The Instigator debuts

C92BB6E8-8B89-40B5-9D8C-F870F446CC6FMy weekly column, The Instigator,  commenced on Friday 9 November 2018 in The Leadership newspaper.  You can join the weekly conversation by getting the hard copies on by looking it up online. We will be sharing the pieces here after they had been published in The Friday Leadership. Enter your weekends with thoughts on socio-ecological transformations 😂

Meanwhile, here is first piece The Instigator offered: Draining the Mine Pits

This column will always seek to instigate thoughts, conversations and actions using mostly political ecological lens. Your participation through comments and questions will instigate further responses and hopefully actions. Let us begin with a look at the mine pits in Nigeria.

The abandoned tin mines of Jos and the coal mines of Enugu are grave metaphors of the ecological harm that the advent of cheap petrodollars brought to Nigeria. It is scarcely remembered that Jos and Enugu were once prized mining locations and that their products were major contributors to the colonial and post colonial economies of Nigeria.

The mines provided jobs to thousands of Nigerians and gave birth to towns or camps – such as Coal Camp at Enugu. They were also sites of horrendous exploitation of labour, with particularly obnoxious levels reached during the colonial era. It is on record that 23,000 Africans had to carry tonnes of the tin ore on their heads over a distance of 320km before a railway line was built to the mines in Jos.

With the ascendancy of oil as the prime revenue earner for Nigeria, and with a poor record of environmental management, the mines that ought to have been decommissioned and some level of environmental remediation and restoration carried out, were simply abandoned. Government after government simply followed the oil, or money.

At Jos, mine pits, some with toxic slurries, were left as open craters in the landscape. Over time, the mine pits turned into vast ponds that essentially turned into death traps for man and beasts alike.

The abandoned coal mines in Enugu did not quite become as deadly as the mine pits of Jos. One reason for this was that whereas tin was extracted through open cast mines, at Enugu, coal extraction was a subterranean affair. Nevertheless, the residents of the Coal City found that the mines could be turned into refuse dumps. And they did.

We should remind ourselves that every mine pit or oil well has a lifespan because mining is not a renewable process but a subtraction or amputation as one analyst once stated. This is so irrespective of whether the pit or well is for the mining of gold or for the extraction of crude oil. This is one reason why mining regulations require that environmental impact assessment must be carried out before any mining activity is conducted; and that there must be an environmental management plan, including plans for closure of the mine – even before its opening.

Article 61 (d) of the Solid Minerals and Mining Act, 2007, stipulates that a miner must maintain and restore, the land that is the subject of the license to a safe state from any disturbance resulting from exploration activities, including, but not limited to filling up shafts, wells, holes or trenches made by the title holder, and in compliance with applicable environmental laws and regulations.

A cursory look at the state of mining in Nigeria today shows that miners are carrying on in any manner that seems right to them. Unregulated artisanal mining has been going on in the area now known as Zamfara State for decades. However, in August 2010 there was a catastrophic loss of about 300 children due to lead poisoning. Others suffered brain damage while women recorded high incidents of miscarriages. Such reckless mining is ongoing elsewhere.

The mining of granite for building construction in the Federal Capital is a clearly worrisome phenomenon playing out before our eyes. Everywhere you look, hills are being blown apart so that building materials merchants can do brisk business and do not have to go far for the material. Beautiful cultural and landscape place markers are being destroyed. The city is being scarified and the scars of exploitation of the rocks dot the landscape from the outskirts to the heart of the city. One would not be surprised if Zuma Rock, or even Aso Rock, get earmarked for destruction. Again, the remains of the mined rocks in Abuja communities are not in any way remediated and pose grave dangers to citizens that live near them.

Although government agencies claim that the recent earth tremors experienced in Abuja are nothing to worry about, or that the tremors are caused by indiscriminate water mining (boreholes), many of us finger the continuous blasting of rocks in the area. The fracturing of rocks above ground could have impacts on structures beneath the Earth’s surface.

Back to Jos, the sad story of the abandoned tin mines of Jos deepened with the recovery of cars in one of them. It is clear that none of the cars recovered from the deadly pond was driven by the owner into the pond. The case of the recovery of the car belonging to a retired General of the Nigerian Army is shocking, to say the least. The finding of his body somewhere else indicates that the death of the general and the burial of his car in the pond left by mining activities should demand an urgent decommissioning of the tin mines of Jos. The recovery of other cars from the yawning mine pit shows that plenty of criminal activities have been going on around the mine pits.

Now is the time to drain the mine pits of Jos and elsewhere, decommission them and fully restore the territory. It is time to carry out detailed and exhaustive forensic examination of the pits to ensure that historical and current crimes around them do not go unpunished.

https://leadership.ng/2018/11/09/draining-the-mine-pits/amp/leadershpnga/
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Follow me on Twitter at @NnimmoB

Eco-Instigator #21

64855DF9-C8DA-4448-85FF-E7150FAEF43EWe are glad to serve you a feisty edition of your informative Eco-Instigator. In it you will find articles and reports from our projects and our continuous struggles for ecological justice.
Due to the focus of extractive industry on offshore exploration and exploitation actions, the need for fishers to step up to the challenge has never been more urgent. Fishers stand at the frontline of the struggle against deep sea mining as well as offshore pursuit of oil and gas resources.
We serve you reports from our Fish Not Oil community dialogues where fishers review the state of our water bodies, note the changes, map the culprits and chart the course of action to protect our marine ecosystems. These spaces are also used to create linkages between fishing associations and for the expansion of an emerging FishNet Alliance.
We also bring you the reports from our School of Ecology focusing on Life After Oil. We held the maiden session of this exciting school in our Oronto Douglas Board Room, Benin City 30- 31 July 2018. The second session was hosted by We The People in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 29 August 2018. Participants had two additional days during which they joined in the Right Livelihood Lecture as well as Sustainability Academy, both held at the University of Port Harcourt. Reports of these will be brought to you in our December edition. While the maiden edition was exclusively for youths, the second session extended the age bracket and admitted community persons with a bias to women. Life After Oil campaign is an offshoot of our Beyond Oil research that drove for a reimagining of development in the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole.
Our fight for food sovereignty continues in an atmosphere of absolute disregard for the dangers posed by the introduction of genetically modified crops into our environment. Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA), gleefully announced the release of Bt cotton into the market while our case on their permit to Monsanto was awaiting decision in court. We considered this a disregard of due process and a crass display of the arrogance of the industry and their allies. The court eventually decided against us, but on the technical grounds that the case was statute barred and that we filed the suit outside the stipulated time boundary. The struggle continues.
As usual, we bring you poems, book review and books that you should read as well as indications of our forthcoming events. We will be glad to hear from you.

Download and read the full issue Eco-Instigator #21.

Until Victory!

Is There Biosafety in Nigeria?

Group work..mediaIs There Biosafety in Nigeria? At a recent HOMEF dialogue with farmers, most of the participants declared that they have never heard of anything called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  When they got to know what GMOs are, they all declared that genetically modified crops are bad for our agriculture and overall environment.

Despite huge financial outlays in modern agricultural biotechnology roadshows, the people remain unaware of these commercially and politically driven organisms that are rapidly being released into our markets and environment. Without free and clear knowledge of these artificial organisms, it can be said plainly that the right of our people to safe food and safe environment is being officially breached with crass impunity.

As we speak, the promises of the first-generation GMOs that are being promoted in Nigeria are unraveling – with persistent failures being recorded around the world. Herbicide use has increased rather than reduce – of course the toxic chemicals are made by the makers of the GMO seeds. Pesticide use has not waned even though Bt crops (crops inserted with gene from the organism, Bacterium thuringiensis) are essentially engineered to act as pesticides themselves. Farmers are trapped in debt in the cotton fields of India because of the seeds-chemicals trap traceable to GMO Shylocks. GMO infested South American countries are reeling from chemical poisons on farmworkers and in farm-fence communities. In the United States of America, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m in damages to Dewayne Johnson after a jury found that the company’s Roundup weed-killer caused him cancer. There are over 4000 similar cases in the USA. The safety of GMOs and the claim that GMOs yield higher than normal crops have not been proven.

The old GMOs are now being joined by more extreme variants known as Gene Drives. That target whole populations, involve gene editing and do not involve cross-species gene transfers. They pose special and unique dangers to Nigeria and Africa. The first danger is that our regulators are gullible and tend to be remotely controlled by forces that promote untested technologies. The second danger is that even the dangers and risks are known, they are happy to allow experimentation and expose our people, communities and environment to be used as guinea pigs.

A great risk is that the influencers of the technologies in Nigeria are already trumpeting that Nigeria must jump on the gene drive train just because we must, as a people, play the neocolonial catch-up game with targets set offshore.

Two cases to buttress this assertion relate to biotechnology experimentation in Burkina Faso. Firstly, was the failure of Monsanto’s Bt cotton in that country that led to the phase out of the GMO from Burkina Faso. The same GMO cotton that failed is now to be released in Nigeria, the second testing ground for an unnecessary and failed product. Of course, the local experts serving as midwives or middle men of the technology in Nigeria are celebrating that they can release the varieties into our environment without check, without questions.

Secondly, modern biotechnology entrepreneurs like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding Target Malaria to release 10,000 gene drive mosquitoes, in a village in Burkina Faso without our relatives there being truly aware of the what would be biting them. The gene drive mosquitoes are designed to crash the population of female anopheles mosquito species that transmit malaria parasite. Risks of this untested technology include the fact that they could have unexpected ecological problems, could be used as a weapon of war and is deployed without real prior informed consent of the poor villagers. This is another technofix to tackle a problem that has roots in poor sanitation and socio-economic inequities, among others.

A great risk is that the influencers of the technologies in Nigeria are already trumpeting that Nigeria must jump on the gene drive train just because we must, as a people, play the neocolonial catch-up game with targets set offshore.

We need to interrogate not just the technology but also the regulation of the technologies. We need to ask why an application from a company like WACOT Ltd was approved when the only backing document, as published on NBMA’s website was a sheet of paper showing varieties of genetically modified maize approved by some European countries. This application was approved although there has been no risks assessment in Nigeria and even though approval in the EU does not in any way confer automatic acceptance of those things in countries outside of the jurisdiction within which they were approved. The application did not state that about half of EU countries do not allow these varieties of maize into their countries. For Nigeria, anything goes because everything is safe for Nigerians no matter how toxic they may be to others.

A grave problem with this approval of genetically modified maize for production of feed by WACOT Ltd is that the company sought and obtained the approval after being adjudged to have imported the GM maize without due approval and had been asked to repatriate the maize to Argentina from where it was imported. A further issue that cannot be ignored is that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had been notified of the impounding of the illegal and unauthorized transboundary movement of the genetically modified maize into Nigeria. According to reports, the FEC was also informed that the offending company had been asked to send back the illegal shipment. Yet, the same illegally imported grains were approved for release and use by the company. The repatriation order proved to be a mere smokescreen. The company was further licensed to import the supposedly EU approved GM maize over a period of three years.

Media trainingAs you all know, Health of Mother Earth Foundation along with 16 other civil society groups filed a suit challenging the granting of permits to Monsanto Agriculture Nigeria Ltd for the confined field trial of genetically modified maize (NK603 and MON 89034 x NK603)) as well as commercial release of Bt cotton earlier mentioned. We challenged the permit based on strong scientific, sociology-economic, environment and administrative concerns. We also drew attention of the court to the fact that the approvals were granted on Sunday 1 May 2016 a mere one working day after the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) acknowledged that they had received our copious objections and promised to consider them. They obviously did not consider the views expressed in our objections. The judge eventually struck out the case based on the technicality of the case being statute barred. In other words, the case was struck out because we filed the suit more than three months after the permits were granted. The GMO promoters of all shades, both local and international, have crowed that the decision of the court equals an open door for any sort of GMOs to be brought into the country. That is an absolutely specious understanding of the court’s decision. The judge clearly stated that case was not struck out for lack of cause but because the particular action was statute barred. No time for celebration, Monsanto chiefs!

We will go into more details concerning the reasons Nigerians have to worry about the state of biosafety in the country. There is certainly time for that. Although we may no longer waste our time and resources sending objections to a regulator that disdains public opinion, we will not shirk our responsibility to demand safe and suitable foods for our peoples.


Welcome words  at a Media Training on Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria – held on 25 September 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria

Choking Soot + Climate Change

8292E5AE-DAB8-4EB5-A3FE-9C920433480BTogether we confront humanmade ecological challenges. Our ecological challenges are widespread and suffocating. The clearest for those of us in Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta at large, is the visibly polluted and unhealthy air that we have been forced to breathe.

We applaud our brothers and sisters that have championed and continue to champion the Stop the Soot campaign. This is one campaign that has been backed by research, competence and high-level articulation of the health and debilitating impacts of soot, or black carbon, that citizens have been condemned to breathe. The petition that has been raised on this matter should be endorsed by all citizens of Nigerians, not just residents of the Niger Delta who breathe this toxic air.

The soot is the manifestation of insidious atrocities that have gone on unchallenged in our environment. It is one that cannot be swept under the carpet. Our creeks have been dastardly polluted, indeed coated by crude oil and we have silently continued to drink the polluted water. Our lands have been heavily contaminated, our crops have wilted, rotted and we have gone home empty handed at harvest time, yet we eat our rotted tubers and continue to fall into the grip of disease. Sixty years of gas flaring has secured huge profits for oil companies and limitless revenue for politicians to fight over, but for poor communities these have meant cancers, bronchitis, asthmas, skin diseases, birth defects and acid rain, to name a few.

Our people on the coast line are continuously losing land to coastal erosion. Inshore and offshore fishing grounds are being lost to oil pollution and ocean acidification daily. We must ask the question: what have we gained from sixty years of crude oil extraction?

Today we are gathered to examine two issues at this summit. One is soot. The other is climate change. Our determination is to stop the soot. Our plan is to tackle the climate menace. Their root cause is one. To achieve the results, we need to and must aim at the root. That root is well known: fossil fuels.

It has long been determined that for the world to have a reasonable chance of keeping to a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise above 1750 or pre-industrial levels, at least two thirds of known fossil reserves must be left in the ground. This is a scientific fact attested to by relevant global scientific and expert bodies. We cannot wish this away. Fossil fuels must be left in the ground. We have no luxury of choice on this matter. Delay will be like the case of the emperor that was dancing shaku shaku while his domain was burning.

Some Nigerians think that if new oil or gas fields are not opened our economy will collapse. Nothing can be farther from the truth. It is not about new oil fields, it is about stopping oil theft and reckless oil pollution. It is known that industrial scale oil theft is ongoing in our nation. If we consider estimates of stolen crude that we have heard from government officials over the years and combine these with the amount of oil regularly being spilled into our environment, we can safely say that, indeed, our oil output would almost double if the stealing and the spilling are stopped.

Is it oil that is keeping our economy afloat? Now that we are pumping oil at full throttle, how many of you have public electric power supply? Our gas flares or furnaces burn without ceasing, but our people still cook with firewood. If oil is boosting our economy, how come many in the formal sector go for months without wages and over sixty per cent of Nigerians eke a living in the informal sector? Why is virtually every building having a shop at the frontage? Where is almost everyone one sort of petty trader or the other?

The soot that is choking us is from the burning of fossil fuels. The sources are well known, even though officials are shy to agree. These sources include: the aged refineries, the gas flares, the bush refineries, oil spills and stolen crude that are set on fire by security forces.

We cannot emphasise this loudly enough: the soot that is choking us is from the burning of fossil fuels. The soot is choking us and our children. The solution is for us to choke the soot. We can only choke the soot by choking all the sources of soot. Stop the gas flares. Stop the ancient refineries. Stop the burning of spilled crude as well as stolen crude and illegal refineries.

We must rise and take real climate action. This is an emergency. We cannot afford any more delay. Stop the soot. Stop the pollution. Let us think, and think hard. The old mindset will not get us out of the pit. Whether we like it or not, the petrol age is drawing to a close. We must quickly close the chapter of crass pollution. Now is the time to think. It is time to act. It is time to prepare for life after oil.

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Statement by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (www.homef.org) at the #RiseForClimate and #StoptheSoot Summit held at Emerald Hotel, Port Harcourt, Nigeria on 11 September 2018

We Rise for Climate Justice

We Rise for Climate Justice.

The floods are coming. Our coastlines are receding. Our creeks, streams and rivers are polluted by oil spills, produced water, toxic wastes and an assortment of wastes including plastics. Deforestation continues. Desertification is not slowing down. No water to drink. No fish in our waters. Our farmlands are barren. Violent conflicts everywhere resulting from shrinking access to the gifts of nature. Our people are sick! Life has become a mist!

It is time to Rise for Climate. It is time to stand for justice.

Nigeria continues to allow routine gas flaring. Deadlines are set and goal posts are shifted continually. 62 years of unconscionable pumping of harmful elements into the atmosphere. 62 years of pretending we do not know that the diseases we see around us are not strange but are manufactured by our lack of conscience and our refusal to stop the continuous poisoning of our peoples.

It is time to open our eyes, shake off the pretense and Rise for Climate! It is time to stand for justice.

Changed weather patterns. The climate crisis is here and now. Failing agriculture. Many tragic events underscore these realities, yet rather than act and, whereas we should stop digging for and burning crude oil, we give room for false solutions like carbon marketing and dream we can solve the problem with carbon capture and burial and even through geoengineering.

Together we Rise for Climate. Together we stand for climate justice.

As the Lagdo dam in Cameroon and the Kainji dam in Nigeria send huge quantities of water down stream, our agencies raise the alarm and do little else. In 2012 we lost over 300 persons and over 2 million persons were displaced. As we speak, the scenario is repeating itself. Already over sixty communities have been submerged and at least one death has been recorded.

It is time to wake up, see the horrors and Rise for Climate! It is time to stand for justice.

Ogoni remains polluted. Oil spills are going on across the Niger Delta. Soot hangs like a blanket over Port Harcourt. We cannot wait until we perish before we rise? We shall not wait until we cannot breathe before we speak up? We cannot be silent until all our lands disappear in the ocean or are covered by the desert? The labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain? No!

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Ken Saro-Wiwa said “to be silent is treason.” He also urged action, adding “We shall do this peacefully, and we shall win!” Today we pledge to take real Climate action wherever we are. Today we pledge to stand with our peoples and fight climate criminals. Today we rise for climate and demand action. Today we rise for climate and demand justice.
— Solidarity message by Nnimmo Bassey
Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)
#RiseforClimate rally at Ken Saro-Wiwa Peace Centre, Bori, Ogoni
08 September 2018

Extractives and the Privatization of Oceans

A6AB7AA6-8945-46AE-B599-F679D205DEF3Extractives and the Privatizing the Oceans. It has become common knowledge that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. That is quite alarming. More alarming, however, should be the fact that we are already consuming a lot of plastic through the fish that still swim in our waters. Besides health impacts, the economy of fishers and their dependents is receiving crushing blows from this trend as our oceans literally get turned into dumpsites.

The oceans present pictures of limitless resources begging to be dragged out into the markets and kitchens of this world. This sense of the ocean as an inexhaustible storehouse has empowered some unscrupulous persons to throw caution to the winds as they trawl the seas, oceans and lakes catching everything from the fingerlings to mature fish. Sadly, some of these rogue fishers do not respect national boundaries and behave no better than sea bandits. Besides the stealing of sea resources, there is the alarming harvesting of fish on the West African coastline for the production of fish meal for use in industrial aquaculture production in Europe and Asia. This harvesting of fish for fish meal has raised the price of fish beyond the reach of the people who depend on them as a key source protein.

The oceans and our lakes have also become zones of interest for the extractive industries – miners and oil companies. Their activities present special dangers to the health of our creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans. The efforts to keep up profits has triggered a rush to mine the seabed in ways that should attract serious attention.

Dead Whales, Red Flags

Our coast lines are dotted with oil rigs, oil platforms and armadas of seismic vessels. Lakes Chad, Albert, Victoria, Kivu, Tanganyika, Malawi and Turkana have all attracted the claws of the oil and gas industry. These activities if not checked portend grave dangers for national security and, more urgently, for fishers and the health of our peoples.

The epidemic of dead whales washing onshore is just one indicator that all is not well. In recent months we have had reports of dead whales off the coasts of South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, Ireland, Germany and the United States of America, to mention just a few. In the case of the eight Cuvier’s beaked whales that washed up on the west coast of Ireland, scientists believe that they died of impacts of British military sonar. Of course, the British Navy denied any link between their maneuvers and the dead whales. However, naval sonars are known to have deadly impacts on whales.

Some navies use these low frequency active sonar (LFA) systems in scouring the sea bed for obstructions, mines and other elements. They use a number of underwater speakers to pulse low-frequency sounds at about 215 decibels for roughly 60 seconds a pop. The sounds travel over hundreds of kilometres and can interrupt the lives and activities of marine mammals, breaking up their communications, causing disorientation and other problems. These sonars are found in approximately 70 per cent of the world’s oceans.

The seismic exploratory activities of oil, gas and mining companies are carried out using techniques that are comparable to the naval sonars. These seismic surveys use sound energy (at decibels higher than levels that normally occur in the oceans) to map geological structures deep beneath the seabed.

Some apologists of the extractive sector continue to argue that having dead sea mammals wash up onshore is normal and is to be expected. What they do not say is that the carcasses that we see are only of those that washed to inhabited shorelines. How many dead whales and other large aquatic species die and are buried in the deep or are simply out of sight?

Threats to Our Common Heritage

In a recent letter to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), global citizens demanded that the seabed should be off limits to mining. They stated, “Moreover, a global public knowledge that deep sea extraction is under discussion is still extremely limited, as is public understanding of the implications of such a move. As deep sea mining would impact the common heritage of (human)kind in ways that are not yet scientifically well-understood, time should be taken to initiate a wider public discussion and to carry out additional scientific research.” The letter further stated, “The common heritage of (human)kind is a significant equity principle in international law. This principle was formally applied to the deep seabed through a 1970 UN resolution declaring that the ocean floor in international waters – called the ‘Area’ in international law – be employed for peaceful purposes.” It added that, “It is our view that this must not proceed without a more transparent and thorough global assessment of the ecological risks associated with deep-sea mining, as well as a more rigorous consideration of a benefit-sharing mechanism via which the common heritage principle will be upheld.”

Water Grab Through Pollution

Water pollution from oil spills and mine tailings are sources for great concern about the quality of our waters and the overall health of the marine ecosystem. The same can be said of factories and industrial installations along our coastlines, including oil refineries that use the ocean as their rubbish dump, pumping toxic loads into them and deeply compromising the health of the aquatic lives in the process.

Researchers believe that by 2035 some 40 per cent of the world population will live in areas having water scarcity. It is also said that industries account for a fifth of global water use compared with 5 per cent for humans while agriculture uses the rest. We believe that industry uses much more water than estimated because these estimates do not include the waters that industry have polluted and rendered useless for other purposes.

The creeks, rivers and swamps of the Niger delta, for example, have all be privatized by the oil companies through pollution. Our continental shelf and deep waters have been partitioned and are effectively owned by the oil companies because of the security zone ( often up to 5 km radius) around their installations that are cordoned and closed to fishers, including areas with endemic fish species. So, our waters are also privatized through security cordons for unhindered extractive activities. This is a clearly objectionable privatizing of the commons.

Fishers Unite!

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The double jeopardy for our fishers is that with polluted coastlines, the option they have to secure good catches is to go into the deep offshore, but most of them do not have boats that can venture far off the coastlines. This is the tragic economic predicament of our fishers: disrupted by pollution, stopped by the military and blocked by economics. These will remain and self-reinforce until, and unless, fishers unite and declare that fish is more valuable than oil, coal or gold. The FishNet Alliance presents a strong platform to push for water bodies devoid of extractives.

It is time to challenge activities to pose danger to our marine resources. Citizens can win when we stand together and build webs of resistance. Resolute activists in New Zealand just won an inspiring case rejecting the mining of 50 million tonnes of ironsand from a 66 square kilometres area off the South Taranaki Bight that was to be done over a period of 35 years. More victories are possible.

Today we have an instigator with deep knowledge of the deep issues pertaining to Extractives, Oceans and Fisheries. We have scholars, fishers, processors and sellers in the house. This is a good mix for sharing and contesting ideas.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Sustainability Academy with the theme, Extractives, Oceans and Fisheries, held on Friday 31 August 2018 at the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Fish is More Valuable than Crude

 

Fish is More Valuable Than Oil. When we say that fish is more valuable than oil, we are staying a plain fact. Fish are living organisms whereas crude oil comes from fossils or long dead matter. Fish support our life with necessary protein. It is estimated that about 63.2 percent of Ghanaians depend on fish for animal protein. Marine resources provide the backbone of the economy and social life of many coastal communities. They employ millions of peoples across the coast lines of Africa and in both Great and small lakes on the continent.

The economic value of artisanal and small-scale fishing includes the big population of processors and sellers that are mostly women. To these must be added the families that depend on them and the income from the sector. With these considerations and in comparison, to the negative impacts of oil exploration and extraction in our waters, the fishing sector is more valuable and needs to be consciously protected.

Before the arrival of oil and gas rigs in our territories we enjoyed pristine waters and we could fish freely in the deep offshore and on the inland shores. Our people could literally pick sea foods from the shallow waters and from the creeks. Oil activities in our waters have raised serious security concerns, with large areas around oil installations becoming off limits to fishers. Sadly, oil fields have notoriously been found in areas with endemic fish species. Besides oil spills from offshore oil operations, they also pollute the oceans with drilling muds, pipeline leaks, produced water and deck runoff water. These have considerable impacts on the fish, coral reefs and water birds in the short and long terms.

When the seismic ships arrive, trouble knocks. Oil companies invest a lot in their search for oil reserves. Governments readily back these searches because both corporations and governments benefit from huge reserves as the market value of an oil company rises as their reserves rise. Governments that belong to a cartel like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) can press for higher production quotas depending on how much reserves they can show that they have. While their reserves rise, so do the pains and poverty of the fishers.

A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

Seismic testing is often carried using multiple air guns that emit thousands of high-decibel explosive impulses to map the seafloor. The engineers repeat the blasts from the seismic air-guns every ten seconds and all through the day and these go on for days and weeks at a time.

These activities are known to disorientate marine mammals such as whales and other marine life. This happens when the sensory organs of these aquatic animals are affected causing them to lose their sense of orientation as well as ability to track food sources.

You are witnesses to the many whales that have died off the Ghanaian coasts in recent years. Right here in Keta, a dead whale washed onshore at the Tettekope beach on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

In South Africa, as exploratory activities intensify off the coast of Durban, concerns have risen over the fate of the highly valuable marine ecosystem there. Just this week a dead whale washed onshore. Before the beaching of the whale, scientists were worried that a particular fish species that has survived millions of years including the ice age, without much change, may not be equipped to withstand oil pollution. Last week a baby whale washed onshore on the coast of Delta State, Nigeria. These incidents have become more regular in recent times.

Oil drilling is a resounding tragedy to marine life forms, killing and injuring them. It is a threat to the natural heritage of our coastal communities. It is time for our nations to ban extractive activities and reckless fish exploitation by local and foreign fleets in our waters, create marine parks and protect them. Our fishers are getting tired of going all night in search of fish and returning home only with polluted nets.

Our FishNet Dialogues provide spaces for us to interrogate changes in the state of our marine environment and to map actors negatively impacting our marine ecosystems, and to proffer actions that must be taken to halt the harms. In the course of our conversations today, we will ask ourselves some questions. Such questions will include whether crude oil is in anyway more valuable to us than fish. We will compare how many persons work in the oil sector to the number that work in fisheries. We will also ask which of these supports our local livelihoods, natural heritage and sociocultural activities.

As you will see, we are not here to give or receive lectures.  We are here to have a dialogue, listen to ourselves, ask questions and collectively seek answers. We are here to seek ways we can work together and extend the webs of solidarity to other fishers who could not join with us today.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation is pleased to collaborate with Oilwatch Ghana and our fishers here in Keta to make this gathering happen. We also welcome FishNet Alliance members form Togo to the gathering. Let the conversations begin!

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the FishNet Dialogue held at Keta, Volta Region, Ghana on 23 August 2018