These are Revolutionary Times

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Poster by Chaz

These are Revolutionary Times. A revolution becomes necessary when it becomes obvious that bringing about change will take too much time. This underscores the reason why a revolution necessarily is a challenge to business as usual. It could challenge political orthodoxy and may not be palatable to those whose interests are rooted in the status quo.

There are many reasons why we can reasonably say that we have come to the point when a global revolution has become an inescapable necessity. Think of the rapid species extinction, water stress, increased deforestation and desertification. Bear in mind the current trend of organized and even random violence, rising inequality and xenophobic politics. Think of the fact that we are at the precipice of an ecological catastrophe with looming runaway climate chaos coupled with inordinate consumption and wastage of resources.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

The socio-political situation in Nigeria has been calling for a revolution for decades even though the word ‘revolution’ may not have been used. Today the word has been presented as one with incendiary connotations. This could be due to the fact that the term has been used in that manner in the past. For example, Isaac Adaka Boro declared a revolution in the 1960s only to have the uprising crushed in twelve days. Since then we have had governments embarking on programmes that were fundamentally conceived as seeking to birth a revolution in Nigeria. No eye brows were raised.

Let us stay in history for a moment. Have we always been averse to revolution? The answer is a resounding no. The government of President Shehu Shagari mounted what was called an Ethical Revolution, while the government of General Muhammadu Buhari waged a War Against Indiscipline (WAI). In the days of the military presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida there was the programme tagged Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER) which was one of the recommendations of the Political Bureau that was headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey.

The 2015 election saw the birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which ran and won the election with a clarion call for CHANGE. At that time, the ruling party was campaigning on the tracks of Transformation, which in itself can be said to be more radical than Change. And to up its drive for Change, the current ruling party has promised to take Nigerians to the Next Level. While we may debate what that Next Level portends, it does seem that when Change steps up its game the result is bound to be revolutionary.

Having these historical and current antecedents in mind, it can be said that a revolution is not necessarily a bad thing. And, we don’t have to be fixated on so-called sponsors of revolutionary activities. The truth is that a revolution may not need to be funded. It is people who make radical changes happen.

The meaning of the word revolution is admittedly broad and can be given a bad slant so as to deter its effectuation. A concept that is similarly misunderstood is anarchy or anarchism. Anarchists are opposed to unjust societies and work to support individual creativity, human development and opportunities while eliminating domination and oppression. It’s about realigning the way power is distributed in society, including by extending gender justice. Anarchy is not disorder or the reign of violence, even though some may argue that situations generally point to that direction. But politics is not an arena where terms are given precise definitions.

Clearly, a sitting government can be revolutionary or it can become revolutionary. That would not be termed a rebellion. The call for CHANGE, by some definition could be termed a revolutionary call. As earlier noted, an election was contested and won on that platform. No one screamed rebellion or treason.

A nation must switch on the reflective mode when things become predictably volatile. Reflection and communications work best in an era when free speech is not just tolerated but is celebrated. Silence in the face of despair can be construed as either cowardice or acquiescence.

Some of us get really troubled when official spokespersons to political leaders behave more like attack dogs than as persons carrying out a duty that requires careful thinking driven by defined strategic pathways. We must tolerate dissent and not escalate every contrary expression.

Seeing #RevolutionNow as rebellion is just one of a thousand possible interpretations. Incarcerating Omoyele Sowore in the long run cannot add a positive notch to the image of the government or to the nation. It has been said that history depends on those who organize. Sowore is an organizer whether or not anyone likes to admit that as a fact. He has proven it. He is resilient. He is convicted of his convictions. Jail cannot upturn that. Neither would incarceration eliminate the demands he and associates demand of the system.

Every nation needs dreamers, especially when the night hours become exceedingly lengthened. With dreamers we also need those that sound the alarm, that proclaim when it is time to wake.

Rethink Order on Ogoni Oil

HereGovernment Should Withdraw the Order for Resumption of Oil Exploitation in Ogoni Land. The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and We the People notes with alarm and unease the recent memo reportedly originating from the Presidency and addressed to the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation; and signed by Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari. In the said memo dated March 1, 2019 with reference number SH/COS/24/A/8540, the NNPC and NPDC are directed to take over OML 11 (located in Ogoni, River state) from Shell Petroleum Development Company.

The letter states;

 “NNPC/NPDC to take over the operatorship, from Shell Petroleum Development Company, of the entire OML 11 not later than 30 April 2019 and ensure smooth re-entry given the delicate situation in Ogoni Land”.

It goes further to instruct

“NNPC/NPDC to confirm by May 2, 2019 the assumption of the operatorship.”

We consider this instruction by the Presidency insensitive, ill-advised and capable of inflaming suspicions and conflict in an area that is already very fragile and prone to crisis.

Recall that in 1993, Shell was forced to abandon its OML 11 operations located in Ogoni and pull out of the area, following campaigns by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) led by environmental rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa , for fairer benefits to the Ogoni people from oil wealth, as well as compensation for the damage of their environment. The campaigns by the Ogoni ethnic nationality for a better deal from the Nigerian state also includingrestitution for the dearth of poverty in Ogoniland, as well as recognition and responsibility for the ecological damage of Ogoniland occasioned by the activities of oil companies.

The response of the Nigeria government to these peaceful demands was terrifying. MOSOP was brutally repressed using the Nigerian military. The mass killings and widespread carnage which the military visited on the Ogonis remain largely undocumented. Thousands of Ogonis lost their lives, and many others went into forced exile around the world. In May 1994, capitalizing on the unfortunate killing of 4 prominent Ogoni leaders by a mob of yet to be identified persons in Gokana local government area, Ken Saro Wiwa and other leaders of MOSOP were arrested and detained. After a few months of trial by a special military tribunal, a sentence of death was pronounced on Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 others on October 31, 1995. 10 days after, the nine were immediately executed on November 10, 1995.

It is important to note that the fears of ecological damage which the Ogonis expressed was confirmed in 2011 when the United Nations Environment Programme UNEP released its assessment report of soil and water samples from Ogoniland. The report confirmed massive soil and water contamination which has significantly compromised sources of livelihood and was slowly poisoning the inhabitants of the area.  So alarmed was UNEP about the findings that it recommended that inhabitants of the area immediately stop using water from all their traditional sources, while the government was to immediately commence a clean-up exercise which could take up to thirty years, and amount to the biggest soil and water remediation exercise ever embarked on.  As damning as the Report was, its recommendations remained unattended until 2016 when the government established administrative structures to commence the clean-up.

Given the above, it is worrying why the government will decide to resume oil extraction in Ogoniland when the pollution of the last decades is yet to be cleaned and the recommendations of UNEP have not been fully complied with. The action of the government at this time gives the impression that it only flagged off the Ogoni Clean up through the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in order to purchase the goodwill to resume oil extraction in the area. How else does one explain the fact that a site supposedly being cleaned up will resume full oil extraction activities with all the pollution that comes with it?

HOMEF and We the People also note that the demands of the Ogoni people which led to the abuses they suffered in the hands of the Nigerian Military in the 1990s, and the termination of oil operations in the area, have still not been addressed. It is disappointing and demonstrates a lack of initiative for the government to imagine that those concerns have simply withered away with time. Those of us who have remain connected to the communities know for a fact that the Ogoni people remain resolute in their resistance to any renewed hydrocarbon extraction in their domains.

We fear that the manner the Presidency has approached this subject through an order, without any consultation with stakeholders in Ogoniland or concern for the reservations the people may feel, is capable of threatening the peace in the area and conveying the message that their complaints and demands have been blatantly ignored. It is important to note that since the ugly events of the 1990s, the government has not initiated any peacebuilding processes in Ogoniland, neither has any kind of amelioration for the pains, losses and suffering sustained by the people been provided.

HOMEF and We the People strongly recommend that the government withdraws this order for the resumption of oil activities in Ogoniland, and rather concentrates on redeeming the ecological disaster in the area, and replacing the lost sources of livelihood of the people.

Do Not Betray Africa on Extreme Genetic Engineering

24f6f9cf-069e-41e4-aa98-cdc61885d841.jpegDo Not Betray Africa on SynBio and Gene Drives

As representatives of a broad range of African civil society organisations (CSOs), we do not feel represented by the delegations of Nigeria and South Africa, speaking on behalf of African Group, in their attempt to speak on behalf of the people of Africa on the issue of synthetic biology (synbio) and gene drive organisms (GDOs).

Throughout the history of the United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, African delegates have championed the defence of our biodiversity, protection of our seeds, indigenous agroecological practices and culture. They have always advocated the need for a precautionary approach.

In the past, African delegates have strongly defended our ecological life-support systems from threats, such as Terminator technologies (seeds designed to be sterile).

We are now alarmed at what is going on at COP14 and how our concerns for our environment, biodiversity and communities are being betrayed and threatened by delegates from some African nations. In particular, they are not representing our concerns about gene drives and synbio.

Most countries in Africa are still grappling with the threats from basic genetic engineering and associated agro-toxics and do not even have experience or capacity for basic regulation of the risks for those first-generation genetic technologies, let alone synbio and GDOs.

Gene drives, such as those being promoted by Target Malaria, aimed at releasing gene drive mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, are a deliberately invasive technology designed to propagate genetic material across an entire population – potentially wiping out entire species. As Africans, we are forced to confront this new and serious threat to our health, land, biodiversity, rights, and food supply.

African government delegations appear to have been neutralised. They have fallen from grace on the altar of the multi-national corporations, gene giants and private foundations. The African group’s position at the CBD slavishly replicates the position of these interest groups.

As Africans, we do not wish to be lab-rats for Target Malaria’s experiments. We refuse to be guinea pigs for their misguided disruption of our food systems and ecology.

We call on the African and all other delegates to put the brakes on this exterminating technology. We reject any form of representation that is against the interest of our peoples and biodiversity. We call on the governments of Africa to call their delegates to order and avoid acquiescence to unfolding intergenerational crimes.

Signed by the following organisations:

-Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa.

– La Via Campesina Africa

– Friends of the Earth Africa

– Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)

– CCAE Collectif Citoyen pour L’Agroecologie

– Fahamu Africa

– Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, Uganda

– Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF)

– Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS Africa)

– West African Association for the Development of Artisanal Fisheries (ADEPA)

– Plate-forme Régionale des Organisations Paysannesd’ Afrique Centrale (PROPAC)

– Convergences Régionales Terre-eau et Autres Ressources Aturelles

– Network of West African Farmer Organizations and Agricultural Producers (ROPPA).

– Terre á Terre, Burkina Faso

– Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA)

– African Centre for Biodiversity

– Inades-Formation

– Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC)

– Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement (JVE International)

– Institute de Researche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Development Afrique (IRPAD)

– The Africa CSOs’ Coalition on African Development Bank

– Health of Mother Earth Foundation

– Committee on Vital Environmental Resources, Nigeria

– The Young Environmental Network, Nigeria

– Community Empowerment Initiative (GECOME) Nigeria.

– Gender and Environmental Risk Reduction Initiative(GERI), Nigeria.

– Climate Change and Amelioration Initiative( ECCAI), Nigeria

– Pearls Care Initiative (PCI), Nigeria

– Intergrity Conscience Initiative (ICI).Nigeria

– Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association

– Rural Women’s Assembly

-Rural Alliance for Green Environment (RAGE), Nigeria

– Bio Interrity in Natural Foods Awareness Initiative, Nigeria

– Initiative for Peace, Empowerment and Tolerance, Nigeria

– Integrity Conscience Initiative (ICI), Nigeria

– Eco-Defenders Network, Nigeria

– Green Alliance Network (GAN) Nigeria

– Rural Environmental Defenders (U-RED) Nigeria

Extractives and the Privatization of Oceans

A6AB7AA6-8945-46AE-B599-F679D205DEF3Extractives and the Privatizing the Oceans. It has become common knowledge that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish. That is quite alarming. More alarming, however, should be the fact that we are already consuming a lot of plastic through the fish that still swim in our waters. Besides health impacts, the economy of fishers and their dependents is receiving crushing blows from this trend as our oceans literally get turned into dumpsites.

The oceans present pictures of limitless resources begging to be dragged out into the markets and kitchens of this world. This sense of the ocean as an inexhaustible storehouse has empowered some unscrupulous persons to throw caution to the winds as they trawl the seas, oceans and lakes catching everything from the fingerlings to mature fish. Sadly, some of these rogue fishers do not respect national boundaries and behave no better than sea bandits. Besides the stealing of sea resources, there is the alarming harvesting of fish on the West African coastline for the production of fish meal for use in industrial aquaculture production in Europe and Asia. This harvesting of fish for fish meal has raised the price of fish beyond the reach of the people who depend on them as a key source protein.

The oceans and our lakes have also become zones of interest for the extractive industries – miners and oil companies. Their activities present special dangers to the health of our creeks, rivers, lakes and oceans. The efforts to keep up profits has triggered a rush to mine the seabed in ways that should attract serious attention.

Dead Whales, Red Flags

Our coast lines are dotted with oil rigs, oil platforms and armadas of seismic vessels. Lakes Chad, Albert, Victoria, Kivu, Tanganyika, Malawi and Turkana have all attracted the claws of the oil and gas industry. These activities if not checked portend grave dangers for national security and, more urgently, for fishers and the health of our peoples.

The epidemic of dead whales washing onshore is just one indicator that all is not well. In recent months we have had reports of dead whales off the coasts of South Africa, Nigeria, Australia, Ireland, Germany and the United States of America, to mention just a few. In the case of the eight Cuvier’s beaked whales that washed up on the west coast of Ireland, scientists believe that they died of impacts of British military sonar. Of course, the British Navy denied any link between their maneuvers and the dead whales. However, naval sonars are known to have deadly impacts on whales.

Some navies use these low frequency active sonar (LFA) systems in scouring the sea bed for obstructions, mines and other elements. They use a number of underwater speakers to pulse low-frequency sounds at about 215 decibels for roughly 60 seconds a pop. The sounds travel over hundreds of kilometres and can interrupt the lives and activities of marine mammals, breaking up their communications, causing disorientation and other problems. These sonars are found in approximately 70 per cent of the world’s oceans.

The seismic exploratory activities of oil, gas and mining companies are carried out using techniques that are comparable to the naval sonars. These seismic surveys use sound energy (at decibels higher than levels that normally occur in the oceans) to map geological structures deep beneath the seabed.

Some apologists of the extractive sector continue to argue that having dead sea mammals wash up onshore is normal and is to be expected. What they do not say is that the carcasses that we see are only of those that washed to inhabited shorelines. How many dead whales and other large aquatic species die and are buried in the deep or are simply out of sight?

Threats to Our Common Heritage

In a recent letter to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), global citizens demanded that the seabed should be off limits to mining. They stated, “Moreover, a global public knowledge that deep sea extraction is under discussion is still extremely limited, as is public understanding of the implications of such a move. As deep sea mining would impact the common heritage of (human)kind in ways that are not yet scientifically well-understood, time should be taken to initiate a wider public discussion and to carry out additional scientific research.” The letter further stated, “The common heritage of (human)kind is a significant equity principle in international law. This principle was formally applied to the deep seabed through a 1970 UN resolution declaring that the ocean floor in international waters – called the ‘Area’ in international law – be employed for peaceful purposes.” It added that, “It is our view that this must not proceed without a more transparent and thorough global assessment of the ecological risks associated with deep-sea mining, as well as a more rigorous consideration of a benefit-sharing mechanism via which the common heritage principle will be upheld.”

Water Grab Through Pollution

Water pollution from oil spills and mine tailings are sources for great concern about the quality of our waters and the overall health of the marine ecosystem. The same can be said of factories and industrial installations along our coastlines, including oil refineries that use the ocean as their rubbish dump, pumping toxic loads into them and deeply compromising the health of the aquatic lives in the process.

Researchers believe that by 2035 some 40 per cent of the world population will live in areas having water scarcity. It is also said that industries account for a fifth of global water use compared with 5 per cent for humans while agriculture uses the rest. We believe that industry uses much more water than estimated because these estimates do not include the waters that industry have polluted and rendered useless for other purposes.

The creeks, rivers and swamps of the Niger delta, for example, have all be privatized by the oil companies through pollution. Our continental shelf and deep waters have been partitioned and are effectively owned by the oil companies because of the security zone ( often up to 5 km radius) around their installations that are cordoned and closed to fishers, including areas with endemic fish species. So, our waters are also privatized through security cordons for unhindered extractive activities. This is a clearly objectionable privatizing of the commons.

Fishers Unite!

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The double jeopardy for our fishers is that with polluted coastlines, the option they have to secure good catches is to go into the deep offshore, but most of them do not have boats that can venture far off the coastlines. This is the tragic economic predicament of our fishers: disrupted by pollution, stopped by the military and blocked by economics. These will remain and self-reinforce until, and unless, fishers unite and declare that fish is more valuable than oil, coal or gold. The FishNet Alliance presents a strong platform to push for water bodies devoid of extractives.

It is time to challenge activities to pose danger to our marine resources. Citizens can win when we stand together and build webs of resistance. Resolute activists in New Zealand just won an inspiring case rejecting the mining of 50 million tonnes of ironsand from a 66 square kilometres area off the South Taranaki Bight that was to be done over a period of 35 years. More victories are possible.

Today we have an instigator with deep knowledge of the deep issues pertaining to Extractives, Oceans and Fisheries. We have scholars, fishers, processors and sellers in the house. This is a good mix for sharing and contesting ideas.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at the Sustainability Academy with the theme, Extractives, Oceans and Fisheries, held on Friday 31 August 2018 at the Centre for Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Fish is More Valuable than Crude

 

Fish is More Valuable Than Oil. When we say that fish is more valuable than oil, we are staying a plain fact. Fish are living organisms whereas crude oil comes from fossils or long dead matter. Fish support our life with necessary protein. It is estimated that about 63.2 percent of Ghanaians depend on fish for animal protein. Marine resources provide the backbone of the economy and social life of many coastal communities. They employ millions of peoples across the coast lines of Africa and in both Great and small lakes on the continent.

The economic value of artisanal and small-scale fishing includes the big population of processors and sellers that are mostly women. To these must be added the families that depend on them and the income from the sector. With these considerations and in comparison, to the negative impacts of oil exploration and extraction in our waters, the fishing sector is more valuable and needs to be consciously protected.

Before the arrival of oil and gas rigs in our territories we enjoyed pristine waters and we could fish freely in the deep offshore and on the inland shores. Our people could literally pick sea foods from the shallow waters and from the creeks. Oil activities in our waters have raised serious security concerns, with large areas around oil installations becoming off limits to fishers. Sadly, oil fields have notoriously been found in areas with endemic fish species. Besides oil spills from offshore oil operations, they also pollute the oceans with drilling muds, pipeline leaks, produced water and deck runoff water. These have considerable impacts on the fish, coral reefs and water birds in the short and long terms.

When the seismic ships arrive, trouble knocks. Oil companies invest a lot in their search for oil reserves. Governments readily back these searches because both corporations and governments benefit from huge reserves as the market value of an oil company rises as their reserves rise. Governments that belong to a cartel like the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) can press for higher production quotas depending on how much reserves they can show that they have. While their reserves rise, so do the pains and poverty of the fishers.

A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

Seismic testing is often carried using multiple air guns that emit thousands of high-decibel explosive impulses to map the seafloor. The engineers repeat the blasts from the seismic air-guns every ten seconds and all through the day and these go on for days and weeks at a time.

These activities are known to disorientate marine mammals such as whales and other marine life. This happens when the sensory organs of these aquatic animals are affected causing them to lose their sense of orientation as well as ability to track food sources.

You are witnesses to the many whales that have died off the Ghanaian coasts in recent years. Right here in Keta, a dead whale washed onshore at the Tettekope beach on Tuesday, September 19, 2017. A total of twenty four whales died on the coasts of Ghana between 2009 and 2013. While the government and oil companies keep insisting that the deaths of the whales have nothing to do with oil and gas exploration and extraction, what cannot be denied is that the alignment of the incidents and oil exploration and exploitation are too close to be ignored.

In South Africa, as exploratory activities intensify off the coast of Durban, concerns have risen over the fate of the highly valuable marine ecosystem there. Just this week a dead whale washed onshore. Before the beaching of the whale, scientists were worried that a particular fish species that has survived millions of years including the ice age, without much change, may not be equipped to withstand oil pollution. Last week a baby whale washed onshore on the coast of Delta State, Nigeria. These incidents have become more regular in recent times.

Oil drilling is a resounding tragedy to marine life forms, killing and injuring them. It is a threat to the natural heritage of our coastal communities. It is time for our nations to ban extractive activities and reckless fish exploitation by local and foreign fleets in our waters, create marine parks and protect them. Our fishers are getting tired of going all night in search of fish and returning home only with polluted nets.

Our FishNet Dialogues provide spaces for us to interrogate changes in the state of our marine environment and to map actors negatively impacting our marine ecosystems, and to proffer actions that must be taken to halt the harms. In the course of our conversations today, we will ask ourselves some questions. Such questions will include whether crude oil is in anyway more valuable to us than fish. We will compare how many persons work in the oil sector to the number that work in fisheries. We will also ask which of these supports our local livelihoods, natural heritage and sociocultural activities.

As you will see, we are not here to give or receive lectures.  We are here to have a dialogue, listen to ourselves, ask questions and collectively seek answers. We are here to seek ways we can work together and extend the webs of solidarity to other fishers who could not join with us today.

Health of Mother Earth Foundation is pleased to collaborate with Oilwatch Ghana and our fishers here in Keta to make this gathering happen. We also welcome FishNet Alliance members form Togo to the gathering. Let the conversations begin!

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), at the FishNet Dialogue held at Keta, Volta Region, Ghana on 23 August 2018

 

 

 

 

Ogoni Clean-Up: An Engagement in Social Engineering

AvisittoOgale,GoiandBodoRiversstate(129of182)Ogoni Clean up – An Engagement in Social Engineering , a step towards reclaiming our future. Pollution is the number one killer in the world today. It is deadlier than the wars in the world today, than smoking, malnutrition and others. This was the finding published by one of the world’s most respected medical journals, on October 19, 2017. The research looked into air and water pollution, among others.[1]

We all know that the Niger Delta is classified among the top ten most polluted places in the world. And we all know some of the key findings of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the assessment of the Ogoni environment. All water bodies are polluted with hydrocarbons, soils polluted to a depth of 5 metres at a number of places and benzene is found at levels 900 times above World Health Organisation standards[2]. We all know that the Niger Delta has the lowest life expectancy level in Nigeria. This is why the clamour for a clean-up of the region has been a long-drawn struggle.

The history of the struggle for the clean-up of Ogoni environment is that of the struggle for environmental, socio-economic and political justice. This struggle picked steam in the late 1980s and peaked in the early and mid 1990s. The enterprise can be characterized as a struggle for the right to live in dignity, pursue self-actualization and build a future for upcoming generations. The bedrock was the demand for justice. This was captured through well-articulated demands for the remediation of the damaged Ogoni environment. With cautious and robustly peaceful organising, the demands were catalogued in a carefully crafted Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) of 1990.[3]

The Bill noted that although crude oil had been extracted from Ogoniland from 1958, its inhabitants had received NOTHING in return. Articles 15-18 of the OBR illustrate some of the complaints of the people:

  • That the search for oil has caused severe land and food shortages in Ogoni— one of the most densely populated areas of Africa (average: 1,500 per square mile; national average: 300 per square mile.)
  • That neglectful environmental pollution laws and sub-standard inspection techniques of the Federal authorities have led to the complete degradation of the Ogoni environment, turning our homeland into an ecological disaster.
  • That the Ogoni people lack education, health and other social facilities.
  • That it is intolerable that one of the richest areas of Nigeria should wallow in abject poverty and destitution.

This Bill of Rights was the precursor to the Kaiama Declaration of the Ijaws, lkwerre Rescue Charter, Aklaka Declaration for the Egi, the Urhobo Economic Summit, Oron Bill of Rights and other demands of peoples’ organisations in the Niger Delta. It became an organising document for the Ogoni people and also eventually inspired other ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta to produce similar charters as a peaceful way of prodding the government into dialogue and action.[4]

Although the OBR has never been directly addressed by government, the detailed assessment of the Ogoni environment that culminated in the release of the now famous United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on 4 August 2011 can be said to be a response to some of the demands of the OBR. We note at this point that before the report was released information leaked out that the bulk of the blame for the pollution of Ogoni had been placed on the people. This led to a flurry of protests and by the time the report was eventually released the blame for the massive environmental destruction was more acceptably situated. It could not have been otherwise because the payment for the study was made on the basis of the polluter-pays principle by the lead international oil company (Shell Petroleum Development Company – SPDC) that operated in the area.

RESILIENT AND SUCCESSFUL STRUGGLES

Community organising succeeds where the people have identifiable goals that address their needs or issues. The resilience of a struggle is assured when the people and their leaders have a clear strategy, are able to adapt to unfolding situations, and are willing to change tactics as may be necessary without repudiating the core of what brought them together. This flexibility is possible when the people have a shared understanding of what their collective objectives are and what sacrifices may need to be made to attain the targets. The Ogoni struggle, through the leadership of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) has been an exemplary case study for other nationalities to learn from.

Understanding the depth of the crisis and determining to speak truth to power was aptly captured in one of the last poems, Silence Would be Treason, that Ken Saro-Wiwa wrote while in prison:

But while the land is ravaged

And our pure air poisoned

When streams choke with pollution

Silence would be treason[5]

As we consider the Ogoni clean-up today, we bear in mind that Ogoni has become a global metaphor for resilient community organizing against impunity. Saro-Wiwa foresaw this when he wrote in his prison memoir, A Month and A Day:

In virtually every nation state there are several ‘Ogonis’—despairing and disappearing people suffering the yoke of political marginalisation, economic strangulation and environmental degradation, or a combination of these, unable to lift a finger to save themselves. What is their future?[6]

The global component of the Ogoni situation has important implications for those who see it as a local struggle. It also has implications for those whose geographies are outside the limits of Ogoni. Those within must understand that their success charts the path that would lead to the clean-up of other regions. For those looking in from the outside, the stakes are no less because of the interconnectedness of our environment.

The Ogoni Environment is not isolated from the wider Niger Delta environment. Polluted ground water or polluted air does not obey political or traditional or cultural boundaries. When one part is cleaned up there is the urgent necessity to step to the next spot. Seeing everyplace as  discrete and separate would only lead to living in a fool’s paradise believing that the land is clean whereas pollution from elsewhere would be doing its deadly job, unseen, unnoticed except in the festival of funerals that would persist.

OIL DAMAGE NARRATIVES

There was a time when the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta could not boldly claim that the hydrocarbons pollution in the area is caused by local peoples. There was copious evidence of the ill-maintained pipelines and flow stations. Oil spills from equipment failure were the norm. Poorly handled toxic wastes and produced water could not be hidden. And, of course, gas flares continue to stick their sooty fingers in the air as criminal giant cigarettes. The oil companies laboured in vain to shift blames. Reports from communities, the media and environmental justice campaigners continued to pile up evidence of the guilt of the oil companies.

The tide began to change with the rise of violent militancy in the oil fields. Oil infrastructure became targets and the pollution that emanated from the conflicts could neither be hidden nor denied. In fact, the explosions were marked as badges of achievement by the groups that carried out the attacks. Violent militancy achieved aspects of their objectives: gaining attention of the governments that are demonstrably more interested in pipelines and petrodollars than in the peoples and their environment. The militarization of the Niger Delta rather than bring peace is contributory to the insecurity of lives and infrastructure in the region.

And so the environment suffered and new sources of pollution became entrenched in the region. Oil companies found a plank on which to hang blames for the pervading environmental degradation. They also found excuse in their operational locations being “inaccessible” due to insecurity and with that oil spills could go unchecked for any length of time.

The Amnesty Programme in its first and second coming helped to curtail deliberate tampering with oil facilities. But, a non-violent but equally deadly version of interferences crept in by way of what is generally called illegal refineries, but which we prefer to call bush refineries.

The bush refineries are incredibly polluting. The operators either do not know how toxic the environment in which they work is or they simply do not care. Obviously, the refineries meet the need for petroleum products in zone of perpetual shortages and high costs. Obviously, the operators have economic gains from the enterprise. However, what does it profit a person to make piles of money and not live to enjoy it? What does it benefit a person to accumulate wealth and pollution and sentence entire communities and future generations to death?

Today, when anyone thinks of the pollution of the Niger Delta, decades of incontrovertible pollution by oil companies are now forgotten and all fingers are pointed at thebush refineries.

It is so bad that even when the Port Harcourt refinery continually belches smoke into the atmosphere, fingers are pointed at the bush refineries as the cause of the soot in the atmosphere. The burning, bombing and strafing of bush refineries’ drums and barges of refined or unrefined petroleum products by security forces are accepted as signs of operational successes. We tend to think that pollution does not matter. How wrong can we get!

All the oil companies have to do today to ensure the narrative is shifted away from them is to take some journalists on their choppers for pollution tours, picking out the awful patches destroyed by bush refiners.Who would not do that? The fact that industrial scale oil theft has been going on for decades is hardly spoken of these days because of the visible and graphic horrors of the bush refineries.

DEADLY IMPACTS

The Niger Delta is so scarred, so polluted today that what we have on our hand is an environmental emergency, no less. Our air, water and land are all polluted. We plant crops and end up with poisoned harvests. We cast our nets and hurl in poisoned fish, when we see any. We breathe and our nostrils are blackened by soot. Our rivers, streams, creeks and ponds are clearly polluted, yet we drink the waters for lack of choice. All these have deadly impacts.

Oil pollution[7]causes habitat loses, biodiversity degradation, loss of livelihoods and loss of lives.

The heavy metals extracted along with crude oil include cadmium, lead, mercury, arsenic, copper, iron, barium and many others. These have serious risks to human health and wildlife. Health risks include abdominal pains, kidney diseases, nervous problems, bronchitis, fragility of bones, prostate and lung cancer. They can also cause brain malformations as well as pregnancy and birth complications.

Mercury canrapidly penetrate and accumulate in the food chain.  Acute poisoning produces gastroenteritis,inflammation of the gums, vomiting and irritation of the skin with dermatitis which can turn into ulcers.

The  flared associated gases cause a cocktail of dangerous health impacts including conjunctivitis, bronchitis, asthma, diarrhoea, headaches, confusion, paralysis and others. Of course, we know of the acid rain that occurs when sulphur and nitrous oxides mix with moisture in the atmosphere.

Poorly handled produced water contaminates creeks, rivers, lakes, aquifers and other water sources.  This causes the salination of these waters, soil and associated biodiversity. Salts and metals present can include cyanide which can cause immediate death if ingested. Cyanide in low doses can lead to intense headaches, sour taste, and loss of smell and taste, dizziness, vomiting, difficulty in breathing, anxiety, convulsions, loss of consciousness. In chronic intoxication it can produce goitre.

Clearly, it is extremely unsafe for untrained and unprotected persons to go near crude oil spills and materials used in the extraction processes. Seeing our people literally swim in crude oil and fire in the bush refineries is absolutely appalling.

CLEANING UP TODAY FOR TOMORROW

The Ogoni clean-up exercise is an intergenerational investment.

For the short time he was alive and in office, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso understood that a people that cannot feed themselves are not truly free. He also saw the direct link between environmental sanity and social justice. In analysis of the work of this great son of Africa, Amber Murrey states:

Liberation is incomplete when people hunger daily. Environmental protection and sustainability were therefore crucial to Sankara’s strategic thinking. Today, the continent faces serious environmental and climatic challenges that affect food production, access to water and public health. These challenges include water pollution, deforestation, soil erosion, droughts, floods, desertification, insect infestation, and wetland degradation. Environment protection is inextricably linked to social security, poverty eradication, and health.[8]

The clean-up process has many components and many actors. While the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) and other levels of government have various roles to play, there are also the contractors, consultants and the community leaders and people. We have individual responsibilities as well as collective responsibilities. The federal government and its agencies have responsibilities and so do the State and Local governments. The clean-up is a complex social engineering project that goes beyond the technicalities that we will soon be seeing with machines, chemicals and diverse equipments. We refer to this exercise as social engineering because apart from remediation the environment we have to decolonize our thinking and relationships. All these require some work.

First, we have to understand that the clean-up is primarily for the sake of our children and future generations. If this fails we could as well look forward to a future in which the Niger Delta will be a museum with no inhabitants because not just the people, but the ecological systems would all be dead. This places a moral burden on all of us. On policy makers, on leaders and on us the people.

Successful social engineering calls for the spirit of sacrifice. The clean-up will produce new skill sets, new jobs and massive employment that would stretch for several years if we get this first steps right. Again, we emphasize that this will require sacrifice. If anyone approaches this sacred task of building an environment for future generations with the aim of profiteering, thievery or self aggrandizement, you can be sure that the entire scheme will ship wreck.

No contractor should cut corners. No individual or company should trigger new pollutions. As my friend, Inemo Semiama, says, “you cannot successfully mop the floor with the tap running.”

WISDOM

This epic social engineering will require the wisdom of our peoples. It will require local knowledge. The youths must embrace the spirit of sacrifice for it is the way to build the moral authority that will be needed to question activities and actions that may occur in the process of the clean-up implementation. These could include the calls for transparency, for ensuring the availability of funds and for insisting that delivered jobs match specifications, expectations and set milestones.

This effort will also demand and require collective wisdom through popular consultations. The Ogonis have the critical advantage that makes this possible because of the existence of the mass organ, MOSOP – with its youth, women and other arms. Working organically together, there will be no shortage of diversity of wisdom to tackle even the most intractable problems.

Ogoni is a laboratory, a classroom. A careful implementation of this massive social engineering programme will illustrate how the oppressed can escape from being put down by the wielders of privilege and power.

GOING FORWARD

Halting production never halted pollution. Those responsible must continue to bear the responsibility. Those instigating new sources of pollution must halt such acts for the sake of our children, our tomorrow and for the sake of other beings with which we share the planet.  We cannot build a liveable tomorrow on a polluted today.

Our slogan as the exercise takes roots should be: A Clean Ogoni: Zero Tolerance for Old and New Pollution.

We have a right to claim what belongs to us as ours. However, taking steps that end up killing us or destroying our environment for the sake of expressing our right of ownership is both a false reasoning and a false economic move. When we do things that compound our problems we are simply playing into the hands of the forces of exploitation.

This is our opportunity to reclaim our humanity. It is time to reclaim our dignity. It is time for all of us in the Niger Delta, nay, Nigeria to stand together in solidarity. There is no part of this nation that is not crying for environmental remediation. From the polluted creeks of the Niger Delta to the contaminated lagoons of Lagos and the rivers in the north, to the Sambisa Forest polluted with military armaments and erosion ravaged lands of the east, we are united by our ecological challenges.

The clean-up is a positive alternative vision. It is time for vigilance based on knowledge. Not a time for complacency. Not a time to be silent. It is time to hold government and its agencies, oil companies and our leaders accountable. It is time to demand accountability and responsibility of ourselves.

The clean-up is an opportunity to build and consolidate environmental justice. Together we can leverage the opportunity. It is a path we must walk together and not alone. As the African proverb says, you may go fast by going alone, but you can only go far by going together. We are that intertwined and interconnected.

Notes

[1]See the Lancet report at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/

[2]Nsisioken, Ogale

[3]“MOSOP (1990) Ogoni Bill of Rights. https://www.mosop.org.ng/publications/35-documents/496-the-ogoni-bill-of-rights

[4]Nnimmo Bassey (2016) Oil Politics – Echoes of Ecological Wars, Daraja Press

[5]Ken Saro-Wiwa (2017) Silence Would Be Treason – Last Writings Of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Íde Corley, Helen Fallon, Laurence Cox, eds. Daraja Press

[6]Ken Saro-Wiwa. (2015) A Month and a Day and Letters Oxford: Ayebia Clark Publishing Limited, 2005 page 123

[7]For more on health impacts of crude oil, gas flares, etc. see HOMEF’s Community Guide to Environmental Monitoringat http://www.homef.org/publication/community-guide-environmental-monitoring-and-reporting

[8]Amber Murrey, ed (2018) A Certain Amount of Madness- The Life, Politics and Legacies of Thomas Sankara. London: Pluto press.

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Speaking notes by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation used at the Stakeholders’ Dialogue on Building Trust and Common Ground for a Successful Clean-Up held on 3rdMay 2018 at Port Harcourt, Nigeria

 

Living in Fear – a book by Juan Lopez Villar

Living with Fear coverLiving in Fear– Wars, conflict and natural resources in the heart of Africa – is a book written by Juan Lopez Villar, a development and environmental analyst. He holds a PhD in the field of Environmental Law.

This book explores the general relation between wars, conflicts and natural resources, focusing in particular on two African countries: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Both countries have gone through some of the bloodiest wars and conflicts in recent decades in the world. Peace efforts have been made at the UN level to try to minimize the conflict situations. The book provides a succinct but comprehensive overview of both conflicts and shows their relation with natural resources.

Living in Fear is published by Kraft Books Ltd for Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF). It was first issued in 2016. To make the information freely available you may download and read the book here: Living in Fear.

To send feedback or request for hard copies reach us by email at home@homef.org