Biosafety in Shambles

We cannot afford to keep gambling with our biosafety. To do so is to set ourselves up for intergenerational consequences; needless to mention the current crises that are being exacerbated. Genetic modification and other new technologies including gene editing and synthetic biology which are applied in agriculture require critical evaluation for their implication not just on human/animal health but also on ecosystems and on the rights of our people.

Biosafety encompasses the actions, systems and policies that protect humans and environments from exposure to harmful biological agents. In agriculture, it involves the precautions taken to control the cultivation and distribution of genetically modified (GM) crops and products. 

Nigeria is a key actor when it comes to GMOs Biosafety. She signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in May 2000 and ratified it in October 2003 in commitment to Global Biodiversity Management. However, questions remain over the implementation of the principles of biosafety, of the continuous assessment of the implications of products of genetically modified organisms on the people/environment and on the level of awareness of the public on the subject.

The Nigerian Biosafety Management Agency Act came into force on 18th April 2015 in the last days of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. That Act mandated the setting up of the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) saddled with the responsibility “for providing regulatory framework, institutional and administrative mechanism for safety measures in the application of modern biotechnology in Nigeria with the view to preventing any adverse effect on human health, animals, plants and environment.”  

Since then, a plethora of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) products have been approved for release in the country. According to our report on the State of Biosafety in Nigeria, as of November 2020, the NBMA had issued nineteen permits for introduction of GMOs into the country – eight (8) for field trials, nine (9) for direct use as food and/or feed processing and two (2) for commercial release. GM Cowpea (beans) and GM Cotton were approved for market placement in 2019.  

In this year 2022, 2 permits have been issued: one for field trial of genetically modified potato and the other for commercial release of the HB4 wheat. 

These products are approved with very little public knowledge and where rigorous assessments are done and objections made by concerned organisations/individuals, they are neglected. This NBMA so far has acted more like a promoter of GMOs rather than as a regulator.

One case of focus today will be the genetically modified wheat (HB4 Wheat) approved in July 2022. Approval was granted to the applicant (Trigall Genetics S.A.) in merely a month after the application was received. No risk assessment document is available on the website of NBMA or the Biosafety Clearing House as of 25 July 2022.

Although it is claimed that the application is for commercialization and not for cultivation of the wheat, there is no guarantee that the GM event will not get into the hands of local farmers and contaminate indigenous varieties. The applicant states that “in the unlikely case of accidental release, risk to humans, animals and the environment are similar to the ones produced by conventional wheat.” This doesn’t make sense as they also say that the “traits found in the GM wheat event are not available in non-GM form of the crop.” 

 The HB4 Wheat was engineered to tolerate glufosinate ammonium which is known to be more toxic than glyphosate. There are thousands of cases in the USA over cancers resulting from the use of glyphosate. Residues of glufosinate in the wheat event poses a direct threat to human and animal health. In the likely event that this wheat is planted by farmers soil and water will be contaminated from intensive use of the glufosinate chemical. Although the wheat is self-fertile, it can cross-pollinate at a rate of up to 14% meaning that the HB4 genes will spread to and contaminate other wheat varieties.

These concerns with the HB4 wheat are common to the several other GM products approved for use in the country. Some GMOs are modified to act as pesticides (e.g the Bt Cowpea approved for commercial release in 2019 and already being distributed to farmers). We may have already started eating a pesticide in the name of beans. GMOs have economical (e.g loss of farmers’ rights to save, reuse and exchange seed), environmental (erosion of biodiversity, loss of indigenous varieties, advent of super pest/superweeds, toxicity of water, soil degradation) and health (immune system disorders, liver and kidney problems, cancers) implications that we cannot keep a blind eye to.

The right to safe and nutritious food is a universal right. GMOs challenge that right with the creation of novel organisms, dependence on toxic chemicals and abridgement of the rights of farmers to preserve and share seeds and to stay free from contamination by genetically engineered seeds.

The NBMA Act 2015 which mandated the setup of the Agency has several fundamental flaws that make it impossible to protect the interests of the public and avert the negative implications of GMOs on our health, economy, and environment. The gaps include lack of access to information, no provision for adequate stakeholder engagement or consultation and participation, defective provision for liability and redress, subjective decision-making, and skewed provisions for appeals and reviews. The law is uses slack terms such as “may” rather than “shall” therefore bestowing enormous discretionary power on the Agency. These loopholes create room for abuse of administrative powers and make allowance for gross injustice against the people of Nigeria and the environment.

Today as we discuss the issues surrounding GMOs biosafety, we hope you will focus particularly on the NBMA Act and see if the Agency as constituted is wired to serve the best biosafety interests of Nigeria or if it should be fundamentally reviewed. We hope that you, as legal experts, consider if there are issues of conflict of interest in a setting such as that of NBMA where board members such as National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) are promoters of the risky technology and are also applicants that have benefited from the very first application to have come before the Agency. 

We hope that you will examine the implications of GMOs and advise whether they obstruct avenues for safety, justice, fairness, probity, and equity in our collective struggle for a food regime that ensures that we are not turned into guinea pigs by those pushing to colonize our food systems and expose us to avoidable risks.


Welcome words at the Workshop with Judiciary Officials on GMOs and Biosafety in Nigeria held on 4thAugust 2022 at Abuja

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.

Learning for Change

The wise is a knowledge holder and keeper. 

Learning is a lifelong process. In other words, we never graduate from the schools of life as long as we are still on planet earth. We learn to walk, to speak intelligibly and we learn to be part of our communities. Many factors affect our learning and some of these are personal, others are social, cultural, and economic. In this information age, we need guidance to navigate the rapidly changing situations with virtually everything around us. There must be few things that are not in a flux around us. We struggle to keep up with changes in our culture, social norms, environment, politics, education, the arts and even spirituality.

In the midst of the stormy changes, we note that the changes are propelled by humans and human institutions, including corporations. Wisdom requires a rethink of current modes of production, reproduction, and consumption. Consciously retaining understanding of our being, as humans, in the community of other beings is essential in an age such as we are in. To do otherwise is to become beings that have lost both memory and mind. We need information and we are having more than we can analyze and sift for our purposes. This state of things require that we pause, sit, and learn. We need to learn from the wise, the proverbial seated elders who see far beyond what the youths cannot see standing on top of palm trees.

Although the wise do have information, information on its own is not wisdom. Information is like tools in a box. Anyone could own or access the toolbox, but only the trained or schooled would know what tools to use and for what purpose. Mere information is not wisdom. Having a pouch filled with information does not make anyone wise. Knowing what to do with gathered information per time, makes one wise.

Our elders and initiates into diverse age groups hold a vast array of knowledge about our forests, ocean, and biodiversity generally. As we know, some of the knowledge are not accessible to all and could get lost if the holders are not available or willing to share such.

Why sit at the feet of the wise and the knowledge holders in natural and less formal settings? We do this with the aim of bridging the gap and building relationships between the learner and the teacher. It is essential to build relationships of trust to facilitate knowledge sharing, interrogation and understanding.

Through Learning from the Wise (LftW) we hope to tap into the reservoir of the abundant knowledge of our people from especially knowledgeable and respected individuals.

What are the questions plaguing the youths? How are they interpreting the objective conditions around them? What is their reading of the state of the environment and energy systems? We don’t just want our youths to know the solutions, we want them to know how to find solutions to known problems and even to those yet to occur.

Our hope is that our youths will not only be recipients but agents and broadcasters of knowledge and wisdom using contemporary tools such as those available on social media platforms and which are readily utilized by them.

It is our desire that the youths bear in mind that, as is the case with all teachers, knowledge holders are often not self taught. They learn from other knowledge holders and understand that they hold the knowledge as a sacred trust, as something to be shared with others. The knowledge cuts across all spectrums of knowing and include those on environment, traditional medicine, varieties of crops and animals, value systems, ceremonials, values, and language. 

Our knowledge keepers are custodians of our tangible and intangible cultural heritage embodied and manifested in our knowledge system, including fishing and farming systems, customs, poetry, songs, architecture, and other art forms. The fact that the tangible and intangible are closely intertwined as a multilayered tapestry of life urges us to fundamentally look at our learning processes and spaces. What are the available spaces for learning? Universities? Why not Multiversities? How come our polytechnics are more like monotechnics? What are our youths educated for? Are they educated for life steeped in solidarity, dignity, and respect, or are they trained to be mere economic beings, sold and bought by the highest bidder? Can such narrow educational pathways prepare a people for the increasingly complex challenges they must face?

LftW is a platform for active acquisition of knowledge, bearing in mind the urgent need to propel changes in our society, the kind of change we desire and need. The change that is for the people and from the people.

Reject Seed Colonialism in Africa

It has often been said that one of the ways to colonize a people is by dismantling or subverting their culture. This pathway is also effective for building dependency and disrupting the systems that organically secures the health of the populations. In terms of agricultural and food systems, the disruption is most effective when staple crops are targeted, appropriated through patenting and presented as mere merchandize. Food is fast becoming an instrument of control and power.

Science has been used as a cloak for the introduction of foods of dubious value and quality. The quest to solve perceived problems through artificial means introduces new problems, some of which can be intractable. Today we see unrelenting forces seeking to control our food and agricultural systems with attendant disregard for indigenous knowledge, natural cycles, biodiversity, and livelihoods of communities. 

We are concerned that food is being seen as a mere commodity or a mechanical or chemical product from a factory or laboratory. Truth is that eating is beyond swallowing food to satiate hunger; food has deep cultural and spiritual anchors with special significance in many religious observances. 

Food supply across Africa depends largely on the maintenance of a healthy and thriving biodiversity. Our farmers save, reproduce, and share seeds, understanding that these seeds encapsulate life. These communities engage in mixed cropping and harvest a mix of fruits, tubers and vegetables that yield foods that are rich and healthy, providing needed nutrition and building defenses against illnesses. They have a strong link to what is presented as food and harvests are never mechanical exercises. Moreover, many of our farmers do not see food production as mere business or for profit.

These practices are being threatened by the genetic modification of seeds particularly those that make up our staple foods.

Today we are speaking of the genetically engineered cowpea, popularly known as beans in Nigeria, and drawing attention to the fact that the insecticidal beans can also kill non-target organisms and that even the target pests can develop resistance. In the same vein, when crops are genetically engineered to withstand herbicides, we cannot ignore the fact that they kill other plants and microbial life and not only the so-called weeds. These modifications interfere with the webs of life in ecosystems, and this has intergenerational consequences. 

Although the promoters of the Bt cowpea claim that it will translate to improved food security in Nigeria due to availability of much higher amounts of cowpea, one concern that cannot be overlooked is that this GM variety will utterly contaminate natural varieties through cross pollination. This means that even where a farmer chooses not to grow the GM variety, the preferred natural variety will be contaminated. Thus, rather than promote food security, Nigeria/Africa is stepping into an era of uncertainty, of gross unpredictability and instability of food supply and resultant food insecurity.

The genetically engineered beans (recently approved for commercial release in Nigeria despite objections by HOMEF and several other stakeholders) is modified with the transgene Cry1Ab which has not been approved anywhere else in the world. Most of these genetically engineered events are prepared overseas and brought for testing in Africa and yet we boast that we are adequately equipped and innovative. The genetically engineered cowpea is originally a Monsanto product brought to Africa on supposedly humanitarian grounds. We insist that Africans must not be used as testing ground for novel and risky technologies.

Promoters of these risky technologies fight against strict liability clauses in national Biosafety laws. This has been experienced in Nigeria, in Zambia and in Uganda and so on. In Uganda a clause in their genetic engineering regulatory law was inserted to ensure that producers of GMOs will be held accountable for any harm that may come from cultivation or consumption of their products at any time, even if such effects manifest years later. Since then, GMO promoters and producers scientists have branded President Museveni and the Ugandan parliament as being anti-science. 

There are attempts to overlook the Precautionary Principle which is the bedrock of biosafety regulation. Simply put, the precautionary principle advice that where there are doubts regarding human, animal or environmental safety, we should hold the breaks. Good genetic engineering science must not leave room for doubt and when harms manifest, the producers should be held strictly liable. 

The speed with which Nigeria is permitting GMOs is highly suspicious and offers no assurance that the government is concerned about food safety, the preservation of our biodiversity or the rights of our indigenous peoples. Neighboring and other African countries should beware.

As you are already aware, this press conference is a platform for exposing the grave risks our food and agricultural systems face through the introduction of genetically modified beans. Besides the environmental and health risks, our people’s right to choose what variety to plant and what food to eat is absolutely breached by the introduction of the genetically engineered beans, a staple and critical source of protein for our peoples. The right of choice is eliminated because our food systems do not allow for labelling. This right is fundamental, and our people should not be ambushed to eat any risky material. We call on farmers to reject Bt Cowpea seeds and continue to protect our food system.

My welcome words at the International Press Conference on Bt Cowpea held on 7th March 2022 via Zoom

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)

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

Stilt Roots and Power

The vital place of the narrative strategy is in awakening memories and building consciousness for actionOver the past months we have experienced an evolving of our understanding of critical storytelling. We have seen the overturning of previously held notions and seen a surge for inclusive actions to provoke change. Initially we sought to tease out folktales and songs from centuries ago but while these exude a sense of nostalgia, the epistemic value of lived stories of struggles, defeats, and victories, of pollutions, degradations, deprivations, and resilience are more prevalent in our communities. These stories, poems and songs underscore our grasping of the bases of the resolute push for a shift in power modes, as well as a systemic power shift that are rising in our communities. While the stories cover broad power equations, they areall spurn and woven around the standing, suffocating or missing stilt roots of mangroves. 

The Niger Delta houses the 4th largest mangrove forest in the world. The livelihoods of coastal and indigenous peoples are inseparably coupled with mangroves which erode due to mangrove loss or degradation. Research shows that the Niger Delta mangrove ecosystem is the breeding ground of more than 60% of commercial fisheries in the Gulf of Guinea. Thus, degraded mangrove or losses in the Niger Delta affects fish production and the fisheries value-chain in the Gulf of Guinea. After over six decades of unmitigated oil and industrial pollution, Niger Delta mangroves are amongst the most degraded mangrove ecosystems globally, with a recent review of crude oil impact on mangrove showing that 37% of the global impact has occurred in the Niger Delta. 

Mangrove forests serve as coastal protection from storm surges and tidal waves. They are very valuable for climate change mitigation both by providing resilience to sea level rise, coastal erosion, and as very efficient carbon sinks. Sadly, an estimated 340,000 to 980,000 hectares of mangrove forests are lost or degraded annually due to activities of humans and corporations. Such destructive actions include crude oil and plastic pollution, unregulated harvesting, urbanization, so-called land reclamation, dredging activities and the spread of the invasive nipa palm. 

In the course of investigating the place of mangroves in the power equations in some communities, activists from CEHRDand HOMEF recently reached the conclusion that mangroves must be protected and that a key way to do this is through the use of indigenous knowledge and the revival of customs of community conservation of mangrove forests. While a mangrove forest is being preserved on the coast of Kono in Ogoni, there is a heavy threat by the fast-spreading Nipa Palm. These invasive palms were introduced into the Niger Delta by a colonial officer in 1906 in the belief that the Nipa Palms were more aesthetically pleasing than mangroves and were useful for beautification and beach erosion control.

At Bundu, a densely populated neighbourhood in Port Harcourt, there is urgent need to clean the mangrove ecosystem of the massive oil spills and plastics and to prevent further despoliation of the creek. Fishers in Bundu community recall that they used to have customary norms for protecting mangrove forests in certain parts of the territory, with some being used as cemeteries for the young. 

Both Kono and Bundu communities have traditional laws that debarred the people from harvesting mangrove woods or fishing in mangrove forests on certain days or periods of time. Except in Kono, this conservation mode has largely become history. Replacing Nipa Palms with mangroves in Kono and cleaning oil coated mangroves from Bundu must be a collaborative effort with the government and the community including local and international organizations. 

Mangroves play vital roles in shaping livelihoods and cultures in coastal communities. Their degradation also negatively impacts the cultures and spirituality of the people. Migratory fishers carry tales bound to these ecosystems wherever they go. 

The Shifting the Power Lines session of HOMEF’s School of Ecology brings Stilt Roots Stories from three continents – Africa, Latin America and Asia. Member groups of Oilwatch Network in the regions undertook the fishing out of stories connected to mangrove ecosystems. As the stories come, one recalls a visit to a vast area of destroyed mangroves at Magein the Guanabara Bay area not too far from Rio de Janeiro which the fisher folks euphemistically term the cemetery of mangroves.

During the visit in 2012, we met with members of Homens e Mulheres do Mar Association (AHOMAR) – Association of Men and Women of the Sea in the Guanabara Bay. That name did not include women initially, but after years of gender struggles, the role of the women had to be duly recognized and acknowledged in the name. One fisher pointedly told us about why they struggle to secure their livelihoods from the polluting actions of Petrobras. “We are resisting because we have no options. We might live or die. Our death may not result from gun shots, but because our livelihoods have been destroyed.” He added: “We are not seeking to be rich; we just want to live our lives in dignity.”

The reports, stories and songs from Africa, Asia and Latin America reveal the interlinkage of struggles and cultures across the continents. We learn also of the great need to recognize the intrinsic value of the gifts of Nature to humanity. We also learn that people power is essential to constructing the right power alternatives by which we can collectively design the future where every person lives in dignity, fully respecting other species, and their right to enjoy the cosy embrace of Mother Earth. Do not only see the trees when you look at mangroves. See the thriving life support systems that cut across species. See the culture of struggle and resilience. See power, power modes and unfolding alternatives.



Welcome words at HOMEF’s School of Ecology on Shifting the Power Lines. 27.07.2021

I will not Eat a Pesticide

Food and nutrition are key to human health. We strive to ensure that we have nutritious foods and that the seeds from which we produce these foods are free from contamination and do not pose a threat to our biodiversity. It is a fact that biodiversity is key to food sovereignty as we work to ensure food security. Food Sovereignty is achieved when we have the freedom to maintain our seeds/foods and cultivate and consume them in ways that are culturally appropriate and safe. 

In a recent Right Livelihood lecture (hosted by the University of Port Harcourt), Prof Hans Herren stressed that African farmers could nourish the continent if certain basic conditions are met. The production of nutritious is based assured through the cultivation of crops in methods that are in harmony with nature. This means using biological means of protecting crops and using organic fertilizers rather than toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Healthy foods are more likely going to be produced when the farmers are not only concerned with profit maximization but aim to get nutritious foods to the market.  Herren also stressed that were there is a healthy relationship between farmers and consumers, the dietary choices of consumers tend to shape farmers’ choices. In such a situation the best pathway is agroecology – an agricultural system that is both socio-culturally appropriate and ecologically healthy.

In considering nutrition and food safety, we cannot afford to ignore the smallholder farmers who are those feeding us and the entire world today. We often tend to look down subsistence farming because it is not wedded to the agribusiness web. This notion is indefensible if we accept the fact that 70 percent of the for that we eat comes from these farmers using a mere 30 percent of the resources available in the sector. An understanding of the key role these farmers play and that most of our people make a living from smallholder farming requires investment of resources to shore up the efforts our farmers.

Smallholder farming needs to be integrated into our farming system to achieve sustainable agriculture and food security. This farming system protects the three dimensions of sustainability – the ecology, society, and economy of people. To achieve this, there is a need to preserve the diversity of crops and varieties that provide the nutrition that we need for good health. This requires the protection of farmer saved seeds and protection of varieties that local farmers have selected and developed over the centuries. The implication of this is that the whittling down of varieties due to commercial and related narrow interests must be rejected.

The point is that there are over 3000 crops that can be farmed in Africa, but farmers have been pushed into farming just a few varieties to the detriment of our peoples. Today we see increasing pressures for the adoption of genetically modified crops in Africa. These crops are mostly genetically engineered to withstand dangerous herbicides which kill other varieties except the engineered ones. The basic facts here is that the crops serve the interests of the chemical companies who concentrate their power of control over the sector and expose farmers and consumers to harm. Other crops are genetically engineered to act as pesticides and kill identified pests that would otherwise attack the crop or seeds. Examples include Bt Cotton and Bt Cowpea or beans. The implication of eating a seed engineered to kill a pest if that you are eating a pesticide.

There are other cosmetic reasons for genetically engineering crops, fish, and animals, but those are not our focus today. We wish to stress the failure of genetically engineered crops to pass the sustainability test and emphasize the fact that they derogate our right to safe and wholesome food. Crops that pass the sustainability test, should protect soils and biodiversity as well as the quality of life of farmers, consumers, and society at large.

Thousands of lawsuits have been instituted in the USA and Europe against Monsanto (and Bayer who bought up the company) over their glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosate, an active ingredient in the herbicides used on several herbicide tolerant crops have been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer(IARC). It is also reported that animal studies have shown such herbicides to be genotoxic, meaning they damage the DNA. They are also known to be endocrine disruptors. 

Glyphosate based herbicide applications are also known to alter soil microbe populations, and this may contribute to the proliferation of plant and animal pathogens, and negatively impact plant growth and productivity. These chemicals are harmful to soils beyond the plants that farmers may consider to be weeds. A recent report also showed that aquatic creatures exposed to glyphosate-based herbicides have suffered deformities and had oxidative stress in the brain and affected behaviour of the fish.

One point that must be noted is that genetic engineering in agriculture ignores the fact of the interdependence of species in the webs of life. While they aim to protect one crop, for instance, they end up destroying several others and destroy soil organisms as well. A similar situation occurs with pesticidal crops. They kill both target and non-target varieties. The practice of chemical-based agriculture has led to the decimation of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators, thus posing a serious threat to future food supply and the health of our ecosystems.

Responsible use of technology in agriculture requires that we keep careful watch on their effect on human and environmental health. We also need to consider the fact that technologies that promote monoculture and erodes our biodiversity is not sustainable and must be avoided in a world that is almost at the brink of ecological collapse. We cannot afford to make a fetish of techno fixes or consider them to be silver bullets. 

The arguments used in the promotion of genetically engineered crops do not hold water. The argument that we need GMOs to be able to produce enough food for a growing global population is a myth. GMOs have not led to an increase of food production since their introduction over twenty years ago. In any case, about 30 percent of the food currently produced in the world today goes to waste. In Nigeria, a high percentage of harvests do not make it to the market or to dining tables due to a dearth of storage or processing facilities, and due to poor state of infrastructure. When we throw insecurity into the mix of adverse factors it becomes even clearer that we open a space for manipulations that can complicate our security concerns simply because we are yielding to commercial myths. 

Okavango and the Tragedy of Fossils in Africa

The quest for profit in a predatory economic system has made it possible for humans to wilfully ignore extractivist crimes unfolding in broad daylight. A clear case is the clawing into Namibia’s Okavango Basin in search of hydrocarbon resources by ReconAfrica, a Canadian oil prospecting company. The company has been licensed to explore for hydrocarbons in an area of 13,600 square miles straddling Namibia and Botswana. ReconAfrica could end up fracking for oil and gas in this highly valuable region which is said to hold up to 31 billion barrels of crude oil.

The Okavango Basin is touted as the “largest oil play of the decade.” It is just as well that oil companies describe their finds as “plays” because what they do with these resources is a tragic play that routinely ends up devastating communities and basically irretrievably harming ecosystems. At a time when the world knows that not more than a third of known fossil reserves can still be extracted and burned without surpassing the already alarming 1.5 degrees temperature target of the Paris Agreement, it is shameful that oil companies are still allowed to prospect for more oil, coal, and fossil gas. 

Already, ReconAfrica’s officials claim that they are playing according to rules set by the Namibian government as they go about their exploratory activities. We understand how such rules play out, who reaps the benefits of such rules and who suffers the negative consequences. Experts have already noted that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report produced by ReconAfrica and accepted by the Namibian government would not pass serious scrutiny and the process was not open to public participation. Public consultation is a critical requirement in any EIA process and where this is lacking the process is null and void. If the Minister of Agriculture of Namibia could say that his ministry was not consulted, why should we think that citizens were consulted?

It is concerning that governments keep on allowing oil companies to arm-twist them into accepting patently false promises of revenue booms and of capacity to avoid ecological harms and to trigger development in affected oil field communities.  When the first commercially viable oil well spurted in 1956 in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, there were wild celebrations of progress arriving in the area that had hitherto suffered hundreds of years of pillage of agricultural natural resources by imperialist and then colonial forces. The first oil exports commenced in 1958 and so far, more than 5,200 wells have been drilled in the region with over 603 being discovery wells. After more than six decades of hydrocarbons exploitation in the Niger Delta, the region now ranks as one of the top ten most polluted places on earth. Water bodies, soils and the air have all been stoked full of harmful pollutants and life expectancy now stands at a dreary 41 years. 

You may say that Nigeria is an odd case. Consider the devastation that Texaco, now Chevron, wreaked in Ecuador where up to 18 billion US gallons (68 billion litres) of toxic waste and 17 million gallons of crude oil was dumped on pristine rainforest soil in an area spanning 4,400 square kilometres or 1,700 square miles.

How about the ongoing massive pollutions in South Sudan and in Sudan? What about the tar sand fields of Canada, the home country of ReconAfrica? What of the burning coal caves in South Africa? In the words of Saul Landau in his collection of essays – A Bush & Botox World – “The quest for corporate profit invalidates concern for the environment.” Besides, these companies also drag vulnerable nations into debt with the false promises of liquidity and hollow credit worthiness.

Namibia’s Minister in charge of mining, Tom Alweendo, interestingly claimed that there was nothing to worry about oil and gas extraction in the Okavango Basin even though the area is a treasure to the people of Namibia and the world. According to the minister, “It’s true the company has an oil and gas exploration license and obtained an environmental clearance certificate to do research drilling. They are not going to do hydraulic fracturing (fracking) – a more invasive method – but a conventional drilling method,” 

The truth is that exploitation of petroleum resources has routinely been accompanied by extreme ecological harms, and in some cases has also been the reason or pretext for violent conflicts and wars. Consider the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Libya. Think of the unfolding violence in North East Mozambique and the instability in the Lake Chad basin. The handling of wastewater and other toxic wastes from test drill pits already pose serious concerns.  

The massive area earmarked for drilling by ReconAfrica reminds one of a time when Shell had the entire geographic space known as Nigeria as its concession. Okavango basin is home to over 200,000 Namibians and these Africans mostly rely on the Okavango River which brings supplies of fresh water from the forest regions of Angola all year round.  Of course, ReconAfrica will pollute the natural potable water sources of the people and sink water bore holes for them. That is the epitome of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that has proven to be nothing other than crass irresponsibility elsewhere. 

The Okavango Basin is an area of rich cultural heritage and boasts of several species that make living in this area a unique experience. The permission by the government of Namibia for the commencement of highly polluting and damaging activities in Okavango Basin is a willful denial of the real risk of permitting ecocide on its territory. It is a permit that promises glory but may end up offering genocide. It is a move that denies the existential challenge posed by climate change, the impacts of which Namibia is not a stranger to. It is digging for profit that ignores the fact that adding oil from there to the fossil fuel fires already raging in the world will compound the floods, droughts, desertification, population displacements, and other negative impacts of global warming. 

Okavango is a highly treasured living community in Namibia and Botswana. Why should anyone allow the quest for petrodollars turn this into an arena of death? It is not late for governments of Namibia and Botswana to halt this race for an asset that is bound to get stranded as the world shifts away from fossil fuels. Why permit actions that simply add to climate crimes? It is not too late to pull the plug on this gamble.

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Note: Image is a photograph I took of an oil spill in the Niger Delta