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
– 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
Extractives 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.
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.
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 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!
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 , 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.
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. 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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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 pollutioncauses 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Amber Murrey, ed (2018) A Certain Amount of Madness- The Life, Politics and Legacies of Thomas Sankara. London: Pluto press.
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– 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Halting Head Hunting Herders. The gruesome murder of our brothers, sisters and children in Benue State by herdsmen has taken the level of insecurity in Nigeria to new heights. While some of us were quick to avoid the devastating photos of the carnage as posted in social media platforms, photos of rows of caskets in which the victims were buried etched indelible prints on our souls as a people. The uniformity of the caskets says to us: this could be you.
As each victim was lowered into the grave, their departure marked a strong rebuke to a system that allows these atrocities to be perpetuated. How low can we sink as a people? The need to urgently check the spread of this terror cannot overemphasized. The relocation order given to the Inspector General of police days after the massacre does not convey a sense of the level of seriousness with which the Federal Government should approach the situation. It is not conceivable that the Nigerian police would adequately handle terror of this magnitude.
We hope that the mass burial in Benue State serves as a wakeup call for the Federal Government and its security agencies. And we do hope that mass burials do not turn into regular or repeated events, as happened in the case of previously inconceivable suicide bombings.
Some of the responses to the abominable killings in Benue have been contentious. Consider, for instance, the presidential spokesperson’s statement that over 756 persons were killed by herdsmen in two years during the tenure of former President Jonathan. Efforts at informing us that the present massacre was not as horrendous as what may have happened in the past simply increase the pains rather than raise any sense of hope that things would change for the better. The murder of a single person diminishes us all and the death of 756 Nigerian in two or more years do nothing to calm nerves when it is recalled that 2,500 citizens were said to have been killed by herders in Plateau, Nasarawa, Kaduna and Benue States in just 2016 alone.
Moreover, the notion that migration is due to a population explosion in Nigeria is debatable. The lack of credible population figures and reliance on projections based on dubious figures make such assertions grossly unrealistic. Reliance on such notions inflicts avoidable harm on our planning efforts. Our larger-than-life population figure gives us ready excuse for not taking right decisions.
With regard to action responses to violent herdsmen, let us consider one of the proposed actions that would be taken as a long-term solution to the conflict — the idea of creating grazing or cattle colonies across the nation as announced by the Minister of Agriculture. It sounds rather bizarre and raises a number of concerns. Top on the list of concerns is the undertone of the word colony. For most Nigerians, the idea of a colony would be one defined as “a country or area under full or partial political control of another, often distant country.” Could it be that the minister was using the term in the sense sometimes used to describe animals of the same breed staying together in a closed structure? Whatever the case, the imagery requires further interrogation.
Keeping in mind that colonialism was entrenched by the power of the barrel of the gun, could anyone believe that it is at a period of heated conflict and distrust that colonizing any territory, for any purpose, can be the way to resolve the conflicts?
Unfortunately, the persistent conflicts between pastoralists and farmers are often reduced to incidents induced by struggle for religious or ethnic dominance. While there may be a basis for reaching such conclusions, it is clear that pursuing those lines would not lead to a resolution of the crisis. Pastoralism is not a preserve of particular ethnic nationalities or religion. We can indeed develop pastoral activities across the nation with the mind-set that the business is not patented to only one ethnic nationality. With this understanding, a dedicated grazing area in a particular state would not translate to the ceding of such territories to be colonized by anyone. It should also be clear that grazing is not restricted to those breeding and rearing cattle. Goats, sheep, camels and other livestock can equally benefit from such developments.
It was from the understanding that the conflicts can best be resolved by tackling the root instigators of the crises, that Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET) began a series of engagements with pastoralists and farmers starting from Abuja in September and October 2017. In those engagements, we examined the confluence between pastoralists, farmers, land use, conflicts and climate change. These were examined also from a gender perspective to provide a rounded understanding of the dynamics that throw up different kinds of conflicts in our society.
One of the conclusions from the engagements was that farmers and pastoralists can operate in a mutually beneficial manner. If the right physical environment is guaranteed, the culture of nomadic herders trekking over huge distances could be moderated in such a way that the movements would be strategic and not necessarily translate to herders trekking all over the nation. It cannot be denied that Nigeria needs multiyear environmental management plans with clear targets and strategic action paths.
The fact that southern Niger Republic is greener than parts of northern Nigeria should suggest to us that our approach to environmental management is defective. Here we refer specifically to our management of our vegetative cover and water resources. We tend to see our environment as capable of rapid self-regeneration irrespective of how rabid our rate of consumption of Nature’s gifts to us may be. The result is the reality of desertification in northern Nigeria that we characterize as the downward march or spread of the Sahara Desert. Permit us to pose a simplistic question: if the desert were marching down so mercilessly, how come Niger Republic has not gone completely under the sand?
While the security agents fish out and bring the perpetrators of the Benue massacre to book, it would be useful for the Minister of Agriculture, other relevant ministries, as well as security agencies, to consider some of the resolutions that came out of the October 2017 Sustainability Academy:
There should be greater engagement of agricultural extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists.
Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distort development efforts.
There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existence as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
The fact that climate change impacts differently on different gender and social groups should be considered in preparing climate action plans.
The Great Green Wall Programme aimed at combating desertification amplified by climate change through improved use of land and water resources should incorporate pastoralists in their fodder production scheme for sustainable development.
Government should implement a livestock development policy that aligns with regional and international practices.
The Federal Government should initiate actions to produce a detailed land use and environmental plan for the country.
There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re- orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing as well as ranching.
Fully integrate gender justice in the brokering of peace and the implementation of all forms of conflict management initiatives.
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
Climate change dose not respect geopolitical boundaries and should be tackled with this understanding.
Take inventory of the all existing grazing reserves, traditional grazing areas, transhumance corridors, major stock routes, review and take appropriate development actions.
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.
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.
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:
There should be greater engagement of extension workers by all levels of governments to effectively engage in communicating climate change to farmers and pastoralists
Pastoralists and farmers have lived in harmony in Nigeria and can do so now. The ongoing conflicts are needless and distorts development efforts.
There should be re-orientation for pastoralists and farmers for harmonious co-existents as both are interdependent and their actions can be mutually beneficial.
The fact that climate change impacts differently on different categories of people should be considered in preparing climate actions.
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.
Government should carry out livestock development policy review to align them with regional and international practices.
The Federal Government should initiative actions to produce a detail land use plan for the country.
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.
There is need for public-private partnership and scientific re-orientation for the development of pastoralism in Nigeria.
Herders should adopt the practice of managed intensive systematic rotational grazing.
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.
Media should engage more in investigative journalism in reporting conflicts rather than stereotyping pastoralists and others.
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
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.
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.
Mohammed Bello Tukur Esq — Confederation of Traditional Herder Organizations in Africa (CORET)
Nnimmo Bassey — Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)
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
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
by merchant gunboats
Partitioned with a ruler
Rigged with sit tight rulers
Exposed to subhuman bondage
Time to pushback
Merge the sub nations
No cocky croc grimace
No wiggly cobra twists
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.
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 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.
Welcome words by Nnimmo Bassey, Director Health of Mother Earth Foundation, at the FishNet Dialogue held at Port Harcourt on 7 July 2017