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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A Salute to Human Resilience

To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity –Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.

The world is witnessing an onslaught against human rights defenders perhaps more than at any other time in history.

Global Witness, the advocacy group, reports that on average three Earth Defenders were killed every week in 2015. Less than 1 percent of those who perpetrated those crimes were ever brought to book. One group of activists specially criminalised and targeted include those defending territories and fighting for ecological justice. Some of these brave people that have been murdered this year include Berta Caceres and Nelson Garcia of Honduras; Tendy Salamat, Nestor Lubas and Teresita Navacilla of the Philippines; Sikosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe of South Africa and Walter Méndez Barrios of Guatemala. These and many more are routinely cut down, assassinated simply because they have stood up for what is right.

The silencing of dissent, curtailment of liberty and the blatant violations of human rights, including assassinations of defenders of Nature, are all manifestations of a systemic rot. It is the decline of civilisation that acquiesces to trillions of dollars being spent annually on warfare, and the accompanying destruction and mass murders, while calls for climate finance is comparable to attempting to squeeze blood from stones.

Twenty-one years ago, on 10 November 1995, the then military dictatorship in Nigeria murdered Ken Saro-Wiwa and other 8 Ogoni leaders who were in the campaign against the pollution of their environment by oil companies operating there and who were demanding for economic and political justice. Sixteen years after their gruesome murder, an environmental assessment by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) confirmed that the complaints of the people were genuine. Their report was published a year before I had the honour and privilege of receiving the much valued Rafto Prize.

A ray of good news is that five years after the report was made available to the Nigerian government, the clean-up of Ogoniland is in the process of beginning.

This gathering is a salute to the many brave women and men standing in defence of Nature, standing against the giant jaws of powerful, merciless political, military and economic forces. This gathering is a salute to the many peoples in diverse parts of the world defending their rivers, forests, lands and seeds at the risk of their lives. This gathering is a salute to the many persons, who, after being displaced by political repression, violence and the ravages of climate change are faced by huge physical and political walls denying them the right to migrate and to live in basic dignity.

with Peter Molnar and Asria

In a world of growing uncertainty, we need women and men who are rooted in their convictions and strive to uphold equity and justice at all times. In a world wracked by multiple crises – climate, economic, political and moral dimensions, we certainly need models of stability and clarity rooted in the simple truth that our humanity is interlinked with one another and that the denial of the rights of one individual is a denial of the rights of us all. In a world where rights defenders are being co-opted by state and corporate forces; in a situation of shrinking space for expression by non-state actors, we must recognise the dogged stance taken by these our brothers and sisters.

This year’s award highlights the very dangerous circumstances in which Rafto laureates work. A fearless woman working in extremely difficult circumstances and in a very delicate sector fraught with risks. Yanar Mohammed the Rafto Prize laureate for 2016 is truly exemplary in her work in Iraq with women and other vulnerable groups in that country.

Thirty years is a milestone in the life of individuals and organisations. It is the age of maturity. Over the past 30 years, prizes have been awarded for defenders of human rights, including those engaged in the struggles for gender rights, right to self-determination, democracy, rights of children, climate justice and environmental rights, freedom from repression and exploitation, rights of minorities, and in support of victims of war. These individuals represent communities of struggle because no one could successfully fight alone.

We deeply thank the Rafto Foundation for making this gathering possible. Taking a pause to dine together and to reflect on human resilience in the face of extreme pressures helps us all to reaffirm faith in our collective humanity. It is an honour for me to give this speech on behalf of all recipients of the Rafto Prize. Let me end this by paraphrasing the words of Maryam al-Khawaja who received the award in 2013 on behalf of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights: the persons who should be sitting on this dinner table are not us, but the unnamed heroes on the streets of our communities and in the battle lines across the planet.

Thank you.


Dinner speech by Nnimmo Bassey (Rafto Prize 2012) at Håkonshallen, Bergen, in honour of Rafto Prize Laureates on Saturday 19 November 2016










Praise for Oil Politics

full-coverPraise for Oil Politics – Echoes of Ecological Wars: This is what highly respected thinkers and writers have to say about this new book. Get a copy and share your own thoughts!

Nnimmo Bassey embodies the thinker, writer, activist in one. His latest collection of essays Oil Politics is the story of our times. And since we are all eating, drinking, thinking oil, it is a story each of us should read. Oil has caused pollution in the Niger Delta and contributed to climate change. But it has also polluted democracy. As Nnimmo puts it, the story of oil is the story of ‘The blind walk of autocrats in the vice grip of kleptocrats results in unrelenting pummelling of the grassroots.’ We need to move from Oil to Soil, from Kleptocracy to Earth Democracy. Oil Politics is a call to action to each and every Earth Citizen.— Dr VANDANA SHIVA, philosopher, environmentalist, author, professional speaker, social activist

For decades, Nnimmo Bassey has been a relentless warrior against the ravages of the oil industry, holding the Niger Delta up as both a stark warning and an inspiring model of resistance. The truths in these essays demonstrate that the climate crisis amounts to a war, one waged by global elites on the poorest and most vulnerable. In his deiance, fearlessness and lyricism, Bassey also lights the way towards a just and democratic peace. — NAOMI KLEIN, author This Changes Everything and The Shock Doctrine

Nnimmo Bassey is that rare individual—he combines solid theoretical knowledge with practice; a perceptive writer and campaigner of the inest pedigree. In this collection of essays, ranging from issues of petroleum extraction to climate justice, Bassey brings to bear these formidable talents. This book deserves reading and re-reading. It is a worthy addition to the corpus of works on Africa’s badly mauled ecology. — Dr IKE OKONTA, author When Citizens Revolt: Nigerian Elites, Big Oil and the Ogoni Struggle for Self- Determination and co-author Where Vultures Feast: 40 years of Shell in Nigeria

Very few people understand the ‘politics of oil’ and have confronted the environmental crisis in Nigeria like Nnimmo Bassey. In Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological Wars, he not only reveals the devastating impact of our environmental indiscretions but how the incestuous relationship between the Nigerian state and multinationals like Shell has left Nigeria and Nigerians gasping for breath. If we still care about Nigeria, or what is left of it, then we can only ignore this intervention at our own risk! — CHIDO ONUMAH author, We Are All Biafrans

Oil and mineral development represents a continuous act of violence against nature and society; this violence is a prerequisite to these extractive activities. Faced with this reality, communities in diverse regions of the planet organize varied forms of resistance and construct alternatives. Nnimmo Bassey is one of the human beings most committed to ecological justice and thus, social justice. This book, a collection of the author’s essays, is an example of that commitment. — ALBERTO ACOSTA, Economist, former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador, former Minister of Energy and Mines

Nnimmo Bassey is an angry good man, aware in his bones of the socio- ecological debt from North to South. He writes brilliantly calling the world to action for climate justice and against fossil fuels extraction. He comes from Nigeria and the Niger Delta where over two million barrels of oil are exported everyday, where many people have been killed while others have resisted throughout the decades of destruction brought by Shell and other companies.— Professor JOAN MARTINEZ-ALIER, ICTA, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

Nnimmo Bassey is one of the best known and most respected activist/analyst of the socio-political and environmental impact of fossil fuel extraction across the planet. As part of his commitments he has played a leading role in Friends of the Earth International, Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and Oilwatch International. For more than two decades he has directly participated and/or documented peoples’ struggles against these depredatory activities, not only in Nigeria, but also in South Africa, Equatorial Guinea, Ecuador, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and others. … A main focus of his attention has been the struggles of the Ogoni people against the social and environmental devastating impacts of Shell’s extractive activities in the Niger Delta. This book contains an extraordinary, thoughtful and well documented critical analysis of many of these impacts and struggles. The way in which multiple dimensions of the fossil fuel civilization are integrated into the analysis is particularly valuable: impact on people’s lives; environmental devastation: climate change: the impunity with which transnational corporations operate in the Global South; government complacency and corruption; military repression; the geopolitics of oil; the implications and unsustainability of high consumption life styles based on cheap fossil energy; as well as the multiple forms of popular resistance and struggles. Activists and communities around the planet, who not only believe that another world is possible but are willing to fight for it, have much to learn from this book.— EDGARDO LANDER, retired professor of social sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas, Caracas

The Gap Between Solid Minerals and Oil

Oil Politics coverThe National Assembly and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources occupy key vantage points to leverage calm in the oil fields of the Niger Delta. They can make this happen by having communities take their place as true stakeholders in the management of oil revenues. This point cannot be overemphasised. It cannot wait until PIB IV before Nigerians know what is coming.

It is useful to remind ourselves that the Niger Delta is a part of Nigeria called home by between 30 to 40 million Nigerians, going by projections[1]. It is rich in biodiversity and equally rich in nature’s Re-Sources. The Niger Delta is inherently a complex web of life having the sort of diversity of culture that is bound by underlining commonalities of dignity, respect and cultural pride. Inherently.

This inherent strength has been tested over the years by what we may term extreme environmental degradation propelled by the exploration and exploitation of petroleum resources. We have witnessed the rupturing of the webs of life and the pulling away of safety nets by agencies of misrule, greed and lack and care for Nature and her many children.

The Niger Delta is largely flat with an elevation that is at sea level. The land mass is largely made up of sand and silt brought down by Niger and Benue rivers system with the sands deposited on the continental shelf getting thrown back to firm the sand barriers that are now being threatened. Sea level rise, canalisation and natural soil subsidence all compound the coastal erosion and loss of land that is now commonplace.[2]

Although we cannot avoid some recollection of some of the challenges we face as a territory, this presentation will not bemoan the crisis that has befallen our land. We will remind ourselves of the key issues with a firm focus on pointing out the strategic directions that should guide actions to restore lost grounds and hope. At the same time, we will keep in mind with current levels of despoliation we must agree that there are no easy solutions. This is what underscores the imperative of the NDDC despatching its mandate with creativity, focus and zeal.

The Niger Delta Development Master Plan[3] prepared by the NDDC offers a list of key issues in the region. We reproduce them here:

  • Widespread poverty, high disease burden and high mortality rate among children
  • Poor sanitation
  • Limited employment opportunities
  • Poor transportation systems
  • Poor telecommunications
  • Poor electricity supply
  • Land scarcity
  • Poor educational and health facilities
  • Poor governance
  • Severe environmental degradation
  • Insecurity

Although the above is quite an alarming list, you all know that it merely scratches the surface when we look critically at the immense deficits that we have in virtually every indicy of human development.

1.00     Our Environment

The natural environment is one in which no modifying or transforming human activity has taken place. When man moves in and interferes one way or the other with natural systems the result is either a liveable environment or one that swallows is inhabitants.

Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) captures the interlocked problems of the Niger Delta in these words:

The majority of the Niger Delta inhabitants lack access to basic infrastructure, health and education services as well as job opportunities. High levels of pollution and destruction of traditional means of livelihood increase the vulnerability to poverty in the region. The fundamental conditions of extreme deprivation have remained unchanged for decades and drive cycles of violent conflict.[4]  SDN went on to say that the problems are self-reinforcing.

An alarming 80 percent of rural populations and 56 per cent of urban populations in the Niger Delta do not have access to safe drinking water.[5] Not surprisingly, citizens’ perception in the Niger Delta of the water they drink as unsafe has been found to be as high as 78 per cent. 66 per cent of citizens also affirmed that human waste flows back into some of the communities during rainy season.[6]

The environmental degradation that has placed the Niger Delta firmly on the map of infamy are those related to oil spills and gas flares. The present government says that gas flaring will end in 2020. That dateline is much better than the no-dateline scenario that was presented in the moribund Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

In the present context the new PIBs will come piece-meal in four parts. However, focus is mostly business and there is scant attention to the environment or the people. It is thought that the PIB will come in four parts arranged as follows:

  1. The Governance and Institutional Framework for Oil and Gas Bill
  2. The Fiscal Reform Bill
  3. Licensing Rounds Bill
  4. Revenue Allocation and Management Bill

Although the speculated title of the PIB IV does not explicitly suggest any focus on the environment or communities[7], some commentators think that it is that fourth bill that may say something about the funds for communities.

2.00     Our opportunities: Between PIB Politics and the Minerals and Mining Act (2007)

 The National Assembly and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources occupy key vantage points to leverage calm in the oil fields of the Niger Delta. They can make this happen by having communities take their place as true stakeholders in the management of oil revenues. This point cannot be overemphasized. It cannot wait until PIB IV before Nigerians know what is coming.

Continued resistance to this fundamental step is clearly not in the interest of Nigerians, especially when the 2007 Mineral and Mining Act has clearly stipulated benefits for communities and land owners where minerals are extracted.[8] The fact that our existing petroleum laws were war legislations gave birth to discontent by the reason of the very spirit that created them. Militarisation of the region is inescapable way of enforcing the anti-people oil decrees and may work to lock-in a cycle of conflict that ought to be halted.

According to Idumange, “The Petroleum Act of 1969 (as amended and other legislations), the local communities on whose lands oil is exploited, have been divested of their entitlements to their land and the oil produced from it. Indigenes of the Niger Delta hardly ever benefit from the allocation of Oil Prospecting Licenses (OPL) and are totally excluded from crude oil sales notwithstanding the fact that it is the local communities and the people that directly suffer from oil spillage, gas flaring, acid rain, and other forms of environmental degradation and pollution.”[9]

The multiplication of military formations in the creeks cannot be the way of the hole that we appear to be digging. Modelling the PIB after the Minerals and Mining Act would create a level playing ground and eliminate the many inequities and reckless environmental degradation that occurs in the oil fields communities as if they were no man’s lands.[10]

Extracts from Chapter 4 of the The Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007

  1. Prohibition of mineral exploration in certain areas

(1) No person shall, in the course of exploration or mining, carry out operations, in or under any area held to be sacred or permit injury or destruction of any tree or other thing which is the object of veneration.

(2) When any question arises under this section as to whether an area is held to be sacred or a tree or thing is the object of veneration, the question shall be decided by the

Mining Cadastre Office on the recommendation of the Mineral Resources Committee of the State concerned.

(3) A licensee or lessee who causes injury or damage to any area, tree or thing mentioned in subsection (1) of this section shall pay fair and adequate compensation to the persons or communities affected by injury or damage.

  1. Surface rent

(1) The lessee of a Mining Lease shall pay rent, in advance without demand being made of it, at such rate per annum as shall be determined by the Minister for all lands occupied or used by it in connection with its mining operations.

(2) The Minister shall, before granting a Mining Lease on any private or any State land-

  • (a)  cause the owner or occupier of the land to be informed of the intention of the Minister to grant the lease; and
  • (b)  require the owner or occupier of the land to state in writing within the period specified by the Regulations made under this Act, the rate of annual surface rent which the owner desires should be paid to him by the lessee for the land occupied or used by it for or in connection with its mining operations.

(3) If within the time specified pursuant to subsection (2) of this section, the owner or occupier states the rate of the rent he desires should be paid, and the Minister is satisfied that the rent is fair and reasonable, the surface rent payable in respect of the land of the owner or occupier shall be the amount specified and the rent shall be notified to the lessee as soon as possible.

(4) The rate of the surface rent, whether fixed by the owner, occupier or by the Minister, shall be subject to revision by the Minister at intervals of five years.

(5) In fixing the surface rent payable, the Minister shall take into consideration the damage which may be done to the surface of the land by the mining or other operations of the lessee, for which compensation is payable.

  1. Community Development Agreement

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the holder of a Mining Lease, Small- scale Mining Lease or Quarry Lease shall prior to the commencement of any development activity within the lease area, conclude with the host community where the operations are to be conducted an agreement referred to as a Community Development Agreement or other such agreement that will ensure the transfer of social and economic benefits to the community.

(2) The Community Development Agreement shall contain undertakings with respect to the social and economic contributions that the project will make to the sustainability of such community.

(3) The Community Development Agreement shall address all or some of the following issues when relevant to the host community-

  • (a)  educational scholarship, apprenticeship, technical training and employment opportunities for indigenes of the communities;
  • (b)  financial or other forms of contributory support for infrastructural development and maintenance such as education, health or other community services, roads, water and power;
  • (c)  assistance with the creation, development and support to small scale and micro enterprises;
  • (d)  agricultural product marketing; and
  • (e)  methods and procedures of environment and socio-economic management and local governance enhancement.

(4) In the event of the failure of the host community and the lessee, after several at- tempts to conclude the Community Development Agreement by the time the titleholder is ready to commence development work on the lease area, the matter shall be referred to the Minister for resolution.

(5) The Community Development Agreement shall be subject to review every 5 years and shall, until reviewed by the parties, have binding effect on the parties.

  1. Objectives of the Community Development Agreement

The Community Development Agreement shall specify appropriate consultative and monitoring frameworks between the mineral titleholder and the host community, and the means by which the community may participate in the planning, implementation, management and monitoring of activities carried out under the Agreement.

With communities as direct stakeholders in the business, they will take more active interest in helping police petroleum infrastructure and thereby reduce the spate of third party interferences with those facilities

  1. Environmental obligations

Every holder of a mineral title under this Act shall as far as it is reasonably practicable-

  • (a)  minimise, manage and mitigate any environmental impact resulting from activities carried out under this Act; and
  • (b)  rehabilitate and reclaim, where applicable, the land disturbed, excavated, ex- plored, mined or covered with tailings arising from mining operations to its natural or predetermined state or to such state as may be specified in this Act, its Regulations and other pertinent laws in force, and in accordance with established best practices.

With communities as direct stakeholders in the business, they will take more active interest in helping police petroleum infrastructure and thereby reduce the spate of third party interferences with those facilities. Besides, the communities would have a stronger voice when they point to the fact that interferences by any means, bombs or hacksaws, punish the communities and their environment most because they were condemned to live in the degraded environments whereas the international oil companies can conceivably simply pack up their suitcases and leave.

With communities as direct stakeholders in the business, they will take more active interest in helping police petroleum infrastructure and thereby reduce the spate of third party interferences with those facilities. Besides, the communities would have a stronger voice when they point to the fact that interferences by any means, bombs or hacksaws, punish the communities and their environment most because they were condemned to live in the degraded environments whereas the international oil companies can conceivably simply pack up their suitcases and leave.

3.00     Who Owns the Resource? – Thoughts on Re-Source Democracy

The Re-Sources in the territories where we find ourselves are best protected, preserved and multiplied when we use our knowledge to suitably relate to the Re-Sources to maintain our lives, culture, sciences, spirituality, organisation, medicines and food sovereignty. Re-Source democracy requires that mankind serves as stewards over natural Re-Sources and not as predators.

The second and a very important thought in this presentation has to do with our understanding and relationship with the gifts of Nature through the concept of Re-Source Democracy[11]. You may ask, what has this got to do with NDDC and the quest for environmental security. Everything. One of the fundamental challenges we have as a people is our loss of memory of what we had in the past and the values that sustained them, before rapacious exploitation of Nature and primitive accumulation set in.

Re-Source Democracy urges a reconnection to the source of the gifts that we enjoy as humans, keeping in mind that we are one species among many others. It requires that we do not see Nature as a theatre of exploitation, and that we should move from resource to re-sourcing with Earth, intentionally reconnecting with our natural life source.

Re-Source democracy is a clarion call to protect, defend and replenish our Re-Sources and environment for the common good. It seeks to ensure that present generations enjoy what they have without jeopardising the interests of future generations. The concept is predicated on a culture that respects life and hinges on the premise that “the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.” [12] We inhabit our places on the Earth by birth and by citizenship rights. The Re-Sources in the territories where we find ourselves are best protected, preserved and multiplied when we use our knowledge to suitably relate to the Re-Sources to maintain our lives, culture, sciences, spirituality, organisation, medicines and food sovereignty. Re-Source democracy requires that mankind serves as stewards over natural Re-Sources and not as predators.

We all celebrate and defend our right to life. While we do that, we must also realise that nature has a right to maintain her cycles and that our life can only be supported by nature when she is able to maintain those cycles. Our rights do not supersede and must not subvert the rights of nature.

Re-Source democracy contextualises and integrates Re-Source management in a way that uses indigenous or local knowledge as a veritable base. For example, where some people see forests merely as carbon stocks or sinks, forest dependent communities see them as places of life and culture, as places where they obtain food, medicine, building materials and other non timber forest products. Communities living in harmony with nature ensure that the available Re-Sources are replenished and not depleted at a scale that degrades them. When non-forest community people look at forests what come to mind are possibilities of commercial logging, conversion into mono-crop plantations or securing them as carbon sinks. The idea of the forest as a carbon sink excites governments seeking foreign exchange earnings from the exploitation of natural Re-Sources and this excitement can get so feverish that brute force is used to expel forest communities from their territories.[13]

A clear understanding of our Re-Sources, their uses and intrinsic values is vital for their proper management. The same goes for a central need for our understanding of the harmful impacts of certain extractive activities including those of solid minerals, hydrocarbons and forest products. These, plus an interrogation of the meaning of progress and development help us to draw the line between what we can accept or reject in our environment.

Economic value cannot be the vital measure of Re-Source value. A clear rejection of the commodification of nature is necessary for sustainable management of our natural Re-Sources.

Re-Sources are gifts of nature and are either renewable or non-renewable. They are found on land or in the sea. They include living species and non-living things. The exploitation or use of these Re-Sources can be harmful or wrong when the majority population is not considered in the decision-making matrix. For instance, when land is appropriated for cultivation of crops for biofuel and farmers are displaced or indentured, we promote machines and the comfort of the rich over the rights of the poor to a life of dignity.

As attractive as biofuels appear to some people, severe socio-economic and other impacts on vulnerable small-scale farmers have been documented. These impacts range from land grabs to poor and unpredictable income from being absorbed into a cash crop arrangement that is totally out of their control. A case in point is that of a UK company, D1 Oils in Swaziland where farmers were co-opted as sharecroppers to cultivate jatropha with the assurance that the crop would grow on marginal land without needing much input from them. As it turned out, although jatropha was touted as a wonder crop and a hardy plant that would thrive on very little water, the farmers found that the claim did not play out in reality. They needed to water the plants regularly and in an area with water stress this turned out to be a herculean task. We do not need to state that the dreams of wealth turned into nightmares and horrors and the enterprise collapsed.[14]

If Re-Source democracy had been in place in Swaziland, for example, the poor farmers would have been given facts and full information about what they were being drawn into. Such information would have included the uncertainties surrounding the crop and the fact that there have not been sufficient studies on jatropha as a plantation crop. The result would have been different if local farmers had willingly undertaken to grow crops native to their locality. They would have utilised crops that are resilient to local conditions and would have drawn from local traditional ecological knowledge in nurturing them.

3.01     Development Paths

The current development path of the world sees resources as objects that must be exploited. In a heavily financialised world, resources are also seen as things to be manipulated and converted into cash. Nature and its resources are thus mostly valued in terms of money and power, sometimes totally forgetting that they have intrinsic values.

Re-Source democracy recognises that a Re-Source fundamentally belongs to Nature and may be enjoyed by communities or peoples who have traditionally held the territory where the Re-Source such as a forest or grazing grass exist. It removes the obstacles erected by the politics of access and process as well as of redress.  Such obstacles may vary depending on the objective of the demand or struggle. We recognise also that such struggles may be over Re-Source rights, environmental rights or the right to utilise available Re-Sources.

The alienation of humanity from nature happens in a way that is directly proportional to our proximity to desired Re-Sources.  The alienation from nature does not only keep us from seeing the intrinsic value of Re-Sources, it also blinds those who see them as money-spinners to any sense of responsibility when grabbing for them.  Re-Source democracy connects us to our roots, to nature and calls us to Re-Source with Earth, our source of life.

Current dominant development modes are energy intensive and require more and more Re-Sources to generate that energy to keep the machines rolling and to feed the appetite of humankind for consumption and for cash. In that process we often overlook the wellbeing of the planet itself.  The result of this outlook has been ‘resource’ conflicts and wars and extreme damage of environment through reckless exploitation. The conflict and the harm are certain to intensify as the non-renewable Re-Sources run out and as habitable environment for the reproduction of renewable Re-Sources reduce.

Wars powered by greed and faulty relationships with Nature’s gifts do not end easily and it is instructive to note that nations never really win such wars and conflicts. While citizens die or lose their limbs multinational extractive companies and weapons makers/dealers simply go on enjoying their profits.

3.02     Recognition and Inaction

The dire state of affairs has not escaped mankind. However, the acknowledgement of a problem does not necessarily lead to a readiness or willingness to solve it. The notion that we have the capacity to fix whatever we break leads us to ride roughshod over nature and her Re-Sources. It is equally easier to be irresponsible in our handling of Re-Sources when we can externalise the costs and consequences to the poor and the voiceless in society.

A case in point is the fact that the world knows that climate change is propelled by dependence on fossil fuels and other actions of man and yet despite years of warnings and multilateral negotiations, nations harden positions and continue in the wrong and harmful paths. Indeed, nations insist they have a right to pollute in order to catch up with others who polluted earlier (and are still polluting) and have through polluting made achievements that the neo-polluters desire. Sadly, environmental pollution is fast becoming a badge of progress.

3.03     Environmental Defence

In Re-Source democracy citizens are real stakeholders that work and receive benefits and not tokens or acts of charity. It provides the space for ordinary people to get together to establish rules in line with traditional as well as best available knowledge to safeguard the soil, trees, crops, water and wildlife that support their livelihoods. Re-Source democracy hinges on pragmatic politics and wisdom that our relations with nature cannot be left to speculators and manipulators of market forces. It ensures the right and responsibility to participate in decisions that determine our access to, and enjoyment of Nature’s gifts.

Acts of over consumption including grabbing of Re-Sources to meet needs of corporations and the super rich are acts of violence.  When we take more than we require we are eating up the ecological space of other species and of future generations. Re-Source Democracy demands that we develop the tool we need for ecological as well as cultural defence.

Our ways of life should complement and synchronise with the cycles and provisions of nature. At the same time our economic activities rely on extracting value from natural Re-Sources through direct use or through their transformation into goods and services. A basic tenet of defence of our Re-Sources is the right to prior informed consent. This includes the right to accept exploitation of Re-Sources in our communities/territories or to reject such actions. To aid such decisions communities must be fully involved in environmental and social impact studies before the commencement of and project. Although this is already required by existing Environmental Impact Act of 2004, Re-Source Democracy would ensure that communities are educated and informed of the availability and uses of this tool to ensure that harmful projects are not embarked upon in their territories.

Other rights that would enhance Re-Source democracy are delineated in the provisions of the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 [15] to which we have already referred in section 2.00 above.

The Minerals Act ensures that companies or individuals do not ride roughshod over citizens’ rights as they seek to exploit available ‘resources’. The mining company cannot obtain a mining title without adequate consultation with landowners.

In cases where land is privately held and may be affected by mining operations, the Act requires that government must obtain the consent of the private owner of land before mining title would be granted. Where there is no consent the private land in question would be out of reach to the miners. This is provided for under section 100 of the Mining Act, which reads:

When an application is made for Mineral title in respect of an area which includes any private land or land occupied under a state lease or right of occupancy, the notice of the application, shall be given in the prescribed manner to the owner or occupier of the land and consent obtained before the license is granted, otherwise the license may be granted with exclusion of the private land in question.

Section 19 of the Mining Act also makes provision for the setting up of a committee to be known as Mineral Resources and Environmental Management Committee in each state of the Federation. Communities are to be represented on such committees and part of the functions of this committee is to advise the Local Government Areas and Communities on the implementation of programs for environmental protection.

4.00     Cleaning and Staying Clean

The third and concluding point of leverage is the offered by the imminent commencement of the clean up of Ogoni land and the Niger Delta as a whole. A clean up makes sense when there is a commitment by all to cease from polluting activities.

The NDDC Act has a broad list of functions for the commission. The function that concerns us particularly in this paper is the one which states that it is to:

Tackle ecological and environmental problems that arise from the exploration of oil mineral in the Niger-Delta area and advise the Federal Government and the member States on the prevention and control of oil spillages gas flaring and environmental pollution etc.

As stated above, the Board of NDDC has wide powers of discretion in determining what constitutes the other ecological problems besides the ones listed. This broad canvas is both an opportunity and a problem.

Strategic steps that the NDDC can take in this direction are

  1. Stepping up advocacy and mass education on the critical need to keep the environment clean by demanding that oil companies replace their pipelines when due, keep their facilities in top conditions, stop incessant oil spills and clean up those that inevitably occur when they do.
  2. Train communities on environmental monitoring and reporting – including on oil spills toxicity; and set up networks of community ecological defenders
  3. Establishment of centres of excellence to training youths in scientific ways of pollution cleaning and soil restoration
  4. Provide safe drinking water in communities, especially in areas with frequent oil spills. The UNEP report on the Assessment of Ogoni Environment, for one, clearly stated that the waters our people there depend on are all polluted with hydro carbons and in some places with benzene a known carcinogen at levels 900 times above World Health Organisation (WHO) standards. It is astonishing that almost 5 years after the submission of that report our people are still drinking the waters that are known to be poisonous.
  5. Clean up of communities on the fence lines of refineries, including Nisisioken Ogale in Rivers State and Ubeji in Delta State.
  6. Sanitation, especially toilet facilities and a stoppage of open defecation.
  7. Clearing of water ways of invasive species such as water hyacinth and the use of the weeds in the creation of useful products – such as oils and organic fertilisers
  8. Support legislative advocacy and work for a similarity between the laws governing petroleum and solid minerals exploration and extraction in Nigeria. In particular, support efforts to adopt/apply the strategic link between environmental and community concerns of the Solid Minerals Act in the petroleum sector.


We have endeavoured to stress that our approach to ensuring a liveable environment stems directly from our intrinsic value of our environment and our capacity to stand as ecological defenders. We have also shown that this can best be done from a position of knowledge and readiness to use existing and new tools. There are low hanging fruits to be plucked – especially with a determined and undeterred clean up process – and available good will for the NDDC to clarify and to play its expected role. Now, as is often said, the ball is in our court.

Thank you for your attention.


These were talking points originally titled NDDC and the Politics of Environmental and livelihood Recovery by Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) at World Environment Day event organised by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) at Port Harcourt on 1st June 2016


[1] John, Idumange (2011) ‘The Impact of Niger Delta Development Commission in the Eyes of the Ordinary Niger Delta People’, The Nigerian Voice (8 September), Accessed 29 May 2016

[2] Aston-Jones, Nick (1998) The Human Ecosystem of the Niger Delta- An ERA Handbook, Benin City, ERA.

[3] NNDC. Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan, p.14-15

[4] Stakeholder Democracy Network, The Niger Delta, Accessed 28 May 2016

[5] Raji, AOY and Abejide, TS, (2013) ‘An Assessment of Environmental Problems Associated with Oil Pollution and Gas Flaring in the Niger Delta Region Nigeria, C.1960s-2000. Accessed 28 May 2016

[6] NIDPRODEV, (2011), Niger Delta Citizen Report Card – on public services, good governance and development from 120 Niger Delta communities in three geopolitical zones, Warri, p.59-60

[7] See Bassey, Nnimmo (2016) ‘New PIB and Forgotten Host Communities?’ at

[8] Chapter 4 of the Solid Minerals Act 2007 is on Environmental Considerations and Rights of Host Communities.

[9] John, Idumange (2011).

[10] See Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action (2013): Communities and the Petroleum Industries Bill – Memorandum to the Joint Senate Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB, 2012), Abuja (18-19 July)


[11] This section is a direct extract from chapter 1 of HOMEF (2014), Re-Source Democracy, Benin City, pp 12-17

[12] Ayma, Evo Morales (April 22, 2009), The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth. Speech made on the occasion of the declaration of the International Day of the Mother Earth in the UN General Assembly, New York.

[13] There are several examples of displacement of forest communities. The Sengwer and the Ogiek communities in Kenya offer recent examples. In Nigeria there have been consistent complaints from forest communities like those in Iguobazuwa insisting that they were dispossessed of their forestlands without adequate compensations.

[14]See Jatropha – Wonder Crop? Experience for Swaziland at

[15] See Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action)- 18-19 July 2013: Communities and the Petroleum Industries Bill – Memorandum to the Joint Senate Committee on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), 2012.

Oil Politics – echoes of Ecological Wars

Oil Politics cover

Oil Politics – echoes of Ecological Wars
This is to announce Oil Politics – echoes of Ecological Wars a forthcoming book by Nnimmo Bassey published by Daraja Press.
Set out in seven sections, this book of 54 essays deals with deep ecological changes taking place primarily in Nigeria but with clear linkages to changes elsewhere in the world. These essays provide insights into the background to the horrific ecological manifestations that dot the Nigerian environment and the ecological cancers spreading in the world. They underscore the fact there are no one-issue struggles. Working in a context where analyses of ecological matters is not the norm, decades of consistent environmental activism has placed the writer in good stead to unlock the webs that promote these scandalous realities.

Blood Cattle

Cattle “grazing” in a garden in Abuja. 01.05.2016. Pix: @TerverGyer

Blood Cattle: With so much blood shed so that cattle may roam roughshod over the land, it does make sense for us to rethink our meat production and consumption patterns.

Violent conflicts have become so pervasive in Nigeria that one could be excused to say that they threaten to become the new normal. Some years ago, no one could imagine that a Nigerian, child or adult, would become a suicide bomber. That thinking was loudly put to rest by the activities of Boko Haram, the group that erected and foisted a bomb-culture on our nation. Today, the horrendous conflicts between farmers and pastoralists must not be allowed to become another normal.

Conflicts in the oil fields, including third party interferences, oil thefts and acts of sabotage led to youths of the Niger Delta being labelled as restive whenever they made demands for ecological or social justice. That adjective gave the oil companies some cover over the poor handling and policing of their pipelines, equipment and other facilities. And then to add cream to the cake, it has become normal for oil companies to scream sabotage at the slightest hint of accidents in the oil fields.

Tango in Bonga

The only time a company like Shell did not plead sabotage was when they had the Bonga offshore spill of 20 December 2011. That spill occurred when the top-ranking oil company pumped thousands of barrels of crude oil into the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State, instead of pumping it into a waiting vessel. By their admission, they pumped 40,000 barrels of oil into the sea before they knew something was amiss. That speaks volumes of the high standards they maintain in their operations! It may have taken long in coming, but we must applaud the Federal Government of Nigeria for finally instituting a suit against Shell for the damage done to the environment and on our people.

Grazing Times

After a hard day’s “grazing.” Pix: @TerverGyer

An intriguing cycle of violence that has become worrisome is that of the so-called herdsmen wielding AK47s, brutally attacking, killing, kidnaping and raping citizens in their paths. The atrocious level of killings and destruction has led some to call these livestock blood cattle. Government action cannot be delayed on this matter.

While it is left to our security agencies to say if these attackers are truly herdsmen or a new band of terrorists, the issue of a Grazing Bill before the National Assembly has added more cause for concern to many Nigerians.

For those who may not know, the Grazing Bill seeks to acquire swaths of land across Nigeria, dispossess individuals and communities of their lands. The bill bars land owners from having access to these lands, territories and resources. Trespass by owners of the land could lead to terms of imprisonment and other penalties. The Bill is a perfect of move to legalise land grabbing and internal colonisation using the obnoxious Land Use Act as a cover. It is interesting that the Bill has now been said not to be on the tables of the National Assembly. Phantom or not, the Bill remains a source for concern. Depite the denial of the existence of any Grazing Bill, we read that there are versions of private members Grazing Bills in the Hose of Representatives and that one is expected from the executive arm.

The rich owners of the cattle should set up ranches to support their enterprises. If the nomadic lifestyle is a way of life that cannot be compromised, the range of the movements should nevertheless be controlled. We hear much about value-addition as a way of building our agricultural industrial sector. Is it not time to move meat rather than cattle across the nation?

Meat, Hunger and Climate Change

While many have linked the herdsmen to the Fulani ethnic nationality, it is clear that owners of the cattle that have become the lightening rod of the peculiar violence rocking the nation in recent days may actually range beyond the Fulani. One interpretation could be that what we are experiencing may be the manifestation of a primitive use of power by a blood-thirsty wealthy class using the poor as canon fodder against other poor and helpless citizens.

If this mayhem is not nipped it threatens to set the nation ablaze. In a situation of rising suspicions, there is need to build bridges between our peoples, build a vanguard of the oppressed to keep off the forces of division and annihilation and ensure that the poor among us are not used as foot soldiers in a proxy war they have no business fighting.

The rich owners of the cattle should set up ranches to support their enterprises. If the nomadic lifestyle is a way of life that cannot be compromised, the range of the movements should nevertheless be controlled. We hear much about value-addition as a way of building our agricultural industrial sector. Is it not time to move meat rather than cattle across the nation?

The world’s appetite for meat is having global impacts on the rate of deforestation and on global warming. Indeed, much of the food grown in the world today go to feeding animals rather than humans, thus entrenching hunger and malnutrition.

With so much blood shed so that cattle may roam roughshod over the land, it does make sense for us to rethink our meat production and consumption patterns.

Burning Africa with the Paris Agreement


The Paris Agreement will see to the sinking of Small Island states and the roasting of Africa – a continent uniquely exposed to the vagaries of global warming. Of what use is it for poor vulnerable nations to smile at the cameras, sign up to do things that will add up to nothing, knowing that they never contributed to the problem in the first instance? What would Nigeria or any African country gain by endorsing this hollow agreement?

What is needed is for the big polluters to line up and sign an agreement to keep fossils in the ground and urgently ensure a just transition to renewable energy. That is when we will know that there is a climate agreement. Signing the Paris Agreement on Earth Day (22 April 2016) is a poking of fossil fingers in our collective faces and an affront to Mother Earth.

Signing the Paris Agreement is nothing but letting the polluters off the hook, and burning the innocent to boot. It is time to keep fossils in the ground. Addictions may be hard to break, but for our survival, it is time to break free from fossil fuels.

The achievement of the Paris conference was that all nations agreed to take some sort of climate action. This means little if what they promise to do are mere intentions rather than scientifically determined levels of emissions reduction based on their current levels of greenhouse gas emissions as well as on historical responsibility.

The expected climate actions are based on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These INDCs as the name suggests are what each country proposes to do about cutting their emissions. Many of the countries have stated that they would only take certain actions based on some conditions such as availability of finance and technology.

Particularly worrisome is the fact that the world has already warmed up by 1 degree Celsius above pre industrial levels. If all the nations put their INDCs into action, average global temperatures will rise above 3 degrees Celsius, according to analysts. That would be beyond the tipping point by which the world would cascade into irreversible or cataclysmic climate and ecological change.

The Paris Agreement locks in fossil fuels and, to underscore corporate capture of the negotiations, the word, fossil, is not as much as mention the document. It is shocking that although the burning of fossil fuels is known to be a major contributor to global warming, climate negotiations engage in platitudes rather than going to the core of the problem. Scientists tell us that burning of fossil fuels would have to end by 2030 if there would be a chance of keeping temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The signal we get from the silence on the fossils factor is that oil and coal companies can continue to extract profit while burning the planet.

The agreement is hollow with regard to climate finance because raising necessary funds remains aspirational while rich nations spend trillions of US dollars on war efforts that deepen climate vulnerability of target nations and regions. Loss and damage from irreparable climate impacts remain the imposed burdens that vulnerable nations will continue to suffer.

Signing the Paris Agreement is nothing but letting the polluters off the hook, and burning the innocent to boot. It is time to keep fossils in the ground. Addictions may be hard to break, but for our survival, it is time to break free from fossil fuels.

New PIB and forgotten Host Communities?

While no one can say that the Nigerian petroleum resources sector is known for transparency, most would readily agree that it wields a lot of power. The sector has effectively determined the political, economic, social and cultural paths of the nation since its ascendancy as major income earner for the nation. As its power rose, so the attendant impunity, including a murky treatment of financial matters. Governments have bent backwards so much that the tail began to dictate to the head.

To secure continuous flow of revenue from the sector, full military might have been deployed to silence calls for dialogue from already trashed communities and these have sometimes resulted in horrendous sackings of communities in wasting operations by way of flagrant and outright display of murderous rage at the slightest provocation. Today, citizens are intimidated by security forces into raising their hands in total surrender each time they come close to oil pipelines of transnational corporations crossing their creeks.

Denying Dialogue

The denial of dialogue can be said to be a major precursor of the persistent conflict points in the Niger Delta. That was what the people of Umuechem requested for in 1990. What they got was mayhem and deaths.

The current outcry over the non-inclusion in the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) of the Host Communities Fund that was provided for in the “old PIB” is justifiable. This will continue to agitate communities and observers until the National Assembly or the Petroleum Resources Ministry explains what the fate of the communities will be in the new dispensation.

The Quadruplet Logic

What we have learnt from the grapevine is that the new PIB will come in multiple parts so what is being debated is not yet the whole story. However, the entire focus is on business and there is scant attention to the environment or the people. These may remain the milk cows that should simply steel themselves for more squeezes.

It is thought that the PIB will come in four parts arranged as follows:

  1. The Governance and Institutional Framework for Oil and Gas Bill
  2. The Fiscal Reform Bill
  3. Licencing Rounds Bill
  4. Revenue Allocation and Management Bill

It is expected that the fourth bill may say something about the funds for communities. Perhaps the logic is to serve the “controversial” consideration of oil field communities last with the hope that the hurdle will never be reached within the life of this government or that the controversy would have died of its own accord by such a time.

One complaint against the former PIB was that it was rather voluminous. Having the bill split into four volumes may make reading easier for text-message or SMS generation.

It could also be one way of displaying a bent towards unbundling the sector in all ramifications. Another plausible explanation could be that the sector is simply copying the industry’s best practice in other countries.

Host Communities Conundrum

The sore point of the petroleum sector in Nigeria as in elsewhere is the serious impact it has on the environment, the communities and the people.

The fact that our politicians could not agree on any allocation of resources for host communities should not make the current legal draughtsmen push consideration to back burners. The President doubles as the Minister of Petroleum Resources and he should clarify what the intentions are with regard to the communities and indeed the oil field environment. With the clean up of Ogoni and the Niger Delta about to commence, informing about the global environmental architecture would help.

Polluted creek at Goi community

A key point is to ensure that host communities are not defined as only the communities that host oil wells, pipelines, flow stations, waste pits and other oil industry appurtenances. Here is the reason why this definition must be broadened. There are communities that do not have the physical presence of oil operations but are heavily impacted by those operations. A case in point is Goi community in Ogoni. This community has been severely impacted by repeated oil spills and related fires and one section of the community has been deserted for over a decade now. Yet, Goi has no pipeline and no oil well. It simply sits on the bank of a creek that connects oil facilities that have spewed crude and devastated their environment. Would it be right to say that Goi is not a host community? My point is that any community that has the potential to be impacted by petroleum sector accidents has to be classified as a host community. So, a host community is a community that hosts oil or industrial facilities as well as those that host pollutions.

Another case in point is that Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 in Alaska. The spill so much impacted Prince William Sound and the coastline that, despite all clean up efforts, 27 years after effect is still there and less than half of the wild life population is yet to recover.

Time to Come Clean

It is time for the National Assembly and the Ministry of Petroleum Resource to come clean over the PIB. The draft bill(s) should be posted online and made available to citizens. It would help the ministry, the National Assembly and the nation if citizens are able to scrutinise the bill(s) and make comments based on knowledge rather on rumours. What are the provisions in the PIB for ending gas flaring? What is in it for the communities? Certainly the oil business cannot be allowed to be all about money to the detriment of life.

Arrival of The Last Militant

2 booksThe word militant elicits a certain meaning in Nigeria and like the word insurgents people often link it with violence. Another word that has taken on peculiar meaning in Nigeria is restiveness – a descriptive word assigned to agitated Niger Delta youths totally radicalised by fossil fuels extraction pollutions and unwilling to stay civil in the face of oppressive injustice.

Patrick Naagbanton, a man of many parts – journalist, environmental/human rights activist, poet, etc. – has just added two important books to the Nigerian literary scene. One is a collection of poems titled Fury of the Fisher Woman and the other is The Last Militant – A biography of Comrade Cheta Ibama Ibegwura – and the struggles for workers’ rights in Nigeria, justice and self-determination in the Niger Delta region..

Furious Fisher Woman

The poetry book is loaded with anger, death and defiance. Poignantly, except for when the writer mentions “other unsung comrades (dead or alive) whose stories are not yet told,” both books are dedicated to persons who have departed from the physical plane. They nudge you to closely study Nigeria’s tragic post colonial history – an history that current political leaders would rather sweep under the carpet.

Writing for the victims of the Umuechem massacre of 1st November 1990, the poem titled The Script opens with these lines:

Distress marches

Clad in black on the precarious pipelines

Demanding to drink from it along the

Bush paths of Umuechem

On the sad day on which Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 were murdered, Patrick wrote under the title Hangmen:

Their banter of blood shall soon end 

And I shall sing our funeral songs

They shall weep as we are weeping

With the troubled tribe

Militant to the core

As Patrick states, “the story of Cheta Ibama Ibegwura, popularly called ‘Wati’ and later ‘Comrade Che’ is the story of Nigeria.”  And the book, “The Last Militant, though a biographical work, also takes us through a whole range of issues such as the histories of great organizations and movements– their successes and failures in Nigeria.”

One is tempted to ask: why Patrick chose to label Comrade Che a militant? Synonyms for militant include: activist, confrontational, aggressive, radical, revolutionary, belligerent, combative, pugnacious. Within the array of words, the closest in meaning to the legend we all know as Comrade Che would be radical and revolutionary. He is a gentle, uncompromising militant. At 83 years, Apostolic Comrade Che remains resolute in the struggle for human and environmental justice as well as for community rights.

Through the book we learn of his militancy in political actions, pro-democracy activism and in inspiring trade union consciousness. A freelance revolutionary, as Patrick terms him, he continues unwaveringly in the pursuit of militant causes.

Comrade Che before Comrade Che

Here is an extract from the foreword I wrote for the book: This is a story of courage, love, commitment and passion. It is a story that shows the triumph of the human spirit even in the most hazardous situations. It is a story of a survivor.  He indeed survived many detentions, false imprisonments and assassination attempts. He admired his late friend, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the Ogoni people for ‘being true to the struggle in the naked face of mass arrests, killings, government and crude oil induced bribes.’ Unfortunately, he could not say the same for the organising ability and fidelity to causes by his own immediate people.

Apostolic Comrade Che, as I call him, is a very inspiring man. His simplicity is unpretentious. He is a man of ideas and is always willing to share such ideas. This book reveals much that is not readily known of this great man. I have known Comrade Che and benefitted from his friendship and fatherly counsel, from the mid 1990s. However, reading this book brings me face to face with him as though I only just knew him for the first time. In fact, until I read this book I always thought that Cheta Ibama Ibegwura was named Comrade Che after the famous Argentine internationalist. Behold, he was already Comrade Che before he ever heard of the other Comrade Che.

Not a Book Review

This is not a book review. It is a tribute to my mentor and teacher, Comrade Che. It is also a thank you note to Patrick for penning these powerful books. The books published by Creektown Books (Lagos) will be presented at a public event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 5th March 2016. Get the books and review them yourselves!


A Living Memorial for Deadened Memories

BUSWALLPAPERThe Bus, a sculptural memorial in honour of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Saturday Dobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbooko, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate, Baribor Bera, Barinem Kiobel, and John Kpuine was shipped to Nigeria from the United Kingdom by Platform. On arrival in Nigeria it was seized by the Nigeria Customs since 8th September 2015 on the reported grounds that it had “political value.” The original idea was for the Bus to be used during the 20th anniversary activities to mark the dastardly execution of the Ogoni 9 on 10th November 2015. The kidnap of the Bus by the Nigeria Customs, as Celestine Akpobari, head of Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF) labels it, made it impossible for the cultural memorial to be used.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officials stated that the the “inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

Due to the continued detention of the sculpture by the Nigeria Customs, the OSF leader petitioned the House of Representatives of Nigeria seeking their intervention for the release of the sculpture. We note that the sculpture was created by Nigerian-born artist Sokari Douglas Camp.

The House of Representatives has so far held two hearings on the matter on 28th January and 4th February 2016. At the first hearing the Representatives were unhappy that the Comptroller of Customs did not appear before them. Again, at the second hearing the Customs boss was conspicuously missing, prompting the Representatives warning that they should not be provoked to issue an arrest warrant against the big man. The next hearing is scheduled for 17 February 2016.

One interesting fact that emerged from the hearing of 4th February was that the Customs officers stated that the the ‘inscription on memorial bus is a threat to national peace.”

What could possibly be the threatening inscription on the sculpture? The Bus has the name of Ken Saro-Wiwa on a white steel banner on one side, and the names of the other 8 Ogoni leaders on sculptural crude oil barrels. It also has the words of Ken Saro-Wiwa: “I accuse the oil companies of practising Genocide against the Ogoni.” Would these threaten national peace?

It should be noted that this sculpture has been on display in the UK for 9 years and was shipped to Nigeria by Platform on the request of network partners in Nigeria: Movement For The Survival Of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Ogoni Solidarity Forum (OSF), Social Action, Health Of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN).

In his official submission to the House of Representatives, Akpobari said, “We are concerned that after killing Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8, and dumping their bodies in an unmarked grave, the Nigerian government is bent on erasing every memory of Saro-Wiwa and his struggles for justice, including making sure that a “Living Memorial” – the Bus made in his memory and in solidarity with his people – is never delivered to them.”

The Nigeria Customs appears to have chosen to fight a battle to erase the memories of these heroes of environmental and cultural struggles. Seizing a sculpture gives the impression that the State is attempting to kill the message after annihilating the messengers. With the experience of history, we can say that this is a futile endeavor and the Customs should release and deliver the Bus to the people of Ogoni as emblematic representatives of peoples struggling for ecological sanity, social inclusion and dignity.

If there are persons that wonder who Ken Saro-Wiwa and these leaders were, the words of Sanya Osha in a paper published in Socialism and Democracy gives a crisp picture:

“When Ken Saro-Wiwa and his nine Ogoni compatriots were hanged in November 1995, it both polarized and unified the fragile as well as volatile geographical entity known as Nigeria. However, this time, it wasn’t the ethnic and religious fissures that were most noticeable. Instead it was the naked fist of raw power versus the vociferous protestations of a disenfranchised minority writhing beneath the weight of a seemingly implacable military dictatorship.

“Ken Saro-Wiwa became the voice, face and symbol of this aggrieved minority straining for denied civic and democratic rights. He became a hero in patently unheroic times and this is what makes his life and the loss of it so potently poignant.”


It is for this and other reasons that 10th November has galvanized a global environmental justice movement and has become a global day of remembrance of victims of extractivism. And as Platform warns, They can hold the Bus but they can’t stop the movement.

There is no wisdom in keeping this sculptural Bus in captivity.


—photos by Platform—