Extractivism’s Ecological Time Bombs

Extractivism is deeply  linked to ecological damage and negation of human rights

Ecological damage because it disrupts ecosystems, from the simple case of conversion of land use to the fragmentation of biodiversity and destruction of habitats. The following Human rights are directly negated: Right to water. Right to food. Right to dignity and the overall right to a safe environment (Art 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights). Forced displacements and loss of housing as well as cultural and spiritual freedoms.

We are contending with both human rights abuses, and the rights of Mother Earth. Mother Earth has a right to be free from disruption of her natural cycles. Pollution of water bodies (streams, rivers, lakes, ocean) affects diverse species and has led to extensive extinctions and disrupts the cycles of nature. In the climate change negotiations there are contentious debates over reparations for Loss and Damage for remediation and restoration of extensive environmental and infrastructure harms. Some of these harms are extensive and may be irreparable and constitute ecocide.

Oil and gas

International Oil Companies (OICs)have been divesting and selling their onshore and near offshore assets to Domestic Oil Companies (DOCs) since the Local Cintent Act of 2010. By selling or divesting they seek to avoid;

  1. Decommissioning and removing unused or derelict infrastructure 
  2. Upgrading of poorly maintained facilities
  3. Liability for decades of environmental , socio-economic and human rights violations. We note that both Nigerian and international law hold that, regardless of any subsequent transfer of assets, liability remains the responsibility of those causing the injury. They could equally be held liable for damage that occur post-divestment if such arise from integrity issues that was not disclosed. 
  4. Clean up and restoration of the environment. 

The heavy dependence of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) on IOCs and oil revenue has inexorably entrenched the non-transparent, corrupt, and strategically dysfunctional petroleum sector. This is the core enabler of the sort of reckless corporate behaviour that pervades the sector and by extension the nation. This misbehaviour has rendered  the relevant regulatory agencies either impotent or complicit in the malaise. 

Environmental Timebombs 

There are wellheads, manifolds, flow stations, and pipelines that ought to be decommissioned and removed from communities across the Niger Delta by the IOCs and the NNPC. Nigerian law and regulation requires proper Decommissioning, Abandonment and removal of all unused oil facilities to best international standards, these requirements are often ignored. This happens also in the solid minerals sector as evidenced by the abandoned tin mines of Jos and the coal mines of Enugu. Across the world, there are an estimated 29 million abandoned oil & gas wells, that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to properly secure. 

These derelict facilities constitute threats to ecosystem impacts, groundwater contamination and human health. They are time bombs that have already started to explode. Examples include the blow out in November 2021 of Aiteo’s Nembe/Santa Barbara Well-1 in the Santa Barbara River in OML 29 (Bayelsa State). The Santa Barbara blow out raged for 39 days, and official/industry estimate was that less than 5,000 barrels was spilled. Independent experts estimated that over 500,000 barrels  of hydrocarbon fluids, gas and oil were spilled in the monumental incident.  Numerous well head leaks are recorded across the region. Another notorious incident that occurred in recent times is that of the aged Trinity Spirit FSPO  that exploded and sank in February 2022. 

The Ignore Fire

Ororo-1 is a well located off the Awoye coast, OndonState, in shallow water Oil Mining Lease (OML) 95. 

The Ororo-1 well has a long and checkered history. This oil well was first drilled by Chevron oil company but was shut off in the 1980s with a steel plug due to pressure issues, according to reports. The well was awarded as a marginal field to Guarantee Petroleum and its partner Owena Oil & Gas Ltd (an Ondo State company) in 2003 but the award was allegedly revoked in 2019 because the company had not developed and brought the field to full production before expiration of an extension period that elapsed in April 2019. Owena Oil & Gas Ltd filled a lawsuit against the DPR over the revocation.

Interestingly, the well was re-entered  by the new “owners” in 2020 and the horrific blowout occurred on 15 May 2020. Note that the well was re-entered decades after it had been plugged by Chevron. The Nigerian government effectively took ownership of (controlling) the fire since it had revoked the rights of Guarantee Petroleum to the field by the time of the disaster.

Experts suspect that the blow out occurred due to a sudden rush of hydrocarbons under high pressure and the failure of both the Blow Out  Preventer (BOP) for the main well bore and the BOP between the pipe and the skin of the well. The blowout which occurred on the Hydraulic Work over rig (Grace-1 HWU) hired by Gaurantee Petroleum has been accompanied by oil spill and a constant inferno since the blow out.

It is clear that the abuse of our environments for economic gains through extractivism translates to trampling on our rights to dignity, to safe food, to potable water and to life. What shall it profit a government or even the people if you own all the petrodollars in the world, all the gold in the vaults, all the coal in the shafts and all the crude oil in the pipes, and yet you cannot breathe?

We demand our right to life. This is why the Ororo-1 well fire must be extinguished. Now!  This is why our environment must be detoxified. Now!

Presentation at HOMEF’s Ororo-1 Documentary Screening & Policy Dialogue on 27 November 2023

Will COP28 Play With Fire?

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has again issued an Emissions Gap Report that underscores the fact that the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the linchpin of the Paris agreement is not leading away from the climate precipice but is rather increasing the speed to a catastrophic plunge. While nations offer to do what is convenient, the world has experienced the hottest dark, weeks, months, and years in history. In simple terms, the world is breaking the global heating record daily. The UNEP report shows that if nations do what they offer in their NDCs the World is a reading to temperature increase of 2.5 or 3.0 C. The alarm has been sounding over the years and now we are staring a temperature increase that would be 100% above the sexy 1.5C target by set the Paris Agreement.

COP28 seems set to be a hollow ritual of climate action avoidance while nations hoist scarecrows that are mere totems to indolence. This prognosis may seem harsh, but from the vocations weather events recorded in recent months, increased water stress, desertification, floods and droughts, there is no way to sugar coat the climate vinegar we are serving ourselves.

It is sad that we are forced to attribute agency to all humans when we see climate change as a marker of an anthropogenic age. We should be fair to the millions that are vulnerable to climate impacts but have contributed nothing to the crisis. It has been argued that the climate harming actions were not taken by a majority of humans and placing the blame on everyone is unfair. It can be said that the basic justice principle of the UNFCCC, the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) attempted to address the fact that everyone is not equally responsible for wrecking the planet. The “common” underscores the fact that there is a causative commonality because no matter how minuscule the contribution may be, every living human exhale carbon dioxide and that most likely ascends into the atmosphere if it is not trapped by the trees, soils, or ocean. Adopting or accepting the principle demands that those who contributed the most to the crisis should also take responsibility for the consequences. To underscore this, the Emissions Gap report sums up that “emissions remain unequally distributed within and between countries, reflecting global patterns of inequality”.

The Emissions Gap report, one of the most appropriately titled reports, shows the chasm between emissions cut pledges and climate outcome prospects. The latest report shows that several points of no return will be reached if temperature increases climb as projected. Some of these changes would include the rapid melting of the ice sheets and the drying out of the Amazon forests. This would mean that, for humans, large parts of the world will be uninhabitable.

COP28 marks the halfway between 2021 and 2030 when the world’s governments should have done enough to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C (or well below 2C) above pre-industrial levels. The COP will thus be a moment for taking inventory of what has been done, not done, or must be done. This inventory is termed a stocktake. A Land Gap Report by scientists from the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Climate Resource examined updated NDC pledges and found that high emitting, high-income countries heavily rely on land use to offset their emissions. Australia, Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, account for about 75% of the total land required for this mathematical carbon offsetting. These land use carbon offsetting would require about 1 billion hectares of land mostly for tree planting to implement their mitigation pledges. Pledges of this sort ignore scientific and ecological principles and compounds the multiple crises the world is mired in by the encouragement of land grabbing, displacement of indigenous people, threats to food security as well as livelihoods, and ecosystems disruption.

The agenda for this catastrophe was set by the voluntary approach to emissions reduction adopted by both the Copenhagen Accord and the Paris Agreement. The adoption of a voluntary emissions reduction pathway is a direct subversion of both climate science and justice. The logic of science has been used to show the carbon budget as well as the temperature rise trajectory. However, the illogic of geopolitics has seen powerful nations backtracking from serious commitments and actions. This has expectedly driven the gap between equity and fair share wider by the day. Can COP28 afford to ignore the fact that we are hurtling to the precipice or to the canyon, as framed by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres? It will be foolhardy to ignore the call by the Secretary-General that leaders recognize the fact that “We are off the road” and “must reverse course” from coal, oil, and gas.

What does a reversing of course mean? Obviously, the COPs have been bogged down in the rut and reversing the course away from fossil fuels has been made to appear as “mission impossible”. Humans appear to have imaginations that are difficult to change once firmly imprinted on the plates of our minds. Imagination, ease, and greed appear to be three weights firmly placed on the neck of the Mother Earth to ensure that her discomfort is muffled, and our consciences are thus freed to fly over the edges of the climate canyon. To reverse course means turning our backs on coal, oil, and fossil gas. Our affinity to carbon makes this divorce difficult to comprehend or effect. If you do not see that tie, it means that you have forgotten that we are made largely of carbon

The Emissions Gap report reveals that temperatures already topped 1.5C for 86 days this year. The report also warns that the chance of keeping to 1.5C limit of the Paris Agreement is a slim 14 percent and will require deep emissions cuts by the big polluters. With this prognosis, it appears that COP28 will be a flaming COP. It may also be an avenue for a ritualistic elegy for a planet whose inhabitants fiddle while the flames leap to the rafters. 


Time to Build Solidarity, not Walls

I thank the Chancellor and President, and the entire family of York University for the great honour being extended to me today. 

Being born at a time we were at the edge of breaking free from colonialism, the notion of independence was built early into my psyche. Growing up in innocence and being sucked into a season of violent secession was both disruptive and traumatic. This was a season of disruption of my primary education and it yielded an age-long struggle to figure out what was missed in the traumatic gaps of forced migration and survival as a refugee within my country.

Seasons are episodic otherwise they would not be seasons. At the end of the Biafra-Nigeria civil war, I was already severely scarred by the sights of horrible human rights abuses, man’s inhumanity to man, hunger, disease, cries of men pleading for their lives and several other stressors. War games were not video games, but games played with actual bones, fire and gunpowder. Bones of once gallant men who signed up to fight their brothers against whom they had no personal grouse. Today, more investment is being made in warfare, armaments, and destruction than in building resilience and wellbeing in the world.

My early years were wrapped by tales of resilience and charismatic anti-colonial fighters in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Angola and South Africa. It was a time of learning of the martyrdom of Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Steve Biko, Amilca Cabral, Thomas Sankara and others.

Meanwhile my country was under serial authoritarian military dictatorship and as a young adult I could not escape being a part of the human rights and anti dictatorship movement. Whereas I thought that was the zenith of standing against injustices, more graphic examples were unfolding beneath the radar.

The wheels of oppression at home were literally oiled by crude oil and sundry extractivist activities. Capital trumped concerns for the health of Mother Earth and her children. Complaints against the destruction of the ecosystems and livelihoods were met with brute force. Whole communities were sacked or crushed. Oil spills and heinous routine gas flaring pumped cocktails of noxious elements and gases into the environment, birthing cancers, birth defects, breathing diseases and cutting life expectancy to a mere whisper. 

It was at this time that Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni leaders stood out and called for environmental Justice. Later we learned from Saro-Wiwa’s last writings before his judicial murder that the organizing energy rose from the conviction that “silence was treason” in the face of the debilitating pollution!

The judicial murders and assault on communities were the red lines the dictatorship crossed that set me on a lifelong journey of standing for environmental rights as the key basis for the enjoyment of the right to life. It has been quite a journey loaded with inescapably fixing one’s attention on environmental horrors, some of which are unimaginable and indescribable. While the journey has been mostly across the African continent and the sacrifice zones of the global south, we cannot fail to acknowledge the resistance and resilience of our relatives in the global north who face similar circumstances and continue to fight for environmental justice, dignity and basic rights in the efforts to decolonize their territories. 

Extractivism threatens both people and planet. Its roots can be seen in every facet of the polycrisis pushing the world to the brink. Fossil fuel corporations, for one, invest so much to alter and control global imaginaries and have so far succeeded as policy makers believe that there is no other way to drive “growth”. Yet, it is clear we cannot afford lineal growth on a finite planet. While record temperatures, wildfires, floods and other stressors rage across the world, leaders are engrossed in xenophobic nationalism, building barriers against climate refugees and promoting fictional or false and risky climate solutions. They stick their tongues out and sneer: we can pollute and then engage in carbon removal; rather than adopt agroecology (which builds healthy soils      and cools the planet)and support small scale fathers who actually feed the world, we will whiten the clouds, hang up mirrors and sunshades in the sky to lower the global temperature.

We are not surprised that carbon trading is the clarion call and Africa is emerging as a huge carbon sink in what may well be a neocolonial continent grab. An exploitative market cannot be the solution of a crisis created by the market.

It is a big honour for me to stand before you today. It is clearly a celebratory moment for me. However, a life entwined with that of my peoples is inevitably coated by a cloud of rage. As I look at the hopeful faces in this auditorium I plead that you never allow anything or anyone to steal your joy or to dim your hope. In May 2023, Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, one of the most polluted places on planet Earth, released through its Environment and Oil Commission, a report somberly titled Environmental Genocide. The report, among other things, revealed that the per capita pollution in the state stands at one and a half barrels of crude oil. Rather than being aghast by such a revelation the world has been loudly silent. We hear talks of decarbonizing economies at a time we should be depetrolizing the ebbing civilization and detoxifying the sacrifice zones.

The milestones in my journey and the successes in the midst of continual battles have come by the resilience of the peoples and communities. We see expanding movements and readiness of communities to suffer inconveniences today for the sake of building a sane future for those yet unborn. I have seen the power of traditional wisdom and cultural production in building hope and strengthening alliances against oppression. Talking about cultural production, poetry has been a therapeutic tool for me. Through poetry we capture the past and present and construct the future. It is a tool that exposes folly, elicits action and provides strength even in difficult moments. 

This is not a time to walk alone. Belonging to the York University family offers a layer of strength, not just for me but for my constituencies. This is indeed a time to stand together to demand justice in all circumstances, to call for an end to ecocide, to build solidarity and not walls and to restore hope in our time. I dedicate this honour to the martyrs of extractivism and environmental defenders everywhere.

On being conferred with an honorary doctorate at the convocation ceremony at York University, Toronto, Canada, 13 October 2023.

Environmental History of Nigeria 101


The environmental history of Nigeria unfortunately is not a story filled with the rich biodiverse tropical rainforests of the Niger Delta or the cascading rich vegetation of the Sahel savanna but rather one marred with bloodshed, exploitation, pollution, death, destruction, and devastation. There was no agency in Nigeria that was saddled with the task of policing the environment until after the discovery in 1988 of toxic wastes that were dumped in Koko,[1] a town in Delta State Nigeria. Before then, Nigeria responded to most environmental problems on an ad hoc basis, with citizens largely bearing the weight of impacts and responses. The Koko incident woke the nation to the need for planned and coordinated action and led to the creation of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency 1988 (FEPA) through Decree 58. The agency was charged with the administration and enforcement of environmental laws.  

Due to the inadequacy of existing laws for environmental protection prior to the Koko Toxic Waste Dump saga, one of the relevant decrees enacted by the then military government was the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions, etc) Decree 42.[2]

Over the years, from I988 till present day, As Nigeria has grown in population, economy and politically, it also seems that our environmental problems, challenges have grown also. Indeed, you will find as many environmental problems and challenges as you care to name. Some of these challenges include the following: 

  • Deforestation, illegal logging, bush burning, over grazing.
  • Desertification
  • Industrial pollution, chemical pollution
  • Oil pollution- including oil spills, toxic wastes and gas flaring.
  • Environmental degradation due to laxly regulated mining activities 
  • Solid waste management/medical wastes/electronic wastes/plastics
  • Erosion – gully, coastal, etc.
  • Floods/droughts – most of our cities lack drainage plans and rural communities are at the mercy of the elements.
  • Water pollution
  • Sanitation
  • Land grabs
  • False climate solutions – agrofuels, REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation)

We can add noise pollution to this list. The somewhat carefree attitude of the citizenry adds to the problems. A casual look around shows plastic water sachets all over most of our cities and at police/military checkpoints on our highways. These non biodegradable materials block drains and generally contaminate the environment. 

Global Logic, Local impacts

Although some measures are taken by the Nigerian government to tackle some of the prevailing environmental challenges there is little to show for these efforts. This happens because the problems are systemic. The inherently anti-people and anti-environment system sees the environment as something to be exploited, used, and discarded rather than as something to be cared for and respected. The market logic that has been fetishised by the apostles of neoliberalism and the gods of the market are presented as incapable of going wrong. The system believes that whatever is needed can be created and whatever is broken can be technologically fixed. It also believes that whatever can be extracted must be extracted and whoever resists must be crushed. 

We should say at this point that the rise of the market has led to a situation where rather than accumulating wealth from excess labour of exploited workers, today profit is made through what some term innovativefinancial instruments. In the environmental sphere some of these have been built on the backs of climate negotiation as well as on the so-called Green or Blue Economy. Economists describe this process as financialization or commodification of Nature

The Green Economy idea itself is premised on the suggestion that nature is best protected when it is assigned a monetary value or when her services are monetised. In other words, it is said that people would not protect or defend Mother Earth except a price tag is placed on it. The sort of questions that are raised before nature is protected would be “what is the Ikogosi Warm Spring (Ekiti State) worth in Naira terms”? If it has a low value, it could be neglected, auctioned or even destroyed. 

According to Pablo Solon, “Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalism. Social and Environmental justice is only possible with system change.”[3] His statement was a response to Jerry Muller’s article which we quote:

In recent decades, developments in technology, finance, and international trade have generated new waves and forms of insecurity for leading capitalist economies, making life increasingly unequal and chancier for not only the lower and working classes but much of the middle class as well. The right has largely ignored the problem, while the left has sought to eliminate it through government action, regardless of the costs. Neither approach is viable in the long run. Contemporary capitalist polities need to accept that inequality and insecurity will continue to be the inevitable result of market operations and find ways to shield citizens from their consequences — while somehow still preserving the dynamism that produces capitalism’s vast economic and cultural benefits in the first place.[4]

Globalisation often manifests in the movement of goods and services. The driving geopolitical forces are sometimes hidden because the faces that are visible are the international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Funds. This is why the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the 1980s and the so-called Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) are seen as the sins of the IMF and the WB whereas there are political superstructures behind these entities. 

The SAPs threw our country and other African nations into the debt trap.[5]  Futile attempts to escape the traps are premised on efforts to make these payments from exploitation of natural resources for exports. Because the prices of those commodities are set remotely, they are sometimes so low that raising reasonable revenue necessitates deeper and more drastic exploitation of natural resources. In such desperate situations environmental concerns are the least worries of neoliberal and predatory governments. 

There is a direct link between environmental protection and politics. The more inclusive of the people a system is, the more environment friendly the government would be.  According to the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize for environmental activism, the late Wangari Maathai, 

What we’ve learned in Kenya–the symbiotic relationship between the sustainable management of natural resources and democratic governance–is also relevant globally. Indeed, many local and international wars, like those in West and Central Africa and the Middle East, continue to be fought over resources. In the process, human rights, democracy, and democratic spaces are denied[6]

Regarding the Nigerian context, besides other causes, the major reason why massive pollutions are tolerated by government has been because the polluters generate the bulk of the revenue government needs for its activities. We have viciously polluting international oil companies in mind here. In some other areas these manifest as land grabs, displacing local communities from their lands and forests to make way for that thing that poor governments are so addicted to foreign direct investment.

Whenever there appears to be a call for responsible behaviour all the companies do is to threaten to pull out of the oil fields to blackmail governments to withdraw and be content with the oil rents they receive. A recent fad has been the divestment talks, a process which allows transnational oil companies to sell off their assets to Nigerian companies, and aim to by this move avoid responsibilities over the harms suffered by the communities. The divestment moves has been shrouded in such secrecy and it appears even agencies of government are either not respected with regard to the process or are simply ignored. In all cases communities are utterly ignored.

Environmental Laws

It is interesting that the same transnational polluters are closely advising the government on issues that have implications for environmental quality in Nigeria. For example, they sit on the board of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) while they are exempted by law from being regulated themselves. 

Recall that the coming into existence of NESREA effectively repealed the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) Decree 58 of 1988 later amended in Decree 59 of 1992. A quick glance at some of the existing environmental laws and regulations include[7]the following:

  • Environmental Impact Assessment Act 2004
  • The Land Use Act 1979
  • Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act 2004
  • Hydrocarbon Oil Refineries Act 2004
  • Associated Gas re-injection Act 2004
  • The Endangered Species Act 2004
  • Sea Fisheries Act 2004
  • Exclusive Economic Zone Act 2004
  • Oil Pipelines Act 2004
  • Petroleum Products and Distribution (Management Board) Act 2004
  • Territorial Waters Act 2004
  • Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Act 2004
  • Nigerian Mining Corporation Act 2004
  • Quarantine Act 2004
  • River Basins Development Authority Act 2004
  • Pest Control of Production (special powers) Act 2004
  • Agricultural (Control of Importation) Act 2004
  • Animal Diseases (control) Act 2004
  • Bees (Impact Control and Management) Act 2004
  • Civil Aviation Act 2004
  • Factories Act 2004
  • Water Resources Act 2004
  • Hides and Skins Act 2004
  • Federal National Parks Act 2004
  • Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Act.
  • Solid Minerals Act. 2007
  • NOSDRA Act 2005
  • Petroleum Industry Act (2022)

Ecological Crimes and Remediation

It can be said that our more recent environmental laws have been largely reactive. And some actions are taken without enabling laws to ensure suitability and evaluation. Here we have in mind the creation of the Hydrocarbons Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP) one year after the damning report of the assessment of the Ogoni environment by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).[8] The anachronistic name of “Pollution Restoration’ was changed to “Pollution Remediation” when a revamped and gazetted Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) was inaugurated in 2016, five years after the UNEP report. The current project coordinator is the 5th to hold that office and it does appear that things are picking up regarding the provision of emergency services (especially potable water) in Ogoniland. HYPREP has had a rapid succession of leadership thus complicating the prospect of achieving the objective of the agency in a timeous manner. 

The UNEP report had highlighted that Ogoniland is highly polluted and that oil spills were never adequately cleaned up. With spills accumulated over the years, water bodies have been contaminated, including ground water having benzene, a carcinogen, up to 900 times above World Health Organisation standards. The report also indicated that hydrocarbon pollution had penetrated the ground to a depth of 5 metres at many places. The enormity of the contamination led to the set-up of HYPREP.

Another key event in official response to ecocide in Nigeria is the release of a report by the Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission in May 2023[9]. Whereas the Ogoni assessment report was paid for by the team of polluters (NNPC, Shell, Agip/Eni, etc), the Bayelsa report was commissioned by the Bayelsa State government and produced by the commission. 

The Bayelsa report revealed an astonishing level of ecological damage in the state. It reports that the state has suffered a per capita pollution of 1.5 barrels and that water bodies have total hydrocarbon contamination of up to 1 million times above safe limits. A snippet from the report helps here:

The historic and continued activities of the oil industry have fueled an environmental emergency, a silent health crisis, and deep economic hardship. This overwhelming tide of oil contamination has turned the Niger Delta – home to some of the planet’s largest mangroves and freshwater swamps, forests, and Africa’s largest wetlands – into one of the most polluted places on Earth.

As much as 40 percent of the mangrove forests have been lost.

‍The human impact has been just as devastating. One study estimates that in 2012 alone, oil spills in Nigeria, and predominantly in the Niger Delta resulted in over 16,000 additional neonatal deaths. Community after community has seen their livelihoods damaged by oil contamination.[10]

Environmental Damage Foretold

The environmental crisis in the world today has gone so deep that we can almost say that the world is facing a real possibility of massive ecological collapse.  This is not far-fetched because it is already known that available planetary resources cannot sustain the current rate of consumption. With the reality of peak oil has come the rise of extreme extraction. Humanity is working to show that resources and lifestyles can be sustained or stretched no matter the cost – even if it means scraping the bottom of the planet. 

It is common knowledge that various sectors of the national economy have suffered gross neglect for decades. The environment has suffered special injury because the implications of certain aspects of the neglect are not immediately visible, as would for example the decay of infrastructures such as road buildings, water supplies and telecommunications.  Sometimes policy makers simply act as though they expect that the problems would disappear on their own. That has never happened to mountains of refuse. They don’t happen with polluted streams. They don’t happen with oil spills in waterways and farmlands. They don’t happen at the local or global levels. 

A rough estimate of the amount of oil spills that have been experienced, and is still being experienced, has been out at about an equivalent to one Exxon Valdez spill per year for more than six decades. The Exxon Valdez spill occurred at Alaska in 1989. Several well blowouts have been recorded over the decades, including Texaco’s (Chevron) Funiwa 5 well blowout of January 1980 which spilled 400,000 barrels of crude and another blowout and rig fire at the same field in January 2012. In recent years we have been witnesses to the AITEO well blowout at Nembe in November 2021 with an estimated 300,000 barrels of crude oil dumped into the environment and the explosion and sinking of an aged and unlicensed floating, storage and production vessel (FSPO Trinity) off the coast of Ondo State in February 2022. One largely ignored well blowout is the one at the Ororo-1 field. This well blow out occurred in April 2020 and has been burning and spilling crude non-stop for over two years now.[11]

The truth that we have only one Earth and the fact that our environment is deeply interconnected is being played out in the web of crises confronting the world today. They may appear not to be closely linked but a close look shows that there are strands revealing that they are held together by a clear logic. This logic pertains to reinforced fields of perception in which transactional actions have shut out the doors of transformational actions. Nature’s resources belong to nature. When humans term them “natural resources” the implication is that these resources occur naturally and can thus be grabbed or taken by the quickest, the strongest and the most brazen.

Resolving or at least tackling the endemic environmental problems requires that we critically review the root causes of some of these problems as well as the political filters through which we view them. Anything short of this means that we simply skirt the problems or at best tackle the symptoms while the problems fester and eventually develop into catastrophic proportions. Some policy makers, for example, consider the number one task of safeguarding the environment to be the demolition of so-called illegal structures and informal settlements, even though we know our cities cannot survive without them.

What Must be Done?

1. Declare a National Environmental Emergency 

2. Conduct a national environmental audit and establish a management plan

3. Detoxify the Nigerian environment, remediate and restore all areas impacted by hydrocarbon pollution.

4. Ecological Funds should be strictly monitored and used to remediate or restore damaged environment.

5. Massive reforestation programme across the nation.

6. At least 10% of national budget set aside for number 2-5 mentioned above 

7. Coherence brought in between government structures to ensure convergence of efforts

8. Stop gas flares. Invest in socialised and decentralised renewable energy systems. 

9. Halt new oil concessions and install meters at appropriate points to determine outflows from flow stations.

10. Produce an annual State of Nigerian Environment Report to ensure that the issues are addressed and not ignored.


When it is said that the environment is our life, a significant implication is that we are all children of the universe. The sun remains the key source of energy for all creatures. For the survival of living creatures, the water cycle must not be broken. Breaking the vital cycles of nature has dire consequences for all living beings on the planet.

When we strive to defend the Nigerian environment, we are at the same time defending the global environment because we have only one Earth. The fact that we have one earth makes it urgent that we report environmental crimes as soon as they occur. We also must proactively work to ensure that these incidents do not happen. Where they do happen there should be systems of checking and enforcing rulings against environmental crimes including ecocide. 

We have taken a broad look at the environmental challenges confronting us today. We applaud the Historical Society of Nigeria for its consistency over the years and particularly for creating a space for us to touch the environmental state of Nigeria. This is a major step seeing that the environment intersects everything about life. This occasion highlights the need to ensure that that we do not lose our environmental memory. We thank you for giving us the opportunity to be a part of this remembrance.

[1] S. Gozie Ogbodo (January 2009). Environmental Protection in Nigeria: Two Decades After the Koko Incident. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254606931_Environmental_Protection_in_Nigeria_Two_Decades_After_the_Koko_Incident  

[2][2][2] Margaret T. Okorodudu-Fubara (1998). Law of Environmental Protection – Materials and Text. Caltop Publications (Nigeria) Limited, Ibadan.

[3] Pablo Solon. 08.03.2013. Tweeted @pablosolon

[4] Jerry Z. Muller. March/April 2013. Capitalism and Inequality: What the Right and the Left Get Wrong. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/138844/jerry-z-muller/capitalism-and-inequality

[5] For more on this see several books and papers . We recommend Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; Patrick Bond’s Looting Africa and Nnimmo Bassey’s To Cook A Continent – Destructive Extraction and Climate Change in Africa

[6] Chris Williams. 2 April 2013. Imperial Recipes for a Burnt Planet http://socialistworker.org/2013/04/02/recipe-for-a-burnt-planet

[7] See https://elri-ng.org/environmental-law-policies-in-nigeria/.

[8] See the UNEP report at http://www.unep.org/disastersandconflicts/CountryOperations/Nigeria/EnvironmentalAssessmentofOgonilandreport/tabid/54419/Default.aspx

[9] Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission (May 2023). Environmental Genocide. https://report.bayelsacommission.org/chapters/executive-summary   

[10] Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission. ibid

[11] HOMEF (2022). A Call for Justice. https://homef.org/2022/06/23/a-call-for-justice/

Presented at the 68th Conference/Congress of the Historical Society of Nigeria held in Lagos on 8-1 October 2023 

Decolonize our Waters

Colonialism is beyond the political control and exploitation of one nation by another, it extends to relationship with Nature. The colonisation of Nature sees it being exploited and resources being transformed for economic gain without much regard to socio-ecological impacts. This bent has led to myriad problems including climate change, biodiversity loss and conflict. Terminologies such as Green and Blue economy have been coined as fig leaves to actions that seem good but merely provide cover to negatives activities. 
In the School of Ecology held in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, we looked at two key matters, the first being what it would mean to have Marine Protected Areas (MPA). The second issue was connected to the first, and that is the Blue Economy. We considered why the Blue Economy, such a beautiful name, should be a cause for concern.  The term and concept of “economy” has become so pervasive that it is taken as a given that aquatic ecosystems are for nothing other than meeting the ends of capital accumulation through the business of exploitation.
Although Blue Economy is conceptualised as the sustainable management of aquatic and marine resources and ecosystems, anything  done for other than economic profit or power is seen as unreasonable or as not viable. Our concern is to promote the resilience of our ecosystems and secure them from being grabbed by wielders of power and capital. Some people see the promotion of the Blue Economy as a means of securing life under water as highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals. However, there isn’t much life under water coated by layers of crude oil and contaminated to outlandish levels above safe limits. What life is under water in Bayelsa State for example where the recently released report by the Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission reveals that “the concentration of noxious chemicals, such as Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons, exceed safe levels by a factor of  1 million according to some of the samples taken.” 

Environmentalism from below requires that we overturn the notion that environmental concerns are for those who have met their basic needs, are sated, and have the pleasure of thinking of luxuries. We also need to demolish the distorted notion that environmentalism begins and ends with the forcing of citizens to evacuate waste from drainages once a month, only to pike them on the edges of the drainages to be washed back, by the rains, into drainage channels. Environmentalism from below requires those who depend on the environment for their basic needs to stand up to reject attempts for the territories to be appropriated for mindless exploitation by the powerful and connected individuals, governments and corporations. 

Economy ought to be a third or fourth leg of sustainability, but the other legs, social and environment, have been roundly diminished that the table largely stands on one leg. So it is that the Blue or Green Economy are terms that must be taken with a dose of salt. Blue Economy is conceptualised as the extraction of economic value from aquatic ecosystems through deep seabed mining, modern biotechnology, geoengineering, industrial fishing and a variety of other activities. Some of these activities lead to ocean acidification and compound climate change impacts besides outright pollution. This means that after the extreme exploitation of the land, the sea and the sky are the new targets. Just as lands have been demarcated as mining blocs, the same is overtaking the seas. The wellbeing of 200 million Africans who depend on fisheries for food and nutritional security is clearly at risk. 

The implication of the grabbing of our water bodies is that very soon they may be partitioned and claimed as private properties. No doubt once these areas have been claimed, they will become inaccessible to our fisher folks and coastal communities. The partitioning and claiming of aquatic territories may seem far fetched but that is only if we deny that this is happening already. Industrial installations, such as crude oil platforms, command land swathes of territories around them ostensibly as security buffers. Stories from fishers who have tried to move into the high seas in pursuit of their business is that large parts of the continental shelf and beyond are off limits because they have been claimed and literally cordoned off by extractive industries’ installations. Another debilitating factor is that of unregulated industrial fishing in our waters. We have a situation where access to healthy water bodies is becoming more and more difficult by the day due to industrial installations and related pollution. In recent times, we have been witnesses to massive oil spills from blowouts at well heads at Santa Barbara river and at Ororo-1 well; explosion of FSPOs; and the incredibly polluting blowing up of oil laden vessel and burning of bush refineries by the security forces. 

With about 90 percent of sea-based pollution, including plastic wastes, in the Gulf of Guinea traceable to the Niger Delta, it is time for our governments (and ECOWAS) to declare an environmental emergency in the region. We need this in order to ensure that our peoples have a safe environment to carry out their economic, socio-cultural, recreational and spiritual activities. 

One immediate step that must be taken to ensure that our aquatic commons are not enclosed and grabbed is to have community-managed Marine Protected Areas. Such protected areas could cover rivers, creeks, swamps, and continental shelf. The advantages are numerous and deeply connected to the peoples history and socio-cultural outlook. Such people-managed MPAs would see restoration of degraded areas, rebuild biodiversity, revive cultural practices, restore dignity and reinvigorate local economies. In sum, we aim to work together and figure out ways of liberating Nature, from the bottom up.   

Halting Ecological Crimes in Africa

The struggle for environmental justice in Africa is complex and broad. It is the continuation of the fight for the liberation of the continent and for socio-ecological transformation. It is a fact that the environment is our life; the soil, rivers and air are not inanimate or lifeless entities. We are rooted and anchored in our environment. Our roots are sunk into our environment and that is where our nourishment comes from. We do not see the Earth and her bountiful gifts as items that must be exploited, transformed, consumed or wasted. The understanding of the Earth as a living entity and not a dead thing warns that rapacious exploitation that disrupts her regenerative powers are acts of cruelty or Ecocide.  

We bear in mind that colonialism was erected on the right to subjugate, erase or diminish the right to life and the right to unfettered cultural expression of the colonized. In particular, the colonized were dehumanized and literally transformed into zombies working for the benefit of the colonial powers. Ecological pillage was permitted as long as it benefited the colonizers. This ethos has persisted and manifests in diverse forms. Grand theft by the colonial forces was seen as entrepreneurship. Genocide was overlooked as mere conquest. Slavery was seen as commerce. Extractivism was to be pursued relentlessly as any element left unexploited was considered a waste. Anything considered to be lifeless could be wasted with no compunction. So, most things had to die. The civilizers were purveyors of death. Death of individuals. Death of communities. Death of ecosystems. 

Thus, today people still ask: What would we do with the crude oil or fossil gas in our soil if we do not exploit them? In other words, how could we end poverty if we do not destroy our environment and grab all it could be forced to yield? We tolerate deforestation, unregulated industrial fishing and run a biosafety regulation system that promotes the introduction of needless genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and by doing so, endanger our biodiversity and compromise our environment and food systems.

Plunder is presented as inescapable and desired under the cloak of foreign investment. Political leaders in despoiled regions pliantly offer ease of doing business templates, tax holidays, sundry lax rules, and other neocolonial governance policies. The reign of exploitation and consumption without responsibility has driven Africa and indeed the world to the brink. The current civilization of death seeks ready investment in destruction through warfare and extractivism rather than in building resilience and adapting to the environmental changes that result from corporate and imperial misadventures. 

We are in a reign in which condescension is the hallmark of multilateralism. The collective action needed to tackle global warming has been reduced to puny nationally determined contributions that add up to nothing. Rather than recognizing and paying a  clear climate debt, we expend energy negotiating a loss and damage regime to be packaged as a humanitarian gesture. Pray, who negotiates what is offered as charity? 

Today, Africa is facing multiple ecological challenges. All of these have resulted from the actions of entities that have seen the continent as a sacrificial zone. While the world has come to the conclusion that there must be an urgent shift from dependence on fossil fuels, we are seeing massive  investments for the extraction of petroleum resources on the continent. And we must say that this investment comes with related infrastructure for the export of these resources out of the continent in a crass colonial pattern. A mere 1 percent of the labour force in the extractive sector in Africa are Africans. A mere 5 percent of investment in the sector is in Africa. More than 85 percent of the infrastructure for fossil gas in the continent is for export purposes. 

The shift to renewable energy brings the same old challenges to Africa. Extraction of critical minerals for renewable energy is done without prior consultation with and consent of our people. The continent’s environment is being degraded just as it has been with the extraction of oil/gas, gold, diamond, nickel, cobalt and other solid minerals. The array of solar panels and wind turbines could well become markers of crime scenes if precautionary measures are not taken now. 

Are we against renewable energy? No. They provide the best pathway towards ending the energy deficit on the continent. However, this should be pursued through discrete, autonomous and socialized ownership schemes. 

While the world knows that we must rebuild our biodiversity, what we see is the push towards more deforestation in Africa and for monoculture agriculture, all of which are against our best interest and that of  the world. A sore issue, land grabbing has not disappeared with the coming innovations. 

We have a great array of thinkers to lead the conversation at this conference that should move us resolutely towards environmental justice in Africa. As Eneke the bird said in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, since men have learned to shoot without missing, it would fly without perching. For us, until the despoilers of our environment halt their destructive acts, we will intensify our resistance and never give in to their designs. We believe this conference will not only break the yoke of colonialism, it will puncture the hold of coloniality. Our book, Politics of Turbulent Waters is one of the tools towards these ends.

Ten years ago, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) was birthed from a dream. It was a dream to have a think tank focused on approaching knowledge from the basis of diversity and built on a multiversity of co-learning and co-knowing tools. For ten years, with a team of vibrant and committed young activists, we have pursued knowledge and unearthed the roots of exploitation and despoliation of communities and nations on our continent. We have collaborated and stood with fishing, forest, farming, mining and oil field communities. We have worked as part of networks and movements for environmental and climate justice across the continent and the world at large. Ten years. And we are just starting!

Permit us to conclude with some recommendations and points to ponder. Every African nation should:

1. Commit to issuing an annual State of Environment Report to lay out the situation of things in their territories.

2. End destructive extraction no  matter the appeal of capital.

3. Demand climate debt for centuries of ecological exploitation and harms.

4. Require remediation, restoration of all degraded territories and pay reparations to direct victims or their heirs.

5. Support and promote food sovereignty including by adopting agroecology.

6. Adopt and promote African cultural tools and philosophies for holistic tackling of ecological challenges and for the healing and wellbeing of our peoples and communities.

7. Promote and provide renewable energy in a democratized manner.

8. Recognize our right to water, treat it as a public good, halt and reverse its privatization.

9. Recognize the rights of Mother Earth and codify Ecocide as a crime akin to genocide, war crimes and other unusual crimes.

10. Ensure that all Africans enjoy the right of living in a safe and satisfactory environment suitable for their progress as enshrined in the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.  

Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey at Health of Mother Earth Foundation’s 10th Anniversary Conference with the theme ‘Advancing Environmental Justice in Africa’ held on 19 June 2023 at Abuja, Nigeria. 

For Justice and Dignity

We have just had elections in Nigeria and by 29th May 2023 new persons will step into the saddle of political leadership. Considering the nature of our political system where the major parties are indistinguishable in terms of programmes and organizing ideas, it is a major duty for citizens to make clear demands on the system and to ensure that leaders are held to account based on their promises, declarations, and the constitution.

The Niger Delta Alternatives Convergence (NDAC) as a forum for the fusion of voices on the multi-layered socio-ecological crisis confronting the region provides a platform for the promotion of actions to address the problems. It is our hope that this convergence will not be a hand wringing exercise garnished with a long list of regrets. This must be an agenda setting convergence, and that agenda must include both what we expect of our political leaders and what we must do as citizens on the back of whose votes they have ridden into power.

Socio-ecological issues hardly take the forefront in political discussions in Nigeria. We had to push this with a different kind of presidential Town Hall we co-hosted on the 7th of February 2023 at the University of Abuja. Four presidential candidates participated and brought discussions about the environment to the spotlight highlighting why our environment must no longer being brushed aside in policy circles in Nigeria and Africa.

The challenges of the Niger Delta are well known and have been catalogued in the Willink Commission Report of 1958 and the activities of various agencies set by government with some exhibiting a poor focus on solving those problems but gaining a dubious reputation of being cesspits of corruption. Such agencies include the Niger Delta Development Board (1960), the Oil Minerals Areas Producing Development Commission (1992), Niger Delta Development Commission (2000) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (2008).

The key outcome of NDAC 2022 was the Niger Delta Manifesto for Socio-Ecological Justice. The manifesto outlined eight (8) key demands that remain germane as the outgoing governments did not appear to hear the call of the peoples of the region. The Manifesto will again be examined at this convergence as a reminder, and to both reinforce and convey our core demands.

These core demands include the following:

  1. An immediate comprehensive audit of the entire region Niger Delta covering health, livelihoods, social and economic impacts of crude oil and gas extraction.
  2. Remediation and restoration impacted territories and reparations for the damage suffered.
  3. Drawing up a clear policy framework for divestment of international oil companies from the oil fields and communities they have exploited for more than six decades.
  4. Comprehensively address the issues related to artisanal refining of crude oil, stop all forms of oil theft, and hold accomplices to account.
  5. Legislators to ensure the review of the Petroleum Industry Act, to eliminate the criminalisation of communities and removing vestiges of colonial authorities given to oil companies to determine who the host communities are and to rig the arrangement for developmental supports of the communities. The earmarking of 30 per cent of profit of the NNPC for exploration of oil in so-called frontier fields should be deleted from the Act and a definite deadline to end routine gas flaring should be set.
  6. Immediate review of the NDDC Act and the release of the forensic audit ordered by the outgoing government. The administration of the 13 percent derivation fund should also be designed to be transparent, inclusive, and fair to impacted communities.
  7. Urgent responses to climate change impacts including by setting up mechanisms for emergency response to floods, shoreline protection, restoration of mangrove forests, halting of deforestation and proper urban and rural planning.
  8. Adequate protection of our coastal communities and continental shelf for the security of maritime transportation as well as fishing activities by our peoples. 

Other items that must be on the top burners of incoming governments include a comprehensive energy transition plan that ensures popular ownership and control of such clean energy systems. 

Politicians should have zero tolerance for uncompleted and abandoned projects. The drive to embark on so-called legacy projects must be halted. The region will remain a basket case if new players in governments refuse to complete projects commenced by their predecessors and instead chase after projects that may not address the critical socio-ecological and economic needs of our peoples.  Completion of projects started by previous administrations should be a cardinal principle.

Finally, permit me to recommend that the Nigerian government should take steps to recognize ecocide as a crime and ensure the prosecution of offenders going forward. Ecocide in simple terms is the destruction of one’s home, the Earth. Any person or entity engaged in activities that lead to large scale and long terms or irreversible destruction of our home, the Earth, should be held to account as an incentive for others to be of good environmental behaviour.

We must regain our dignity as a people. We must rebuild our devastated region. We can do it. And the time to do this is now.

This Hate Does not Define Us

Mangled ballot boxes 

Bloodied faces

Headless goats

Mouthy hoodlums in the corridors of power

Burning votes define the 

Last (s)election

Yes the (s)election  has come

Yet refuses to go

You are not us

We are not you 

Stay away! 

Risk death 

If you won’t thumb my avatar

Meanwhile the powerful masquerade as enemies 

In the dark they snort together 

Convivial cannibal crooks feasting on 

Laden tables 

Yes the (s)election  has come but

When will it be gone

The loquacious wax louder 

Brimming bile and utter nonsense 

The Good Book declares

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent;

with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

Maggots-laden mouths lie in wait

To spew more trash on the threshing floors of death

Hate does not define us

Still hate struts bloodied streets propelled

On ballistic missiles 

Stereotypes misfired from damned guns 

Cheap commodities for bloody blackmail


This hate does not define us

Yes the (s)election has come but 

Yet refuses to go.

Yes, we voted, weeping, dancing, beaten by rain and batons 

Yes, voters waited outside the nameless collation tombs.

Why are dancers frozen in midair?

And winners blowing muted trumpets?


Written after reading Bishop Kukah’s Easter message


Don’t Play Politics with our Environment

The town hall meeting has been convened to provide a platform for presidential candidates in the upcoming election in Nigeria to discuss their plans and strategies for addressing critical environmental and climate challenges facing the country. We thank the Vice Chancellor of this great university for playing host to this epochal event. We are also highly enthused by the fact that our youths are a majority in the audience. The future belongs to you and the seeds sown by those we elect will determine the level of wellbeing attainable in the coming decades. They could also determine your chances for survival. The subject of this town hall is fundamental for our survival and to living in dignity. 

Without a safe environment the enjoyment of human rights is impossible. The present Nigerian Constitution at Section 20 provides for environmental protection as one of the Fundamental Objectives and directive principles of state policy. It states that states shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air, forest and wild life of Nigeria. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights expressly states at Article 24 that All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development. The Charter has been domesticated by Nigeria, thus, provides a basis for the justiciability of our right to a safe environment. 

The reality is that the focus of political leaders on the environment has been largely tokenish. The indicator that they care at all about the environment is often only when they move to destroy underserved and largely autonomous communities termed slums. It is this mindset that led to the destruction of Maroko (which was inhabited by over 300,000 people) in July 1990 and is now threatening Makoko community in Lagos. And sometimes a cosmetic sanitation exercise in which trash gets pulled out of drains and piled by the roadside until they get washed back into the drains. Although there is a designated ecological fund, its use has been characterized as mostly being for political ends.

The Environment Unites

We believe that serious focus on tackling the environmental problems in Nigeria could be a unifying factor in a nation faced with many divisive factors. Every region has significant ecological problems and investment in solving them would reduce the troubling reality of unemployment by providing needed supports to our largely informal economy. Our propensity to invest in mega projects serve more as means of financial extraction rather than meeting real social-economic needs of our people. We celebrate the construction of deep seaports, but do we have any fish port for the millions of our artisanal fishers?

Cross section of participants

Nigeria suffers from huge biodiversity loses. At a time when our farmers should be supported to build a farming system that works with nature, to preserve indigenous seeds and varieties, we are opening to all sorts of genetically engineered seeds and products in a very lax biosafety regulation regime that threatens our biosecurity and food security and ignores the precautionary principle. While the law requires labelling of GMOs as a cardinal requirement for their being permitted into our environment and to our dining tables, our social-cultural context and informal trading systems make labelling an impossibility. Since we cannot label, we should not permit. That is simple logic. Should we sacrifice our health and environmental sustainability, promote monoculture, and disrupt our agricultural systems for seed monopolies and promoters of pesticides, and other harmful inputs?

Environmental sustainability has lost much of its meaning since it is hung mostly on the economic plank which sees the environment as a thing to be exploited or transformed for the extraction of rents often termed foreign exchange earnings. This drive for foreign exchange has allowed rapacious exploitation that has scarred our environment and our peoples, leading to a catastrophic and shameful fall in life expectancy. 

Concepts such as the green economy, blue economy and the like, have been aped without any serious interrogation. These have built the scaffolds for the commodification of nature, exploitation of our people and entrenchment of colonial approaches that deepen poverty and lock in corruption and a lack of accountability. Some of these approaches have led to massive land and sea grabs and raised the potential of sky grabbing and ultimate loss of independence.

Existential Threats

The climate crisis is an existential threat to humanity, Nigerians, more so. The floods of 2022 took the lives of over 600 Nigerians and destroyed infrastructure and over one million homes. Now we have heard warnings about impending floods. This town hall should help us know how the candidates would address this perennial issue that is bound to get worse. Amid floods, Nigerians are battling with water stress and the blockage of water ways by invasive species across the nation.

The trend in political circles has been that Africa must persist in using fossil fuels to drive economic development because Africa has not contributed significantly to the harmful carbon stock in the atmosphere. A supporting argument to this is that renewable energy cannot drive industrialization. Before the conversation begins, let us place on the table that this argument is contestable. The entire nation of Greece was powered with renewable energy for 5 solid hours in October 2022. Overall, the European Union produced 22 percent of its electricity in 2022 from wind and solar power. If we wish to ignore that as a signal that change is coming, let us not ignore the fact that overall, although Europe is investing in fossil fuels infrastructure in Africa, they are taking steps to wean themselves of this same energy source. And, there has been a drop in energy demand as the people become more conscious of the climate crisis.

Will we continue to pollute our environment, extend the situation in the Niger Delta to Gombe, Bauchi, Lagos and elsewhere? Do we consider the fact that without a shift in the clean direction, we stand a chance of becoming the cemetery for internal combustion engines in the coming decade. What will the presidential candidates do to ensure that we don’t end up with stranded assets as the international oil companies divest and skip off with inordinate profits, even as our communities are already stranded. 

We are here to hear from our esteemed presidential candidates. The moderators will likely cover issues of droughts, desertification, deforestation, floods, coastal and gully erosion, oil, and other forms of pollutions. We would also like to know what they would do about the oil/gas well fire that has been raging since April 2020 at Ororo-1 field off the coast of Ondo State. Hopefully, we have a leader that will not keep a blind eye on such blatant ecocide. 

Uncontrolled artisanal mining, including of lithium right here in the Federal Capital, and the disturbing blasting of hills in the outskirts of Abuja for construction materials, pose serious environmental and social-cultural problems.

This town hall is as much a platform for the candidates to inform us of their plans for the environmental sector and a platform to sound a wakeup call to every Nigerian to hold office holders accountable for environmental actions or inaction. We cannot play politics with our environment because it holds the webs of life.

Four Presidential Candidates were in attendance were: Omoyele Sowore of African Action Congress, Dumebi Kachikwu of African Democratic Congress, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso represented by the NNPP Chairman, Prof. Rufa’i Ahmed Alkali and Adewole Adebayo of the Social Democratic Party. 

Welcome Address by Nnimmo Bassey, at the Presidential Town Hall on Environment and Climate Change held at the University of Abuja on Tuesday, 7 February 2023. The Town Hall was hosted by the University of Abuja in partnership with Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Corporate Accountability and Popular Participation Africa (CAPPA) and We The People (WTP).

COP27, the Loss and the Damage at Injury Time

The recently concluded 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, went in the way of rituals and did not rise beyond the low bars set by previous editions. Well, maybe it rose above the bar in one aspect which could be considered, more or less, the brightest glimmer of hope, appearing in the extended time of the conference. For those who were keeping vigil on the deliberations, it was a roller coaster session. Hope glimmered when many nations unexpectedly rose to say that fossil fuels, all of them, should be phased out, not just the phasing down of unabated coal as was cockily suggested at Glasgow. Recall that Glasgow only talked of phasing down (not phasing out) of unabated coal (not all coal). Observers gasped and yelped as some nations notorious for blocking any attempt to name fossil fuels as the driver of global heating in the official negotiations shifted positions. However, the flickering candle was snuffed and smashed at the final plenary. So it came to pass, that a handful of nations, including Saudi Arabia and China, threatened to scuttle the entire COP if fossil fuels were called out and their obituary announced. 

Why is the COP playing the ostrich and burying its head in the sand by being unwilling to accept that fossil fuels are literally burning the planet and that the real climate action is to phase out the polluters? How come everyone knows that up to 89 percent of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere emerged from the burning of fossil fuels but the COP choses to ignore this truth? How come even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) which is the COP’s thinking hat says that fossil fuels must be addressed, yet the COP plays deaf? The simple answer is that the swarm of over 600 fossil fuel lobbyists   at the COP, with some on official national delegations, simply would not allow reason to triumph over profit. And, as expected, African nations asserted their right to use fossil fuels as the means towards developing their nations even if the dangerously polluting pathways that the industrialised nations used brought the world to where we are now. That argument sounds more like the swan song of a fossil fuel industry desperate to keep itself on life support. And, of course, there is no shared understanding of what the development the African leaders speak of looks like.

Some of us expect leaders in the Global South to demand the payment of the climate debt and a stoppage of accumulating further debt by halting dependence on fossil fuels. The jinx and allure of the fossil age must be broken. It is time to quit denial and accept that fossil fuels must be fossilized. African nations are right to be concerned by poor levels of energy penetration on the continent. However, it is essential to point out that this cannot be solved by allowing fossil fuel corporations to get away with murder, ecocide, and human rights abuses just so that you have fossil fuels to export. Do the leaders not realise that 89 percent of fossil fuels infrastructure in Africa serve export purposes and that Africa’s extractive sector employs less that 1 percent of Africa’s workforce? Moreover, only 5percent of the investment in the sector is done in Africa. Testimonies from oilfield or minefield communities are tales of woes, pains, poverty, and death. With the scramble for new fossil fuels development on the coastline of the continent and virtually all the deltas the continent is the last ditch stand by the fossil fuels speculators and companies. 

Assault on the Deltas

The deltas under assault in Africa include the Zambezi Delta in Sofala and Zambézia Provinces of Mozambique; the notoriously ruined Niger Delta in Nigeria; Okavango Delta in Namibia/Botswana and the 

Saloum Delta in Sénégal. Add to that the lakes and rivers in the Albertine Rift Valley and the Virunga Park and the continent and the world are set to lose major biodiversity hotspots, protected areas and UNESCO world heritage sites.

The resistance by communities, fishers and knowledge holders in South Africa and elsewhere clearly show that the industry is unwanted by the people and that their persistence is nothing but a waging of war against the people and planet. We should add, too, that militarization, violence, and conflicts are the templates on which the industry constructs its ever-rising inordinate profits.

Considering the above, it should be clear that fossil fuel extraction in Africa has little to do with employment, energy supply or boosting local economies. It is all about meeting the appetite for inordinate profits and of fossil fuels addicts. It is time to rethink the hard-headed marriage with the polluters.

A Harsh Reality

Just before COP27, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued an Emissions Gap report that aggregated the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that countries have made under the Paris Agreement and concluded that the puny pledges would do nothing to ward off impending catastrophic global heating. In fact, the report highlighted that the world should prepare for a temperature rise as high as 2.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by the close of this century. The report emphasised that the window to avert climate catastrophe was rapidly closing and that the world needs urgent transformation and deep actions to cut emissions by at least 45 percent by 2030.

The first jolt of COP27 was the release of a concept note on carbon removal activities under the Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement. That document defined carbon removals thus: Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) refers to anthropogenic activities that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and ensure its long-term storage in terrestrial, geological, or ocean reservoirs, or in long-lasting products. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) can be part of CDR methods if the CO2 has been captured from the atmosphere, either indirectly in the form of biomass or directly from ambient air, and stored over the long term in geological reservoirs or long-lasting products. 

Two things among others in the concept note raised concern. First, the reference to storage in ocean reservoirs. While it is not clear what these reservoirs would be, it signals a huge threat to ocean ecosystems. This was roundly denounced by groups such as the FishNet Alliance because using the ocean as carbon reservoirs or for any other geoengineering experimentation could sound the death knell for their livelihoods, cultures and spirituality. The notion of long-term storage suggests that there will be a terminal point or a time when the storage would cease to work. That means that the proponents of such measures are laying a load of trouble on future generations. Secondly, carbon capture and utilisation and indeed the entire paragraph reads like something lifted from the playbook of the fossil fuels industry. Before geoengineering entered the climate debate, oil companies had been capturing carbon and reinjecting into wells to push out more crude oil for burning and releasing of yet more carbon. If this specious definition is accepted, fossil fuel companies would be earning credits for committing more climate crimes by pumping more and more carbon into the atmosphere. It would again illustrate the hypocrisy of the carbon trading non-solutions and the net zero propositions, keep dirty fuels in business and allow the planet to hurtle to cataclysmic climate impacts.

For many nations and the fossil fuels lobby COP27 was a huge carbon trade fair. However, for civil society groups, indigenous groups, youths, women, and people of faith, it was a great space for interactions, networking, learning and actions. Real and actionable climate solutions were offered while the negotiators were largely busy wordsmithing and birthing non-solutions. 

Lost and Damaged

The shining light of COP27 was the decision to have Loss and Damage. The Parties decided “to establish new funding arrangements for assisting developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, in responding to loss and damage, including with a focus on addressing loss and damage by providing and assisting in mobilizing new and additional resources, and that these new arrangements complement and include sources, funds, processes and initiatives under and outside the Convention and the Paris Agreement.” The COP came to this decision after acknowledging “the urgent and immediate need for new, additional, predictable and adequate financial resources to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in responding to economic and non-economic loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, especially in the context of ongoing and ex post (including rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction) action.”

Having Loss and Damage is indeed historic. However, the nitty gritty of the mechanisms to bring it to life is yet to be negotiated. Already there are signals that the USA and some others do not see the decision to have Loss and Damage as having anything to do with reparations or liability. What this portends is that unless those who have already been damaged by global warming speak up and insist that the unfolding crisis has both historical and systemic roots, this may be another tiresome ritual of quirky charity. Another bone that will have to be picked, will be how this relates to the already existing Green Climate Fund and how rich nations who have not met pledges made since COP15 will cross the hurdle to Loss and Damage. This may well be the pivotal time to go beyond celebrating the possibility of payments for loss and damage and demand the payment of a Climate Debt accumulated over centuries of exploitation, despoliation, imperial and colonial plunder. Loss and Damage cannot be charity.

An African COP?

Some had called COP27 the Africa COP but that was mere wishful thinking. Although the COP was held in Africa it did nothing to assure that temperature increases will not burn or cook the continent. Except for the acceptance of Loss and Damage there is no hope that more financial flows will come to the region. With our leaders insisting on digging up more fossil fuels, the hope of rescuing our environment continues to dim. The answer to the question as to what was gained at Sharm El Sheikh is thus blowing in the wind.

Seeing the Red Sea

Sharm El Sheikh is quite a peculiar place. While some could not gain accreditation to attend the COP, the hospitality businesses in the city squeezed all the profits they could from those who could. The people were generally friendly, and the taxi drivers were routinely kind enough to put out their ubiquitous cigarettes as a mark of courtesy.  A ride on the Red Sea in a glass bottomed boats was a delight as one could see the state of the coral reefs in the area. Those who found time to visit Mount Sinai came back with tales of getting to the location of the Burning Bush that radically altered the trajectory of the life of Moses in the Bible. For this writer, the highlight of the two weeks in the Sinai Peninsular city were three guys. The first was the guy who took care of my hotel room and was lavish in the display of his artistic creativity. One day he used the towels in the room to create a heart and decorated it with bougainvillea flowers. On another day he used an assortment of items to create a baboon and hung it over the head of the bed. Swans were routine designs. The one that was an overkill was when he used my pyjamas, sandals, hat and pillows to create a full-bodied human form on the bed. It was not a good omen as it spoke to me of a dead or damaged COP. I was happy it was the day to leave and head home!

The other guys who made the stay exciting worked in a panoramic restaurant. They were jolly good fellows who offered excellent service and would get you to enjoy the delicacies they offered until your wallet wept for mercy. Medhat was one of the guys and was popularly known as Mike Tyson, because people said they had a resemblance. The other guy was Rabea, a very engaging guy who paid close attention to what you needed. And they often tried to make us dance, but the music in my head was a sombre climate negotiations elegy. Next time perhaps.