Ogoni Clean-Up and the Business of Pollution

Eleme 1Will Ogoni be Cleaned? Recent news making the rounds is that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and their oil company partners, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Total Exploration and Production of Nigeria (TEPNG) and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), have “disbursed” a total of $360 on the clean-up of the Ogoniland. This claim is reported to have been made by the Chief Operating Officer for Upstream of the NNPC at an hearing on the clean-up at the Nigerian National Assembly on Monday, 17 February 2020.

Even before this announcement at the National Assembly dusts have been raised over how that colossal sum could have been spent on the Ogoni clean-up without corresponding results. Some usually respectable voices have been raised alleging massive corruption in the ways and manner the Hydrocarbons Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) is handling the contracts. In fact, one report claimed that “it was unfortunate that an overwhelming $350million, an estimated NGN128,000,000,000 (One hundred and twenty eight billion Naira) meant for the cleanup has been largely misappropriated due to the massive corruption in HYPREP.”

While this article cannot respond to the charges of corrupt practices, it is important to deal with the delicate issues of perception and acrimony that presentations of this sort can generate. Let us refresh our memories about the funding architecture of the Ogoni clean-up exercise. Following the UNEP report of 2011, it was decided that a total of $1 billion should be contributed towards the clean-up of Ogoniland by the entities that polluted the area. Out of this sum, 90% is to be contributed at the ratio of Joint Venture holdings by the polluting partners while the balance 10% of the funds would come from a rather nebulous cohort including the refineries.

There is no doubt that the clean-up could be faster than it has been. There is also no doubt that certain emergency measures could, and must, be undertaken. There is no reason why anyone in Ogoni should be drinking contaminated water after a report, from no less an agency like UNEP, has clearly confirmed the fact of such contamination.

Citizens have a right to be emotive over the clean-up exercise because this is a matter of life or death for the present generation and for generations yet unborn. Pollution is an intergenerational crime. Indeed, some places in the Niger Delta will require several lifetimes to recover because the harms that have been inflicted can best be described as ecocide.

The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raises the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleansed. And, by extension, will the Niger Delta ever be cleaned?

One of the problems with the clean-up is that some people see it as merely a business opportunity rather than as a duty to ensure that this intergenerational crime is redressed. Indeed, the clean-up of the entire Niger Delta could possible provide employment form a large proportion of Nigeria’s unemployed youths if they are suitably trained and drawn into a comprehensive clean-up corp. In fact, the squabbles over the Ogoni clean-up contracts is a huge distraction at a time when we should be clamouring for an audit of all places in the Niger Delta (and elsewhere) with hydrocarbon pollution.

Chasing after an extremely difficult and complex clean-up without adequate technical and financial capacity is actually a disservice to our communities and peoples. We have seen the poor clean-up exercises carried out at locations where new spills occur. And the fact that it took UNEP to expose the lie in oil company claims that they had remediated polluted places in Ogoniland. The poor efforts at covering rather than remediating pollutions at places like K-Dere and others were all exposed by the UNEP report. A pursuit of the clean-up as “jobs for the boys” or where jobs are given out based on a sense of entitlement or as political patronage cannot portend anything good.

The nature, depth and complexity of the pollution of Ogoni requires the application of best skills and safe technologies from any part of the world. The exercise should be pursued as an ecological emergency where the fact that a company has not previously operated in Nigeria should be a secondary stumbling block. Some of us are convinced that this is the approach that is needed as the clean-up moves to more complicated lots.

If HYPREP stands firm on the quality of project delivery, as we believe they should, and if jobs are let on the basis of local capacities only, the outcome may be massive delays as jobs that should be completed quickly will have to be redone repeatedly to meet set milestones and indicators. We have seen this in simple construction projects given out to less than competent contractors. The outcomes have been shoddy deliveries, delays and abandonment of sites. Neither HYPREP nor the Ogoni people can afford that scenario.

Back to the matter of cash. When the NNPC chief announced that the polluters had disbursed $360 million the impression people get is that HYPREP had spent the cash. Few understand that the funds contributed or paid by the polluters are held by an Ogoni Trust Fund and not directly in HYPREP’s accounts. The NNPC chief may not have told the world exactly when they disbursed the 2019 tranche of the funds to the Ogoni Trust Fund. If the sums were paid at the end of the year or at the beginning of 2020 how could anyone think or believe that the money has been spent or spirited away in the clean-up process?

The misrepresentation of facts and figures and continuous infighting for whatever reasons continue to generate bad energy over the entire efforts and raises the question as to whether Ogoni will ever be cleansed. And, by extension, will the Niger Delta ever be cleaned?

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GMOs, Herbicides – Ambush in the Night

Moi moi

Moi moi wrapped in leaves, not plastics!

The tide of GMOs and deadly herbicides creeps on unsuspected consumers as they are literally being ambushed in the night. Twenty countries, including Togo and Malawi, have placed a ban on the use of glyphosate containing herbicides based on health and environmental concerns. Togo recently joined the ranks of countries that have banned the herbicides after two years of intense debates. According to that country’s minister of Agriculture, the such herbicides already in the country must be used up or destroyed within 12 months.

While we regret that the ban ought to have meant an immediate halt to the use of the herbicides, we believe there is a lesson to be learned here by Nigerian authorities. Glyphosate, as an active ingredient in herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready which is widely used as a weed killer around the world, have been named a cancer-causing agent. Thousands of plaintiffs have sued the makers of these herbicides due to impacts suffered through exposure to them. Probably the most well-known case is that of Dewayne Johnson who was awarded US$289 million that was later reduced to US$78million for harms suffered.

In many of the cases, the key arguments include that the manufacturers of the harmful herbicides did not adequately warn consumers and users of the associated cancer risks. Concerns raised in Nigeria as NBMA opened the avalanche of GMO approvals was initially met with the explanation from Monsanto that the chemicals are safe if used according to specifications. It can readily be seen that the caveat was given with the knowledge that the average Nigerian farmer is not likely to read the fine letters on the packages or to wear space suits before spraying their farms with the poisons.

While Togo has declared a total ban of herbicides with glyphosate, such herbicides are quite commonplace in Nigeria. They are freely sold and some even have certification from NAFDAC.

Nigerians should worry because certain crops approved in Nigeria are genetically engineered for the application of the cancer-causing herbicides.

Ministers of Agriculture appear to be stepping up to the challenge concerning the threats posed by harmful chemicals and the genetically engineered crops necessitating their production. The position of the Togolese minister and the government on these glyphosate-based chemicals must be applauded. The position will not only protect farmers who are bound to be directly exposed to the chemicals but will also protect consumers who would eat crops with the residues of the chemicals.

The other minister that stepped the plate is that of Ghana. With a bold headline, “National well-being wins over foreign interests as gov’t ditches GMOs, a report announced that the government of Ghana, through the Minister of Food and Agriculture announced the terminating of imposition of GMOs on farmers in the country. The minister was paraphrased to have said that “the nation has capable scientists who could use traditional breeding methods to produce high yielding varieties and disease resistant plants for cultivation by farmers and no need for GMOs in the next 100 years in Ghana.”

The Ghanaian groups rejected the use of their people as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experimentation. Today they will probably rest easy that the Nigerian government has taken the lead in using her citizens as guinea pigs for this sad experiment.

Peasant farmers and civil society groups responded to the declaration by urging institutions, persons and groups “benefiting from proceeds from Monsanto to promote GMO in Ghana to rather join Ghanaian scientists and farmers to promote the local seed industry”

While Ghanaians celebrated the “defeat” of GMOs in their country, a major civil society group in the country, Food Sovereignty Ghana, cautioned that the battle is not yet over. They hinged this position on the fact that government is still defending the impending release of Bt cowpea, GM rice and Bt cotton in court. The next hearing on the case comes up on 30 January 2020. Food Sovereignty Ghana and others had sued the government of Ghana represented by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, the National Biosafety Authority and the Attorney-General’s Department to stop the commercial release of these crops.

When the case against the release of the genetically engineered cowpea (beans) first went to court in Ghana in 2015, no country in the world had authorized the release of the variety for human consumption. The promoters of the GM beans declare that they cannot be visually distinguished from their natural counterpart and point to this as a mark of substantial equivalence. It is not rocket science to know that things may look alike without being the same. They may indeed have special genetic characteristics that makes their patentable as unique, as the situation with the GM beans is. Promises of labelling is trash when we consider our socio-cultural context, especially in terms of processing, storage, marketing and consumption of local foods. Selling the idea of labeling GM beans and other local crops can be compared to accepting to be ambushed in the night (apologies to Bob Marley).

The Ghanaian groups rejected the use of their people as guinea pigs in an unnecessary experimentation. Today they will probably rest easy that the Nigerian government has taken the lead in using her citizens as guinea pigs for this sad experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebranding the Cabal

ChangeThe cabal toga is not one most people wish to wear in public. In recent months, we have seen concerted efforts to redefine the cabal as a political concept in order to give it a palatable connotation. In spirited pronouncements on popular television talk shows, we have been told that there is actually a cabal in the presidency but that it is not made up of mean people. The public has been told that ‘members of the “cabal” in the presidency are not hungry individuals and do not deserve the public criticism they get”. In other words, they are doing us a whole lot of good. The only problem is that we do not know this fact.

While stating that the cabal does not have undue influence on the president, a spokesperson decried the attitude of Nigerians to persons who have the president’s ears without occupying public offices. He said, ‘Nigerians have formed the practice of labelling people that are in some advisable positions of the president as a cabal. People (cabals) should not be labelled negatively simply because they have offered themselves to support the president of this country.’

The spin train went as far as saying that there are cabals in every government but that on other shores, they are daintily called kitchen cabinets. Hear this: ‘Elsewhere, they call it “kitchen cabinet,” but in our own country, we are being derogatory, and we term them cabals so that it will tarnish their own good standing.’

It does appear, however, that the so-called kitchen cabinets in some countries are an inner circle of staff or other officials. In other words, such kitchen cabinets are made up of officials. However, in some countries like the USA, the term is used for unofficial advisers. A dictionary defines such a kitchen cabinet as a ‘group of unofficial advisers to a political leader, especially when considered to be more influential than the official cabinet.’

When a political leader heavily relies on an unofficial circle of advisers to the detriment of the officially appointed ones, we can be certain that this has an effect on the contributions of the real cabinet to governance in any country. Citizens of such countries have every cause to worry because the official advisers and ministers are accountable to the people whereas the kitchen cabinet is not. While the official advisers would be expected to operate within the framework of the government’s agenda and within the confines of codes regulating their activities, the kitchen cabinet has no such restraints.

There have been stories of governors who have commissioners as mere sounding boards, or rather, as mere acoustic boards set up to absorb sounds. When they are assembled in executive meetings, all they have to do is to sit and endure hours of drivels by the emperors or governors. Some are said to spend hours sleeping in the hallowed executive chambers while the emperor is fiddling somewhere and while the states burn. Official advisers whose wisdom is needed by no one are as disempowered as you can imagine and are forced to continuously guard their pronouncements or steps as they could easily go on the path that the kitchen cabinet would frown at. In such situations, the states have been said to be blatantly run by cabals or delicately put, kitchen cabinets.

Cabals turn official advisers into puppets or dummies who have little or no authority. However, you can be sure that this is not what the defenders of the cabal are saying.

A look at various dictionaries consistently yield rather uncomfortable depictions of what and who the cabal is. Calling them kitchen cabinets is a huge leap in branding. One depiction is that a cabal ‘is a group of people united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, state, or other community, often by intrigue and usually unbeknownst to those outside their group.’ There you are. A cabal promotes its private views, desires and designs. Private views. They are neither elected nor do they represent the people. By official definitions, they are said to be purveyors of intrigues. That excludes the interests of the citizenry.

The first use of the word is said to have been in the 17th Century England where it described any secret or extralegal council of the king. The Merriam-Webster dictionary captures the cabal as ‘the contrived schemes of a group of persons secretly united in a plot ( as to overturn a government); also a group engaged in such schemes.’

Mnguember Vicky Sylvester portrays the cabal in her book of short stories -The Cabals and the Naked Dance- as a clique said to be running government and the country’s resources. That is a hot combination in the Nigerian context. The fictional cabal would not only be whispering into the ears of the helmsmen in power, they would also be grasping at the nation’s natural resources. When that is done without popular accountability, ecological damage of horrendous proportions must ensue.

It is indeed a tough job, branding the cabal as a kitchen cabinet. The two are best kept apart as the genetic makeup of the cabal is stronger than any hardwood that may be utilised in fabricating a kitchen cabinet.

Where a cabal thrives, mistrust spreads like a cancer. Their presence places political spokespersons in very difficult situations and can seriously hamper their performance, effectiveness and public perceptions. This situation confers sinister implication to every action or events, including for example the overturning of Imo State’s gubernatorial election result by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. A panel of seven judges made that decision, but while the nation waits to hear the reasoning behind the disruptive decision, the stories in town are that a cabal is at work, pushing an agenda that is a prelude to something more ominous. This is one reason why no one needs a cabal in the corridors of power.