Conflicts and the Idea of Land Ownership

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Jens-Petter Kjemprud (Norwegian Ambassador), Pricilla Achakpa (WEP), Nnimmo Bassey (HOMEF) and Jaoji Alhassan (CORET) at the event

Our conception of ownership of any piece of the Earth depends largely on our relationship with the Earth. When land is treated as a commodity, as an article of trade, conflict becomes inevitable. This is the driver of the call for the formalization of land titling and ownership — a means of personal acquisition and dispossession of others based on the strength of the individual’s financial or political strength. In this context the value of land is seen in its geology or fertility.

When land is seen as territory, or through a communal lens, the idea of private ownership or trading of land becomes unthinkable, because, in this case, land is a vital piece of cultural life and not just as an object of exploitation, trade or transformation. In other words, you can sell land, but you cannot sell territory. Seeing land as a non-tradable object consolidates the notion of persons as sons or daughters of the soil, as inextricably tied to their territories in all ramifications – including socioculturally.

Farmers and pastoralists see land in distinctly different ways than speculators and governments do. Consider the idea of laws governing land as a resource. Whereas communities of peoples, whether farmers or pastoralists, see land as an integral part of their lives, economic reproduction and culture, governments see land as a thing that should be appropriated and utilized mostly for its economic value. Nigeria’s Land Use Act of 1978 concretizes this concept and takes the sense of oneness with the soil away from vast numbers of our peoples. With a stroke of the pen, government can disposes and displace individuals or communities from their territories, take over from, or hand over to, others. However, government does not just take over lands. Those who had claims over such territories are compensated for their loss. This compensation is for economic crops or improvements that such persons may have brought to the land.

Improvement or transformation – that is the key. And where nothing of the sort is found on the land, the dispossessed is left with no claim. It is not difficult to see why the Land Use Act is supposedly inviolate in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. To the herder, the fact that he had moved away from a place does not render that place of departure a no-man’s land. To the farmer, the fact that he has left a parcel of land fallow, does not mean there is no improvement on the land as the very act of having fallow land brings about soil improvement.

The matter we are examining today relates to the question of whether we see our piece of the Earth as a commodity or as territory.  It is a matter of our relationship with Nature. Is our piece of the Earth defined by a surveyor’s beacon stone, or is it what defines our lives? Is it what we relate with deferentially or what we cut in pieces and trade as we please? The relationship of humanity to the Earth has brought about much harm, the most critical at this point in time being climate change evidenced by global warming.

Without doubt, the world is fed by farmers, pastoralists and fishers. And these are the small holder or family farmers. Industrial food production, as one world expect, largely feeds industry – maize produced this way goes largely to serve as animal feeds and others into biofuels production. Industrial fishers trawl our seas and harvest species into extinction. In all, 30 to 50 percent of food produced in the world today goes to waste, while over 850 million persons go to bed hungry every day.

Let us emphasize that the impact of climate change gets worse by the day and cannot be wished away. We see the impacts through shrinking water resources (such as Lake Chad), increased desertification and loss of land through coastal and wind erosion. Add to these continued deforestation and massive pollution of our water resources and it is clear that we have a crisis situation. The crisis that takes the headlines, however, is the deadly conflicts between herders and farmers in our country. With a high rate of fatalities and a cycle of attack and counter attacks, the trend seems set to continue. Should it?

Conflicts between herders and farmers are not inevitable. We must agree that this is a recent phenomenon both in Nigeria and in other African countries. If that is so, we have to interrogate the causative factors propelling this unwholesome development. What are the economic roots and what role does careless relationship with the Earth play, especially with regard to the preservation of our forests and grasslands? Why are we not utilizing the symbiotic relationship of animal husbandry and farming – where animals help fertilize the soils of fallow lands that also serve as pasture?

If climate change escalates the movement of herders, is migration the only way to mitigate the impacts? Would better soil and water management impede the rate of desertification in Nigeria? If the Great Green Wall project restores its area of focus, would that reverse the migration and conflicts? What are the lessons, (for example of land restoration techniques used in neighbouring countries) that groups like CORET sharing among pastoral groups across the Sahel and what is the interface with farmers on soil fertility and peace building efforts? Are there cultural practices and political factors that lock in the crises?

We are gathered to share knowledge and contest ideas around issues of climate change, pastoralism, land and conflicts. The cooperation of HOMEF and CORET to bring about this conversation today is the beginning of a series that we will continue to have because we believe that when there is clear understanding between farmers and pastoralists a big part of reasons for conflicts will be eliminated.

This is a unique gathering today. We are grateful to all the herders and farmers in our midst today. We are thankful to the distinguished personalities here today. We do not expect to tease out all the answers at one sitting. We, however, believe that one beginning step is to have a learning space and a conversation.

So, let the conversation begin.

Opening words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) – the ecological think tank – at the Sustainability Academy co-hosted with the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) on 18 October 2017 at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.

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Resolutions of the 10th Sustainability Academy Themed “Climate Change, Pastoralism, Land And Conflicts” Organized By Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) In Collaboration With Confederation Of Traditional Herder Organizations (CORET) On 18thoctober, 2017, At The International Conference Center, Abuja, Nigeria.

Health of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF) in collaboration with Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) convened the 10th Sustainability Academy on building deeper understanding of the underpinnings of the intense manifestations of conflicts between Pastoralists (herders) and farmers in Nigeria through the lenses of climate change, land and resource access and ownership. The meeting was attended by stakeholders in the sector and included pastoralists, farmers, government officials, diplomatic community, community people, members of civil society and the media.

Discussions on the subject matter were preceded by two presentations which instigated discussions among participants after an overview from the convener, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey who stressed that the gathering was for the sharing of knowledge and finding ways by which the conflicts occasioned by climate change can be addressed.

The first presentation was delivered by Mrs Priscilla Achakpa titled: Climate Change, Pastoralism and Land Conflict: The Gender Perspective, while the second presentation by Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq on the topic climate change, pastoralism and land conflict. was made by Jaoji A. Alhassan on his behalf.

After exhaustive discussions on the issues raised in the presentations, all the participants agreed that climate change is a global threat to human security and it impacts are contributory to conflicts in Nigeria. The Academy noted that pastoralists, farmers, women and children are some of the most vulnerable groups in Nigeria.

Recommendations:

To address the impacts of climate change and prevent incessant crises between farmers and herders that arise as a result of land and other environmental issues, the Academy recommended as follows:

  1. There should be greater engagement of extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists
  2. Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distorts development efforts.
  3. There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existents as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
  4. The fact that climate change impacts differently on different categories of people should be considered in preparing climate actions.
  5. The Great Green Wall Programme aimed at combating desertification amplified by climate change through improved use of land and water resources should incorporate the pastoralist in their fodder production scheme for sustainable development.
  6. Government should carry out livestock development policy review to align them with regional and international practices.
  7. The Federal Government should initiative actions to produce a detail land use plan for the country.
  8. Youth restiveness should be addressed by all stakeholders through capacity building, mentoring and skills diversification. Development partners have a role to play in this direction.
  9. There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re-orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
  10. Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing.
  11. In the brokering of peace and the implementation of all forms of conflict management initiatives, it is pertinent that women are carried along. Their full participation and inclusion should be entrenched in such processes.
  12. Media should engage more in investigative journalism in reporting conflicts rather than stereotyping pastoralists and others.
  13. The Federal Government should create a Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries as is obtained in several other African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Tanzania
  14. Climate change is not a boundary-limited issue. Nigeria should approach this issue from this perspectibe in pursuing adaptation, funding, resilience and mitigation strategies in communities.
  15. There is need to take inventory of the all existing grazing reserves, traditional grazing areas, transhumance corridors, major stock routes, fully develop at least one per state in line with the recommendations of the recommendations of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Livestock Development in Nigeria of 2015 and implement the Report of the Presidential Committee on Pastoralism and Insecurity.

Signed

Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq — Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET)

Nnimmo Bassey — Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)

 

 

 

Python Songs, Crocodile Smiles

1. Nigeria

If there is egwu eke
There must be the drummer
Or the flutist
Where there is a dance there must be a song
Who is the musician to whose beat
The python is dancing?

The crocodile please
My gaping jaws and fearsome teeth
Never mean I smile
No matter how hard my stinking efforts with
Dirt-crusted teeth
Who says the crocodile smiles or is this a search for flesh to rip?

Whose beat demands a dance?
Whose dance demands a smile?

To question the wisdom of beasts of the forests and of the creeks
The hunted must pause to unravel
When infantries turned into reptiles

No cocky croc grimace
No wiggly cobra twists
Demilitarize
Now!

2. Africa

Drumbeats drowned
by merchant gunboats
Exploited
Partitioned with a ruler
Rigged with sit tight rulers
Fragmented
Sucked
Sapped
Dried
Burnt
Exposed to subhuman bondage
Time to pushback
Merge the sub nations
One Africa

No cocky croc grimace
No wiggly cobra twists
Demilitarize
Now!

FishNet Wisdom at Makoko

Group work2

Group conversation

FishNet Wisdom: Fish not Oil. There must be a time when we sit back to reflect on the things we take for granted in order to avoid being taken by surprise when such things disappear.  No one bothers to answer a question on what one would do if the water well runs dry. Probably, the answer would be to dig another well. If that one dries up too, you simply keep digging new ones. The colour of the question changes when we ask what would happen if the ground water over an entire territory is polluted and you set about digging wells there. The answer is that no matter how many wells one digs, one would end up with polluted water.

Today over 6.5 million Nigerians are engaged in fishing. Most of these fisher folks live on riverine communities along our 850km coastline – without public utilities, no schools, no health centres. Is that situation different here in Makoko? Was it different at Otodo Gbame before the bulldozers set in April 2017 and set hopes and dreams on fire? Was it any different in Maroko before the fisher folks were forcibly displaced in July 1990 and exclusive neighbourhoods emerged from the swamps?

Oil has been found offshore Lagos. As is the case with every offshore location around our continent, security forces bar fisher folks from getting anywhere close to the oil platforms.

The offshore locations in the Niger Delta are very active – with productive oil fields and rampant oil spills. As we speak, fishing communities at Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State are lamenting the impact of yet another oil spill. They complain of fishing grounds being damaged and their fishing equipment being destroyed by the spill.

The combination of security cordon and oil spills places our fisher folks at a very disadvantaged position. The only option for many fisher folks is to go into the high seas before they can hope to have a good catch. The question is, how many fisher folks can afford the boats and equipment needed for fishing in the high seas? How many can tango with the toxic combination of sea pirates and illegal international fishing gangs out there?

Today we are examining the state of our environment and the gifts of Nature around us. We are looking back at what living and fishing here was like some decades ago. We are also looking at the situation today, noting the changes that have taken place, identifying those factors that brought about, or are bringing about, the changes. Finally, we will prepare an action plan by which we hope to recover our ecological heritage and preserve same for future generations.

There must be a time when we realise that we cannot win all battles fighting alone. We must come to the point when we organise and connect to others in similar situations like ours. That way, we get to share ideas, pains, hopes and strategies.

FishNet

Today is such a day. Fisher folks recently came together at Okrika Waterfront in Port Harcourt while others came together in kribi (Cameroon) and Durban (South Africa). The circle gets wider. Our FishNet Dialogues are opportunities to forge strong ecological collectives and to show the world that we have the adaptive solutions to the ravages of climate change. Our floating homes are pointers to the future of Lagos as the seas reclaim the land that land speculators stole form the sea. We are the people. We are the solution, not the threat.  The threat is our dependence on crude oil – the very resource that is firing global warming. Today we present a simple wisdom: it is time to keep offshore oil untapped. Today we present this simple incontrovertible wisdom: our wellbeing and that of the planet will best be preserved when we unit and say: Fish, not Oil.

 

 

FishNet Dialogue At Okrika Waterfront

FishNet Conversations. True change can come from below. Change can begin from below. True change must come from below. Just as it is the root system that makes a tree stand, so it is with changes that must last. We have ignored the roots of our problems long enough and today we are dissecting those roots so that we can clearly see where the proverbial rain began to beat us.

Along the 853km coastline of Nigeria are men and women floating in turbulent tides, seeking to draw out the swirling foods that are in turn seeking their own food.  There are epic struggles on and in our waters: our fishing brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers struggle to catch the aquatic beings. The aquatic beings struggle not just to escape the nets and hooks, but also to catch a breath as they are suffocated by myriad pollutants and poisons. These realities extend along the coasts of our inland water bodies as well as the continental shorelines of Africa and around the world.

And, so, our stop today is for reflections on the health of our aquatic ecosystems and the challenge of offshore extractive activities and the economic situation of our peoples. Similar dialogues have commenced in South Africa where fisher folks are fighting for a right to fish on the piers of the Durban harbour without restrictions that blocks them away known fishing grounds. We have also had similar conversations at Kribi, Cameroun, where the entrance of the Chad-Cameroun pipeline has destroyed coral reefs and fisher folks have to go deeper into the seas in hope of having a meaningful catch.

As we gather today on this challenged Water Front in Port Harcourt, our FishNet Dialogue will examine the past and the present and draw up a picture of our preferred future. We are looking back at what the fishing situation was in the Niger Delta before the extraction of petroleum resources despoiled the marine environment. We are reflecting on what species were available and what ecological norms our ancestors applied to ensure a steady supply of nutritious foods and how they built the local economies. We are looking at what has happened since our territories became an industrial waste dump, where mangroves have been destroyed by many factors and where fishing grounds have been largely curtailed by military shields ringing oil and gas facilities. We will touch on the rising sea levels, eroding coastlines and the salinization of our fresh water systems. Importantly, we are reflecting on who are the culprits and what must be done and how.

Our hope is that, as we sit in this and other FishNet Dialogues, we will extend hands to other fishing communities along the entire coast of Africa (and beyond), share our stories and underscore the facts of our common humanity, our right to food and our right to live in dignity. We look forward to the day when it will dawn on all that fish is more valuable than oil. We are looking forward to the day when our voices will echo Fish Not Oil on our simmering tides. We are looking forward to the day when change will truly come from below and climate action will finally have as a pivotal hook the reality that offshore fossil fuels must be left untapped and unburned.

Fisheries contribute substantially to local economies and are a vital source of protein for most of our peoples. It is estimated that fisheries contribute up to N126 billion to Nigeria’s economy annually. Sadly, only about 30 percent of our fish needs are produced locally – and these come from artisanal, aquaculture and industrial fisheries. In the Niger Delta, it is a worrisome truth that many fisher folks have become fetchers of wood as the creeks and rivers have been so polluted that fishing has become largely unproductive. Fishing communities have been forced to depend on imported fish by pollution and by reckless and illegal harvesting of fish by foreign trawlers along our continental shelf. Starkly, some analyst believe that the Nigeria is the highest importer of fish in Africa.

It is time to challenge our policy makers to interrogate the essence of development and determine what truly makes economic sense. The offshore extractive sector employs a handful of citizens, but throws millions out of work due to the taking over of fishing grounds and the pollution of the creeks, rivers and seas. Although GDP measures do not put food on dining table or is not an index of well-being, for a notion of the economic implication, we consider the case of Ghana. As at 2011, the fishery industry accounted for nearly 5 percent of Ghana’s GDP and jobs in the offshore oil industry for Ghanaians were estimated to be around 400 with an expectation that this may double by 2020. Meanwhile, fishing directly or indirectly supported up to 10 percent of the country’s population. Think about that.

We must consider the grave impacts on the global climate by the world’s continued dependence on fossil fuels – an addiction that permits extreme extraction and the poking around for deposits in the deep sea. We question the economic sense of investing huge sums of money to set up drilling platforms and Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) stations in stormy, dangerous waters.

Offshore oil production involves environmental risks, the most notable one being oil spills from oil tankers or pipelines, and from leaks and accidents including facilities failure on the platform.  The materials used in the process of drilling are also a source for worry. We cite the example of drilling muds used for the lubrication and cooling of the drill bits and pipes. The drilling muds release toxic chemicals that affect marine life. One drilling platform can drill several wells and discharge more than 90,000 metric tons of drilling fluids and metal cuttings into the ocean.

We also have to consider produced water, a fluid brought up with oil and gas and making up about 20 percent of the waste associated with offshore drilling. At exploratory stages, seismic activities send a strong shock waves across the seabed that can decrease fish catch, damage the hearing capacity of various marine species and lead to marine mammal stranding. Many dead whales washed onshore in Ghana at the time seismic and oil drilling activities peaked in that country’s offshore. We also had similar experiences during offshore accidents, such as the Chevron rig explosion off the coast of Bayelsa State in January 2012.

Offshore oil rigs also attract seabirds at night due to their lighting and flaring and because fish aggregate near them. The attraction of fish to the rigs deprive fisher folks of access due to the naval cordon around the facilities. The process of flaring involves the burning off of fossil fuels which produces black carbon (a current menace around Port Harcourt) and constitute a source of greenhouse gases that compound the global warming crisis.

Fishery on the other hand has little or no negative externality on the people or environment. It is a source of food and food security as well. It is a source of job creation. And it does not harm the climate. Offshore extraction and its externalities point towards negative indicators and are prime sources of conflicts between nations. Our FishNet Dialogues aim to build local economies, fight global warming at the base and build a movement from below to ensure a liveable planet, support local economies and build peace.

Let the dialogue continue.

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Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director Health of Mother Earth Foundation, at the FishNet Dialogue held at Port Harcourt on 7 July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Security in the Niger Delta

Food Security in the Niger Delta can best be examined using the classic rule of thumb of the right to food and the right to be free from hunger. This basically requires that we approach the subject from the premise that we must own our food narrative. We shouldn’t be adjudged malnourished or hungry simply because we do not eat certain prescribed foods, in what manner and in what quantities. This necessitates that we consider the crucial need to approach food security in the context of food sovereignty.

The implication is that we have to focus on food that is produced by the people and that are culturally appropriate. This is vital, because food availability does not necessarily address the issue of food security if the people end up eating junk or are force-fed on foods they don’t really want. In the Niger Delta, as in the overall national situation, while we have spots where few citizens battle with mountains of food, the majority are drowning in the ocean of hunger.

Hunger arises due to a complex of socio-political realities.

Food is a human right. Food security is hinges on agriculture, property rights and environmental management. The deep link to agriculture is inescapable as the majority of our people are engaged in the production of food in one form or the other. And the story of the despoiled Niger Delta environment is well told.

In 1996, SERAC filed a case against the Federal Government of Nigeria at the African Commission Human and Peoples’ Rights denouncing “the widespread contamination of soil, water and air; the destruction of homes; the burning of crops and killing of farm animals; and the climate of terror the Ogoni communities had been suffering of, in violation of their rights to health, a healthy environment, housing and food. In terms of the African Charter, these allegations included violations of Articles 2 (non-discriminatory enjoyment of rights), 4 (right to life), 14 (right to property), 16 (right to health), 18 (family rights), 21 (right of peoples to freely dispose of their wealth and natural resources) and 24 (right of peoples to a satisfactory environment)”

When the Commission reached a decision in 2011, the FG was found culpable violating the people’s right to food. Thus, when we consider the food security in the Niger Delta we must keep in mind that there is a continued failure of the governments to uphold the right of the people to safe and satisfactory food and by extension, all the other rights.

Absence of food is a major threat to human security.

Food is available when food producers are able to invest their time, energy, resources and skills in the farming, herding or fishing and attain good harvests for subsistence or for commercial purposes. Food is accessible when it can be found within reach of the hungry, and critically so when they have the purchasing power to acquire it. Food availability is also anchored on the appropriateness of the items within the cultural context.

Moi moi

Moi moi wrapped in leaves, not plastics!

 

Production and consumption of food depend not just on current realities, but on the collective and cultural memories of the people. These include how seeds are acquired and from whom, as well as how they are sown and by whom. Are the seeds purchased or do farmers get them from what they had saved? Is planting solely individual effort or does it include the cooperation of neighbours and other communal configurations?

For farmers to supply food in quantities that cover their needs and leave surpluses for the market, they have to sow sufficient seeds of good quality and on good quality soil. The impoverishment of farmers could lead to reduction in the scope of their productive ability – including farm size, quality and quantity of seeds as well as their capacity to work.

Soil and Seeds

When soils are of poor quality, the best efforts of the farmers would be largely futile and unproductive. When the soils are bad, the harvests would be bad and seeds saved to be planted would be of poor quality and are bound to yield poorer harvests. In situations of this nature, farmers engaged in farming as a routine, on automaton, expecting little and getting nothing. With the depth of pollution in the Niger Delta, farming is often mere tradition.

Over the years, local food varieties have been lost or abandoned. Massive deforestation due to logging, land use conversion, infrastructure development and industrial activities threaten vital food sources.

What Changed?

Oil exploration and extraction have brought about major changes in food production and access in the Niger Delta. The impacts come through the entire chain: from seismic activities of the exploration stage to the production, transportation and eventual usage stages. Seismic activities in the seas have direct impact on aquatic life forms and drilling wastes impact both land and water bodies. Dumping of hundreds barrels of produced water into the environment adds to the deadly pollution. Oil spills from equipment failure and from third party interferences add to the tragic situation. Gas flares diminish agricultural productivity and the use of the furnaces to process foods contaminate and poison the people.

Indiscriminate harvesting of fish by international fleets raise unique security issues and wreak havoc on fisheries, further impoverishing local fishers.

Canalizations for oil sector operations have also damaged fresh water systems by bringing in salt water from the sea. This has marked implications for fish and agricultural productivity. Coastal erosion is Eating up farmlands and infrastructure.

The overall situation is so bad that fishermen and women depend on imported fish for sustenance.

When Security Breeds Insecurity

Paradoxically, the presence of security forces in the Niger Delta to some extent promotes insecurity in the region. This happens in the sense that the citizens are insecure in the presence of these officials. Curtailment of certain undesirable activities may also become impossible if those charged with halting them do nothing or get compromised in the process. Collective shaming and punishment as evidenced in the many checkpoints in the creeks and have been seen in the cases of Ogoni, Odi, Odioma, Gbaramatu and many others attest to this.

Military shields around oil and gas facilities reduce the fishing zones and keep fishers away from customary or known fishing zones. Fisher folks now have to go to international waters, at great cost and risks, if they hope to make any reasonable catch.

Dumping of industrial waste at sea further hampers the productivity of the efforts of the fishers. This has raised concerns for fisher folks in the Niger Delta and in nations with offshore extractive activities.

Biodiversity

The must assured way of ensuring food security in Niger Delta is the protection/management of the environment and the enhancement of her agricultural biodiversity. Agro-biodiversity is the one of the basic productive assets of family farmers. This will require a halt of the pollutions, including gas flaring going on in the Niger Delta. On a national scale, it would necessitate the repeal of the National Biosafety Management Act 2015 and the enacting of a National Biodiversity Management Act that would not only protect and ensure the preservation of our agricultural biodiversity but would help kick start a bio-economy based on nature’s gifts to the nation.

Working the Future

1. Clean up the Niger Delta, restore the environment and compensate the people for loses suffered
2. Government to support farming and fishing communities structurally – including agricultural extension services, finance, creation of fish markets, storage facilities and rural infrastructure
3. Research into and support biodiversity conservation and promote the building of an economy that is based on local knowledge as well as on the principles of Re-Source Democracy
4. Establish a National Biodiversity Management Agency – and cover Biosafety matters within this agency
5. Demilitarize the Niger Delta and encourage community policing instead.

 


Speaking points by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, HOMEF
at the Roundtable on Food Security in the Niger Delta, 29 July 2017 at Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja

 

As Soot Blankets Port Harcourt

carbon-coated

Soot & Sole:  twitter pix from @GreatOgoni

 

Dark clouds over Port Harcourt. The air in parts of Port Harcourt has been darkened by soot over the past few months, raising a cloud of concerns about the attendant health impacts. Citizens in parts of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, are getting worried about the air they breathe. To put it another way, many citizens are afraid to breathe. And that can be deadly.

Soot is a general term that covers pollutants derived from incomplete or inefficient burning of fossil fuels or biomass (plants or plant-based materials used as source of energy). The major sources of soot include fuels like diesel used in transport and in electricity generators. For the Niger Delta, the sources include the aforementioned and include others such as: gas flares, illegal refineries, the burning of illegal refineries and crude oil, burning of oil spills by incompetent contractors and the burning of sundry wastes. Bush burning can also be a source of soot in our environment.

The burning of illegal, or bush refineries, by the Join Military Task Force (JTF), the incendiary acts that have been raised as banners of victory over oil theft, is one source that must be halted immediately. The bush refineries are basic and flimsy contraptions that can easily be dismantled and safely disposed of. The same goes for wooden barges arrested with stolen crude. Dropping grenades on those toxic wares and sending smoke signals above the creeks may be seen as acts of bravado, but they have serious health impacts on the environment and citizens in the area. The JTF, working with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the oil majors, should set up recovery centres were recovered stolen crude are logged, stored and safely disposed of by the original owners or as agreed. The disposal methods could include sending such crude to the refineries or by exporting them if the quality is not compromised by the process of rough handling.

A variety of soot is one called black carbon. We have also heard of black snow arising from carbon particulates that accumulated in the Himalayas, for instance, and is said to aid the rapid melting of snow by reason of the heat they trap. Dramatic carbon pollution in the winter of 1952 led to the death of about 4000 persons within five days.

The current situation of soot blanketing the skyline of parts of Port Harcourt is deeply troubling and requires urgent actions from relevant government agencies as well as research institutes. In particular, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and, in general, the Federal and State Ministries of Environment and those of Health should step up to tackle the emergency situation.

When reports of gathering soot came up a couple of months ago, sources at NESREA confirmed that the soot originated from hydrocarbon or oil-sector related sources. That conclusion rules out bush burning as a possible source. For those that have noticed the thick black smoke belching continuously from the Port Harcourt refineries, those sources are very strong suspects. And then, the bush refineries and the bombing of those rickety refineries by the JTF remain strong contenders. These should all be investigated. The scenario has raised the urgent need for air quality measurement and control in Nigeria. Within accurate measurement of levels of exposure, causal links may not solid and culprits may wriggle out and avoid accountability and responsibility.

It is the duty of our regulatory agencies to pin-point the source of this menace, enforce a cessation of the obnoxious acts and penalise the culprits. We know that the conflicting boundary lines governing the duties of these agencies may complicate the processes for addressing this issue, but joint meetings should overcome territorial defences in the face of the risks our people are exposed to.

This is a serious situation and government cannot afford to remain silent on it. The health impacts of soot and black carbon are well documented and are known to include effects on our respiratory system and bloodstreams. They can trigger cardiovascular diseases such as asthma, chronic cough, sinusitis, bronchitis and colds. The fine particles can also have carcinogenic effects. They can also negatively affect the development of the lungs in children. Life expectancy in the Niger Delta is already precariously low, the effect of soot and black carbon will push those low figures through the bottom.

We should also mention here that Ekpan community at Warri, Delta State, has been suffering extensive pollutions from black carbon emanating from the petrochemical plant located there. The community is more or less heavily coated with soot continually and residents often have to keep their windows shut in futile to keep out the deadly stuff. When the community petitioned the National Assembly over the situation, an order was issued that the plant should be shut down until it was adequately serviced and fitted with devices that would halt the noxious emissions. It does not appear that the order was adhered to as the community is still reeling under the weight of black carbon whenever the machines come alive.

Residents of Port Harcourt, Ekpan and the Niger Delta as a whole deserve a breath of air that is fresh and devoid of soot and black carbon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eco-Instigator #14

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

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

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

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

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