When Pain Speaks

Gas flare by Igbuzor

Gas Flare in the Niger Delta. Photo credit: O. Igbuzor

The colonisation of the Nature persists in its raw form and tends to be intensified as time goes by. The intensification of the colonisation of Nature increases as resources that humans have learned to transform for the preservation of current civilisations run out. The dearth of resources to be exploited should have been obvious to humans since we live on a finite planet. The race for what can still be reached has thrown up situations where governments are not necessarily defined by political ideologies but by their stance towards dependency on revenue and materials from extractive activities and on corporate forces that support their electoral needs.

The range of political leadership we see in the world today tends to be birthed by alignment of perception of populations on which leadership promises to bring back the good old days. The factor of nostalgia has sometimes been spiced with a promise to bring about change. Common in all situations is the fact that the voters do not question the past that they desire and do not interrogate the promised change. The result has been that the disappointing reality sets in very quickly when the promises turn to dust.

The thought pattern that offers Nature as something to be exploited has become so ingrained that we only wake up to ask questions when the environment is thoroughly degraded and where damage can no longer be compensated for. The heavy loss and damage tied to the extractivist model has gone so deep that financial compensation cannot sufficiently pay for the harms. This shows clearly that the remedies must be sought on the altar of justice. Humans need to seek a reconciliation with Nature of which we are an integral part. One pathway towards this reconciliation is through the acceptance of ecocide as a crime punishable under national and international laws. The acceptance of ecocide as a crime will greatly incentivize good behaviour by ecological devourers.

The abandonment of social responsibilities by governments is one of the reasons for the spate of protests going on in the world today. And it does appear that the protests will continue until governments wake up to the fact that they are elected to govern and not to babysit corporations and otherswho profiteer from the misery of citizens.

Reconciliation with Nature will take both physical and cultural actions. It will require an acceptance that carrying out so-called corporate social responsibility acts are blatantly hypocritical when the harm done is irreversible. Beautiful concepts like benefit sharing should be seen as drawing in victims as accessories to crimes when the ecological harms done in the process of resource exploitation cannot be remedied. Talks of good governance and transparency stand out as scaffolds for continued irresponsible exploitation in many cases when it is known that the baseline for assessing transparency is not in existence in the first place.

The cultural actions that require immediate consideration have to do with our mindsets. For too long, policies have been based on ideas formulated to ensure that the oppressive and exploitative systems persist. We accept concepts such as green or blue economies without question. Some policy makers even swear that the blue economy is Africa’s chance to enter the development train. We do not even pause to question the origins of the concept of development and the classification of nations as developed, developing or underdeveloped. So unthinking have we been that there was a time nations competed to be classified as poor and highly indebted nations so as to qualify for loans and prescriptions that would actually ensure their poverty.

And, have you considered the concepts of cash cropping as a major means of foreign exchange earning by governments? Where did the idea that you can literally cultivate crops for cash and not for food take root in our psyches? Think about that.

The pursuit and accumulation of cash has become the reason for living by many. Those who are not able to raise enough cash to cover more than their daily needs are seen as poor and as failures. Humans have accepted the notion that collective organisation provided by government should only be for the purpose of propping up corporate interests and the powerful forces behind them. People readily mouth the falsehood that governments have no business in business and extend that to mean that citizens must pay for everything. Allowing citizens to swim or sink has become the creed and this further opens the scope for exploitation of the helpless.

Governments pursue revenue generation and do all they can to ensure the enlargement of the space for ease of doing business. You don’t hear of ease of survival for citizens of nations. No, there are no measures for that. We speak up against child labour, but we have normalized poverty and force kids to work in order to support parents whose labour cannot pay their bills. So we have children buried in mines for hours, digging up metals that end up adorning the rich and the powerful. We see artisanal miners breaking their backs and getting buried in unsafe mine pits across the African continent. And, then we point our fingers to accuse these struggling citizens with notions that poverty drives ecological degradation. No one asks to unearth the roots of the calamitous circumstances that we live in and the extent to which the planet has been wreaked.

The abandonment of social responsibilities by governments is one of the reasons for the spate of protests going on in the world today. And it does appear that the protests will continue until governments wake up to the fact that they are elected to govern and not to babysit corporations and otherswho profiteer from the misery of citizens. And we should add here that laws like the proposed Hate Speech bill in Nigeria cannot stem the tide of pains that must be voiced.

 

 

 

 

Infernal Gas Flares

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ground level gas flare

The gas flares in the Niger Delta are absolutely obnoxious. When 2020 was set as the deadline for halting gas flaring in Nigeria it seemed like ages away. As 2019 rolls towards its terminal point, 2020 is already placing its foot in the door. While launching the Nigerian Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP) in 2016, the indication was given that the nation would pursue a 2020 flare-out date. The nation also signed unto the Global Gas Flaring Partnership (GGFP) principles aiming at a flares-out date of 2030.

It is interesting to note that the Federal Government of Nigeria has been pursuing two deadlines on the same objective. Given our laziness about meeting deadlines, it was obvious to observers that 2020 was a smokescreen and could not be a date to bank on. Nevertheless, the then Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu, was particularly insistent that the year was sacrosanct.

The reasons for such optimism included the fact that up to 800 companies had submitted bids for the management of 176 gas flare sites in the Niger Delta and of the 800 bidders, 226 had paid stipulated fees as part of their expression of interest to manage the gas flare sites. Needless to say that as 2020 rolls in, that target has quietly evaporated.

We should remind ourselves that gas flaring commenced in the Niger Delta in the 1950s. We should also remind ourselves that gas flaring is inevitable in any oil field that has gas associated with the crude oil being extracted. Such gases are usually vented or flared in order to avoid uncontrollable build up of pressure in such installations. The flares are occasionally lit and then put off until when pressure mounts again. However, the gas furnaces that have ravaged the Niger Delta are not lit to relieve pressure from the oil fields, they are simply lit to waste the gas, as if no one would ever complain over the waste or poisons. This sort of burning of the resource is termed routine gas flaring. This routine flaring is the permanent insult that operators have relentlessly piled on our peoples and the Niger Delta environment.

We were told that President Muhammad Buhari is totally against gas flaring in the Niger Delta and was doing everything to ensure that the infernal flames are snuffed out for good. That position seems plausible considering the fact that the decree outlawing gas flaring came into force on 1st January 1984, during his tenure as a military Head of State. Secondly, in 2018 the government issued the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Regulation.

… the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Notable features of the 2018 Gas Flare Regulation include the fact that the Federal Government now owns all the gas flares stacks and all the flared gas. That sounds rather funny, but the reason the claim is made can be assumed to have arisen from the fact that investors were denied access to the flared gas by operating oil companies. It is not clear whether government would still expect oil companies to pay fines for flaring gas now that government has claimed ownership of the gas flare stacks. Or will the government now be the offending party? By reason of owning the gas flares, access to flared gas to be utilized for commercialization or otherwise is now to be obtained from the Petroleum Minister, who in this case is the President.

The Regulation also requires that the producers are to maintain a daily log of gas flared. The interesting point here is that government agencies are unable to measure or meter the volume of gas flared in the country. Neither are they able to measure the actual volume of crude oil extracted on a daily basis in the country. So, when we say that 8 billion cubic meters of gas is flared annually, we are simply throwing out a guesstimate. Government agencies depend on oil and gas companies to declare the volumes of gas extracted and flared.

This brings us to another point in the Regulation which stipulates that the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) may demand for gas flare data from the operators. It also adds that the operators must give accurate data or face the penalty of paying a fine of N50,000 (fifty thousand Naira) or being imprisoned for six months. It is not clear if Nigeria can jail a company. But going by the trend of things that may not be a impossible task to accomplish as our security and judicial officers appear to be getting more creative by the day. But, come on, a N50,000 Naira or a mere $139 (one hundred and thirty nine US Dollars) fine against an oil company dishing out false data? That does not even sound like a good joke.

Back to the flares-out deadlines. In the 1960s noises were already made about the need to halt the obnoxious act of gas flaring. As already mentioned, the first deadline was 1 January 1984. That deadline was shifted to 2007 and to 2008 and 2010 and then to 2020. These shifting goalposts have been made attractive to the oil companies because the Decree or Act outlawing gas flaring allows companies to flare gas provided they had obtained a permit to do so from the Minister of Petroleum. Besides obtaining a certificate to flare the harmful gases, they are to pay a fine. In 1979 that fine was pegged at 0.003 US dollars per million cubic feet of gas flared. By 1988 the fine rose to a handsome 0.07 dollars. In January 2008 the fine was set at 3.50 dollars for 1000 cubic feet of gas flared. From report, this figure was simply ignored. In 2018 the fine was pegged at 2.0 dollars per 1000 cubic feet of gas flared.

The gas flare game has continued due to the sort of Joint Venture arrangements in place in the country. The operators call the shots, including with regard to measuring the gas produced and flared as well as oil produced, spilled or stolen. The recent report by Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initative (NEITI) suggesting that an outrageous $11 million worth of crude oil is stolen daily in Nigeria did not raise a significant number of eyebrows, beyond making news headlines. Some observers believe that although the figure shared by NEITI may be conservative, it does suggest that the malfeasance in the oil and gas fields fester on an industrial scale and we should stop blaming the victims.

The entire petroleum sector architecture needs to be urgently deconstructed and reordered, including by stopping gas flares by 2020, by all means necessary. Thirty five years after outlawing gas flaring, and fourteen years after a High Court declared the act an assault on our human rights, we have no reason to further kick the deadline down the road.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon: Oil Spills in Bauchi

pondering

Oil Spills in Bauchi- coming soon. Crude oil is sometimes called the black gold and has an allure that almost makes it irresistible to speculators, corporations, governments and those who believe that wealth does trickle down from such exploitations. Whatever is the case, crude oil births dreams. It also aborts them.

Nigeria ranks among the top 20 crude oil producing nations in the world today, with its position hovering around the 16th. Africa contributes 9 per cent of global crude oil production and half of that comes from Angola and Nigeria. About a quarter of the crude oil production in Nigeria happens onshore, while the rest are extracted offshore. That ratio may change if the oil find in the region of  Bauchi/Gombe proves to be in commercial quantities.

A number of factors combine to make the nation a high risk territory for sourcing for the resource. One of the factors relates to the impact on communities of the ecological despoliation that accompanies its extraction in the country. Others include the social discontent and conflicts generated by the destruction of livelihoods, contamination of food sources and the general rupturing of support structures for healthy living. For Nigeria, vesting in further oil exploration and extraction is risky in a world that will soon shift away from fossil fuel dependence. Is the continued search worth the budget?

The extent of crude oil pollution in the communities of the Niger Delta is simply mind boggling.  With at least one flare point popping up at the new oil find location, it seems that oil pollution may finally be seen and understood by a larger number of Nigerians. The celebratory tones of the find on social media has been comparable to the drumming, dancing and hopes that burst out in Oloibiri and other communities in Ogbia area of Bayelsa State when oil was found there in the 1950s.

The celebrations in Oloibri did not last long before it turned sour as hopes of “development” were dashed and what stuck in its place was untold environmental devastation. Today,  the first oil well, drilled in 1956, sits in a hut and has been designated a mere monument. Other abandoned wells in the Ogbia bushes are yet to be decommissioned and try not to be ignored by occasionally dripping crude.

The oil companies operating in Nigeria have justly earned a bad reputation from the local population and on a global scale. They built that reputation from scratch, including from when they started flaring gas associated with crude oil extraction on the flimsy premise that there was no market for natural gas in the 1960s and flaring became a convenient company practice. It may be said also that because oil companies were not immediately held to account for oil spills when they reared their ugly heads in the Niger Delta, pollution became acceptable corporate practice. They were ignored and rose to the levels of ecocide that we see today.

In the heat of the fires set by their corporate misbehaviour, transnational oil companies operating in Nigeria have devised the strategy of supporting “backward integration” or encouraging the entrances of local entrepreneurs by selling off some of their onshore assets and clawing deeper out into the sea. And, the locals, often being “sons and daughters of the soil”, are given the benefit of the doubt and are readily accommodated by local communities since it is believed that the accruing wealth will trickle down to them and that local companies would not permit dastard ecological harms. Such sentiments do not take into account the pattern of accumulation by despoliation and dispossession inherent in the DNA of reckless capitalist production. The oil spills under local hands are as deadly as when they drip through foreign fingers. This is already happening.

In any case, the multinational oil companies prefer to dive into deeper waters, because they can escape close scrutiny and because the deeper you go, the amount the Nigerian government receives as royalties gets  progressively smaller. Who would not choose the deep water option if doing so brings more profit and less responsibilities?

The National Oil  Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) must be stretched to the limits by the spate of oil spills in the Niger Delta. The agency must literally be chasing after new spills and those that are ignored on a daily basis. Over the years, it has been agreed that about 240,000 barrels of crude oil gets spilled into the environment annually.

Researches indicate that between 1999 and 2005, up to 17.04 percent of the spills were attributed to mechanical failure. Corrosion caused 15.56 per cent and unknown causes accounted for 31,85 31.85 per cent of the oil spills. Operational error accounted for 12.59 per cent. These four categories, or 77.04 per cent, can be summed up as industry responsibilities. For that period, 20.74 per cent was said to be from third party activity. What happened at 2005? What changed?

These days, most of the incidents are attributed to third party interferences. At one level, the current situation appears to be the result of very well orchestrated campaign by the oil companies to change the narrative by getting fingers to  point at poor community people as the source of the ongoing ecological terror. The campaign succeeded due to the highly advertised violent actions in the creeks and oil thefts that continue to escalate despite the crude beingstolen from high pressure pipelines and other structures. This state of affairs allow crude oil to be made available for the running of the obnoxious “bush refineries” that are contributing massively to the degradation of the environment. These illegalities run on the subtly induced obnoxious sense of entitlement or ownership, that encourages the horrible situation where poor community people engage in extremely dangerous slave labour of cooking and distilling petroleum products at the pleasure of evil barons.

All said, the beneficiaries of the ecocide in the land are the oil companies. As the ecological crimes intensified, they simply stepped up their media game, conducted helicopter pollution tours for local and international media and continued to wash their oil soaked hands off the debacle they orchestrated. The outcome is that today, many believe that the pollution in the Niger Delta is caused by third parties without asking questions about who constitutes this infamous third party? The other questions to be answered include why they do what they do and how. Could these third parties be embedded in the industry, security and political structures?  It is imperative that the so-called third parties are identified and adequately sanctioned.

The people also need more information about the harmful nature of crude oil. The belief that the noxious material can be used to treat convulsion or other health situations must be debunked in clear terms. Government should urgently embark on an environmental assessment of the entire Niger Delta using the Ogoni assessment as a guiding template. The oil fields should be adequately metered so that the nation may know what quantity of crude oil is actually being extracted, how much is being exported and how much is stolen or dumped into the environment. As for the new oil find, detailed ecological baseline studies should be conducted in the oil exploration areas so that when the spills begin, what is lost will be clearly known and there will less difficulties knowing who to hold to account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrival of Extreme Technology

architectureTechnology is defined as the application of  scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Oftentimes industry is related to the transformation of nature or raw materials in factories. The word, technology has roots in  Greek: tecknologia,meaning systematic treatment, itself derived from  teckne— art or craft. The meaning of the term has obviously been evolving over time as is the case with other words and concepts. For example, industry does not just mean “factory” or “manufacturing”. It also means hard or focused work.

Technology was not always about the transformation of nature, but was more of working with it as evidenced in the development of agriculture. Today, technology often aims to make nature more efficient or to subvert it. The subversion of nature has manifested in a series of innovations that have fundamentally shaped the character of societies. Such milestones include the invention of fire and of projectiles probably initially for the hunt and later   predominantly for killing other humans and not just other animals.

Efforts at enhancing the efficiencyof nature, such as experienced in the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s, has led to the loss of species through the focus on enhanced production per unit of land area. The new green revolution seeks to further narrow down what is left and intentionally drive the extinction of others. The Green Revolution was based largely on monocultures, which affected not just crops or animals, but also human minds.

Technology has also been developed to entrench certain industrial and socio-economic pathways that has generated catastrophic outcomes including climate change. Such anthropogenic interventions spiked in the dawning industrial revolution with the atmospheric carbon budget quickly gobbled up through the burning of fossil fuels, land conversion, chemical/energy-intensive agriculture, manufacturing and others. Interestingly, rather than retrace their steps since realizing the wrongheadedness of such actions, humans strive to offsetsuch socio-ecological misbehaviours through technological or engineering means.

Traditional wisdom teaches that digging further down any pit of error is  hardly the best way to get out of it. Turning this basic wisdom on its head has led to concentration of efforts in locking in business as usual in the interest of profit and at the expense of the wellbeing of both people and the planet. In the sphere of climate discourse, the pursuit of geoengineering is carefully cloaked in the language suggesting that technological solutions hold the key to decarbonizing economies. The challenge is that, outside computer modeling, the determination of the efficacy of most types of geoengineering can only be tested on mega or indeed planetary scales, with the potential of astonishing success or cataclysmic failures. Technology is not just about experimentation for the pursuit of beneficial solutions, they are great tools for concentration of power, for dominance  and for control.

The other streak of technological advancement that we will consider is in relation to food and agriculture. Traditional biotechnology has been practiced by humans from time immemorial. However, the application of modern agricultural biotechnology, specifically the commercialization of genetically engineered organisms is barely three decades old. While three decades may not be sufficient to study the impacts of these artificial organisms, scientists have moved on to produce population-scale genetic engineering driving for intentional species extinction.

Easily weaponized technologies are being promoted by vested interests in the military and philanthropic-capitalist circles. These risky and largely unregulated technologies are set to be unleashed in the world’s favourite laboratory, Africa, where we are all considered expendable guinea pigs. Bioterrorism is a real threat, especially in regions best seen as storehouses of raw materials for global technological production.

To make this incursion unassailable, Africa is projected as the continent of hunger, malnutrition, stunted children, blind adults, disease and population explosion. The logic builds on the supposition that mechanistic solutions are the last hope for humanity since our social fabric is so broken that only automaton with curtailed human agency can fix it.

We keep pondering why it is so difficult to invest in nature-based solutions rather than fighting against nature. To be sure, some nature-based solutions can indeed be technological, but they simply have to be techniques that are pro people and planet and not disruptive of our rights to thrive within the cycles of nature, as part of the intricate webs of life. Nature-based solutions must never be a route to the marketization of nature.

We must school ourselves to recover and retain our memories. The idea that technologies can only come from outside Africa is untrue and problematic, as the development of African and general human societies have shown. Schooling ourselves to decolonize the narratives that drive us into the vice-grip of exploitation and on the pathways of catastrophe is pertinent . It is also our duty to hold to account public agencies that insist that untested and risky technologies are safe. Such official fetish addictions and superstitions must be debunked in the interest of the present and the future generations. And in the interest of the planet and other beings.

Bitten by Genetically Modified Gnats

540AB3D7-FB76-4690-8CE4-6FB3F3D8CB50I would rather not be Bitten by Genetically Modified Gnats. No doubt science has meant advancement in many areas and has helped in the fight to overcome many problems. Science has also been the cause of many problems, some of which may prove to be almost intractable. The major problem is that science does not only tackle known problems, it can create new ones. It can also affect our minds and can become a religion. When folks develop the mindset that every problem has a technological solution, that elevates technofixes to becoming religious fix.

The trouble is that simple solutions to complex problems get ignored on the altar of profit, control and exploitation. A case in point is the needless pursuit of genetically modified mosquitoes to address the malaria problem. The fact that malaria kills thousands every year, and that Africa remains disproportionately exposed to this malaise, does not in any way mean that the less invasive solutions are inadequate or useless. Statements such as the one recently made by Abdoulaye Diabate who works with Target Malaria that “The conventional tools that we have at our disposal today have reached their limit,” underscores the tunnel vision of divers of extreme technofixes.

Target Malaria is running an experiment in Burkina Faso and have released 5,000 genetically modified male mosquitoes into Souroukoudinga, a village in western Burkina Faso as a precursor to the release of gene drive mosquitoes that aims to eliminate an entire species of anopheles mosquitoes. The project is being pursued by Target Malaria with funding from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Philantropy Project and the US Military. That experiment is throttling ahead despite the fact that as a major issue, prior informed consent has not been gotten in the territory that will potentially be impacted by these genetically modified mosquitoes. A documentary, A Question of Consent: Exterminator Mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, produced by the ETC Group exposes the falsehood of claims that there have been adequate consultation and prior informed consent. The matter of free, prior and informed consent cannot be toyed with.

A meeting in 2018, the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) set stringent conditions for the environmental release of gene drive organisms. These conditions require that “the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ or ‘approval and involvement’ of potentially affected indigenous peoples and local communities is sought or obtained” before any release of gene drive organisms.

Of concern here is that the National Biosafety Management Agency Act of 2015 has been enlarged to include definitions of gene drives, synthetic biology and other emerging technologies by the National Assembly and signed into law by the president. Ordinarily one would not be concerned by having expanded definitions in any law as that could be a good thing. However, in a system rigged against public opinion and the concerns of citizens, this is a crack in the door through which trouble can either creep or even swagger in. It can be a grave danger to grant authority on regulation of these largely unproven technologies to an agency that is an authority unto itself and operates with scant oversight or accountability.

Sadly, some parts of the world, including ours, have become dumping grounds for obsolete equipments and products. Toxic pesticides such as DDT can still be found in some places. In the USA, thousands of lawsuits are being waged against glyphosate based herbicides that are being fingered in cancer cases. In Nigeria, glyphosate based herbicides are gleefully sold in the market and are duly certified as safe by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). This adds to the spate of suicides by drinking Sniper pesticide.

Contemporary global technology fetish makes it difficult for citizens to question anything techie. With the rapid arrival of jaw dropping advances, the tendency is to bow and praise these creations. However, wisdom requires that we question these arrivals and accept them, if we may with full knowledge of the risks and uncertainties involved. And, in fact, we cannot accept all of them. Climate science, for instance, warn that continued dumping of greenhouse gases will inexorably result in increased temperatures and freak weather events. Yet, there are technologies being developed for scrapping more crude oil from previously abandoned or decommissioned oil wells. There are new technologies for extreme extractivist endeavours such as fracturing rocks to push out fossil gas or oil. There are more machineries being built for deep sea mining irrespective of the impacts that such activities will have on marine ecosystems. At a time of impending mass extinctions, should humans be engaging in extinction technologies such as gene drives?

We have to ponder on why it is so difficult to invest in nature-based solutions rather than fighting against nature. Even if humans are in an age of unique unipolar disorder, we are not bereft of common sense. And, come to think of it, mosquitoes have been eradicated in parts of the world through improved sanitation, social infrastructure and without the use of genetically modified varieties. A recent report in Nature revealed that genetically modified mosquitoes earlier released in Brazil have interbred with local mosquitoes, confirming the existence of wide gaps in the claim that laboratory produced “sterile” mosquitoes would not impact local ecosystems in this manner.

Permitting Africa to be turned into a laboratory for experimentations for profit and with tools that can easily be weaponized is both a betrayal of trust in leaders and unethical in all senses. With full, prior, informed consent it will be seen that our peoples will rather not be bitten by genetically modified gnats no matter who markets them.

A Knife to the Throat

ChangeA Knife to the Throat. Think before you dance to the GMO beat. A popular saying has it that the person that pays the drummer dictates the tune. That saying may not hold true at all times because the drummer may on occasion allow her innate artistic flair to take over. The saying, however, finds a wide parallel in situations where governments do not fund their research institutions and agencies, thereby pushing them into the embrace of funding agencies with motives that may not be in sync with that of the governments.

A case in point has to do with the way we are handling issues of biosafety. We do not appear to worry that the surveyors of genetically modified (GM) crops and products, apart from their pretentious messianic posturing are mostly concerned with making profit out of our miseries. We do not worry that our staple crops are targeted and that these marketers are the ones declaring our vitamin or mineral deficiencies and presenting GM crops and foods as silver bullets to solve all our problems.

We are happy when we are assured that GM foods and products will be labelled and that we will definitely have a choice with regard to whether or not we wish to eat them. We do not consider the fact that most of our staples are sold in ways that do not permit labelling. We do ourselves harm when we gloss over this issue. We do know that in the global north you can know the origin of the bananas, oranges and other fruits you buy from the labels stuck on them.

We have said several times that our socio-cultural context does not allow for labelling in our informal marketing and sharing systems. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (ATF) announces that GM beans will be planted in Nigeria in 2020. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are in breach of the law if any GMO is released into our environment and to our markets if it is not, and cannot, be labelled. Without the right of choice, we are forced to eat GM foods with a knife to our throats.

Back to the payer and the drummer. Sometimes the drummer may go into a flourish, but that often happens when the payer starts what may look like limitless spraying of currency notes. If the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Monsanto sprays you with seeds, or a laboratory, the dancer can go into a frenzy.

The fervour with which we are open to being used as testing fields of hypotheses dreamt by speculators, and even by students in foreign laboratories, should capture our attention. We recall when the great work IITA did in developing natural cassava varieties and methods for controlling the dreaded cassava leaf mosaic disease. These days they appear more bent to working on GM cassava for the increase of starch content in the tubers, not for foods for humans, but probably for industrial purposes. One such GM cassava was developed in a student project in a laboratory in Switzerland and brought to Ibadan, Nigeria, for testing. The so-called confined field trials have since been concluded but information on the outcome is not in the public sphere.

The routine response of the agency when asked for information on the basis of which they issue permits is to refer the enquirer to their website. When told that the information is not on their website, their response is to again reiterate their blanket reference to their website.

The same laboratory from Switzerland recently sent another GM cassava for a willing Nigerian institute, the Nigerian Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) located at Umudike, to obtain a permit and carry out confined field testing of a cassava variety engineered to contain high levels of iron and zinc. Despite very detailed comments sent to show why approval should not be granted for its field testing, the approval was granted by mid-July 2019.

Expert comments sent to show why certain applications should not be approved are treated with contempt and brushed aside. The agency is averse to giving a response as to why they reject the contrary points raised by concerned citizens and groups. The arrogance and hostility towards those who do not dance to the GM beats keeps increasing by the day. This has to stop.

The NRCI got the permit to carry out a confined field trial of the GM cassava on a plot measuring not more than 200 square metres. That is small, right? However, NRCI is to ensure a buffer or exclusion zone of 1.5 kilometres in which there must not be any non-GM cassava planted or growing wild. Is that possible in Abia State, or anywhere in Southern Nigeria? 1.5 kilometres without a cassava plant? Another requirement is that the place in which the GM cassava is to be planted must have security personnel keeping watch on a 24 hours basis. Really?

The immediate area of the trial zone is to be surrounded by a pollen trap to prevent the spread of pollen grains from the GM cassava. The trap is not something mechanical, like a mouse trap. It is rather a planted area where the crops planted there must flower at the same time as the GM cassava in the confined trial area. If that is not preposterous enough, consider who would ensure that the area is decontaminated after the field trial. That task will be done by “persons trained by the permit holder.” It is doubtful if such a person can be trusted to be objective in carrying out the task. It is obvious that entire scheme is a wild, needless gamble.

Some of us are wondering if the biosafety regulatory agency in Nigeria should bother to advertise applications for introduction of GM crops and call for comments when they already have their minds set on being little besides a permitting agency. Expert comments sent to show why certain applications should not be approved are treated with contempt and brushed aside. The agency is averse to giving a response as to why they reject the contrary points raised by concerned citizens and groups. The arrogance and hostility towards those who do not dance to the GM beats keeps increasing by the day. This has to stop.

The Classroom of life has no graduation

C97AC918-4170-4535-86BF-5A3970E9A0D5The Classroom of life has no graduation. Life offers classrooms without walls. Increasingly we are seeing these learning spaces to be the streets. They remain enclosed by our environment and our culture. Importantly, the Classroom of life has no graduation.

The classrooms of universities and multiversities, are concentrated arenas of learning that offer special opportunities to raise students and intellectuals to speak up for the poor, for Mother Earth and her children. In a time where our foods are being assailed by chemical-based agriculture, science needs to assure us that what we eat is not eating us up. At a time when our water, land and air are poisoned by wrongheaded extractivism, we need to remind ourselves that wellbeing is not defined by how much minerals we dig up, transform or accumulate.

What we make of our environment makes us, molds our imaginations and shapes our philosophies of life. It makes us humane or monstrous.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we cannot be onlookers in the fight to tackle the existential crises of our days, especially that of climate change. Through music and philosophies of life we can persistently project our memories and challenge our imaginations till we all agree that the saying ‘another world is possible’ and calling for ‘system change’ are not mere sloganeering but real calls for action.

We face a challenge of how to communicate the horrors of climate impacts and displacements in ways that can wake the world from slumber. We have a duty to stand as environmental defenders and reject the forces compelling millions to live in extremely contaminated environments and pushing others to early and watery graves in the Mediterranean Sea or to fiery graves in the burning dunes of the Sahara.

With broad spectrum programmes such as the Festival of Ideas annually hosted by the University of York, it is clear that the town and the gown, the field and the laboratory, can all trigger innovation that would dismantle the concentration of power in a few hands and rebuild a future for our collective humanity.

Music, poetry, prose, drama, sculpture, architecture, painting and other forms of arts have been veritable tools for education, as well as maintaining our cultures for ages. Today we can make music with our feet and fists and halt over-consumption and build cooperation, solidarity and the true ideals of wellbeing.

Education transforms. One way this happens is by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and to accept criticisms and needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.

We simply cannot stay silent or feign neutrality as societies fall apart. That is challenge offered by the education and practice at the University of York. This is an arena where academics and practice truly blend. We step up today by looking at the past and with solid hindsight building a harmonious and just future with one another, Mother Earth and all our relatives.

Education transforms. One way this happens is by empowering us to accept dissent as a true mark of patriotism and to accept criticisms and needed solutions, even if they are advanced by those we do not often agree with.

Let us close with “Keep Out of Prison” – a poem written by Ken Saro-Wiwa while in prison.

Keep out of prison,’ he wrote
‘Don’t get arrested anymore.’
But while the land is ravaged
And our pure air poisoned
When streams choke with pollution
Silence would be treason
Punishable by a term in prison.

* My speaking notes on receiving an honorary degree at the University of York graduation ceremony on 19 July 2019