What We Eat (must not eat us)

IMG_5511What We Eat (must not eat us): The key myths by which citizens are sold the idea of GMOs as being desirable include that they provide the most assured way of feeding the burgeoning population of hungry mouths in the world. The planks on which this highly seductive myth has been erected are quite flimsy. Research has shown that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than normal crops, making the talk of producing more food by using GMOs simply fatuous. Secondly, over one third of food currently produced in the world today simply gets wasted, while most of the GMOs currently grown in the world end up as animal feed.

The need to interrogate our biosafety has become very pertinent because of the many myths around modern agricultural biotechnology. These myths are being peddled regularly by the industry promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their team players in public offices. A major plank on which biosafety, and perhaps biosecurity, rests is the precautionary principle[1]. This principle, or approach, is a safeguard against the permission or introduction of products or elements into the environment where there is no scientific consensus that such an introduction would be safe or would not have an adverse impact. In other words, the precautionary principle helps to disallow the use of citizens as guinea pigs in experimental release of products that could harm them. The argument that there is a risk in everything is hollow and an acceptance of that as an excuse to expose citizens to harm is inhuman.

In this engagement on biosafety we hope to share information on the issues of biosafety and GMOs in Nigeria and Africa. The aim is that media practitioners would be able to sift the facts from the myths, and by so doing help the public to require a sense of responsibility from our biosafety regulators, research institutions, political forces and commercial interests behind the risky genetic engineering approach to food production.

The key myths by which citizens are sold the idea of GMOs as being desirable include that they provide the most assured way of feeding the burgeoning population of hungry mouths in the world. The planks on which this highly seductive myth has been erected are quite flimsy. Research has shown that GMOs do not necessarily yield higher than normal crops, making the talk of producing more food by using GMOs simply fatuous. Secondly, over one third of food currently produced in the world today simply gets wasted,[2] while most of the GMOs currently grown in the world end up as animal feed.[3]

Another argument used to sell GMOs is that they require the use of less chemical in terms of pesticides and herbicides because the crops can be engineered to withstand herbicides or to act as pesticides themselves. The emergence of what have been termed super weeds and superbugs have dented that claim as farmers have had to sometimes apply stronger doses of herbicides and pesticides on farms where such weeds or pests emerge. In any case, the herbicide known as Roundup/glyphosate to which crops engineered by Monsanto are resistant, has been said to be a ‘possible’ source for cancer.[4]

Evidence is now mounting that there has been a collusion by biotech companies and regulators in the USA to conceal the fact that glyphosate is indeed a probable human carcinogen. One Environmental Protection Agency official, Marion Copely, in a 2013 email[5] stating the following ways in which glyphosate can cause cancer:

  1. Endocrine disruption
  2. Free radical formation and inhibition of free radical-scavenging enzymes
  3. Genotoxicity — which is key in cancer onset
  4. Inhibition of certain DNA repairing enzymes
  5. Inhibiting the absorption of essential nutrients
  6. Renal and pancreatic damage that may lead to cancer
  7. Destruction of gut bacteria and suppression of the immune system

The official (who has cancer and passed on in 2014) added, “Any one of these mechanisms alone listed can cause tumors, but glyphosate causes all of them simultaneously. It is essentially certain that glyphosate causes cancer. With all of the evidence listed above, the CARC category should be changed to ‘probable human carcinogen.’”[6]

A report published yesterday by Global 2000 shows that between 2012 and 2016, biotech companies sponsored a series of review articles asserting that glyphosate and its commercial formulations are not injurious to health. The Global 2000 report, “buying Science” reveals that the industry-sponsored reviews of glyphosate’s carcinogenicity and genotoxicity (ability to damage DNA) have serious scientific flaws, including assigning greater weight to unpolished studies than peer-reviewed ones. The papers are said to also have introduced irrelevant data in violation of standard guidelines for the evaluation of cancer studies in rodents. Moreover, the reviews also consistently assign greater weight to unpublished industry studies than to studies that were peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals.[7]

The National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) on 1st May 2016 approved for Monsanto/NABDA to introduce genetically engineered maize varieties that would depend on this cancer-causing weed killer. Responding to objections to the permits and the obnoxious chemical, Monsanto issued a press response claiming that the chemical would not offer any cause for worry if farmers apply them strictly according to the guidelines or labels on the packets.[8] We note that overwhelming evidence show serious health impacts of agro-chemicals on persons working on farms planted with GMOs or living in close proximity to such farms.[9]

We invite journalists to interrogate the fact that GMOs are grown as mono-cultures and consider what this would mean to our agricultural system which is anchored on mix-cropping that promotes diversity and resilience. It also pays for us to look at the woeful performance of GMO cotton in Burkina Faso where the crop is being phased out and the remarkable failure in Makhathini Flats in South Africa where it was showcased as a grand success for small scale farmers in the late 1990s. We should point out that it is the same failed GMO cotton that has been halted in Burkina Faso that has been permitted to be commercially released into Nigeria.

You will hear in this programme how our regulatory agency works in cohort with GMO promoters and where official GMO promoters are interlocked with Monsanto, as for example in the GMO maize application and approval. As one ancient philosopher said, we simply have to believe the evidence of our “eyes” before we jump unto the GMO bandwagon in the pretext that we are doing science, claiming that all is well, when there are deep wells of doubts concerning the technology.

As we speak, GMO products are already on our market shelves. And a plethora of field trails of others are ongoing, including that of GMO beans that may be introduced into the Nigerian markets by 2019, according to the promoters[10]. HOMEF and other critical observers have scrutinized the NBMA Act of 2015 and found critical clauses in it that makes its capacity to protect our environment and health very questionable. We have also proposed how this situation can be remedied: either a total repeal of the act or a drastic review of the questionable provisions.

My task is to declare this training open. I do so now. And I urge you to engage and contest any ideas you are not in agreement with. And do see our publications, including our GMO Factsheet for more information. We should be concerned about what we eat. And we should not be forced to eat what we do not want to eat.

Let the conversations proceed.

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at Media Training-Promoting Biosafety in Nigeria held in Benin City , Nigeria, on Friday, 24th March 2017

Notes

[1] http://www.precautionaryprinciple.eu

[2] UNEP. 2016. Food Waste: The Facts. http://www.worldfooddayusa.org/food_waste_the_facts

[3]David Johnson and Siobhan O’Connor. 2015. These Charts Show Every Genetically Modified Food People Already Eat in the US. Time Health.  http://time.com/3840073/gmo-food-charts/

[4] Roundup weedkiller ‘probably’ causes cancer, says WHO study. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/21/roundup-cancer-who-glyphosate-

[5] See report on “Heartbreaking letter from dying EPA scientist begs Monsanto “moles” inside the agency to stop lying about dangers of RoundUp (glyphosate)” at http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-03-15-heartbreaking-letter-from-dying-epa-scientist-begs-monsanto-moles-inside-the-agency-to-stop-lying-about-dangers-of-roundup-glyphosate.html

[6] Vicki Batts. March 23, 2017. Thousands of people now have non-Hodgin’s Lymphoma due to glyphosate (Roundup) exposure, warns legal firm that’s suing Monsanto. http://www.naturalnews.com/2017-03-23-thousands-of-people-now-have-non-hodgkins-lymphoma-due-to-glyphosate-roundup-exposure-warns-legal-firm-thats-suing-monsanto.html

[7] GM Watch. 23 March 2017. New report shows glyphosate producers are “buying science.” http://gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/17518

[8] Ben Ezeamalu. June 11, 2016. Monsanto responds to PREMIUM TIMES’ report, says own modified crops ‘safe.’ http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/more-news/205109-monsanto-responds-premium-times-report-says-modified-crops-safe.html

[9] Paul Koberstein. June 16, 2014. GMO companies are dousing Hawaiian island with toxic pesticides. http://grist.org/business-technology/gmo-companies-are-dousing-hawaiian-island-with-toxic-pesticides/

[10] Zakariyya Adaramola. November 29, 2016. Nigeria to get GM beans in commercial quantities by 2019- NABDA. https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/health/nigeria-to-get-gm-beans-in-commercial-quantity-by-2019-nabda/173748.html

NOT ON OUR PLATES! Nigeria does not need GM food

Not on our Plates!Nigeria does not need GM crops to satisfy its food and agriculture needs. We know exactly what we have to do and the Nigerian National Conference[i] of 2014 raised the caution with regard to then draft National Biosafety Bill. We agree with the concerns raised by the Conference and urge that the NBMA Act should be critically reviewed or repealed.[i]

The few crops commercialized during the past decades were mostly composed only of two traits, and their area of cultivation has been limited to a handful of countries. Over 90% of GM crops concentrated mostly in five countries– USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Canada, with the USA accounting for 40 per cent of all GM global area.[i]

In any case, after two decades of GM crops commercialization, up to 95% of the staple crops which have been commercialized are insect resistant or herbicide tolerant. The push for the introduction of these type of GM staple crops has been led either directly by the big biotech corporations that developed the product or their subsidiaries.

None of these traits, however, provide any benefit to the consumer, and none of them as of today has managed to win the heart of the majority of the consumers. For instance, even in the US, the cradle of GM crops, a poll conducted by the New York Times in 2013 concluded that three-quarters of Americans expressed concern about genetically modified organisms in their food, with most of them worried about the effects on people’s health.[ii] In The reality of such scepticism has forced the biotech industry to desperately seek to widen its market into Africa. The claim that Europe is influencing Africans to reject GMOs is grossly erroneous.[iii]

Download here and read the full Not on Our Plates…

[i] Alessandro Sorrentino, et al. October 2016. “Regulatory Policy and Economic Implications of GMO in Agriculture: A review.” See at https://www.aur.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SORRENTINO_BRANCA_-Food-governance_GMO.pdf

[ii] Allison Kopicki. July 27, 2013. Strong Support for Labeling Modified Foods. New York Times  https://www.nytimes.com/by/allison-kopicki

[iii] http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1339024/european-union-policies-detrimental-africa

Biotechnology, ‘Scientists’, ‘Experts’, Government Agencies and Patriotism

Biotechnology, ‘Scientists’, ‘Experts’, Government Agencies and Patriotism. Generally, when we speak of patriotism we evoke a sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘loyalty’ to one’s nation or group. From the perspective of some commentators, patriotism means endorsing without question anything that a government or government agency suggests or does. Permit me to equate that to the Warrant Chief mentality of the colonial era. The colonial governments would have seen those chiefs as epitomes of patriotism. But we do know that they were loyal to foreign interests rather than the interests of our peoples or nations. We can further say, that the mind-set that holds that government action is always right and must be supported willy-nilly is a very dangerous mind-set.

The need to interrogate what patriotism means in the context of the challenges of the push of modern agricultural biotechnology into Nigeria and Africa has been instigated by an article by a “Lagos-based research scientist” titled “Biotech agencies NIREC report and unpatriotic activism.” That article opened with this claim: “Recently, a group representing the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) issued a press release with the intention of misleading the public and pursuing an alien agenda.”

I have personally not seen the “statement” that was supposedly released by NIREC and probably would not have learned of the publication in Daily Trust, but for the strident responses from the government agencies and their proxies. I also have strong doubts that the Daily Trust publication was a press release “from a group representing the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).” The source of the story, however, is not our concern here.

Generally, when we speak of patriotism we evoke a sense of ‘nationalism’ and ‘loyalty’ to one’s nation or group. From the perspective of some commentators, patriotism means endorsing without question anything that a government or government agency suggests or does. Permit me to equate that to the Warrant Chief mentality of the colonial era. The colonial governments would have seen those chiefs as epitomes of patriotism. But we do know that they were loyal to foreign interests rather than the interests of our peoples or nations. We can further say, that the mind-set that holds that government action is always right and must be supported willy-nilly is a very dangerous mind-set.

For an immediate modern day example by which we can examine the puerile claim that government (agency) worship is equal to patriotism, we only need to look at the current resistance to the travel ban proposed by the president of the United States of America. The president proclaimed a ban, the world was aghast, legal challenges were instituted, the government lost and a revised ban was issued. As we write, a court has blocked that new presidential order. It is our guess that those who object to the travel ban can be labelled unpatriotic, after all the orders were issued by a president. No applause for such logic. We must ask ourselves why biotechnology proponents find it hard to accept that their ideas can be questioned and that they could be wrong, as they often are. The falsehood of the myths of the biotechnology industry have been demonstrated continuously and shown for what they are. Moreover, Nature repeatedly trumps the myths – through super weeds, superbugs, etc..

Top officials of NBMA and NABDA had in time past been invited to our events, we would never put their names in our flyers or be under any illusion that they are no longer promoting the ‘deployment’ of GMOs in Nigeria because we invited them to our events. We know they would not flip their script.

Let us linger a bit more on criticism as lack of patriotism. What is patriotic about foisting on Nigeria a technology that has failed woefully in Burkina Faso, a neighbouring country? How come we are wishing away the fact that the quantity and quality of cotton harvests in Burkina Faso has picked up since they escaped the GMO hoax?

What is patriotic about forcing down our throats, a system that was sold as revolution for small scale farmers in Makhathini Flats, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa in 1998 but failed woefully?

We will look at other issues in the article written by the Lagos-based scientist who apparently must be an insider in one or both of the agencies defended in the article. The scientist appears to have the voice of Jacob, but the hands of Esau.

The argument that anyone opposing GMOs is doing so for pecuniary reasons, or is acting as someone’s stooge, is laughable. That same argument can be extended to those of us opposed to criminal oil pollutions, toxic dumps and the like. The same can be said of those of who fought against military dictatorship in Nigeria, against apartheid in South Africa or slavery in the USA. It is a weak, poor and worthless argument that does not even merit a response. What would the Lagos-based scientist say of the web of actors and sponsors that are openly funding and pushing for the deployment of GM crops in Africa?

The committee that NIREC set up to review the GMO situation in Nigeria was an advisory one made up of academics, researchers and people of faith. To my knowledge, apart from secretariat support, members were/are not part of NIREC. The committee invited the two key institutions promoting or overseeing the “deployment” of GMOs in Nigeria.

Finally, the Lagos based scientist stated in the article under reference and we quote: “Nnimmo Bassey was an active player in the processes that cumulated in the establishment of the NBMA, so to turn around and say that the Agency is a brain child of NABDA questions his credibility and integrity.” (our emphasis).

Let us go back to what we wrote in the article that drew the ire of the Lagos-based scientist. Here is it: “A preliminary comment that is of important at this point is that these two agencies operate like conjoined twins. And that may be so because NBMA is purportedly the brainchild of NABDA. No, that is not my imagination.”

Note that I used the word “purportedly” and then added that I did not imagine that curious supposition. The fact is that the disclosure that NBMA was a brainchild of NABDA was stated by the official that represented one of the agencies when they appeared before the NIREC committee. We do not think it is important to say who among the two made that incredible claim. But if anyone really wants to know the information it can be shared. This writer did not imagine, claim or say it. The revelation unveils the foundational flaw of the GMO scaffold.

In any case, those who promoted the NBMA Bill have their logos printed on the back of the document that was distributed at the Public Hearing on the Biosafety Bill Organised by the Joint Committee on Science and Technology and Agriculture, ABUJA, 9th December 2009, at the National Assembly. To suggest that this writer ever endorsed what was signed into law by our former president is an incredible distortion of the truth. When we recognise that we have a bad product, two of the ways to respond is dropping it or reviewing it. One of the organisational flyers of NBMA carries the names of individuals, including those from CSOs that are totally opposed to GMOs but attended one of the meetings in the preparatory stages of the bill that has become law. Why are those names listed on a promotional flyer? To gain credibility? To silence opposition? Did their attendance indicate that they endorsed the bill? Top officials of NBMA and NABDA had in time past been invited to our events, we would never put their names in our flyers or be under any illusion that they are no longer promoting the ‘deployment’ of GMOs in Nigeria because we invited them to our events.  We know they would not flip their script.

In conclusion, let us just state that no law is cast in concrete, although even concrete cannot last for ever. No matter what the current GMO promoters say, believe or defend, the fact remains that a defective piece of legislation ultimately will be reviewed or jettisoned. The same will be the terminal point of a technology whose obsolescence is already appearing.

 

 

 

[*] Nnimmo Bassey is Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

NIREC and the trouble with Nigeria’s GMO Twins

thumb_img_0764_1024NIREC and the trouble with Nigeria’s GMO Twins: Recently there was a news report that the National Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) cautioned the Nigerian government with regard to permitting Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) foods into Nigeria. That significant report may have escaped many Nigerians. However, the strident denial by the directors general of National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) that they were not members of the NIREC committee on GMOs helped to bring up the report again. Both officials are right to say that they were not members of the NIREC committee because they were not. I was a member, so I can testify to that. They were invited to share information and respond to questions on GMOs with the committee set up by NIREC. And the director of NBMA did while NABDA was represented by Dr Rose Gidado, an assistant director of the agency. A disclaimer published by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Nigeria (OFAB) on behalf of NABDA opens with these words: “On the Daily Trust publication below (NIREC cautions FG against GMOs), the OFAB Nigeria Coordinator, Dr. Rose Gidado whose name appeared as part of the Committee wishes to state that she was called to answer questions at the Committee meeting but was never part of the Meeting not to talk of being part of the approval process of the final report that was produced.” She met with the committee as a representative of NABDA.

They apparently do not want Nigerians to hear the other side of the story – about the impacts of GMOs and agro-toxics on the environment, humans and biodiversity. One of the chiefs literally dragged the other out of the studio with the NTA officials pleading with them to stay and participate in the programme, to no avail. That display of disdain to criticism must have shocked the staff of NTA and signified very clearly the sort of leadership we have on biosafety issues in Nigeria.

A preliminary comment that is of important at this point is that these two agencies operate like conjoined twins. And that may be so because NBMA is purportedly the brainchild of NABDA. No, that is not my imagination. It is alarming because the NABDA as the name implies is a biotechnology research, development and promotion agency. Their job is to ensure that GMOs are placed on the dining tables of Nigerians whether we want them or not.

The fact of one being the brainchild of the other was revealed at one of the sittings of the committee. The inseparable nature of the two agencies was also illustrated before my eyes in the studios of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) where their two heads were invited to the Good Morning Show to which I was, unfortunately, also invited. They would not consider sharing the precious space with someone who would speak against their positions. They apparently do not want Nigerians to hear the other side of the story – about the impacts of GMOs and agro-toxics on the environment, humans and biodiversity. One of the chiefs literally dragged the other out of the studio with the NTA officials pleading with them to stay and participate in the programme, to no avail. That display of disdain to criticism must have shocked the staff of NTA and signified very clearly the sort of leadership we have on biosafety issues in Nigeria.

NABDA and NABMA work hand-in-hand in a manner that is unacceptable. A true regulator would be an impartial umpire on biosafety and GMO issues. In his rebuttal to the news report that erroneously stated that the two biotech leaders were part of NIREC, the head of NBMA stated that he was assuring Nigerians that his agency will supervise the safe deployment of GMOs in Nigeria. First, he takes the introduction of GMOs into Nigeria as a given. Why would a biosafety regulator consider himself as a supervisor of GMOs? Can we tolerate a referee, in a soccer match, who celebrates whenever one side scores a goal? Secondly, when he talks about the introduction of GMOs he used a militaristic terminology, deployment, probably signifying that the battle lines are drawn against Nigerians who are suspicious of any GMO hemlock.

The committee, made up of seasoned academics and religious leaders, raised questions over GMOs and did not recommend it as a way forward for Nigeria.

However, when NABDA blames the NIREC committee of bias and in another breath claims that the NIREC committee endorses GMOs, that is a figment of the agency’s imagination. It simply is not true. The committee, made up of seasoned academics and religious leaders, raised questions over GMOs and did not recommend it as a way forward for Nigeria. With the attitude of brooking no dissent, it was curious to hear the chief of NABDA accuse the NIREC committee of bias, because, according to her, the committee did not have GMO promoters on it.

thumb_img_0761_1024-2The committee was at pains explaining to the two agencies that, in carrying out their work, they must understand that the critical baseline is the interest of Nigerians and our environment and not that of any commercial or political interest– no matter how powerful. The two agencies could not convince the expert committee that they had enough tools to adequately carry out their tasks. Among other things, the committee also saw that NABDA was functioning more as a GMO advocacy agency rather than engaging in useful research, while the Biosafety Management Act itself requires urgent radical review.

Eco-Instigator #14

eco-instigator-14The year 2016 ran through so rapidly. And just as well. It had a store of horrors – extreme exploitation of nature’s re-sources, wars and repression, massive pollution, deforestation and unconscionable climate inaction. Will these let up in 2017?

While you ponder on what we must do as individuals and as collectives, we serve you another loaded edition of your Eco-Instigator. We share reports, statements and articles hoping that you will get sufciently instigated to step up and speak up as sons and daughters of Mother Earth.

As this edition was going to bed, we received news of the renewed aggression against our partner group, Accion Ecologica by the government of Ecuador. We note the tremendous global solidarity exhibited by individuals and groups from around the world in support of Accion Ecologica. This group is probably one of the foremost environmental justice organisations in the world today and deserves our support. They celebrated 30 years of existence in October 2016 at a grand ceremony held in the Che Guevara Auditorium of the Central University of Ecuador. At that event, several awards were given out to grassroots activists, journalists, academics and others. Yours truly was included in that exalted list in the category of calalysts of the defence of Nature. Here is the list for this category: Ricardo Carrere (late), from World Rainforest Movement (WRM) in Uruguay; Vandana Shiva, of Navdanya of India; The Corner House, of England; Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network of North America; Nnimmo Bassey from Nigeria; Silvia Ribeiro from Mexico and Alberto Acosta from Ecuador.

From all of us at HOMEF we bring you the best wishes for a just 2017.

Download the eco-instigator-14

The Long, winding Superhighway

The Long, winding Superhighway. The controversy surrounding the 260 km Superhighway proposed by the Cross River State government (CRSG) of Nigeria will not go away. Notably, the bulldozing of forests, farmlands and sundry properties commenced last year without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Curiously, the government issued an edict dispossessing individuals and communities of lands lying within an incredible 10 km width on either side of the proposed superhighway.

The proposed for this land grab covers 5200 square kilometres or an astonishing 25 percent of the landmass of Cross River State. The best argument presented by defenders of the proposal is that the massive land uptake of 10 km on either side of the superhighway is essential for the protection of the superhighway. If that argument is interpreted to mean that the government plans to keep the people away from the superhighway so as to protect it, we would like to know for whom the highway is meant.

To many observers, the fact that the highway starts from a proposed deep seaport and ends in a small Sahellian town suggests that the main intent may be the harvesting of timber from community and National Forests for export.

The promise by the government that it would replace each mowed tree with two or up to five saplings and that no one should worry about any deforestation ensuing from the bulldozing of existing forests is a brilliant narrative that is anchored on fiction. First, what species of trees would be planted? Secondly, what replaces the ecosystems that would be destroyed including the threatened endemic species in the five protected areas to be impacted by the project? The five protected areas to be directly damaged by the project include Cross River National Park, Ukpon River Forest Reserve and the Cross River South Forest Reserve, the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary and the Afi River Forest Reserve.

It is possible that the CRSG is not aware of what would be lost if the pristine forests are destroyed. We say so because the EIA presented by the State government to the Federal Ministry of Environment has a curious list of animals that are not found in the region in question, with some not even being found in Nigeria or Africa. This anomaly suggests that the EIA is a copy-and-paste document that is not site-specific and should be rejected outright.

The women demand that the superhighway should be rerouted and that the wishy-washy EIA being presented to the Federal Ministry of Environment should not be approved. We could not agree more. 

In particular, the EIA lists small Indian and Chinese alligators among the species found in the Cross River forests. Other species that may have been created by the writers of the EIA include, black and white colobus monkey, Dent’s monkey, blue monkey and the roloway monkey. This is mind-boggling by any measure. The EIA lists 17 bird species whereas there are up to 400 species in the threatened forests.  The consultants also repeatedly refer to the Cross River National Park as the Oban Group of Forests even though a name change took place in 1991.

Communities threatened by the project have repeatedly said that there was no free prior informed consent of the people to this project. They insist that they need access roads and are not averse to such access being provided. What they cannot fathom is why a State that prides itself as being environment friendly and climate conscious would plan to decimate the last remaining pristine rainforests in Nigeria.

The latest protest has come from women and girls of Etara, Eyeyeng, Edondon, Okokori, Old Ekuri and New Ekuri, Iko Esai and Owai communities in Etung, Obubra and Akamkpa Local Government Areas in the state, under the aegis of the Wanel-Aedon Development Association (WANELDON).

In a protest letter dated 30th January 2017 tagged “Our Opposition to the Revocation of our Lands for a Superhighway” and sent by WALNELDON to President Buhari, the women proclaimed their “total opposition against Governor Ben Ayade’s revocation of swathe of all our lands for a superhighway.” They claim among other things, that they were excluded from all decision-making processes related to the project and that the project as an affront to their social and economic rights. The women also insist that the project would negate key Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) 1 to 5: No Poverty; No Hunger; Good Health and Well-being; Quality Education and Gender Equality.

The women note that they are ethnic minorities that are being made to suffer multiple discrimination and deprivation including by being rendered internally displaced persons (IDPs) and subjected to heightened vulnerability in other ways. For this and many other reasons, the request President Buhari to governor to “de-revoke” [ownership] of all their “lands including settlements, farmlands and forests.”

The women also demand that the superhighway should be rerouted and that the wishy-washy EIA being presented to the Federal Ministry of Environment should not be approved. We could not agree more. If the 10km land grab has been reversed, as claimed by the State’s commissioner for Climate Change at the 18th Bassey Andah Memorial Lecture held in Calabar recently, the CSRG should publish such a “de-revoking order” for avoidance of doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prodigal Environmental Stewards

img_4116Prodigal Environmental Stewards

Guest lecture[1] by Nnimmo Bassey

Let me begin by thanking the Board of Bassey Andah Foundation for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts on the Nigerian environment on this auspicious occasion of the 18th Bassey Andah Memorial Lecture. The array of lectures so far held in memory of the Late Prof Andah speaks volumes about the enduring legacy that he left behind. The theme of this year’s lecture is most appropriate considering the fact that the Nigerian environment has suffered much neglect, and has had harm inflicted on it over the years, and we risk losing all that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors if care is not taken. It is my hope that this event will not merely make us shake our heads in despair over our prodigal handling of the gifts of Nature, of our ecological carelessness and the global fixation on the exploitation of Nature, but serve as a call on all of us to action to preserve our environmental heritage.

Heritage speaks of birthright and inheritance. It connotes an acquisition from a predecessor and a handing down from one generation to another. In other words, our heritage is that something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.[2] Our heritage can be both tangible and intangible. For example, we could have a building or land as a heritage. Our way of doing things as conditioned by our culture or cosmovision – the state of our inner consciousness of who we are in space and time – is also part and parcel of our heritage.

An inheritance can be wasted, squandered, damaged, diminished or destroyed as is well illustrated by the Biblical story of the prodigal son[3]. We also note that the ideal situation is that an inheritance should be owned with a sense of stewardship, with the knowledge that it would be inherited by subsequent generations. This sense of stewardship includes the responsibility to bring about improvements on the inherited artefacts. Thus, heritage connotes the ideals of sustainability. Overall, the future of what is inherited depends mostly on the disposition of the inheritor. This is the person that decides if to preserve and handover to the next generation or to squander and waste what was inherited.

Nigeria has a number of valuable environmental spots that deserve to be protected, defended, preserved and improved upon when necessary. They are great place-markers and places of beauty, knowledge and cultural relevance. Some of these include the National Parks and Games Reserves. They also include places like the Ogbunike cave, Ikogosi Warm Springs, Qua falls, Olumo Rock and many others. Man-made ancient artefacts like the famous Ikom Monoliths inspire awe and challenge us to reflect on what great indigenous knowledge that were generated and developed in the past have been lost for lack of documentation or capacity to interpret what had been documented.

ECOLOGICAL HARM

The environment itself is the basic heritage of a people, community or territory. This includes, but goes beyond, the re-sources bestowed on the people or territory by nature. Sometimes the tendency is to only consider those environmental features that have monetary or commercial values attached to them. That perspective is fundamentally flawed because when say, as in our cultural worldview, that life is wealth, monetary consideration is not part of the equation. True wealth includes a sense of health, wellbeing, solidarity and happiness. There are many threats to our collective national heritage from local and global forces. At the global level, we are witnesses of political turns and twists that truncate possibilities to frontally tackle global environmental problems that place the planet on a highly perilous path.

Chair of the event, Prof O. Osibanjo. A handshake with Prof Emeritus Alagoa Alagoa. Participants

In all these we see Africa squarely on the firing line with little potential for protective cover. Possibilities of caring for our heritage are marred by the persistent exploitative relationships with foreign capital as well as the endemic reluctance or inability to interrogate certain undergirding concepts such as development – its meanings, drivers and ends. Elevation of neoliberal paradigms to the status of religious creed makes environmental protection almost impossible when States embark on roadshows to attract foreign investments to the detriment of our environmental patrimony. While some of us reject the concept of resource curse as an inevitable outcome of natural resource endowment without controls, we see unequal geopolitical power play and the extractivist path concretised by insatiable global production and consumption realities as the key challenges.

GLOBAL CONTEXT

The environmental changes in the world today appear to be set in irreversibly negative path because of the obstinacy of the drivers of those changes. The exploitation of nature, including by its transformation, is being pursued as though the planet were limitless or that Mother Earth did not require times of rest to replenish herself. Industrial agriculture gets more intensified with the same land being ploughed relentlessly and with artificial chemical inputs that literally enslave or obstruct natural processes. Technological advancement moves in the direction of products with in-built obsolescence requiring that such products are replaced or thrown away rather rapidly. Add to this scenario the entrenchment of a petroleum-based civilisation.

The volatility of the mix of rabid exploitation of nature and labour, the pursuit of maximum financial profits and the externalisation of environmental costs pose a complex existential threat to our global environmental heritage. These factors are also the protagonists of threats to our local and national environmental heritage.

It is useful for us to dwell a bit on the question of value before we focus more on the threats around us. The intrinsic value of nature has been rapidly degraded by the forces of neoliberalism – especially the notion that elements of nature can only be valuable when monetary values are attached to them. The creed is that only things with economic value can be protected. In a certain sense, we can say that an extension of this idea explains why some human lives appear to matter more than others. In other words, the billionaire expects, and is accorded, higher levels of protection than the worker that earns less than living wages after hours of backbreaking labour.

The idea of placing financial values on nature has thrown up the concepts of payment for environmental services, carbon trading and various forms of market environmentalism including Emissions Trading Schemes, Clean Development Mechanisms, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). Payment of ecosystem or environmental services simply means payment made to humans for managing their lands in a way that the said land performs certain environmental services.

Payment of ecosystem services can be seen as a result of the application of neoliberal ideologies to ecosystem management. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) explains the usefulness of the approach this way: “Payments for environmental services (also known as payments for ecosystem services or PES), are payments to farmers or landowners who have agreed to take certain actions to manage their land or watersheds to provide an ecological service. As the payments provide incentives to land owners and managers, PES is a market-based mechanism, similar to subsidies and taxes, to encourage the conservation of natural resources.”[4]

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) “The key characteristic of these PES deals is that the focus is on maintaining a flow of a specified ecosystem “service” — such as clean water, biodiversity habitat, or carbon sequestration capabilities — in exchange for something of economic value. The critical, defining factor of what constitutes a PES transaction, however, is not just that money changes hands and an environmental service is either delivered or maintained. Rather, the key is that the payment causes the benefit to occur where it would not have otherwise. That is, the service is “additional” to “business as usual,” or at the very least, the service can be quantified and tied to the payment.”[5]

Those that sell ecosystem services are expected to assure the payer (or buyer) that the ecological services are maintained and this would necessarily entail having independent verification of the actions of the seller and the impacts those have on the resources. As with other climate related market mechanisms, a good ratio of the revenue that passes from seller to buyer ends up in the hands of consultants who measure carbon stocks as well as ecological services- predictably to the detriment of the seller who would often be a poor landowner with no understanding of the intricacies of these mechanisms. Consider this list of illustrating ecosystem services[6]:

  • Purification of air and water
  • Regulation of water flow
  • Detoxification and decomposition of wastes
  • Generation and renewal of soil and soil fertility
  • Pollination of crops and natural vegetation
  • Control of agricultural pests
  • Dispersal of seeds and translocation of nutrients
  • Maintenance of biodiversity
  • Partial climatic stabilization
  • Moderation of temperature extremes
  • Wind breaks
  • Support for diverse human cultures
  • Aesthetic beauty and landscape enrichment

We should note that market mechanisms do not recognise the intrinsic values of our heritage.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Global inaction on climate change is one of the biggest threats, facing us today. Already global temperature increase above pre-industrial levels is already at 1.2 degree Celsius according to an assessment by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The 1.5 degrees Celsius set by the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is already an unattainable target. Of course, without binding commitments to emissions reduction at levels determined by science and at source by the major polluting and industrialised nations, there is no way (voluntary) actions taken within the subsisting Paris Agreement would stem the tide.

The factors pushing the temperature rise include the reality of higher methane emissions, unabated deforestation, burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and land use changes in which half the planet[7] is now being dominated by human activities – including by the cultivation of crops for biofuels.

It is broadly acknowledged that for the world to have a good chance of limiting temperature increase to about 2o Celsius, 80 percent of known fossil fuels reserves must be left untapped and unburned. “The pollution and the global warming threats notwithstanding, the race to squeeze the last drops of fossils from the earth is on. An official US Department of Energy Report is quoted to have said “The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions were gradual and evolutionary. Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.”[8]

The year 2016 notoriously broke several environmental records.[9] The months of July and August were the hottest in recorded history, and 22 countries experienced all-time heat records. The ice levels on the Arctic sea were the lowest in 2016 and the first ever climate change-induced extinction of a mammal species was recorded.[10] The mammal species wiped out is the Bramble Cay melomys, a rat that was endemic to Great Barrier Reef in the Pacific region.

Nigeria is already being heavily impacted by climate change. The floods of 2012 took the lives of 300 Nigerians and displaced millions. It should be noted that besides the displacement of populations due to the shrinkage of Lake Chad, some animal species are endangered or significantly reduced. The species include the African elephant, hippopotamus, stripped hyena, red monkey, Dorcas gazelle and Kuri cattle.

In addition to the environmental factors that endanger species, Nigerians love bush meat and these animals are killed and displayed openly for sale along our highways. Sometimes bush burning is utilised as a means of hunting these animals – a method that has multiple attendant environmental costs.

The impacts of climate change have manifested as contributory factors to the rising violence in the North East of Nigeria. Increased desertification, the shrinkage of Lake Chad and general water stress pose extreme pressures on the people and contribute to the massive displacement of citizens, beyond the push by the AK47s, daggers, bows and arrows. Desertification is estimated to be increasing at the rate of half a kilometre annually.

Nigeria has an 850km long coastline and this is being threatened by rampaging coastal erosion. Community lands, infrastructure and properties are being washed away. Moreover, deforestation is a serious threat across the nation, with a tiny fraction of our rainforest cover still standing.

Africa is generally being ravaged by climate impacts. Floods and droughts are two manifestations of climate variabilities. A recent article in New York Times on impact of climate change on Madagascar is worth a lengthy quote at this point:

“Southern Africa’s drought and food crisis have gone largely unnoticed around the world. The situation has been particularly severe in Madagascar, a lovely island nation known for deserted sandy beaches and playful long-tailed primates called lemurs.

“But the southern part of the island doesn’t look anything like the animated movie “Madagascar”: Families are slowly starving because rains and crops have failed for the last few years. They are reduced to eating cactus and even rocks or ashes. The United Nations estimates that nearly one million people in Madagascar alone need emergency food assistance.”[11]

Besides Madagascar, severe drought has also been recorded in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The drought in the Horn of Africa continues. Somalians living in Puntland region trek over an average distance of 60 km to fetch drinking water.[12]

PROTECTED AREAS

A statement made with regard to protected areas in Congo DRC by Save Virunga group may as well have been said about protected areas in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa: “Every day we hear that the integrity of a protected area is being challenged by the expansion of infrastructure and industrial activities such as oil, gas and mining exploration”[13] The truth is that protected areas are getting more and more unprotected. Examples abound in the East African Rift Valley and also closer home.  Oil is being drilled in protected areas in the Lake Albert Graben area of Uganda. World heritage locations in the Turkana region of Kenya are also under threat of extractivist pursuits. Other threats particularly on biodiversity in protected areas arise from agricultural activities as well as urban expansion. Generally, threats on protected areas are not restricted to activities within such areas, but also on the peripheral zones. In other words, the threats are from factors that are both within and without.

Forests and Games Reserves in Nigeria are very valuable assets. They are sanctuaries for the preservation of vital elements of our environmental and cultural heritage. In recent times, the threat on our forests have ranged from the pressure of infrastructural needs to the use of forests as territories for the brewing of mischief and outride violent rebellion. Case in point is the illegal refineries in the forests and swamps of the Nigeria Delta. Another is the Sambisa Forest that has become a metaphor for murderous activities of the Boko Haram type. When people hear of Sambisa Forest, what comes to mind is that this is the stronghold of the violent group. The Sambisa Forest is not a little clump of trees. It is a vast, 1,300 square kilometres forest that sits across Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa and Yobe States. Parts of it is even said to stretch to Kano State. The occupation of the forest by the insurgents clearly posed threats beyond those on the human population. Their activities posed direct threats to the trees, wildlife and general biodiversity. Military action to flush out the insurgents from the forest has obviously inflicted harm on the forest ecosystem. The harm includes the military wastes – these are highly specialised wastes that can only be cleared by professional and specialised waste managers. Other threats come from the unexploded ordinances that may still litter the environment. The plan by the Nigerian military to turn the Sambisa Forest to a training and weapons testing arena[14] will pose unusual challenge to our environmental heritage. The idea should be dropped while efforts should be made to revive and clean up the forest.

The fact that Sambisa Forest could be occupied and so blatantly taken over and turned into a terrorist enclave makes the call by the Taraba State governor that the Federal Government should secure the Gashaka-Gumti Games Reserve should be given serious attention.[15] The Games Reserve traverses Taraba and Adamawa States and is managed by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC).

The cross-border nature of our forests underscores the fact that the environment does not respect political boundaries. It also shows that caring for our environmental heritage is one sure way of building national cohesion and unity.

A major threat to our environmental heritage is the need for the development of infrastructure. Unfortunately, due to the infrastructural deficit in Nigeria, our politics has become infrastructure politics. An electric pole here, a water borehole there – even without water quality control, a one kilometre paved or graded road, a classroom block, an empty health centre building, all receive raucous applause. All a politician needs to show that he/she has brought his people the “dividends of democracy” is to point at what infrastructure has been procured. Think how much applause a 260km long Super Highway ought to attract.

The Super Highway project proposed by the government of Cross River State is planned to start at a deep-sea port at Akpabuyo and to terminate at Katsina Ala in Benue State. Considering that this would be a chart-bursting infrastructure if delivered, it is understandable that the governor of the State cannot fathom why people are opposed to the project.

Some of the many reasons why this major infrastructure project is globally rejected are that it cuts through community forests and passes close to the Cross River National Park, a protected forest. Another reason is that a major sea port such as is being proposed ought to link the sea to industrial or commercial zones. This is not the case here. This makes people wonder what cargoes are intended to be delivered or evacuated from the sea port. Perhaps the most vexatious reason why the world is aghast with regard to this project is the potential displacement of communities and citizens from lands bordering this Super Highway. The government issued a public notice on 22 January 2016 literally dispossessing communities lying within 10 km on either side of the proposed Super Highway of their heritage and patrimony.

The government has gone to great pains to dissociate the land uptake from the Super Highway project, but the two are connected by an umbilical cord as the government gazette indicates. The claiming of 10km development corridor through community forests is a self-inflicted injury that the government can cure by simply rescinding that vexatious order.

The forest communities in Cross River State deserve to have suitable access roads or highways, but the taking up of 10 Km on either side of the super highway as a development corridor or for whatever purpose, will serve the immediate and ultimate ends of deforestation and diminishing of the environmental and cultural heritage of the peoples. We should emphasise here that even after the Federal Government approves the environmental impact assessment for the Super Highway, and if it gets to be built, the right of way and taking up of community land or forests should not go beyond the standard width permissible for highways of the type being proposed.

A press release issued by the Ekuri Community[16] whose forest is threatened by the highway project underscores the importance of the forest to the people and the threat to our collective heritage. We reproduce a portion of the press release in the box below.

Box : Ekuri community press statement on the Super Highway project

The people of Ekuri live in Cross River State, deep in the heart of one of Nigeria’s last surviving rainforests.  Their forest is sandwiched by the Ukpon forest reserve to the north and Cross River National Park to the east and south and to the west by the Iko Esai community forest.  Their rainforests are spectacular and are home to a number of rare and endangered wildlife species including Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, some of the last forest elephants in West Africa and forest buffalo. However, all of this is about to disappear forever due to the construction of the Cross River State Super Highway which will destroy the ancestral lands and forests of the Ekuri people and thousands of others along the proposed 260 km route.

The villages of Old Ekuri and New Ekuri (popularly called the “Ekuri Community”) are located in Akamkpa LGA, in the buffer zone of Cross River National Park.  These are two of only five villages in the whole world that speak the Lokoli language.  These two villages between them jointly own 33,600 ha of community forest.  This is probably the largest community owned forest in all of West Africa.  For hundreds of years, the Ekuri people have relied completely on their ancestral lands and forests for everything.  The forest provides the people with fruits, vegetables and a wide range of other valuable forest products.  It also provides fertile farmland, their medicines and shapes their unique culture, language, and identity.

These forests are so important to the Ekuri people that in the early 1990s when they were approached by two logging companies offering to build them a road in exchange for logging their forest, they said “No”.  Instead they asked the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature and the UK’s Overseas Development Administration (now the Department for International Development (DFID)), to help them set up a forest management organisation called the Ekuri Initiative.  This community-run body has been instrumental in managing the Ekuri forests and also successfully brought development benefits to their villages including the construction of a 30 km road to the villages and the establishment of a health centre.  This was so successful that in 2004, the Ekuri Community received the highly prestigious Equator Initiative Award from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for their outstanding contribution to biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

The forests of CRS are globally recognised for their international importance as one of the richest sites for biodiversity in Africa.  The World Wide Fund for Nature and other NGOs have documented the fact that they harbour an enormous diversity of plant and animal species almost unmatched anywhere else in the world.  In recognition of this, the UK government invested millions of pounds into the Cross River State Forestry Department in the 1990s.  WWF also invested millions of pounds into the establishment of Cross River National Park over a period of 7 years.  …

But now this forest and the entire Ekuri way of life, is threatened with destruction.

In its press briefing[17] of 6th November 2015, the Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (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.”

The above fears were hinged on the proclamation conveyed by the Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development of Cross River State and published in the Nigerian Chronicle 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 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.”

The Okokori community that is equally threatened by the Super Highway project wrote a letter to the Governor of Cross River State[18] in which the decried the revocation of their rights of occupancy of their land and stated, among other facts that

  • The 20.4 km width of the revoked lands include our farms, community forest and our settlement
  • Our customary use of our lands for centuries where our ancestors have been buried is about to be desecrated.
  • The rich biodiversity of our community forest contiguous [to] the Ekuri community forest and the Cross River National Park contributes to the forests in Cross River State being named one of the ’25 biological’ hotspots’ in the world will be lost forever and this legacy is about to be ruined.
  • Our eviction from our inherited lands is looming and we will become another [set of] Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) not because of war but a Super Highway. Even IDPs in a war are better than us as they will certainly return home when the war is over, but ours is in perpetuity.

Our recommendation to the government of Cross River State is that a highway may be built to grant the people access to their communities, existing roads like the one linking Edondon to Old and New Ekuri should be fully completed as it is currently only partially completed up to Okokori although a signpost (at Okokori) claims otherwise. Acts of government should aim to preserve the heritage of the peoples, protect the rich biodiversity of the forests (including rare and endemic species) and to maintain its status as an environmentally conscious State.

Some analysts perceive the super highway project as a ruse for harvesting of the timber that communities have preserved over the centuries and that the sea port is merely an evacuation valve for the exercise. It would revamp and entrench the colonial patterns of exploitation and expropriation without responsibility and ignite a missive impoverishment of our peoples. If that should be true, this will stand as the greatest loss of biodiversity and our collective socio-cultural, economic and ecological heritage. It will also erase all claims of Cross River State to being an environmentally conscious State. Furthermore, it would rubbish the efforts of Nigeria to contribute to the stabilising of the global climate. In many ways, this project has huge local and global implications.

AGAINST THE EROSION OF OUR HERITAGE

A review of environmental challenges often ends with questions on what citizens can do. Indeed, sometimes it is vigorously argued that government cannot do everything and that the onus is on the people to do something. As we have endeavoured to show in this discourse, it is not a matter of one or the other. There are actions that governments must take and there are others that necessity for action is placed on citizens. For example, it is the duty of the government to enforce laws and regulations pertaining to environmental protection. The state also has the responsibility of providing the enabling environment for citizens’ action. On the other hand, citizens have a duty of care over their immediate environment and collective actions can add up to fruitful results for which governments cannot legislate.

A key path to environmental protection is through the laws governing our relationship with nature. Historically our communities set aside protected territories and species that could not be tampered with without sanctions. Our cultural world view elevates the individual’s duty of care for the environment and this is taken very seriously as a matter affecting the collective heritage. Some of these conservation zones were known as sacred forests or sacred lands and rivers. Some clans or communities would not kill or eat certain species of animals, for example. Such restrictions helped to promote and retain some biodiversity hotspots and along with the significant knowledge built, preserved and transmitted to subsequent generations. The clash of civilisations, consolidated by colonialism and cemented by neoliberalism, continue to erode the gains of past centuries and whatever remains now may be lost if intentional actions are not urgently taken.

LAWS, CONSTITUTIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE

The constitution of any country is a document that provides fundamental direction for the securing of the right to life of citizens. This right to life cannot be enjoyed without the right to a safe environment. This includes the right to water – a right hat is severely challenged in Nigeria. Indeed, due to the centrality of the potable water and water for sanitation the United Nations recognised water as a human right on 28 July 2010 through Resolution 64/292.[19]

Although the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria has some provisions on the environment, the provisions are in Chapter II as part of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of State policy. Provisions made under this chapter are not justiciable. In the words of a respected Chief Judge, “Nigerian citizens have no rights whatsoever to invoke this provision to challenge and enforce public violation of environmental rights.”[20] The Judge, as well as the 2014 National Confab, recommended that the environmental objectives of State under Chapter II of the constitution should be transferred to the justiciable rights under the chapter with fundamental rights in the constitution.

The environmental provisions in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights[29] has been seen as a possible way to make up for the lack of justiciable provisions for environmental rights in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. In the case of Sanni Abacha v. Gani Fawehinmi, the Supreme Court ruled that the provisions of the African Charter are integral parts of the laws of Nigeria based on the fact that Nigeria’s National Assembly had domesticated the Charter as “the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.[30]

Of particular relevance to our discourse is Article 24 of the African Charter which provides the overarching environmental justice clause that states,

All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.

Furthermore, Article 21 of the Charter has five sections and dwells on economic independence and the right to the management of natural resources:

  1. All peoples shall freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources. This right shall be exercised in the exclusive interest of the people. In no case shall a people be deprived of it.
  2. In case of spoliation the dispossessed people shall have the right to the lawful recovery of its property as well as to an adequate compensation.
  3. The free disposal of wealth and natural resources shall be exercised without prejudice to the obligation of promoting international economic cooperation based on mutual respect, equitable exchange and the principles of international law.
  4. States parties to the present Charter shall individually and collectively exercise the right to free disposal of their wealth and natural resources with a view to strengthening African unity and solidarity.
  5. States parties to the present Charter shall undertake to eliminate all forms of foreign economic exploitation particularly that practiced by international monopolies so as to enable their peoples to fully benefit from the advantages derived from their national resources.

In terms of modern legislation on environmental issues, Nigeria was in slumber until the toxic waste dumping incident that occurred at Koko, Delta State (then in Bendel State) in 1988. The response of government to the incident where unscrupulous persons shipped in toxic wastes from Italy led to the creation of the now defunct Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) and a number of environmental policies and laws, including the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Decree 86 of 1992. There are also a number of government agencies saddled with the responsibility of ensuring good environmental behaviour. The key agencies include the National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and National oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). Everything said, Nigerians have laws and agencies that they can depend on in efforts to protect the environment and to secure justice with regard to the state of the environment.

From researches, and from casual observation, the major challenge facing the regulatory institutions with regard to the Niger Delta include poor funding as well as administrative conflicts amongst the government agencies, poor funding of the agencies, poor quality of available information and poor communication of information on the state of the Niger Delta environment.[31]

MIRED IN CRUDE

Many of the laws that have particular focus on the oil industry were promulgated in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These include:

  • Mineral Oils (Safety) Regulations, 1963
  • Oil in Navigable Waters Act No. 34, 1968
  • Oil in Navigable Waters Regulations 1968
  • Petroleum 1967; Petroleum Decree (Act) 1969
  • Petroleum (Drilling and Production) Regulations 1969
  • Petroleum (Drilling and Production Amendment) Regulations 1973 and
  • Petroleum Refining Regulation 1974.

The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) established the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria (EGASPIN).[32] The DPR writes on its website that they are “required to ensure that petroleum industry operators do not degrade the environment in the course of their operations. To effectively carry out these regulatory activities, the Department has been developing environmental guidelines and standards since 1981. These cover the control of the pollutants from the various petroleum exploration, production and processing operations.” As it turned out from the assessment of the Ogoni environment by the United Nations Environment Programme, the complicit oil companies did not adhere to the stipulates of the DPR, and they did not adhere to either international or their in-house standards. This disposition again reminds of the problematic situation that arises when nations depend on private entities, driven by the profit motive, for the extraction of single or few natural resources. The pressure to extract for foreign exchange earnings, the drive for consumer cargoes from abroad and often inbuilt lack of transparency all translate to unregulated or poorly regulated activities.

A consideration of the fact that most of these laws were enacted by autocratic military governments and within the context of a civil war,[33] and centrist governance structures, makes it easy to see why enforcement did not, and still do not, place the people and the environment as central concerns. Conflict situations somehow instigate more unregulated resource exploitation because the resources get extracted to pay war bills and to satisfy the deep pockets of arms dealers and other purveyors of violence within the petro-military complex.

The oil field communities of the Niger Delta provide disturbing pictures of utter erasure of heritage. The dastard pollution of the Niger Delta environment by oil spills, sundry toxic wastes and gas flares show what happens when monetary considerations trump the concerns for life and the environment. The story of the Niger Delta has been one of downward slide since the first oil commercially viable oil well was sunk in 1956. To underscore the depth of prodigal and wasteful utilisation of our environmental resources, the Niger Delta ranks as one of the top ten most polluted places on earth. Hundreds of oil spills occur yearly and thousands of sites remain to be cleaned and restored. The pollution of the environment is so pervasive that the new normal is that people breathe contaminated air, drink obviously polluted water and farm polluted lands and harvest and eat poisoned crops. The truth is that when our people remain stuck in the pollution it is simply because they are trapped in the vice-grip of poverty in the midst of plenty.

With the world view that the environment is our life, the people were deeply jolted by the arrival of mindless pollution in their communities. Complaints and calls for dialogue over the rising spectre were largely ignored. When the oil companies could not continue to shrug off the concerns raised by the people over the routine oil spills and gas flares their response was to blame the oil spills on sabotage or third party interferences. As for the wasteful and toxic gas flares, the explanation was that the practice became industry practice because at the take-off of the sector in Nigeria there was no market for natural gas. There are three options for handling the associated gas that has been flared over the decades in the Niger Delta. One is to reinject the gas into the wells. Second is to utilise the gas for energy or electricity production. The third option is to simply flare or burn the gas. This third option is what has been done here despite a law abolishing it since 1984.

One important thing is to note how oil companies see our environment. Many oil fields are named after wildlife and fish endemic or important to the communities in which they are located. This may not coincidental. Some of the oil fields are named after animal, fish and insect species such as Ebok (monkey), Okwok (bee) and Bonga (fish). It appears to be a conscious or unconscious acknowledgement that with the decimation of the species, the names of the oil and gas fields may secure the memories of what once was the ecological heritage of the people.

Today the Niger Delta is associated with violence, neglect and massive pollution. Huge sums of money have been sunk into the region to little impact. Efforts justifiably continue to be focussed on provision of basic infrastructure – roads, electricity and buildings for health centres. As good as these are, they don’t address the critical reality of environmental and cultural degradation which eliminate the webs that support the lives of the people.

The restoration of the basic fabrics of life support is what Ken Saro-Wiwa and the heroic peoples of the Niger Delta have fought and died for. The entry of local persons into the business of pollution (including especially bush refining of crude oil) and the current resurgence of violence are manifestations of the festering wounds inflicted by oil extraction and the ecological negligence of both the government and the oil companies. It is a malignant sore that requires deep surgical responses, not through military might, but through carefully crafted, people-driven, organic responses. The Ogoni clean-up programme and the eventual clean-up of the entire Niger Delta is a much-needed step in the right direction. The exercise should be a template for the environmental auditing and remediation of the highly trashed Nigerian environment.

WASTES

Much has been said about converting waste to wealth and there is truth in it. It is also true that in an age of products being made with in-built obsolescence, we are probably generating more waste than should be otherwise necessary. Those who can afford to, take delight in changing mobile phones, laptop computers, diverse electronics and cars frequently. Most of the wastes are not handled professionally. The story is the same whether we are speaking of medical wastes, e-wastes or military wastes. The hierarchies of wastes ranging from domestic wastes to highly toxic wastes require varying levels of handling, treatment and disposal. We have the tendency to think that once any waste is thrown into the gutter, gully, canal, lagoon, creeks or rivers, they have been adequately disposed of. The mind-set is that once trash is not in our backyard it has been taken care of. How wrong can we get!

What can we say concerning our predilection to the use of plastic bags that are carelessly dumped in our environment? Citizens insist on receiving everything they buy in plastic bags as though they were the very epitome of perfect packaging. Even our foods (pounded yam, garri, fufu, etc.) are wrapped and served in plastics without regard to their toxicity and the problems associated with their disposal. It is time to ban these plastic bags as they clog our drainage systems, litter our environment and pose threats to wildlife.

We hardly consider that poorly disposed of waste end up poisoning both our surface and ground water. Some of these wastes end up promoting the growth of invasive species that clog our water ways, degrade our wetlands and generally erode our heritage. Besides, increasing urbanisation, land speculation and poor planning continues to permit sand filling of wetlands, and even sea fronts, in our mad dash to cementify our environment. The cementification of our wetlands through the construction of exotic housing estates may be appear like unavoidable way of bridging the housing shortage in the country, but the loss of wetlands and natural drainage basins constitute time bombs that would blow up when the floods come in this era of rapidly changing climate.

The cavalier disposition to waste management is a result of the loss of our ecological heritage of sound environmental behaviour and general stewardship care for Nature and our relatives –  the other species and beings on planet Earth.

IN CONCLUSION: WE ARE OUR HERITAGE PROTECTORS

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, brothers, sisters and friends, permit us to bring this lecture to a close with a few points on which we must open up new conversations.

Unless we know our heritage, we may not know what we have lost and are losing. There is an urgent need for an inventory of environmental assets in Nigeria. We urgently need to institute a regular assessment of the state of the Nigerian environment as a means of revealing threats and fashioning the means for tackling the threats. The last assessment was almost a decade ago, and it was more or less an inconclusive exercise.

Beyond the environmental audit, a programme for national environmental remediation should be mapped out and commenced. We believe that this would not only assure us of a healthy environment, but would be a veritable means of creating jobs and rebuilding livelihoods.

Communities should be empowered to manage our forests. They have the knowledge and the passion to preserve local biodiversity as well as the customs and traditions associated with such forests. Threats of displacement of forest communities without free prior informed consent and without regard to climate impacts, endangerment of biodiversity and destruction of watersheds must end. Deforestation for any reason, must be halted. Trees and associated ecosystems cannot be replaced by planting two or more saplings for every one established tree felled. Trees are not carbon stocks and forests are not a mere collection of trees. Forests are arenas of life and theatres of culture.

Nigerians are very proud of our culinary diversities. A map of our agricultural and food systems indicates a solid basis of our strength and unity in diversity. There is a rapidly emerging threat to our agriculture and food systems, and this is coming especially with the opening of the doors to flood Nigeria with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA). Within a year of the NBMA Act coming into effect, the agency received and rapidly issued permits to Monsanto to bring in genetically modified cotton as well as two varieties of maize. Although GMOs are presented as a panacea to hunger and malnutrition, these claims have not been shown to be true in reality. On the other hand, Nigeria can be sure of rapid erasure of crop varieties once the genetically modified ones are released into the environment and this directly threatens our food sovereignty, environmental and human health, as well as culinary heritage. Varieties that have been developed by our farmers and preserved over the centuries should not be lost simply to enhance corporate profit portfolios. These varieties thrive with agro-toxics and operate in monocultures and present the spectre of land grabs, land use changes, deforestation and displacement of farmers and communities. We use this forum to call for the reversal of permits issued to Monsanto and the restriction of genetic engineering to laboratories in the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and universities. We cannot afford the risks and health/environmental challenges associated with the needless GMOs. National interest must trump other considerations.

We should not end without stressing that public agencies responsible for protecting our environment and related artefacts should be adequately funded and supported to perform their duties. If this is not done, we may as well be in dreamland concerning halting our prodigal destruction and consumption of our inheritance.

Our ecological heritage is closely bound to our cultural heritage. Protecting and preserving our environment is the duty of every Nigerian. We all have the duty of bequeathing our environmental legacy to future generations. Consume less, protect more, replenish the Earth. It is time to halt our profligate tendencies and think beyond ourselves. The proverb says: he that burns his father’s house inherits ashes. We certainly do not want that.

Notes

[1] Guest lecture at the 18th Bassey Andah Memorial Lecture hosted by the Bassey Andah Foundation at Transcorp Hotels, Calabar, Nigeria on Saturday 21st January 2017.

[2] Merriam-Webster dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heritage

[3] Holy Bible. Luke 15:11-19

[4] IIED. Markets and payments for environmental services. See at http://www.iied.org/markets-payments-for-environmental-services

[5] UNEP. 2008. Paymets for Ecosystem Services: Getting Started – A Primer. http://www.unep.org/pdf/PaymentsForEcosystemServices_en.pdf

[6] UNEP.2008. culled from Daily, Gretchen (Editor). 1997. Nature’s Services. Washington D.C., USA: Island Press.

 

[7] WCS. 06 December 2016.STUDY: Global habitat loss still rampant across much of the Earth. https://newsroom.wcs.org/News-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/9426/STUDY-Global-habitat-loss-still-rampant-across-much-of-the-Earth.aspx

[8] Nnimmo Bassey.2016. Oil Politics – Echoes of Ecological Wars. Daraja Press p.68

[9] DemandClimateJustice. 2 January 2016. The World at 1oC – 2016. https://medium.com/@DemandClimateJustice/the-world-at-1-c-2016-f2edd7ed6795#.lxlfa8t8v

 

[10] Michael Slezak. 14 June 2016. “Revealed: first mammal species wiped out by human-induced climate change”. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/14/first-case-emerges-of-mammal-species-wiped-out-by-human-induced-climate-change

[11] Nicholas Kristof. 6 January 2017. As Donald Trump Denies Climate Change, These Kids Die of It. http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/opinion/sunday/as-donald-trump-denies-climate-change-these-kids-die-of-it.html?_r=0

[12] Katy Migiro. 28 November 2016. Thirsty Somalis trek 60 km for water as drought and conflict bite. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-aid-idUSKBN13N11H

[13] Save Virunga. 9.1.17.

[14] Friday Olokor.27 December 2016. “Army will turn Sambisa to training ground- Buratai”, Lagos,  The Punch http://punchng.com/army-will-turn-sambisa-training-ground-buratai/

[15] Hindi Livinus. 05.01.17. FG should develop Gashaka-Gumti Games Reserves or risk its turning into another Sambisa – Taraba governor. http://www.cityvoiceng.com/fg-should-develop-gashaka-gumti-games-reserves-or-risk-its-turning-into-another-sambisa-taraba-governor/

 

 

[16] Ekuri Community. March 2016. “Cross River Super Highway destroys the forests and lives of the Ekuri people and thousands of others.” Press Statement

[17] See at http://www.environewsnigeria.com/buhari-demand-answers-questions-super-highway-project/

[18] Okokori Traditional Rulers Council. 13th February 2016. “Re: Notice of Revocation of Rights of Occupancy for Public Purpose Land Use Act 1978: Our Collective Position.”

[19] http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml

[20] Hon Justice B. A. Njemanze – former Chief Judge of Imo State. “The Environmental Objectives of the State Under the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria – An Alternative Way Ahead.”- a paper submitted to the Environment Committee of the 2014 National Confab.

[21] Constitution of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, 1994 Article 44

[22] Constitution of Kenya, 2010 Article 42. Sections 69-72 further detail means of enforcement of these provisions.

[23] Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1997 Article 24

[24] Constitution of the Republic of Cape Verde, 1992 Article 69

[25] Constitution of the Republic of Mali, 1992 Article 15

[26] Constitution of the Republic of Cape Verde, 1992 Article 15

[27] Constitution of the Republic of Congo, 1992 Article 54

[28] Constitution of the Republic of Angola, 1992, Article 24

[29] See at http://www.humanrights.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/African-Charter-on-Human-and-Peoples-Rights.pdf

[30] the African Charter on Human and peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act – CAP. A 9 L.F.N. 2004

[31] Obinna Okafor. September 2011. The State of Environmental Monitoring in Nigeria and Ways to Improve it: Case Study of Niger Delta. Wageningen University: MSc Thesis. Accessed at https://www.academia.edu/909562/The_State_of_Environmental_Monitoring_in_Nigeria_and_Ways_to_Improve_It_Case_Study_of_Niger_Delta

[32] See at https://dpr.gov.ng/index/egaspin/

[33] Biafra-Nigeria civil war