Rethink Order on Ogoni Oil

HereGovernment Should Withdraw the Order for Resumption of Oil Exploitation in Ogoni Land. The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and We the People notes with alarm and unease the recent memo reportedly originating from the Presidency and addressed to the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation; and signed by Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari. In the said memo dated March 1, 2019 with reference number SH/COS/24/A/8540, the NNPC and NPDC are directed to take over OML 11 (located in Ogoni, River state) from Shell Petroleum Development Company.

The letter states;

 “NNPC/NPDC to take over the operatorship, from Shell Petroleum Development Company, of the entire OML 11 not later than 30 April 2019 and ensure smooth re-entry given the delicate situation in Ogoni Land”.

It goes further to instruct

“NNPC/NPDC to confirm by May 2, 2019 the assumption of the operatorship.”

We consider this instruction by the Presidency insensitive, ill-advised and capable of inflaming suspicions and conflict in an area that is already very fragile and prone to crisis.

Recall that in 1993, Shell was forced to abandon its OML 11 operations located in Ogoni and pull out of the area, following campaigns by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa , for fairer benefits to the Ogoni people from oil wealth, as well as compensation for the damage of their environment. The campaigns by the Ogoni ethnic nationality for a better deal from the Nigerian state also includingrestitution for the dearth of poverty in Ogoniland, as well as recognition and responsibility for the ecological damage of Ogoniland occasioned by the activities of oil companies.

The response of the Nigeria government to these peaceful demands was terrifying. MOSOP was brutally repressed using the Nigerian military. The mass killings and widespread carnage which the military visited on the Ogonis remain largely undocumented. Thousands of Ogonis lost their lives, and many others went into forced exile around the world. In May 1994, capitalizing on the unfortunate killing of 4 prominent Ogoni leaders by a mob of yet to be identified persons in Gokana local government area, Ken Saro Wiwa and other leaders of MOSOP were arrested and detained. After a few months of trial by a special military tribunal, a sentence of death was pronounced on Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 others on October 31, 1995. 10 days after, the nine were immediately executed on November 10, 1995.

It is important to note that the fears of ecological damage which the Ogonis expressed was confirmed in 2011 when the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP released its assessment report of soil and water samples from Ogoniland. The report confirmed massive soil and water contamination which has significantly compromised sources of livelihood and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants of the area.  So alarmed was UNEP about the findings that it recommended that inhabitants of the area immediately stop using water from all their traditional sources, while the government was to immediately commence a clean-up exercise which could take up to thirty years, and amount to the biggest soil and water remediation exercise ever embarked on.  As damning as the Report was, its recommendations remained unattended until 2016 when the government established administrative structures to commence the clean-up.

Given the above, it is worrying why the government will decide to resume oil extraction in Ogoniland when the pollution of the last decades is yet to be cleaned and the recommendations of UNEP have not been fully complied with. The action of the government at this time gives the impression that it only flagged off the Ogoni Clean up through the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in order to purchase the goodwill to resume oil extraction in the area. How else does one explain the fact that a site supposedly being cleaned up will resume full oil extraction activities with all the pollution that comes with it?

HOMEF and We the People also note that the demands of the Ogoni people which led to the abuses they suffered in the hands of the Nigerian Military in the 1990s, and the termination of oil operations in the area, have still not been addressed. It is disappointing and demonstrates a lack of initiative for the government to imagine that those concerns have simply withered away with time. Those of us who have remain connected to the communities know for a fact that the Ogoni people remain resolute in their resistance to any renewed hydrocarbon extraction in their domains.

We fear that the manner the Presidency has approached this subject through an order, without any consultation with stakeholders in Ogoniland or concern for the reservations the people may feel, is capable of threatening the peace in the area and conveying the message that their complaints and demands have been blatantly ignored. It is important to note that since the ugly events of the 1990s, the government has not initiated any peacebuilding processes in Ogoniland, neither has any kind of amelioration for the pains, losses and suffering sustained by the people been provided.

HOMEF and We the People strongly recommend that the government withdraws this order for the resumption of oil activities in Ogoniland, and rather concentrates on redeeming the ecological disaster in the area, and replacing the lost sources of livelihood of the people.

Between Truth and Falsehood

Fabulous Fake Music (or When Fake is Real).

The need to deepen the interrogation of the current tensions between truth and falsehood cannot be overemphasised. With the rise of fake news and alternative facts, reality has come to be doubted. What is real could turn out to be fake and what is true could turn out to be false. This was the thematic focus of a recent Elevate Festival held in Graz, Austria, that this writer participated in.

Strands of conversation covered music, arts and political discourse. It was at this event that I got to hear of, and experience, fake music for the first time. In the performance at the opening session of the festival, the music was jarring, arresting and unforgettable. Was this music or was it a clash of sounds, light and vocal gymnastics? This was the sort of creativity that creeps on you and leaves you wondering what you just experienced. In other sessions, participants were immersed in a clash of words, more words, concepts and yet more words. Interestingly, they were also concrete.

According to the organisers, “Elevate’ is an annual interdisciplinary festival…With its unique combination of critical political discourse and contemporary music and art, the ‘Elevate Festival’ stands out of the ‘usual’ festival circus. Amongst the guests are human rights experts, climate researchers and activists from all over the world, who gather in Graz once a year with musicians and artists, illuminating pertinent issues of our future.”

One of the highlights of my participation was a visit to a chocolate factory, Zotter Schokoladen Manufaktur, which is more than just a place for making and eating the delicious stuff. With a hands-on leadership provided by its founder, Josef Zotter, the establishment produces up to 500 varieties of chocolates and admits 270,000 visitors a year. Among the attractions on the sprawling grounds of the establishment is an Edible Zoo, restaurant and a Choco Shop Theatre. What is an edible zoo? If you are curious about this, you definitely have company. The ‘zoo’ provides the meat served in the onsite restaurant. Yes, the meat comes from the animals that roam the farm here. When visitors that visit here see the connection, they either get drawn into eating more meat or they may decide against meat.

The cocoa beans used in making chocolates here are sourced mostly from cooperatives in Ecuador, Belize and other Latin American countries. A fraction of the cocoa beans is sourced from Africa. These come from Congo DR and Madagascar. Not one cocoa bean from Nigeria. The company uses only organic cocoa beans and is strictly concerned about fair trade, good quality beans and the working conditions of the farmers and harvesters.

Back at the festival, there were important discussions on topics such as climate truth/climate lies; conspiracy theories and conspiracy facts; echo chambers and bubble breakers. Two of the conversations that grabbed my attention were the ones on the intersection or lack of it of civil society activism and politics. The second conversation was on climate refugees.

The exchange of views in the session on civil society and politics was framed around the questions: “How does progressive or ecological politics actually come about? Is it political parties and parliamentarians who have prevailed here? Or are NGOs and civil societies the ones that provide the necessary pressure? And how does the cooperation look like? Is it necessary or should too much proximity among NGOs, grassroots movements and politics be avoided?”

The lead conversation was between yours truly and Thomas Waitz, member of the Green Party of Austria and member of the European Parliament. Waitz is an organic farmer, activist and politician all rolled into one. He makes politics look so good. His positions drive home the truth that politics remains a dirty game when those that can help transform it stand aside rather than step into the fray.

While politicians tend to seek to maintain the status quo and their grip on power levers, activists tend to be more disposed to be disruptive in response to broken or iniquitous systems. The undue influence exerted by corporations force some politicians to support the pursuit of competition and exploitation rather than the building of cooperation and the common good. This has given rise to right wing politics and dominant relationships in which nations exploit other nations, then seek to wall and insulate themselves from the exploited and wounded nations.

On the other hand, civil society groups sometimes run fragmented programmes that are tailored to meet targets favoured by donors. We also see undue pressure on the youth to be apolitical, imbibe entrepreneurial spirit and expect little or nothing from the state. Self-employment and individualism are taught as the ultimate virtue. Public institutions are often encouraged to be self-financing, build watered down ethics and open themselves to privatisation. When we understand that being political is not the same as being partisan, it becomes clear why being apolitical is not an option.

The commercialisation of science is one obvious outcome of pressure of vested interests in universities around the world. This situation has sometimes pushed scientists to work for commercial or even political interests. This explains why some persons speak and act the way they do. The revolving doors between corporations, governments and research institutions continue to complicate our search for safe and just societies.

The ‘Elevate Festival’ was a space to make dreams come to life. It was a space for confrontation of ideas and the questioning of what truth and falsehood are in a world where the lines are getting increasingly blurred. One truth that stood out in my heart is that colonialism is alive and well, but often wears different clothes and bears different names.

Dying for Pieces of Copper

IMG_3901

Okrika Water Front, Niger Delta

Of the ten most toxic places on earth, three are found in Africa. They are: the Niger Delta, the mining communities of Kabwe in Zambia and the Agbogbloshie dumpsite in Ghana. While Kabwe ranks as number five on the list, Agbogbloshie stands at the tenth spot.

The Niger Delta ranks as number two on the list prepared in 2013 by Pure Earth and Green Cross, Switzerland. If you think that the region may have slipped out of the list since 2013, we are sorry to disappoint you as the listing remained valid at the close of 2018.

The rampant pollution of communities in Africa has gone on unabated and mineral rich communities are the worst hit. The state of affairs has been driven by the manipulation of governments by a mix of transnational corporations, as well as national and international financial bodies. Throw into that, the wholesale adoption of neoliberal policies by governments eager to attract so-called foreign direct investment and development aid and the waters become murkier. The craze for privatisation of public goods continue on the premise that government cannot be a good manager of business and must not be caught in any enterprise that requires efficiency. Thus, janitorial tasks in public offices are contracted to private enterprises and the digging of trenches in warfronts are being privatised and contracted out in the rich economies.

In our 2012 book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, we stated, “The conversion of public goods into private property through the privatisation of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one [of the ways] neoliberal institutions remove the tenuous threads that hold African nations together. Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to rebuild highly degraded environments, communities and a nation.” This pathway has oiled and locked in corruption of various shades in the continent.

Zambia stands out as one of the countries that ended up holding the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the pursuit of privatisation, pliant surrender to corporate interest and lax regulatory and tax regimes. Corporate tax stood at almost zero at a time when they enjoyed a tax boutique that had the biggest chunk coming from workers’ withheld taxes. At that time extractive companies generated a mere 2.2 per cent of the revenue collected by Zambian authorities.

The abuse suffered on the continent is clearly systemic and places the burden on poor communities. Unfortunately, often the struggles of the poor are overlooked and even subverted by external and internal forces. How else could the list of the top ten most toxic locations in the world be in the public realm for over a decade and we continue with business as usual and keep weakening environmental laws so as to score cheap points on the chart of nations rated for ease of doing business?

Niger Delta communities continue to fight decades of horrendous oil and gas pollutions that have heinously degraded their environment. They have resisted and continue to do so through protests, litigation, direct and political actions. Thousands of lives have been lost, or cut short due to the pollution and attendant militarisation of the region.

In Zambia, 1800 villagers have stood up to the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, that had polluted their waters through the activities of its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). The villagers complain that the company’s Nchanga copper mine has turned their Kafue River into a river of acid and are suing for personal injury and loss of livelihood. Villagers from Shimulala, Hippo Pool, Hellen and Kakosa are demanding compensation for harms arising from the pollution of their primary source of water. They also complain of the impact on their agriculture and socio-economic wellbeing.

The Zambian case mirrors the Niger Delta situation and underscores the critical need for solidarity between communities impacted by mining across the continent, indeed across the world. Local and international civil society networks continue to work with the suffering communities of the Niger Delta while the impacted Zambian villagers enjoy the solidarity of groups including Foil Vedanta in the difficult efforts to secure their right to life in a battle against mining behemoths. International oil corporations operating in Nigeria are deft at utilizing loopholes in the legal system to ensure that cases are often never decided on within the short lifespan of the litigants. When they are found guilty, they can shrug the sentence off as they are sure the government would be unable to force compliance since they are literally in bed together due to the business partnerships that are rigged against the people and the environment. Litigation in the home countries of the offending companies has been the option that offers a ray of hope for justice for the poor and for Mother Earth.

When the case against Vedanta went to the High Court in the United Kingdom the company argued that the matter should be heard in Zambia and not in the UK. The court disagreed on the understanding that the villagers would not get justice in their own country because of the costs and other aspects of the adversarial legal system.  That has always been the first objection that Shell, Chevron, ENI and the others raise whenever a case is brought to a location where their shareholders may pay attention. In fact, a Zambian court had ruled in 2011 that the company should pay a $2million compensation to 2000 claimants affected by pollution of the Kafue River that occurred in 2006.

The Zambian case will be heard at the Supreme Court of the UK next week based on Vedanta’s objections. While that is coming up, the manner by which Vedanta acquired the copper mines in Zambia is a lesson that conscious citizens should pay attention to. In a sort of confessional speech captured on video, Anil Agarwal, the founder/chairman of the company at a conference, gleefully outlined how he fooled the Zambian government when they advertised the desire to privatise their mining company. The guy literally scammed/bluffed his way into acquiring the Zambian assets. The video showed the chairman of KCM boasting that the mines make him $500 million in profits a year, when he acquired the mine for only $25 million. The lame excuse by the company is that the video clip was part of a longer speech and was taken out of context.  The facts speak clearly for themselves and show a very condescending attitude towards the Zambian authorities.

The company went ahead to claim that they had invested $120 million in “local communities, providing schools, educational programmes, sustainable agricultural initiatives, critical medical programmes and funding for cultural events.” This sounds much like what we hear as corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts in Niger Delta communities where the basic right to life is clearly negated by the ecological harms orchestrated by the same companies.

Next week we shall know what the Supreme Court of the UK thinks of the cry of the Zambian communities. Whatever the outcome, it is clearly time for our communities to connect their pains, strategies and fights. Pollution respects no geographic or political boundaries and we cannot afford to allow these boundaries to short circuit our struggles.


This article was first published in The Instigator, my weekly column in The Leadership newspaper, Nigeria as Poisoned for Pieces of Copper

A Call For Climate Common Sense

As the world hurtles towards climate catastrophe, the prime suspects keeping the world on this track are busy blocking negotiations aimed at tackling the problem. Climate crimes are not merely the ones already visible, they include the ones that will unfold, they affect humans and other beings currently on earth and others in generations yet to come.

The fact that the suspects openly boast of their crimes, of subverting global efforts to stem the coming storms, and that a multilateral body such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) appears helpless to call them out, says a lot about policy makers’ will to take real climate action. The open boast by such an official should be seen as admittance to a felony.

A report came out last week that an official of a notorious oil company boasted that his company was responsible for articles that ensure climate inactions and promote false market mechanisms in the acclaimed Paris Agreement. He also boasted that their text was appearing in the Paris Agreement’s Rule Book which was being negotiated. The very next day after this boast, as the first week of COP24 drew to a close, four oil producing countries – USA, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Russia- loudly resisted the “welcoming” of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report on the 1.5 degrees temperature limit. They insisted that the report should merely be noted, and possibly ignored. These countries, and others complicit by their unusual silence, more or less spurned the clear indication by science that the world has a slim window of time to avert catastrophic global warming. This is quite shocking because the IPCC is an agency of the UNFCCC specifically set up to figure out the climate trends and needed actions based on science.

The extreme weather events that have so far accompanied the current 1degree Celsius temperature rise and the pointer from the IPCC report that the world is on course for higher temperature increases, should raise alarm signals. It is reprehensible that people, governments and corporate entities would know the wrong headedness of fossil fuel dependence and yet work to entrench it. A situation where polluters and vested interests throw spanners into the works and processes of agreeing on real climate action demands the removal of such entities from the halls of multilateral negotiations.

It is a no-brainer for anyone to believe, or to propagate the idea that the waning fossil civilization will stretch much further into the future. Good sense must become common sense. The sensible direction is the conservative position that 80 per cent of known fossil reserves must be left unextracted and unburned if we are to keep temperature increases within bearable limits. This means that oil, coal and gas companies must stop searching for new reserves, even though that is the linchpin with which they attract funds from speculators and investors.

The current epoch has been erected on the platform of exploitation, accumulation and consumption. We have gotten to the planetary limits possible for continued reckless exploitation of nature. We need an alternative logic, a radical mindset change. This is not about doing things better or more efficiently; it is about toeing a totally different track, or pathway. We need a wholesale socio-ecological transformation. This is not a pipedream. There is much thinking and organizing going on in this direction around the world. In Uganda, there is the Sustainability Schools in villages; in South Africa there is the Environmental Justice Schooland in Mozambique there is the Seeding Climate Justiceprocess. In Nigeria, Health of Mother Earth Foundation runs the School of Ecology.  Similar initiatives, many in the ecosocialist mold, are ongoing in Asia, Europe, North and Latin America. They all point to what labour framed as just transition from a carbon economy.

Although the just transition idea is anchored on energy shifts and creation of decent jobs, it extends to the need to transform our societies in such a way as to protect the best interests of the planet and the peoples. It is the vision of another world that confronts the challenge of building viable and sustainable societies. Just transition demands a tackling of the increasing inequality, including in terms of wealth and resource ownership. It is at the core of a much-needed system change.

When climate activists demand system change, they are referring to concrete systemic alternatives that are getting reluctantly recognized in the formal climate negotiations. Here we are referring to issues like loss and damage, gender rights and the rights of indigenous peoples. To these must be added the essential need of reparations to territories and nations that have been ravaged, exploited and rendered doubly vulnerable to climate impacts. These deserve payment of climate debts and not grants or extensions of charity. In addition, those responsible for ecocide must be held to account and made to pay for the full restoration of damaged ecological systems.

Just transition with decent jobs may also require a change in corporate management. The visions of corporate top brass may not be as long-term as those of the workers on the short floor. How about upending the current system and enthroning cooperative leadership from below?

As COP24 drags to a close, we can safely say that there will be no backslapping as was the case in Paris in 2015. Now we know that corporate interests ensured that an inherently ineffective and boobytrapped agreement was foisted on the world. We also now know that the same forces are working hard to ensure that the Paris Agreement Work Programme is tilted to ensure business as usual and allow fictive net carbon neutrality computations and dangerous technofixes. Surprisingly, there has been wide disagreements between rich nations and the vulnerable nations on how the NDCs will be delivered and evaluated.

Nevertheless, we applaud the committed African negotiators at COP24. They largely stuck to the justice principles of the climate convention. They also resisted a crafty rewriting of the Paris Agreement and defended the interests of the continent and other vulnerable peoples. The performance of African negotiators at the climate conference was in sharp contrast to that of their counterparts who bore the flags of the continent at the recently held Convention on Biodiversity COP14 that held in Egypt in November. In that conference, the negotiators played the scripts of the biotech industry and related political jobbers, and fought tooth and nail to eliminate regulations, allow risky technologies and to generally undo the safeguards that their predecessors had carefully built. The days in Egypt were sad days for Africa. In Poland, it can be said that although the process was less than would have been expected, our delegates did not trade the continent for some cheap copper coins.  

————-

This piece was first published under the same title in my column The Instigator in Leadership Newspaper, Nigeria, on 14 December 2018. You can also watch an interview with Democracy Now! at COP24 in Katowice here.

Kotawice and Climate Pathways

IMG_0421President Buhari made a subtle Climate justice pitch in Katowice There is cautious optimism that nations may get serious about climate change as the 24th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened in Katowice, Poland on 3 December 2018. The optimism is slim because the conference would essentially draw up the rule book for the implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015. That agreement has been globally hailed as the singular effort of nations to jointly tackle global warming, ensuring that average global temperature rise is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius or well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The anchor on which action to tackle global warming hangs in the Paris Agreement, is what is called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to emissions reduction. The key phrase here is Nationally Determined. This means that each nation must decide or determine what is convenient or feasible for them to do in terms of cutting emission of greenhouse gases known to cause global warming.

While the world celebrated the Paris Agreement, climate justice campaigners warned that there was nothing substantial on which to hang the celebratory banners. It was clear that powerful nations, who also happen to be the most polluting nations, would not cut emissions at source in ways that will halt the rising temperature dial. With pledges made and computed, the world is faced with the stark scenario of temperature rise in the range between 2.7 degrees and 3.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Such a temperature rise will simply roast the planet, kicking in cataclysmic climate events and making life impossible for humans and other beings in most parts of the world.

In addition, the pledges made by many countries are conditional on having certain supports by way of finance and technologies. Nigeria pledged to cut emissions unconditionally by 20 percent and conditionally by 45 percent with support from international partners. The country also planned to work towards ending gas flaring by 2030 and towards providing off-grid solar power of 13,000 Mega Watts. While making those pledges, it is expected that within the 2015-2030 implementation period, the national economic and social development would grow at the rate of 5 percent per year. It is well known that the economic fortunes of the nation are not anywhere near that level, by any measure.

As the curtains opened in Katowice on Monday, 03 December 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the heads of governments that took the podium in the high-level sessions. One highlight of President Buhari’s speech was his emphasis that in taking climate action the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) must constantly apply. This was the hammer on the head of the climate nail because without adherence to this principle the justice basis of climate responsibility is forever lost. The CBDR principle was one of the strong anchors in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. That protocol differentiated rich, industrialised polluting countries from poor, vulnerable and non-polluting nations. They were grouped under Annex I and Non-Annex I countries respectively.

The protocol provided a legally binding framework by which nations were supposed to be assigned scientifically determined emissions reduction targets. By that means, it was hoped that the effectiveness of emissions reduction would be known in advance if parties agreed to adhere to their assigned targets. The level of ambition of 37 industrialised countries and the European community in the first commitment period (2008-2012) of the Kyoto Protocol was a mere 5 percent against 1990 levels.

A second commitment period (2013-2020) was agreed in 2012 as the Doha Amendment. President Buhari announced during his speech that Nigeria was set to ratify the Doha Amendment. This agreement more or less provides life support for the Kyoto Protocol, especially after the emergence of the Copenhagen Accord (2009) and the Paris Agreement (2015) both of which are anchored on voluntary emissions reduction, with scant attention to the requirements of science.

The recently released special report of the Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) warns of the dire situation facing a world that has already crossed the 1-degree Celsius temperature increase above pre-industrial level. It gives the world an ominous 12-year window in which to act or descend into an utterly chaotic climatic situation.

While the big polluters are reticent, suggesting that the capacity to pollute is the mark of progress, some non-polluting countries are displaying NDCs that would mean cutting emissions they are not even emitting. These show that voluntary emissions reduction pathway is not the way out.

President Buhari spoke of the harsh situation the 14 million persons depending on the shrinking Lake Chad are facing. He spoke of the plans for an inter-basin water transfer that would see water from the Congo Basin being piped to recharge Lake Chad. The canalisation idea was first developed by an Italian firm, Bonifaca, about four decades ago. While the feasibility studies of that old recharge idea are being worked out, perhaps we can work on examining the ground water management systems in the region with the aim of conserving and protecting what is left to keep the lake alive.

The president’s speech covered many areas, including the need to maintain sound environmental management in economic development. Surprisingly, he said nothing about ending gas flaring. Considering that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is selling the idea that gas flaring would end by 2020 ahead of the 2030 target set by Nigeria’s NDC, and has placed advertisements in papers indicating readiness to pursue that goal. It was disappointing that the president did not utilize that global stage to show how Nigeria is taking leadership in cutting emissions from one of the most obnoxious sources.

As the first week of COP24 draws to a close, the world is waiting to see if the leaders in Katowice will wake up to the fact that the NDCs are not the right way forward. To continue on the path that inexorably leads to intractable climate chaos is another side of the denial coin sold by the political heads of the USA and Brazil.

————–

This piece was first published on 7 December 2018 as Buhari’s Climate Justice Pitch in Katowice in my Leadership newspaper column,  The Instigator

 

 

 

 

Do Not Betray Africa on Extreme Genetic Engineering

24f6f9cf-069e-41e4-aa98-cdc61885d841.jpegDo Not Betray Africa on SynBio and Gene Drives

As representatives of a broad range of African civil society organisations (CSOs), we do not feel represented by the delegations of Nigeria and South Africa, speaking on behalf of African Group, in their attempt to speak on behalf of the people of Africa on the issue of synthetic biology (synbio) and gene drive organisms (GDOs).

Throughout the history of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, African delegates have championed the defence of our biodiversity, protection of our seeds, indigenous agroecological practices and culture. They have always advocated the need for a precautionary approach.

In the past, African delegates have strongly defended our ecological life-support systems from threats, such as Terminator technologies (seeds designed to be sterile).

We are now alarmed at what is going on at COP14 and how our concerns for our environment, biodiversity and communities are being betrayed and threatened by delegates from some African nations. In particular, they are not representing our concerns about gene drives and synbio.

Most countries in Africa are still grappling with the threats from basic genetic engineering and associated agro-toxics and do not even have experience or capacity for basic regulation of the risks for those first-generation genetic technologies, let alone synbio and GDOs.

Gene drives, such as those being promoted by Target Malaria, aimed at releasing gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, are a deliberately invasive technology designed to propagate genetic material across an entire population – potentially wiping out entire species. As Africans, we are forced to confront this new and serious threat to our health, land, biodiversity, rights, and food supply.

African government delegations appear to have been neutralised. They have fallen from grace on the altar of the multi-national corporations, gene giants and private foundations. The African group’s position at the CBD slavishly replicates the position of these interest groups.

As Africans, we do not wish to be lab-rats for Target Malaria’s experiments. We refuse to be guinea pigs for their misguided disruption of our food systems and ecology.

We call on the African and all other delegates to put the brakes on this exterminating technology. We reject any form of representation that is against the interest of our peoples and biodiversity. We call on the governments of Africa to call their delegates to order and avoid acquiescence to unfolding intergenerational crimes.

Signed by the following organisations:

-Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

– La Via Campesina Africa

– Friends of the Earth Africa

– Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)

– CCAE Collectif Citoyen pour L’Agroecologie

– Fahamu Africa

– Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, Uganda

– Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)

– Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS Africa)

– West African Association for the Development of Artisanal Fisheries (ADEPA)

– Plate-forme Régionale des Organisations Paysannesd’ Afrique Centrale (PROPAC)

– Convergences Régionales Terre-eau et Autres Ressources Aturelles

– Network of West African Farmer Organizations and Agricultural Producers (ROPPA).

– Terre á Terre, Burkina Faso

– Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA)

– African Centre for Biodiversity

– Inades-Formation

– Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC)

– Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE International)

– Institute de Researche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Development Afrique (IRPAD)

– The Africa CSOs’ Coalition on African Development Bank

– Health of Mother Earth Foundation

– Committee on Vital Environmental Resources, Nigeria

– The Young Environmental Network, Nigeria

– Community Empowerment Initiative (GECOME) Nigeria.

– Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative(GERI), Nigeria.

– Climate Change and Amelioration Initiative( ECCAI), Nigeria

– Pearls Care Initiative (PCI), Nigeria

– Intergrity Conscience Initiative (ICI).Nigeria

– Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association

– Rural Women’s Assembly

-Rural Alliance for Green Environment (RAGE), Nigeria

– Bio Interrity in Natural Foods Awareness Initiative, Nigeria

– Initiative for Peace, Empowerment and Tolerance, Nigeria

– Integrity Conscience Initiative (ICI), Nigeria

– Eco-Defenders Network, Nigeria

– Green Alliance Network (GAN) Nigeria

– Rural Environmental Defenders (U-RED) Nigeria

I Dream Of Clean Creeks

pondering

I dream of clean creeks. Writing about the creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta can be quite a struggle for me at times. Many times, I have set aside my poetry quill and declared to myself that I would no longer write poems like these. But then something happens that prompts a line, and then another one, and more.

I would rather write more poems about lush vegetations, of butterflies and beautiful gazelles. Poems inspired by love, of which I have done a few in the past. One stanza penned for my soul mate echoes in my mind often: When I see you/ I see you again/ and again and again. On reflection, those lines echo lines by the master poet, Odia Ofeimun, which he wrote about his father: I see my father’s face in every mirror, if I remember correctly.

I see the creeks of the Niger Delta in every creek and river I encounter in my pollution tours around the world. When I look into streams and rivers and see the fish swirling about, and the pebbles and white sands way beneath the surface of the water, I pause and reflect on what once was the condition of the Niger Delta. I also think of what was once the state of the lagoons of Lagos, the Challawa River of Kano as well as the Kaduna River. These creeks, streams, rivers and estuaries of the Niger Delta now wear the cloak of hydrocarbon pollution, like the proverbial mourner or penitent dressed in burlap.

It would probably take a space probe to see the bottom of even the shallowest creek or pond in the Niger Delta because of the thick layer of crude oil and related pollutants that have literally choked the daylight out of them. The only relief to the eye in these hellish seascapes is fish floating belly-up having dared to survive for a time in such a hostile environment. The Lagos Lagoon and rivers Challawa and Kaduna do not fare any better, clogged with pollutants of a different class – ranging from effluents from factories, waste oil to sundry wastes from households.

What is hardly spoken about is the huge amount of waste water that comes out of crude oil drilling. Known as produced or process water, this highly toxic water can, at times, be radio-active. On average, about five barrels of water are produced for every barrel of crude oil extracted. Some oil fields may produce higher volumes, but if Nigeria extracts 2 million barrels of crude oil per day, we can expect that there are 10 million barrels of produced water to contend with on a daily basis. How do oil companies dispose of this highly toxic wastewater?

The wastewater can be used as production fluid by pumping or reinjecting it to help recover more oil from the wells. They could also be stored in containment ponds lined with water proofing membranes and detoxified to some extent before being discharged into the environment. The question as to whether this toxic wastewater is handled in Nigeria according to the best international standards is an open one.

Between 2008 and 2010, Sign of Hope, a German charity, took 90 water samples from 76 locations in oil field communities in Thar Jath, South Sudan.  The result of the hydrogeological study was released in 2014 and showed that the ground water in the areas was heavily contaminated with salts and heavy metals. It was later confirmed, by scientific analyses of hair samples, that the people have been exposed to chronic poisoning by the heavy metals including lead and barium. The threat to the health of the people has been persistent and unrelenting. The conflict situation in the area may have served as a cover for environmental misbehaviour, but with returning peace, demands are being made for thorough health audits of the population and the provision of alternative and safe drinking water for the people.

The oil pollution in South Sudan pales compared to the situation in Nigeria. Now is the time to ask questions about how Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Agip, Total, the Nigerian Petroleum Development company and others handle their toxic produced water. Could it be that millions of barrels of toxic water are discharged into the creeks, rivers and estuaries of the Niger Delta on a daily basis without sufficient treatment? The study of the environment of Ogoni by the United Nations Environment Programme showed high levels of pollution of land, surface and ground water. The situation is the same or worse across other oil field communities elsewhere in the Niger Delta.

These questions assault our dream of clean creeks in the Niger Delta. And this is why the success of the Ogoni clean-up project is so vital for the health of our present and future generations. With the completion of the long process towards the award of the contracts that would allow the clean-up machinery to roll in, we urge the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) to ensure that delays become a thing of the past. Ogoni is a living laboratory and the clean-up holds out hope for a detoxification of the entire Niger Delta, and the clean-up of the entire pipeline routes in the country as well as the refinery area in Kaduna and, of course, the Lagos zone when the mammoth refinery being built there begins to produce and to pollute.

We dream of seeing the pebbles at the bottom of the creek at Bodo, Goi, K-Dere and in other parts of Ogoni. We also have the dream that one day, as the Ogoni clean-up unfolds, the periwinkles, crabs and myriad aquatic life forms will return to the mangroves. We dream that at that time, the mangrove roots will breath again. And so will the people.

—————-

First published on 16 November 2018 under the column The Instigator at https://leadership.ng/2018/11/16/a-dream-of-clean-creeks/