil extraction has brought untold misery and cut life abysmally low in this region. Things cannot continue this way. We have demands and resolves in the proposed Niger Delta Manifesto shared to delegates. Let’s all rise to be counted, demand that politicians declare their environmental plans before they gain our votes; let us demand real climate action including a halt to gas flaring and a restoration of our ecosystems. Let us demand action to stall the washing away of our communities. After 64 years of a nightmare, it is time to wake up, it is time to demand socio-ecological justice. We are not calling for charity, we are calling for justice.

I thank the Chairman of this Convergence, His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, a man with demonstrated impeccable leadership and wisdom. I thank our keynote speaker, Prof G. G. Darah for what promises to be a rousing call for action based on knowledge. I thank all our academic, activist and community comrades who will take the podium in this Convergence.

I welcome you all, brothers, and sisters.

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation at NDAC 2022 held at Watbridge Hotel, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria on 23 June 2020.

The Ikarama Paradox

There are communities in the Niger Delta that would compete to have the dubious notoriety of being the oil spills capital of the world due to the regularity of oil spill incidents they experience. Ikarama community in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is one of such communities. A major community in the Okordia clan, it is also well known for her location on a road that forks off the East- West Highway at Zarama where the highway crosses the Taylor Creek. Travelers on this highway regularly must squeeze their way through the colourful, massive and boisterous Zarama market that emerges at this intersection on Fridays. It is a day when traders and farmers in communities within the region bring their wares and produce for sale to buyers who come from far and near to buy yams, plantains and bananas, cassava products, vegetables, meat, seafood, and an assortment of imported goods. The market is so massive that and speaks out on the highway that it literally takes up one wing of the bridge that straddles the Taylor Creek at this point. The colourful umbrellas under which business is transacted here is a sight to behold. But it doesn’t give any hint of the oil pollution that swirls in the swamps and creeks beyond.

Before the advent of oil exploitation activities at Ikarama it was a community that was fertile both for fishing and for farming. It’s location in the Bayelsa National Forest marked it out as a custodian of a rich biodiversity. The benevolence of nature has been brutally threatened by oil over the past decades. 

When oil spill is mentioned within Okordia clan in Yenagoa local government area of Bayelsa State, Ikarama and neighbouring communities including Kalaba readily come to the mind of anyone familiar with the history of oil spill incidents in that axis of the Niger Delta. Ikarama community is host to Shell’s Okordia manifold, oil wells and pipelines owned and operated by the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC).

Reports of oil spill incidents are as numerous as they are disturbing. At a visit to an area impacted by oil spills in the community way back in 2014, it was amazing to see that those who pretended to have cleaned up the spill had merely turned the soil over to cover up, not clean up, the pollution. The grass over the area shone from the stubborn oily sheen that refused to be hidden and the fumes in the air was so thick residents whose houses were close by had to relocated for safety reasons. I was accompanied on that visit by Alagoa Morris, the ace monitor of the despoliation of the Niger Delta environment and Jay Naidoo, an African elder, activist and politician, who was the founding Secretary General of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), and later a minister in the government of President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Naidoo went on to reference the ecocide in Ikarama in his excellent book, Change: Organising Tomorrow Today. 

Naidoo was shocked by what he saw at Ikarama, Rumuekpe and Ogoni. He wrote in his book that rather than paralyzing him, what he saw made him determine to do something to help restore the land to the rightful owners, the people who work with their bare hands and only take from nature what she yields to them. He continues in that struggle to this day by organizing and by mentoring young people as a key knowledge holder on our continent.

My last visit here may have been in 2014, but I have studiously followed the pollution trajectory here from way back to in 2007. And that is why I am returning to Ikarama today, 8 years after. 

A major incident occurred in February 2018 when a resident was hit by the pungent smell of crude oil, and the sound of spraying liquid, on his way to farm. That spill was traced by the Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) to have resulted from what is termed “third party interference.” The response to this incident was brutal as officials of the Civil Defense Corps descended on the community in the wee hours of one morning, shot a youth in the hand and on both legs, and arrested and took away a lady in lieu of her husband, a logger, who was away in the forest at that time.

Mr Udoki Orukori, the arrested woman’s husband told reporters then that he did not know where his wife had been taken to. “I was informed it was Civil Defense (that arrested her). For now I don’t have money, so there is no access for me to go after her.” Mr Orukori’s extreme exposure and helplessness illustrates the state of affairs of community people all over the Niger Delta who have to confront multiple security forces in the murky waters of the region and in the murkier business of securing oil and gas facilities.

Before the February 2018 incident, the last observed spill in the community was recorded two years earlier and that one was attributed to Shell’s equipment failure. From that month the incidents of spills resumed with the regularity of a tom tom beat of a festival drum.

There was another major oil spill here in the evening of 11th June 2018 at Shell’s Okordia Manifold. That spill spread to neighbouring Kalaba community. The cleanup of the spill was slow and ineffective and over subsequent months the swamps remained heavily impacted with ensuing floods further compounding its impact and spread. 

Although both Shell and ENI have a fair share of spills here, most of the pollution incidents have occurred from facilities of SPDC, notably from the Adibawa/Okodia delivery line, Okodia/Rumuekpe pipeline and Okordia Manifold. And most of the oil spills have occurred close to residential buildings, farms and farmlands raiding serious concerns about locating oil extraction facilities and activities within communities. 

Expectedly, community persons have been experiencing diminishing returns from their fishing and farming endeavours, besides the onerous health impact of living in a highly toxic environment. 

Chief (Mrs) Ayibakuro Warder, a community woman in Ikarama, told environmental monitors in August 2021, ‘’Our crops don’t do well again, particularly the cassava and plantains. They die off after planting and we must replant repeatedly. Tuber plants like cassava and yams no longer yield like in the past. The yams rot away before harvest. We feel this could be because of crude oil in the environment as oil spill impacted sites are not properly cleaned up and remediated. We have not been experiencing this before now. Sometimes, in some areas of our farmlands, as we till the soil we see crude oil. That is what we are contending with and, as fisher folks and farmers, this is a threat to our means of livelihood and health.’’

The story has not changed. When Benjamin Warder tried to construct fishponds in March 2021 and again in April 2022 he was greeted by crude oil oozing from the swamp. According to Mr Warder:

“In March 2021 I brought an excavator to prepare a fishpond for me. What I saw was quite unfortunate. I saw crude oil coming out from the ground. I raised alarm by informing the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria’s Alagoa Morris. Thereafter NOSDRA, Shell and ERA came and some spots in this environment were dug. And it was very glaring that crude oil was coming out from the ground. As a community person, I felt that since even the multinational oil company had come here to witness crude oil coming out from the ground, they would come back to carry out soil tests in the entire environment and carry out proper remediation of the environment. But unfortunately, since August last year till now, nothing has been seen or heard about it from SPDC [Shell Petroleum Development Company]. That notwithstanding, I decided to try and invest again this year and brought an excavator on 26th April 2022. And you know the heavy cost of bringing a Swamp buggy down here from Yenagoa; it is expensive. And when we excavated this time, what we saw was worse than the one of 2021.”

The depth of the environmental destruction at Ikarama and adjoining communities is so extensive that it cannot continue to be covered up or ignored. The people have borne the burden of irresponsible environmental despoliation by oil companies and other entities, and this must be stopped. First the oil companies must change their horrendous habit of not adequately monitoring and securing their pipelines, and their futile efforts at covering up or underreporting oil spills.  They must review and adequately clean up and restore the environment wherever oil spills have occurred over the years. The UNEP report on the assessment of Ogoni environment clearly exposed the false claims of cleanups by the oil majors. 

This is the time for government and the oil majors to take immediate steps to commence an environmental and health audit of Ikarama and the entire Niger Delta and commence a thorough cleanup of the entire region. Funds for this endeavour should be deposited in a dedicated account for this purpose. No entity must be allowed to divest without first making reparations for their ecological transgressions. Anything less is to deny the people their right to live and flourish in their land. Remaining deprived, neglected, and poisoned in an environment that nature has so well-endowed is a paradox that Ikarama must be spared.

Fiddling while the Planet Burns

The third report to emerge from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the span of eight months has again exposed the folly of humankind on its addiction to dirty energy sources. The report clearly shows that there must be significant reduction in the use of fossil fuels. The Secretary-General of the United Nation, Antonio Guterres, has been forthright in sounding the climate alarm and he did not mince words over the new report when he declared, “Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone – now. Many ecosystems are at the point of no return – now. Unchecked carbon pollution is forcing the world’s most vulnerable on a frog march to destruction – now.”

The IPCC report offers policy makers some stark figures on how fossil fuels use must decline. These include that there must be 85% less use of coal by 2050 and 60% less oil. The report also indicates that there must be 45% less use of fossil gas by 2050.

What the IPCC is essentially saying is that the world must move away from fossil fuels, not grudgingly, not slowly, but resolutely and quickly, understanding that this is a “now or never” situation. What the IPCC did not say is that 2050 may be a bridge too far! The world is heating faster than previously thought and the 1.5C and “well below” 2C fig leaves offered by the Paris Agreement are already shrivelled and are blowing in the wind. 

The IPCC is obviously being cautious not to be alarmist even with the alarming evidence before it. Clearly today’s leaders and fossil fuel speculators would prefer to fiddle while the planet burns. Africa is particularly vulnerable to the climate impacts having serious sea level rise, coastal erosion, displacement of communities and over 28 million people at risk of chronic hunger due to weather variabilities.

The thing is that the fossils must be left in the ground. According to the UN Secretary-General, the report shows that “coal and other fossil fuels are choking humanity.” Certainly, this should make sense to a species that prides itself with being able to control and exploit Nature at will.

It is shameful that the world cannot stop pandering to the whims of an industry that desires to keep exploring, to keep digging up and burning fossils and then talk of sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide removal pathways that are often proposed include ocean fertilisation and direct carbon capture and storage. These experiments need to be carried out at planetary scale and kept going permanently. Their efficacy is not assured, and the negative fallouts could compound the problems faced by already vulnerable nations and territories.  These technologies help to lock in fuel fuels use by suggesting that the released carbon can readily be sucked out of the atmosphere. Some of the carbon capture and storage technologies are used to push out more crude oil from oil wells to burn such oils which then release more carbon that keeps the destructive cycle creaking on. 

The promotion and pursuit of technofixes are happening at a time when wind and solar are getting more economically viable as replacements for fossil fuels. And there is the option of converting disused offshore platforms and floating vessels into wind and solar farms and thus putting them to cleaner use. It is incredible that humans prefer to bandage the scarred planet rather than halting the crisis at the roots.

The world must wake to acknowledge those in the frontlines of resistance against the expansion of the fossil fuels frontiers as true climate champions.  We must applaud the fishers and communities of South Africa, for example, who have so far successfully staved off the claws of oil companies from carrying out seismic activities in their waters.  The cries of “Fish not Oil,” and “Ocean not Oil” are distress calls by children of the Earth for humanity to recover their common sense and think of the future. When the Ogoni people said not a drop of oil should be taken out of their land and demanded a clean-up of their grossly contaminated environment, they were seeing into the future, a future built without dirty energy. This is the time to applaud these climate champions. 

It is time for the world to invest in building resilience, stop mindless distracting fossil-fuelled wars against hapless peoples and to stop mindless assault on other living beings through industrial, toxic, fossil fuels dependent agriculture. It is time to support agroecology to produce healthy soils, cool the planet and feed the world with safe, healthy foods.

The IPCC report may not have said it, but we need a mind reset requiring the universal recognition of the Rights of Nature and the acceptance of ecocide as a crime in the same order as other extreme and unusual crimes. An exploitative and transactional relationship with Nature has brought the world to the brink. Continuing with the mindset that we can fix Nature by placing her on life supports provided by geoengineering or biotechnology and other synthetic formulations will only lead humans blindfolded on the highway to the precipice.

The IPCC projections cannot be achieved through nationally determined contributions. We must highlight historical and present responsibilities, demand common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) – the foundational base of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Climate justice is not a thing to be cherry-picked. The demands of solidarity require that polluters do their fair share. It requires the payment of a climate debt owed those least responsible for the climate debacle, not a $100bn token which remains promissory. The justice in the just transition requires that no one should be forced to bear more burdens through extraction of more minerals for “green” energy. It is time to pay for loss and damage and halt the reign of carnage perpetrated by wars, mindless extraction, and wastes.

How many times must the IPCC sound the alarm before humanity wakes up? Wake up, world, the fossil age cannot wait until the last drop of oil has been scrapped and burned or the world will be burned up before then.

Oil, Rot and Divestment

The reason why persons or corporations make investments is dependent on the expected or desired outcomes. The same can be said of why investors divest. Investments are predominantly made for profit. For instance, a corporation would estimate how much profit would accrue, in financial terms or material gains, and over what period, for an investment that has been made. In other instances, investments may be made for humanitarian, not-for-profit reasons or for desired social change.  Whether for profit or for altruistic ends, investments are made with gains in mind.

Investments are not made carelessly or by whim. Investors carry out detailed studies or assessments of the objective conditions surrounding the issues on hand to put their resources in areas where they expect the best outcomes.  Controls and regulations are established by governments or other relevant authorities to ensure that the pursuit of profit does not expose citizens and the environment to unacceptable levels of harm. 

It is for this reason that the idea of sustainable development emerged to moderate the inclination of those pursuing the transformation of Nature for profit without consideration of long-term socio-ecological implications, from doing so. It is also for this reason that proponents of physical development projects are required to carry out environmental, social-economic, and other impact assessments before embarking on such projects.

Assessments or studies carried out before projects or investments are approved are site specific, and studies done elsewhere cannot be applied in an entirely different location simply because investors or regulators assume there would be similar outcomes. The point to note here is that some tangible and intangible conditions could differ even where demographics and geographies appear similar. To ensure that such peculiarities are not blindsided, the people living in locations where investors, governments or institutions wish to carry out projects/activities must not only be consulted but must be part of the assessment processes. It is one way by which communities can provide informed consent for investment or development projects to be carried out in their territories.

The situation in the Niger Delta over the years has largely been one of willful neglect and refusal to consult or engage the people in decision making processes regarding investments, development, or even infrastructural projects. Projects are often thrown at communities even when they are not the priority needs of the people. Little wonder that the projects get abandoned during construction or are left to rot after completion. 

The most worrisome case is that of extraction of resources from the Niger Delta. The concerns have remained the same from pre-colonial to colonial and present neocolonial state. There are historic records of kings and leaders in the Niger Delta who were exiled or killed in the pre-colonial days for insisting on their right to have a say on trade, cultural observances or decision making in their territories. The burning of Akassa in 1895 by the British Navy over the control of trade issues remains a clear example of such infractions.

Crude oil development and the installation of industrial infrastructure in the Niger Delta were carried out without consultations with the people. Community gatherings organized by the transnational oil companies and their colonial governments were mostly moments for selling dreams of developmental progress that would happen once the wells began to spurt. Some of such events saw the showing of moving pictures of shinny cars, houses, schools and hospitals and nothing of the environmental impacts that would occur in their communities. It did not take long for the dreams to burst and for the gory realities that prevail to this date to manifest.

Efforts to bandage the massive harms inflicted on the Niger Delta has been carried out through various means including oil company driven Memoranda of Understanding with communities, and various government interventions through agencies such as Niger Delta Development Board (NDDB) established in 1961, the Niger Delta Basin and Rural Development Authority (NDBRDA) established in 1976, the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC) established in 1992, the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) in 1995,  Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) established in 2000 and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs created in 2008. These bandages seek to cover up festering wounds, without dealing with the fundamental ailments that over six decades of disastrous exploitation has wrought. 

At a global level, foils used by the fossil fuel industry to obscure the fact that they are the major drivers of climate change has now been torn to shreds. The world is at the brink of irreversible climatic chaos unless urgent shifts are made in investments in the fossil fuels sector. However, the industry has so captured government structures around the world that climate negotiations hardly refer to this prime cause of the threat, and governments tend to believe that more investments are needed in the sector to develop safer energy options. Such oxymoronic arguments are simply mind boggling. 

The crisis of the Niger Delta continues to build up. With lands, water, and air polluted and the region ranking among the top ten most contaminated places on earth, bandages no longer suffice to cover the ecological crimes. Making matters worse are the frequent oil spills that are futilely blamed on third party interferences even when the rotten state of the facilities and poor oil field practices are obvious. Recall the AITEO oil well blowout at Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 that spewed hydrocarbons into the Santa Barbara River at Nembe over a period of six weeks starting from 1st November 2021. Recall the decrepit Trinity Spirit FSPO that recently burst into flames off the coast of Delta and Ondo States. Do not forget the oil well blowout and fire that has been raging at Ororo-1 oil field (OML 95) off the coast of Ondo State since May 2020 with no discernible efforts to stop the disaster. Between 2018 and 2019 the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) recorded 1,300 oil spills, averaging 5 per day. Add to these, the unmitigated disaster related to bush refineries in the region – a clear outcome of regulatory failures by the state and lack of duty of care by the corporations.

Today the Niger Delta has over 1,481 wells and 275 flow stations, over 7,000 kilometres length of oil/gas pipelines and over 120 gas flare furnaces. The Niger Delta is an exploded ecological bomb and citizens and the environment have since been sacrificed.

Years of agitation for a legislation that speaks to the problems of the petroleum sector, the environment and the communities eventually yielded the Petroleum Industry Act (2021) which still leaves the communities on the lurch regarding economic benefits and environmental protection while pandering to the desires of oil corporations. 

The current drive by oil companies such as Shell and ExxonMobil to divest from onshore and shallow water oil fields or even to leave completely brings up very serious issues. After the oil companies drilled the Niger Delta without consulting the people, to leave the region without as much as informing the communities represents an unacceptable closing of the loop of irresponsible exploitation. In the ongoing confusion over whether ExxonMobil’s agreement to sell its assets /shares to Seplat stands or if the NNPC can take over those assets, there is no talk about what the communities think or desire.  

Communities must rise to demand that oil companies be held to account for historical and present harms inflicted on the environment and the people. They equally must decommission their rotten installations, pay for health and ecological audits, and equally pay for the clean-up and remediation of the entire region.

This is the conversation we must have.

Opening statement at a Community Training on the Petroleum Industry Act and Divestment hosted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation and We The People at the Ken Saro-Wiwa Innovation Hub on Wednesday 9 March 2022.

COP26: Injury Time

12 years ago 

We were already in Injury Time

Fighting for a temperature target of 1C

Today Nature has been patient enough

So patient not to call off the game

Though the ball has left the pitch

Nature has given humans a moment to think

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

Here we are redefining idiocy

Trumping good sense with xenophobic nationalism 

Silencing the victims via vaccine apartheid 

Standing on Nationally determined 

Self destruction

Here we are Conferencing and Partying

As though global warming 

Has suddenly become a national warming

And not a global  catastrophe

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

The celebrated Paris Agreement 

Set out “1.5 degrees” and obviously jokingly added 

Or “Well below 2 degrees”

If my maths is right

Well below 2 should fall far below 1.5

Right?

But flags were raised, glasses clinked, backs were slapped

To celebrate such arrant technical nonsense 

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

Now the con men openly run crazy

Do what you can do

Lie about what you will do

Set deadlines to when the beings on the Planet may all be dead

Net Zero by 2030

Net Zero by 2050

Net Zero by 2060

Net Zero by the turn of the century 

Net Zero isn’t Zero

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

Keep polluting

We can capture the carbon

Keep consuming 

We can bury the waste

Keep cooking the planet

We can set sunshades in the sky, fertilize the ocean 

If folks stay stupid we can label whales and elephants carbon sinks

Reinvent slavery and colonialism for more sinks

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

The Sahara is expanding 

Deserts showing up in the Amazon 

Polluters fighting to trash Okavango

Glaciers melting

Climate refugees floating on the Mediterranean

Forests burning

Oceans cooked

Islands disappearing

Mad cyclones, hurricanes 

Yet you dig more fossils, burn more coal, oil, gas 

And power locust invasions

Across the Horn of Africa

As you worship fossil dollars 

On the altar of greed

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

We refuse to allow polluters and mad men 

shooting wildly with hot guns

On COP movie sets

Dancing with hot guns on the graves of the poor

On COP movie sets

Awake people, 

Arise people

Mother Earth is not a movie set

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

12 years ago 

We were already in Injury Time

Fighting for a temperature target of 1C

Today Nature has been patient enough

So patient not to call off the game

Though the ball has left the pitch

Nature has given humans a moment to think

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

This is time for a Peoples’ COP

I hear the echoes of Cochabamba 

When People’s stood up for climate justice

And the Rights of Mother Earth

Rejecting militarism 

Exposing the dirty fingers of market Environmentalism

Denouncing carbon markets shrouded in divers cloaks 

Now they must hear our resounding rejection of so much noise without action

This is extra time in Injury Time

It is time for action!

  • Nnimmo Bassey

6.11.2021 written and read at the Global Day of Action (COP26)

What After Oil

Good morning, distinguished participants in this Public Forum. I have the privilege of welcoming us all to this event which is organized by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation in partnership with Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and with the solid support of Ford Foundation. We hope this forum will trigger other inclusive engagements and platforms to help rouse us from slumber, ask ourselves frank questions, and take a peep at the energy and economic future of our country, Nigeria. 

The petroleum civilization is winding down. The handwriting has been on the wall for quite a while. The burning of fossil fuels has taken up the carbon budget and wrapped the earth with a thick blanket of greenhouse gases that have resulted in the hottest days in recent history and calamitous floods, wildfires, and other freak events. While climate change is a global crisis, we cannot deny the fact that we face peculiar impacts at both national and sub-national levels.

For one, the global shift towards more sustainable energy technologies is bound to provoke a precipitous reduction in global demand for hydrocarbon fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. With nearly 86 percent of Nigeria’s export value coming from fossil fuels, the global energy transition will have profound effects on our economy. The prospects of a zero-carbon future will also have a far-reaching environmental, social, and governance impacts on Nigeria. 

Most affected by this will be impoverished extractive communities who have been treated as sacrificial zones since the first commercial oil well was drilled at Oloibiri 65 years ago. The impacts of climate change are already being experienced through sea-level rise and coastal erosion. These impacts are multiplied by the massive pollution whose intensity going by NOSDRA reports amounted to 1,300 spills or an average of 5 spills a day in years 2018 and 2019. 

The global tumbling of oil fortunes has led to shifts in the calculations of fossil fuel companies. While some are rebranding through a change of name, others are shifting to other energy fields. And some are moving from onshore oil assets to offshore deep-water oil fields. 

This forum intends to build an understanding of the potential impact of the inevitable global energy transition on Nigeria. It also seeks to trigger improved inclusiveness in re-source governance and reduce the power asymmetry in climate action. Finally, we hope to see in what ways government can enhance commitment towards the implementation of policies, laws, regulations and initiatives that would lead to equitable economic, social, and environmental outcomes in extractive communities.

This is a pivotal public forum that will set the tone for further community-level engagements. Today we will be learning from economic experts and industry players as we figure out appropriate responses to the dramatic shifts unfolding before us. We are also looking forward to hearing from government officials and community representatives. We believe that even if energy shifts produce stranded assets, actions must be taken to ensure that we do not end up with stranded communities. 

Again, let me say what a great honour it is to welcome us all to the forum. Let us make this a major marker on the pathway to a Nigeria where every citizen has access to electricity and energy from clean, safe, and renewable sources. We look forward to a future where no territory will remain a sacrificial zone and where citizens are actively integrated into re-source ownership, management, and energy production.

16 September 2021

Politics of Turbulent Waters

The fact that Africa can be completely circumnavigated has advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that the continent can be accessed by sea from any direction. This means that the seas can be a ready tool for wrapping up the continent and promoting regional integration and cooperation. We would be stating the obvious when we say that this spatial disposition has also made the continent prone to exploitation and assault. This position made it easy for Africans to be uprooted and relocated through slavery and this central location of the continent equally made it open to adventurers and colonizers. It is also noteworthy that key terrestrial infrastructure on the continent either begin or end at the shorelines.

The sea means a lot to Africa and her littoral states. The mineral resources and aquatic diversity have attracted entities with interest in legal activities and others with illegal intentions. With the world literally scrapping the bottom of the natural resource pot, there is a scramble for the sea and one way to sell the idea of limitless resources and opportunities has been to dream up the Blue Economy concept. In the publication, Blue Economy Blues, HOMEF stated:

To understand the Blue Economy, one needs to look at the concept that inspired its creation. That concept is that of the Green Economy. The Green Economy is another top-down concept that jars the organic relationship of humans with their physical environment as it essentially deconstructs that relationship and builds up on a philosophy that distances humans and other species from the environment and presents that environment as a thing to be manipulated, transformed, and exploited in a way that delivers gains along subsisting unequal power alignments.

African political leaders, including those at the African Union, are enamoured to the Blue Economy concept particularly when considering what can be done in the areas of fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bioprospecting, and underwater mining and related activities. The oceans and lakes simply appear to be spatially limitless and endowed with limitless resources. The truth is that these notions aren’t true.  African waters are among some of the most overfished waters, and this is often not for consumption in the continent. 

Our fisheries provide nutrition to about 200 million Africans and employment for over 35 million coastal fishers.Nevertheless, about 25 percent of fish catches in African waters are by non-African countries, according to an FAO report.

West African waters that have been among the most fecund have seen shrunken fish populations due to overfishing, illegal fishing and climate change. These illegal fishing activities are often carried out by large foreign industrial trawlers that travel over long distances with the help of harmful subsidies. It is said that about 65% of all reported illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing takes place in the waters of Gulf of Guinea.

The rush to exploit our oceans has manifested in criminal activities including sea piracy, waste dumping (oil spills) and stealing of fishes. Shockingly, 95% of all kidnappings at sea is said to happen in the Gulf of Guinea

Their catches are said to end up being used to feed livestock in Europe and the USA.  According to reports, these trawlers come from China, Russia and countries in the European Union. They catch more fish in one day than what an artisanal fisher would catch in a year. These unregulated and illegal activities largely go unreported. 

IPCC—Oceans warming faster than expected

Warming oceans lead to reduced fish populations and catches as fish migrate to cooler waters and away from equatorial latitudes. Ocean warming has been fingered as triggering more violent cyclones such as cyclone Idai, Kenneth, and Loise on the southeastern seaboard of Africa. The warming has also led to the destruction of coral reefs off the coast of East Africa. This clearly has impacts on fish stocks.

The sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) affirmed that 1.5C temperature rise above preindustrial levels may be reached by 2050 due to the continued dumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If drastic emissions cuts are not embarked on, the world is on track to overshoot the Paris Agreement targets thereby literally frying Africa and cooking our oceans. This will make nonsense of any notion of the Blue Economy, except that the oceans could become arenas for geoengineering experimentations aimed at sucking carbon out of the atmosphere or for some form of solar radiation management by pumping sea water into the clouds.

With temperatures rising and polar icecaps melting, the IPCC report assures that sea level rise stays on a steady course. The floods are coming. Submergence of coastal communities and cities will go from being a threat to becoming stark reality. We are already seeing deadly floods on virtually every continent. With sea level rise comes loss of coastal land and infrastructure, as well as loss of freshwater systems through salinization. For a continent that often suffers water stress and has the spectre of water conflicts hanging like the sword of Damocles, real action must be taken to counter climate change. 

One key action that must be taken is the outlawing of new oil or gas fields in our oceans and other aquatic ecosystems. The oil rigs and FSPOs (Floating Productions Storage & Offloading) cut off fishing grounds and engender human rights abuses by security forces who expose fishers to extreme danger just to ensure an expansive off-limits cordon ostensibly to protect oil company installations.

It is equally a time to halt the building of petrochemical refineries and other polluting industries (such as the one at Lekki Free Zone at Lagos) on seashores as they are sure to pollute the waters, poison the biodiversity and negatively impact the food chain. A phosphate factory at Kpeme, Togo, for example, pumps its  wastes into the Atlantic Ocean, literally fertilizing the continental shelf to death. Nutrient pollution can have devastating impacts on public health, aquatic ecosystems, and the overall economy. 

Blue economy sails on the highway of pervasive market fundamentalism that seeks to shrink public involvement in productive endeavours and yield the space for the private enterprises. Market fundamentalism blinds policy makers to the fact that the so-called efficient and profitable private sectors depend on subsidies and securities provided by the public sector. One only needs to think of the bailouts of financial institutions during economic meltdowns, and the elimination of risks by pharmaceutical companies in the race for COVID-19 vaccines. These are, of course, justified by overriding public interests.

The drive to support industries such as those producing plastics, and our love for disposable products, permit highly polluting materials such as plastics to be unleashed into our environment thereby causing great harm to our oceans and aquatic creatures. It has been said that there would be more plastics than fish (by weight) in the oceans by 2050.

Reports indicate that the production of plastics increased twentyfold since 1964 and reached 311 million tonnes in 2014. This quantity is expected to double again over the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050. It should be noted that the volume of petroleum resources needed to make plastics has been increasing steadily, and despite the highly visible pollution impacts the demands keep rising with only about 5% of plastics being effectively recycled and 40% ending up in landfill. 30% of the plastics end up in sensitive ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.

Already there is a plastic flotilla or a Great Plastic Patch in the Pacific Ocean that is euphemistically called the 8th continent. The patch is “three times the size of France and is the world’s biggest ocean waste repository, with 1.8 billion pieces of floating plastic which kill thousands of marine animals each year.” Sadly, those plastics will require hundreds of years to degrade if left floating out there.

The politics of economic development and market fundamentalism, allow what would ordinarily be unthinkable to happen. A drop of crude oil contaminates 25 litres of water making it unsuitable for drinking. Imagine how much water was polluted by Shell’s 40,000 barrels Bonga Oil spill of December 2011 or Exxon’s Idoho platform spill of similar volume in 1998. Shell’s Forcados terminal spill of 1979 dumped 570,000 barrels of crude oil into the estuary and creeks, while Chevron (then known as Texaco) released 400,000 barrels of crude oil in the Funiwa incident of 1980. Add to these the Ozoro-1 oil well blowout off the coast of Ondo State in April 2020 that has remained a crime scene more than a year after.

A little help from Nature

Once upon a time, our turbulent seas were embraced by verdant mangroves on our coastlines. Today the mangrove forests have been deforested for energy or to make way for infrastructure or urbanisation.  These forests are key components of a viable Gulf of Guinea. Without them the region has no answer to rampaging waves and sea level rise. The spawning ground for fish species and nurseries for the juveniles gets eroded and lost as mangroves get depleted. Oil pollution turns the mangrove forests into dead zones. Their deforestation opens up space for invasive nipa palms introduced to the Niger Delta in 1906 by a horticultural adventurer.

The call for restoration of mangrove forests must be supported and acted upon. This can be done in cooperation with community groups that are raising nurseries and demonstrating their efficacy through pilot efforts. Support by government can bring these efforts to scale and impact. Alternative energy sources also need to be provided for communities that depend on mangroves for fuelwood.

Protecting selected freshwater and marine ecosystems could be a way of securing thriving biodiversity in our oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. However, such areas must be delineated with close attention to indigenous knowledge and the cultural protection norms of communities that depend on them for their livelihoods.  Top-down approaches to establishing protected areas end up dislocating communities, harming their economies, and eroding their cultures, spirituality, and dignity. Some of such areas are simply demarcated for officially sanctioned land and sea grabbing. They can, and have been, used as tools of oppression and exploitation. 

In an article titled “Protected areas must promote and respect rights of small-scale fishers, not dispossess them,” Sibongiseni Gwebani stated, “The concept of protecting an identified fishing area, designating marine spatial territory and linking this to specific regulations has a long history in South Africa. These have been influenced by the apartheid spatial planning legislation introduced in the 1960s. Large proportions of coastal land were forcibly cleared for either forestry or marine conservation by using racial segregation laws. The histories of all of the major marine protected areas in South Africa are shaped by racially based removals through land and seascape during the 1970s and 1980s.”

No Politics with our Seas

The statistics rolled out during Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s (HOMEF) School of Ecology on the Politics of the Sea, show a very disturbing situation in the Gulf of Guinea. The gulf has become one of the most dangerous maritime areas in the world. He informed that 90% of sea based environmental pollution footprint in the Gulf of Guinea takes place in Nigerian waters. The region is very laxly policed and is a zone of plunder with hundreds of thousands of stolen crude oil moving unhindered.

When we gaze at the ocean, creek, or river, let us think about life below the surface, not as an SDG goal, but as creatures that have rights to live and thrive as children of Mother Earth. Let us see our water bodies as arenas of life and remind ourselves that we are just a tiny fraction of the biomass of living beings on earth. The seas offer us a canvass for learning positive politics of life rather than scrambling to grab and trash whatever we can lay our hands on.

Coastal Communities Under Threat

Climate change and variability in Nigeria is starkly illustrated in the northern and southern regions of Nigeria by desertification and coastal erosion respectively. This is so because attention is often focussed on these phenomena in the North and in the South. The implication of this is that the extent of climate impacts in the region between the north and south is often underreported. These emblematic phenomena do not however tell the full story of environmental changes in the impacted communities in Nigeria’s northern region and in the coastal communities.

It should be noted that within regions, as among nations, climate impacts are unevenly distributed due to differential exposure to certain physical and socio-economic factors. Other factors that affect the distribution of impacts include community structure and organisation, risk perceptions, economic systems, and available resources.  

Nigeria’s 850 kilometres coastline is notably challenged by activities of oil industry in the Niger Delta and the mammoth refinery being constructed at Lagos. Deforestation is another key factor as the shoreline protection provided by mangrove forests is rapidly being lost. Canalisation and sand filling for infrastructural and urban development are other major factors. 

The attention paid to coastal communities also varies depending on whether such areas are urban or rural. The flooding and projected impacts of the refinery on Lagos, a mega city, attracts global attention, while smaller towns such as Ibeno and communities such as Uta Ewua, Ibaka or Ago Iwoye hardly get a mention.

Coastline communities depend on aquatic ecosystem resources to secure their livelihoods and maintain their cultures. A distortion of this environment brings about both subtle and direct impacts on the social, cultural, and economic lives of the people. Canalisation, for instance, and sea level rise, bring in salt water from the sea, thus contaminating freshwater sources. This brings about the stressful contradiction of living on water and yet having none to drink. Besides the pressure on potable water, the intrusion of salt water also alters the diversity of aquatic and terrestrial species in the territories. 

The threats of sea level rise to the Niger Delta are compounded by the fact that the region is naturally subsiding. This means that the net sea level rise here is higher than in other parts of Nigeria’s coastline owing to the unique combination of factors.

We often hear of the description of some ecosystems as being fragile. That fragility is not attributed to such areas because of an inherent weakness in the ecosystem but to camouflage the harm visited on them by corporations and individuals. Perhaps we should speak of sensitive ecosystems rather than fragile ones. In this sense, sensitivity places a duty of care and respect on humans and institutions led by them.

The fact that hydrocarbon pollution on the coastal communities of the Niger Delta is not restricted to communities that host oil company facilities is well known. When an oil spill occurs at an offshore rig or at a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel, the extent of the spread of the pollution cannot be predicted and can only be determined after the  act? Mobil offshore oil spill in 2012 off the Ibeno coastline spread as far as 32 kilometres from its source, devastating fisheries in the area. Multiple oil spills in the area in 2012 and 2013 led to the coating of the entire Akwa Ibom State coastline with crude sludge. 

Other incidents include the rupturing at the Forcados terminal of Shell Nigeria Production and Exploration Company(simply known as Shell) in 1979 where 570,000 barrels were emptied into the estuary and adjoining creeks. Chevron (then Texaco) had a major spill in 1980 at Funiwa, where 400,000 barrels of crude oil were emptied into coastal waters, and which destroyed 340 hectares of mangrove forests. Mobil also had 40,000 barrels spilling in January 1998 at their Idoho offshore platform. That spill affected at least 22 coastal communities.

One major offshore oil spill recorded in Nigeria is the Bonga oil spill of 11 December 2011 at Shell’s Oil Mining Lease 118 located 120 kilometres offshore. The oil company reported that 40,000 barrels were spilled, but the significance of this spill goes beyond the volume of oil spilled. It is significant because the oil company, Shell, claimed that it pumped the 40,000 barrels into the Atlantic Ocean in error, thinking they were pumping the oil into a tanker, MV Northia. An investigation of the incident found that the pumping of the crude oil into the ocean was because of an equipment failure at the FPSO. The oil spill spread over a large extent of the coastline. It was reported to have impacted 168,000 persons in 350 communities in Delta and Bayelsa States alone. 

Following the Bonga oil spill, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) slammed a fine of $1.8 billion on Shell “as compensation for the damages done to natural resources and consequential loss of income by the affected shoreline communities.” NOSDRA also fined Shell another $1.8 billion as punitive damages. Shell refused to pay the fine and instead brought a case in 2016 to a Nigerian federal court challenging NOSDRA’s power to impose any fine on it. Two years down the road, the court dismissed the suit filed by Shell and found that NOSDRA was right to impose a fine of $3.6 billion on the offending oil company. That fine is yet to be paid by the oil major. While Shell and NOSDRA engage in their tug of war, the communities are left high and dry, suffering the impacts of the oil spill, and getting a signal that succour may not come after future incidences. The Artisanal Fishermen Association of Nigeria (ARFAN) continues to urge Shell to pay the fine imposed on it by the Nigerian government.

Of the 7 million artisanal fishers in Nigeria, 80% are found in the Niger Delta. These fishers produce about 9 million tonnes of fish locally, meeting only a fraction of the fish needs of Nigeria. Interestingly, some of the offshore oil fields are named after animal and fish species, probably to preserve the memory of species destroyed by oil company activities for posterity. An oil field is named after bonga fish, and another is named ebok or monkey. A lot of monkey business obviously goes on at those locations.

With the recalcitrant attitude of the polluting oil companies operating in Nigeria, coastal communities cannot depend on them in the struggle to maintain their aquatic ecosystems and defend their livelihoods. While communities are forced to live with these companies in their territories and off their coasts, they must take steps to protect their environment, livelihoods, culture, and overall dignity. Some of the necessary steps include a mapping of their ecological resources and preparing a matrix of what they had before and what have been lost due to multiple factors. Communities must equip themselves with knowledge on how to monitor their ecosystems as well as how to organise and advocate for the changes they wish to see.

Groups such as Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), the FishNet Alliance and others work to learn from the existential struggles of vulnerable coastal communities and to support efforts to expose ecocide and end destructive extraction, overfishing and other harmful activities. We recognise that healthy aquatic ecosystems ensure the security of communities when their knowledge and conservation norms are respected. Community wisdom provides essential platforms for protecting shorelines from the ravages of raging waves, protect aquatic species and promote the wellbeing of the peoples. Efforts of communities to hold to account, individuals and corporations who wilfully inflict harms on their ecosystems must be adequately supported.

Talking points at HOMEF’s Coastal Community Fishers Dialogue/Training at Uta Ewua, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria