Arrival of The Last Militant

2 booksThe word militant elicits a certain meaning in Nigeria and like the word insurgents people often link it with violence. Another word that has taken on peculiar meaning in Nigeria is restiveness – a descriptive word assigned to agitated Niger Delta youths totally radicalised by fossil fuels extraction pollutions and unwilling to stay civil in the face of oppressive injustice.

Patrick Naagbanton, a man of many parts – journalist, environmental/human rights activist, poet, etc. – has just added two important books to the Nigerian literary scene. One is a collection of poems titled Fury of the Fisher Woman and the other is The Last Militant – A biography of Comrade Cheta Ibama Ibegwura – and the struggles for workers’ rights in Nigeria, justice and self-determination in the Niger Delta region..

Furious Fisher Woman

The poetry book is loaded with anger, death and defiance. Poignantly, except for when the writer mentions “other unsung comrades (dead or alive) whose stories are not yet told,” both books are dedicated to persons who have departed from the physical plane. They nudge you to closely study Nigeria’s tragic post colonial history – an history that current political leaders would rather sweep under the carpet.

Writing for the victims of the Umuechem massacre of 1st November 1990, the poem titled The Script opens with these lines:

Distress marches

Clad in black on the precarious pipelines

Demanding to drink from it along the

Bush paths of Umuechem

On the sad day on which Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were murdered, Patrick wrote under the title Hangmen:

Their banter of blood shall soon end 

And I shall sing our funeral songs

They shall weep as we are weeping

With the troubled tribe

Militant to the core

As Patrick states, “the story of Cheta Ibama Ibegwura, popularly called ‘Wati’ and later ‘Comrade Che’ is the story of Nigeria.”  And the book, “The Last Militant, though a biographical work, also takes us through a whole range of issues such as the histories of great organizations and movements– their successes and failures in Nigeria.”

One is tempted to ask: why Patrick chose to label Comrade Che a militant? Synonyms for militant include: activist, confrontational, aggressive, radical, revolutionary, belligerent, combative, pugnacious. Within the array of words, the closest in meaning to the legend we all know as Comrade Che would be radical and revolutionary. He is a gentle, uncompromising militant. At 83 years, Apostolic Comrade Che remains resolute in the struggle for human and environmental justice as well as for community rights.

Through the book we learn of his militancy in political actions, pro-democracy activism and in inspiring trade union consciousness. A freelance revolutionary, as Patrick terms him, he continues unwaveringly in the pursuit of militant causes.

Comrade Che before Comrade Che

Here is an extract from the foreword I wrote for the book: This is a story of courage, love, commitment and passion. It is a story that shows the triumph of the human spirit even in the most hazardous situations. It is a story of a survivor.  He indeed survived many detentions, false imprisonments and assassination attempts. He admired his late friend, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the Ogoni people for ‘being true to the struggle in the naked face of mass arrests, killings, government and crude oil induced bribes.’ Unfortunately, he could not say the same for the organising ability and fidelity to causes by his own immediate people.

Apostolic Comrade Che, as I call him, is a very inspiring man. His simplicity is unpretentious. He is a man of ideas and is always willing to share such ideas. This book reveals much that is not readily known of this great man. I have known Comrade Che and benefitted from his friendship and fatherly counsel, from the mid 1990s. However, reading this book brings me face to face with him as though I only just knew him for the first time. In fact, until I read this book I always thought that Cheta Ibama Ibegwura was named Comrade Che after the famous Argentine internationalist. Behold, he was already Comrade Che before he ever heard of the other Comrade Che.

Not a Book Review

This is not a book review. It is a tribute to my mentor and teacher, Comrade Che. It is also a thank you note to Patrick for penning these powerful books. The books published by Creektown Books (Lagos) will be presented at a public event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 5th March 2016. Get the books and review them yourselves!

 

Dialogue with Bulldozers at Ekuri Community Forest

EkuriBulldozers, Superhighway and Ekuri Community Forest

Bulldozers and forests are not friends. Neither are highways or super highways, as the people of Ekuri Community are learning. The Ekuri Community Forest in Cross River State, Nigeria, is an acclaimed example of how communities can sustainably manage their forest. Now, this forest is under threat from the State Government that has embarked on the construction of a 260 Km, 6 lanes dual carriage super highway through their forest, using the highly controversial Land Use Act of 1979 as a cover for dispossessing the people of their land, forest and patrimony.

When the ground breaking ceremony for this project was conducted by President Muhammadu Buhari on 30th October 2015, the Ekuri Community thought that having an all-weather road pass by their community would bring to an end their perpetual struggle to secure access to the outside world through the earth road they had built by community effort. This thinking was shattered by a Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper on 22nd January 2016 decreeing, among other things, that:

“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.

Land Grabbing

The community studied the “Notice of Revocation” and the line profile and found that some of the coordinates show that their forest, community lands and settlements would be taken up by the Super Highway and the extraordinary right of way of 10 Km claimed by the government – beyond the 200 metres right of way allowed from the centre line on each side of the road. Little wonder the community characterises this usurpation as a case of crass land land grabbing. This sort of grabbing tends to suggest that this part of Nigeria is Tarzan country or simply a no-man’s land.

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming.

Before this, some critics of the Super Highway project such as the Rainforest Resource Development Centre (RRDC) had stated that “the BLUE PRINTS of such a huge 260km 6 lanes Super Highway project running across the entire Cross River State of Nigeria was not made public before the commencement of construction at the ground breaking event.  Significantly also, the blue print of the said project has not been made public till this moment.  This is a contravention of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 of the National Assembly as well as other related legislations…”

Other significant issues raised include the fact that no credible Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have been conducted before the taking off of the project. The project threatens the Cross River National Park as the highway traverses the buffer zone of the forest.

In its press briefing of 6th November 2015, the RRDC expressed the fear that contrary to the requirement of the Land Use Act, no schedules of compensation (including the names of beneficiaries) had been made public.  “The risk is that this project could end up escalating rural poverty if the issues of compensations are neglected.  This is so because the affected indigenous people and communities of Cross River State of Nigeria who own these resources could end up losing their sources of livelihoods, income and wellbeing, as well as their natural heritage and territories.”

Heritage Destruction

What RDDC feared is unfolding before the eyes of the Ekuri people and the world must not keep a blind eye to this.

The Ekuri protest Letter against the Super highway, dated 6th February 2016, reminded the Cross River State government that they had “for centuries conserved and managed our Ekuri community forest for its rich biodiversity and ecosystems services not only for our sustainable development but for the entire world. Since 1992, we pioneered formal community forestry in Nigeria and established the Ekuri Initiative (an NGO registered with the Federal Government) with a mandate in forest conservation, sustainable forest management, community development and poverty reduction. Since its inception, we have recorded inspiring successes. We have developed and implemented a land use plan which we jealously adhere to, a flagship community forestry project in Nigeria (a credit to Cross River State), the largest and best community managed forest in West Africa totaling 33,600ha. We received the UNEP Equator Award in 2004 for our outstanding passion, commitments and efforts to reducing poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of our biodiversity. We have been visited by several communities from Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique and a host of researchers to learn from our experiences. Our activities have been replicated by international development agencies and local NGOs and has brought fame to Cross River State and Nigeria as a whole. The planned destruction of our community forests which we have labored so hard to protect and conserve is not a welcome development. The resolve of our forebears to conserve our forest must be continued in perpetuity being a bequest and legacy to all the Ekuri people living and yet unborn.”

Dialogue with Bulldozers

With the level of dispossession staring them in the face, the Ekuri Community decided to reject the passage of the Super Highway through their forest and demand a realignment of the road. According to community sources, their petition received a quick but shocking response:

“At the receipt of the Protest Letter, the Governor has quickly sent a bulldozer this morning to Ekuri to begin the destruction of the Ekuri community forest in the name of the Super Highway. This is to show power and strength against poor communities and in defiance of the dictates of the rule of law.”

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming. This is a challenge, not just for Ekuri Community but for the entire global community.

 

Oil, POWER and ENVIRONMENT in the 2016 National Budget

NASS Budget-CSOsLooking at aspects of the 2016 National Budget[1]

We applaud the leadership of the Nigerian National Assembly (NASS) for convoking a consultation with civil society over the 2016 National budget. This level of engagement points to an era of openness and inclusiveness that will ensure that the voices of the people are heard.

This contribution is restricted to a few aspects of the capital expenditure earmarked for the Petroleum Resources, Power Sector and for the Ministry of Environment. These sectors undergird other areas of our national endeavour and deserve close scrutiny.

We do not wish to get entangled with recurrent expenditure issues as these comprise mostly personnel costs, some of whom may be ghosts!

PETROLEUM RESOURCES

It is most surprising to see a whopping N200,000,000 proposed for the “Passage of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).” We would like to see the detailed breakdown of this sum in order for us to be able to make sense of the proposal.

With the budget still largely predicated on crude oil revenues, an unpredictable and increasingly negative resource, the budgetary provisions here require plenty of questioning. However, it is most surprising to see a whopping N200,000,000 proposed for the “Passage of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).” We would like to see the detailed breakdown of this sum in order for us to be able to make sense of the proposal. Which PIB is this provision referring to? The same goes for the proposal to spend N200,000,000 for the “Review of Gas Master Plan.”

POWER

We note that the power distribution aspects of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHNC) had been privatised and handed over to companies that have gone ahead to increase electricity tariff before providing commensurate services. The question needs to be asked why there should be a budgetary provision of N397m for purchase of 75 pieces of 500 KVA transformers for Abuja and four States?[2] There are three other lines for procurement and installation of transformers for other locations at N262,414,132, N20,683,949 and N250,401,152. If privatisation means that the distribution sub-sector of the defunct PHCN was taken over by private investors, why is the government still buying and installing transformers?

Another concern is about the N1 billion budgeted for generation of 10MW of electricity at the Katsina Wind Farm. This Wind Farm is on record as having been fully paid for in the past.[3] If this budgetary allocation, broken into two subheads are NEW, as stated, is there a confirmation that the  OLD installation is already working?

THE ENVIRONMENT

A well equipped NOSDRA would be better positioned to independently detect and respond to oil spills rather than depending on the polluting oil companies.

The Federal Ministry of Environment is not one of the best resourced ministries. It, however, is one of the most vital ministries for the fact that most Nigerians depend essentially on the natural environment.

Considering the level of pollution in the oil fields and the handicap of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) in terms of facilities one would have expected this agency to be well resourced. A well equipped NOSDRA would be better positioned to independently detect and respond to oil spills rather than depending on the polluting oil companies.

There is nothing in the budget submission for vital equipment such as boats or helicopters that could facilitate monitoring in the creeks as well as offshore. We recommend that the NASS trims down the huge departmental subheads and properly equip this agency and others that are sorely needed to curtail reckless pollution and degradation of our environment.

It would be helpful to better fund the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) as well as the National Parks and the restoration of our wetlands, including the highly degraded Nguru Wetland.

NASS Cuts

Considering that we are on a limited time budget at this consultation, permit me to end this short submission by requesting that the NASS publishes details of its expenditure and also to review the controversial Constituency Projects concept as these projects can easily be taken care of by the various ministries and agencies.

—————————————————–

[1] Presentation by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at National Assembly Interactive Session with Civil Society Organizations on the 2016 Budget, Convened by the Senate President, Nigeria, on 10th February 2016

[2] Federal Government of Nigeria (National Budget Office). Appropriation Bill. 2016. http://www.budgetoffice.gov.ng/pdfs/2016pro/WORKS%20POWER%20AND%20HOUSING.pdf

[3] Emeka Anuforo. February 8, 2016. Queries over budgets for transformers, Katsina wind farm. The Guardian, Lagos. Accessed at http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/2016/02/queries-over-budgets-for-transformers-katsina-wind-farm/

 

A Living Memorial for Deadened Memories

BUSWALLPAPERThe Bus, a sculptural memorial in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine was shipped to Nigeria from the United Kingdom by Platform. On arrival in Nigeria it was seized by the Nigeria Customs since 8th September 2015 on the reported grounds that it had “political value.” The original idea was for the Bus to be used during the 20th anniversary activities to mark the dastardly execution of the Ogoni 9 on 10th November 2015. The kidnap of the Bus by the Nigeria Customs, as Celestine Akpobari, head of Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF) labels it, made it impossible for the cultural memorial to be used.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officials stated that the the “inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

Due to the continued detention of the sculpture by the Nigeria Customs, the OSF leader petitioned the House of Representatives of Nigeria seeking their intervention for the release of the sculpture. We note that the sculpture was created by Nigerian-born artist Sokari Douglas Camp.

The House of Representatives has so far held two hearings on the matter on 28th January and 4th February 2016. At the first hearing the Representatives were unhappy that the Comptroller of Customs did not appear before them. Again, at the second hearing the Customs boss was conspicuously missing, prompting the Representatives warning that they should not be provoked to issue an arrest warrant against the big man. The next hearing is scheduled for 17 February 2016.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officers stated that the the ‘inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

What could possibly be the threatening inscription on the sculpture? The Bus has the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner on one side, and the names of the other 8 Ogoni leaders on sculptural crude oil barrels. It also has the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa: “I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni.” Would these threaten national peace?

It should be noted that this sculpture has been on display in the UK for 9 years and was shipped to Nigeria by Platform on the request of network partners in Nigeria: Movement For The Survival Of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Social Action, Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

In his official submission to the House of Representatives, Akpobari said, “We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.”

The Nigeria Customs appears to have chosen to fight a battle to erase the memories of these heroes of environmental and cultural struggles. Seizing a sculpture gives the impression that the State is attempting to kill the message after annihilating the messengers. With the experience of history, we can say that this is a futile endeavor and the Customs should release and deliver the Bus to the people of Ogoni as emblematic representatives of peoples struggling for ecological sanity, social inclusion and dignity.

If there are persons that wonder who Ken Saro-Wiwa and these leaders were, the words of Sanya Osha in a paper published in Socialism and Democracy gives a crisp picture:

“When Ken Saro-Wiwa and his nine Ogoni compatriots were hanged in November 1995, it both polarized and unified the fragile as well as volatile geographical entity known as Nigeria. However, this time, it wasn’t the ethnic and religious fissures that were most noticeable. Instead it was the naked fist of raw power versus the vociferous protestations of a disenfranchised minority writhing beneath the weight of a seemingly implacable military dictatorship.

“Ken Saro-Wiwa became the voice, face and symbol of this aggrieved minority straining for denied civic and democratic rights. He became a hero in patently unheroic times and this is what makes his life and the loss of it so potently poignant.”

FREE_THE_BUS_2

It is for this and other reasons that 10th November has galvanized a global environmental justice movement and has become a global day of remembrance of victims of extractivism. And as Platform warns, They can hold the Bus but they can’t stop the movement.

There is no wisdom in keeping this sculptural Bus in captivity.

 

—photos by Platform—

 

 

 

Ending Gas Flaring, Building Mini Refineries

There are two oily stories that should catch our attention. One is about designing and fabrication of a refinery at a Nigerian university and the second one is about new dates for ending gas flaring in Nigeria.

First is the news that the Department of Chemical engineering at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria has built a mini refinery that can “produce relatively small quantity of petroleum products.” The relatively small quantity this prototype handles is given as one barrel of crude oil per day. This information was shared at a press briefing on the 38th convocation of the university.

Biafra Refined Crude

It would be interesting to place this breakthrough alongside the bush refineries in the Niger Delta that have been in the business of refining crude oil and supplying a variety of products to consumers in the region. We do not have details of the mini-refinery built at ABU. It would be good to know if any engineering departments in our universities have done studies of the bush refineries to see how the technologies adopted in the illegal operations could be adopted, upgraded and used to meet the energy gaps of the nation. So far the engagement with bush refineries has been by the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) and their methodology has been to bomb or burn the refineries.

The fabrication of a mini crude oil refinery at the ABU would be significant or novel if the technology is different from what has been in operation in the world for over one hundred years. Just as anyone can ferment fruits (and grains) to obtain alcohol from them, the folks in the creeks and the scientists in then Biafra had the means of refining crude that could be studied and improved on.  A commentator writing in Sahara Reporters once said, “The most damning of Nigerian failures for now is the knowledge that while the defunct Biafra Republic could refine fuel some forty years ago the triumphant old country cannot refine enough fuel for its local consumption today. It’s a shame that cries to the high heavens.”

One recollects how some years ago a dispute broke out between scientists at a Nigerian university over who among them was the first to extract alcohol from pineapple and some other local fruits. The point is that the entire dispute was nothing more than a bad joke. Hopefully, this news about refining crude is not.

To Flare or Not to Flare

energy-top20flaringcountries-780x505Chart: World bank

The second item should raise our antenna is about when the ongoing routine flaring of associated gas would end in Nigeria.  For a period of time, successive governments kept shifting the deadline for ending gas flaring from year to year. During the almost one decade of debates on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) nothing was said about when gas flaring would end. A specific bill on gas flaring died without a whimper. The flames roared on while governments stayed mute.

The “new” Petroleum Industry Governance & Institutional Framework Bill (PIG-IFB or PI(GIF)B?) that is in the works is totally silent about when gas flaring would end, and is not concerned with communities or environmental issues. It even makes a passing reference to fracking as one of the things that occurs in the upstream sector of the petroleum industry signifying that the oil industry in Nigeria may be getting set to embark on fracking, an extreme form of extraction. Is the new Bill attempting to sidestep the concerns of suffering communities that the old PIB tried to address and how many PIBs should we expect from the present administration?

If the big polluters are staying off commitment to end gas flaring even by 2030, what should we say is the basis for oilfield communities to hope that they would soon be able to breath fresh air once again?

Okay, we are now told that gas flaring would end between 2018 and 2020. This was disclosed by the Group General Manager, Nigerian Petroleum Investment and Management Services (NAPIMS), Dafe Sajebor and the Managing Director of National Petroleum Development Corporation (NPDC), Sadler Mai-Bornu at a meeting with the Senate panel investigating the activities of oil and gas agencies in the country. A bit of news from the blue!

The World Bank plans to see zero routine gas flaring by 2030 and governments that endorse this initiative are expected to provide legal, regulatory, investment, and operating environment that is conducive to upstream business while ensuring that non-flaring of associated gas is in-built in all production plans. It is curious that the proposed PIG-IFB or PI(GIF)B does not say anything about halting routine gas flaring or even about the penalty for the heinous offence.

Obviously more information needs to be placed in the public realm on how the government plans to achieve zero routine gas flaring by 2018-2020. What plans do oil companies like Chevron, Shell, Total and ExxonMobil have to stop the routine flaring of associated gas in the Niger Delta? The biggest gas flaring company in Nigeria is Chevron. Nigeria and Chevron are not among the 45 countries and companies that endorsed the World Bank plan going by the list on the bank’s website. Neither is climate denier ExxonMobil on that roster. Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and Gabon are the only African countries to have endorsed the plan.

If the big polluters are staying off commitment to end gas flaring even by 2030, what should we say is the basis for oilfield communities to hope that they would soon be able to breath fresh air once again?

 

 

 

 

 

Eco-Instigator #10

E-I 10 CoverAs is the tradition of HOMEF, Eco-Instigator #10 was issued at close of December 2015 in order to bring you some comments from the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Needless to say that we were at COP21 and came away with a conclusion that the poor and the vulnerable were once more sacrificed in order to let polluters keep polluting. Climate inaction promoting carbon markets were hoisted as totems to appease the climate gods – the fossil fuel industry and their political partners.

This is a teaser from this collector’s edition, the HOME RUN, or editor’s note. The full magazine comes online at HOMEF’s website. The cover image, by the revolutionary artist, Angie Vanessita, is from Oilwatch International’s call for the creation of Annex 0 nations.

HOME RUN

2015 has been quite a run. Crowning it with the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) wrapped up the year with a rather sour taste. The gathering in Paris this December was decidedly shrouded in a thick fog of the dread of terror attacks. Some people thought the unfortunate terror attacks in Paris just two weeks before the global gathering provided the cover for official denial of space for mass mobilisations against climate inaction.

In this edition we bring you articles and opinions on COP21. Mainstream media have been awash with reports that COP21 was historic and that the world is on track to tackle global warming. We think it was another missed opportunity as it actually entrenched the regime of voluntarism that permits polluters to keep polluting, open up pathways for untested technologies, avoid providing new climate finance and lock the planet on a burning grate.

There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures.

COP21 provided a robust space for civil society mobilisations and actions. On the streets, the human chain was the strategy for actions on 29 November. The mass mobilisations of 12 December were endorsed by the French government at the last minute. Plans for mass civil disobedience had gone ahead and activists were ready to face the consequences if the protests were disallowed. Statements from the streets clearly showed that the COP had missed the mark.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal was constituted and sat for two days in the Maison des Metallos, Paris. Experts, victims, prosecutors and judges presented or listened to cases of crimes against Mother Earth and at the end judgements were passed. There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures. We bring you a special report of the sitting of the Tribunal.

Oilwatch International sent a powerful call to the COP to create an Annex Zero group of nations, sub-nations and territories of peoples taking real climate caution by keeping fossils under the ground. No REDD in Africa Network issued a powerful briefing titled STOPPING THE CONTINENT GRAB and the REDD-ification of Africa. Grab a copy!

The Eco-Instigator team and all of us at HOMEF thank you for your support and solidarity throughout the year. We look forward to your continued support in the year(s) ahead. To stay updated with activities at HOMEF, sign up for our monthly eco-bulletin by sending an email to home@homef.org.

Whatever you do in the coming year, take care to ensure you stand for the rights of Mother Earth and in solidarity with all peoples.

Until victory!

Nnimmo

Who Blows UP Niger Delta Pipelines? (Explosive Oil fields of the Niger Delta)

images

Recent bombings of oil pipelines in the Niger Delta again raise the spectre of escalation of conflicts in the region. While we cannot say the reasons for the incidents, it does appear to be calculated acts of sabotage rather than mere vandalism. In cases of vandalism the motive routinely is the stealing of crude oil or refined petroleum products. Where pipelines are bombed in the manner the current incidents have been reported, the signal is that these are political actions. However, no one has claimed responsibility. That is against the grain.

It should be noted that political actions do not have to be partisan in nature as they can be carried out by persons or groups that are simply disenchanted with existing political system. They could also be orchestrated by persons or groups whose vested interests are threatened. If these are agreed as possibilities, we should be able to come to the conclusion that the recent bombings may not necessarily be the hand work of militants. Fishing for culprits would require extra-wide nets.

Militancy in the Niger Delta arose as a result of accrued disenchantment with both the government and the transnational corporations over minimal expectations from the local population. The fact oil being so alluring cannot be denied. It always offers communities dreams and hopes of social services, employment, infrastructural improvements and dramatic societal transformation. What is offered in reality has routinely been environmental degradation, disruption of social structures, corruption, disease and death.

Sadly, communities in countries where crude oil is discovered are still being offered the same promises that the resource scarcely delivers. And as sure as fire burns, the hopes and promises are bound to be dashed. And then the conflicts start.

Oil theft, bush refineries and related businesses operate at an industrial scale in the Niger Delta. Unfortunately. When poorly maintained facilities are added to the mix, the result is extremely toxic and the consequences are well documented. Responses have often reinforced the crises, rather than mitigate them.

All these avoidable attacks on communities were said to be legitimate ways of smoking out militants from their hideouts in the communities. It is not clear how many militants were captured through those punishing assaults on communities.

What has been the response to the recent bombing of pipelines including those in the Gbaramatu area of Delta State? Predictably the response has been heavy militarisation of the area. The question is, to what extent can militarisation protect the over 7000 kilometres of pipelines in the Niger Delta. We hope the reign of the gunboats in the Niger Delta will not lead to a replay of the levelling of communities that was virtually routine a few years ago.

Looking back, we recall that in 1999 attacks at Odi cut down 2,483 persons, while another heavy handed attack occurred at Odioma in 2005. In May 2009 the military response to militancy saw the massive destruction of Gbaramatu community. In December 2010 there was a replay of the same scenario at Ayakoromo, where at least 20 persons were killed.

All these avoidable attacks on communities were said to be legitimate ways of smoking out militants from their hideouts in the communities. It is not clear how many militants were captured through those punishing assaults on communities.

Government should ensure that the current patrolling of the creeks of the Niger Delta do not lead to attacks on communities. Where individuals offend the law, such individuals should face the law. Whole communities should never be punished for the sins of one person or groups of persons. Military actions in fragile communities only entrench miseries and further ecological tragedies.

Militancy based on the platform of political (non-partisan) agitation requires deep interrogations. Often, such conflicts require political solutions. Some of us were surprised at the success of the amnesty programme especially when seen that the programme was in part a panic measure as pipelines were erupting and oil production and related revenues were dwindling.

More than the cash pay-outs, it must be the other actions, including education and skills acquisition that did the trick. Despite the success of the amnesty programme and the militarization of the Niger Delta we cannot say that sustainable peace has been constructed in the region. We can understand why some persons are perplexed that despite the heavy investment in infrastructural projects disenchantment is still endemic in the region. That is why the petroleum economy is a negative economy – whether the price of crude is as high as gas flare stacks or as low as the bottom of the barrels.

Much more than patrolling the creeks and cowering innocent citizens to raise their hands in surrender to military might when then pass the ubiquitous checkpoints wherever pipelines crossed the creeks. There must be ways or rebuilding dignity among our peoples. Respect. We have to rebuild our brotherhood and sisterhood with one another and restore the motherhood of the earth. We need conversations more than contracts. We need listening posts not more trenches. Open the prison doors. Those locked up outside of this country should be brought back home. We have to rebuild our communities. Inclusively. Communities are the best policemen of pipelines in their environments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giant Cigarettes in the Sky – Nigeria’s Toxic Gas Flares

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Horizontal gas flare, Niger Delta (c) Aloja

Gas flaring is the obnoxious practice of burning natural gas associated with crude oil extraction. To use the words of Joseph Croft of Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) in the excellent environmental documentary film No Where to Run, the gas flares are like giant cigarettes attached to communities. Some flares are located horizontally, at ground level, posing even greater dangers to the communities. There are several examples, including at Oben, Edo State and Kolo Creek in Bayelsa State.

Communities with gas flare stacks are sentenced to live with these furnaces and cannot avoid the heat, the noise, the poisons and the offensive vista.  It is estimated that flared gas could potentially generate over 25,000 GWh of electricity which would meet a high proportion of Nigeria’s most ambitious power projections.

The Associated Gas Reinjection Act of 1979 outlawed gas flaring in Nigeria with effect from January 1984 and was aimed at compelling oil companies producing oil and gas in Nigeria to submit preliminary programs for gas re-injection as well as detailed plans for implementation. Oil companies can only flare, as an interim measure, if they have site-specific certificates permitting them to flare. Permitted or not, companies are required to pay fines for lighting those giant cigarettes in our communities. Unfortunately, routine gas flaring continues.

About $1.1bn gas flare penalties are reportedly not collected annually. This is more than the amount required to commence the full implementation of the UNEP report on the clean up of Ogoni environment. It simply goes up in smoke annually by way of uncollected fines from gas flaring. This sum could also assist in plugging the deficit in the 2016 National Budget if the reneged oil companies are compelled to pay up.

The penalty for gas flaring remains low and does not offer real incentives to defaulting oil companies to stop the practice. The current penalty for gas flaring in Nigeria was set by a Ministerial directive issued on 15 August 2011 at $3.50 per 1000 standard cubic feet. Attempts by the National Assembly, including through the moribund Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), to raise the penalty to equal the commercial price of natural gas has not seen the light of day.

About $1.1bn gas flare penalties are reportedly not collected annually. This is more than the amount required to commence the full implementation of the UNEP report on the clean up of Ogoni environment. It simply goes up in smoke annually by way of uncollected fines from gas flaring. This sum could also assist in plugging the deficit in the 2016 National Budget if the reneged oil companies are compelled to pay up.

The Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker website informs that, according to a report issued in 2012 by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, oil companies often do not pay the fines “and when they do are still paying the old penalty of N10 per 1000 standard cubic feet flared.”

The Task Force reported that the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, was “unable to independently track and measure gas volumes produced and flared. It depends largely on the information provided by the operators. There were no available records or information in respect of gas flare volumes for the years 2005 and 2011.” There are no readily available records for fines paid for gas flared in the period 2012-2015.

The loss of revenue to Nigeria from non-compliance to the 2011 penalty regime is enormous. According to the report of the task force, “Using the DPR gas flare information (irrespective of the inherent errors…) to compute the potential revenues for the relevant years at the rate of $3.50 per scf is $4.1billion versus the $177million computed by the DPR using the N10 per scf.”

The Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker hosted by the Federal Ministry of Environment is a tool that every Nigerian should look up to be informed about the atrocious gas flaring going on at about 220 locations across the Niger Delta. It is a great tool for public information. It is a tool that should spur policy makers into action to rescue our environment.

See the Gas Flare Tracker map here.

 

Slow-Tracking the Ogoni Clean up

 

The 30 days ultimatum issued to the Federal Government of Nigeria by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) over the delayed clean-up of the devastated Ogoni environment did not come as a surprise to observers. The President was widely acclaimed when he declared that the implementation of the UNEP report, released on 4 August 2011, would be fast-tracked. That was five months ago. The initial things that were expected to be done include populating and inauguration of the structures that would over see the implementation exercise. These have not been done. Without these basic structures nothing else can happen.

In the words of the president of MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, “We are seizing this opportunity to remind the government that the unusual delay for the take-off of the project is becoming unbearable and indeed taxing our patience.” He went on to urge the Federal Government to announce the structures and the roadmap for the implementation of the report in a manner that respects the sensibilities of the communities.

He further stated, “The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide being committed against the Ogoni people. We are giving the Federal Government a 30-day ultimatum to commence the implementation of the report or we will take up a series of non-violent measures to press for our demand.”

“The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide being committed against the Ogoni people.”

The struggle by the Ogoni people took on special impetus in 1993 at the maiden Ogoni Day celebration at which event Shell, the oil company most implicated in the decimation of the Ogoni environment, was declared persona non grata in Ogoniland. The present ultimatum was issued at a rally held to mark the 23rd anniversary of the epochal Ogoni Day on 4 January 2016.

Characterising the slow track on which the implementation process appears to be stuck as perpetuating genocide against the Ogoni people may appear to be rather strong language, but what are the true implications of continued inaction? Disease, poverty and very high mortality rates.

The level of pollution in Ogoni is absolutely astonishing. One can easily become dizzy, just stepping into some of the communities due to the heavy cloak of hydrocarbons fumes hanging in the air. Oil spills clog the streams, creeks and swamps and in some places dribbles of the noxious substance are found along community footpaths. Making matters worse is the fact that some of the spills that occurred years and decades ago have been either ignored or have been shoddily handled. Feeble attempts have been made at K-Dere to cover up decades old soil spill with soil.

Examples of crude covered environment dot the K-Dere, Bodo, Goi and other communities. What we see in Ogoni is sheer ecocide.

UNEP specifically called for emergency actions with regard to some of the heavily polluted areas such as Nisisioken Ogale. Here is what UNEP said in a press release issued on the occasion of the release of their report about five years ago:

“In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened, according to the assessment that was released today.

“In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, families are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene– a known carcinogen–at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. The site is close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline.

“UNEP scientists found an 8 cm layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater which serves the wells. This was reportedly linked to an oil spill which occurred more than six years ago.

“While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.”

The clean up of Ogoni environment will not be a 100m sprint, but a marathon requiring 25-30 years of dedicated work to accomplish. We are inching towards the five years mark since the alarm bells sounded at the release of the UNEP report. It is five months since President Buhari announced he would fast-track the implementation of the report. We cannot see anything happening on the ground, as attested to by MOSOP.

While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.”

Dwindling oil revenue should not be an excuse for not cleaning up the environment of Ogoniland, the Niger Delta and other polluted places in Nigeria. It should rather be an impetus for taking the clean up challenge and punishing polluters who are hooked on habitually corrupting our environment. Ecological corruption is more deadly than financial corruption as it sentences whole communities of humans and other species to ill health and death.

Let the clean up shift form the slow track to the announced fast track. And let the 30 days ultimatum be an encouragement to do so. The Ogoni people have been supremely patient and further testing of their patience would not be the best way to go.