Halt the Assault on the Ekuri Community and other Forests

Proposed Super Highway Map_Southern section-compressedSome of the best preserved rain forests in Nigeria are the Cross River National Park and the Ekuri Community Forest all in Cross River State, Nigeria. These forests are under serious threat of being destroyed to make way for a Super Highway that can easily be re-routed to preserve our communities as well as enormous biodiversity including rare and endangered species.

The 260km Super Highway is planned to lead from a proposed deep sea port at Esighi in Bakassi Local Government Area run through the Cross River National Park and up to Katsina Ala in Benue State, Nigeria, at a cost of N700 billion or about $3.5bn.

Firmly rejecting the routing of the Super Highway through their forest, the Ekuri Chiefs added that “Our forest is our wealth and the beacon of our hopes and aspirations”

With a dramatic and outrageous appropriation of a massive 20.4-kilometre-wide track over 260km length, the Super Highway is a project of monstrous and needless proportions. A Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper, Weekend Chronicle, on 22nd January 2016 decreed, among other things, that:

“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely.” This is clearly unacceptable under any kind of highway design.

In a petition to the Governor of Cross River State, dated 13th February 2016, the Chiefs and people of Okokori Village of Obubra Local Government Area saw the revocation of the right to their lands including settlements, farmlands and community forest as a calculated attempt to extinguish them as a people. They concluded that “Since the revocation of all our lands for a Super highway have damning consequences on us and our environment, we are compelled not to welcome this project as the ulterior motive of your government is to grab our lands and make us worthless, ignoring the fact we voted overwhelmingly for you to better our lot but not to punish us unjustifiably.”

Proposed Super Highway Map_Northern Section (2) compressed

In an earlier petition dated 7th February and addressed to the Governor, the Ekuri Traditional Rulers Council stated, among other things, that “The right of way for the Super Highway measuring 400 metres wide (200m on each side of the road from the centre line), being the width of four standard football fields, is too large and wil destroy our forest and farms that we have laboured to conserve and cultivate crops…The further 10km on either side of the Super Highway from the 200 metres ends totalling 20km width is appalling, meaning that the whole of our Ekuri community forest totalling 33,600 hectares, all our farms and community settlements would have been revoked leaving us landless.”

Firmly rejecting the routing of the Super Highway through their forest, the Ekuri Chiefs added that “Our forest is our wealth and the beacon of our hopes and aspirations”

Many things are wrong with this planned routing of the Super Highway. First, if allowed to proceed along the path that has been planned, it would destroy the aforementioned forests and equally impact other forests and communities. See the attached maps of the northern and southern ends of the proposed Super Highway.

Ekuri“We find it unacceptable that a project of this magnitude is pursued without regard to the law and in defiance of the rights of communities,” says Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation. He states further “Although the President conducted a ceremonial ground breaking exercise on 30th October 2015, that cannot be construed to mean an approval for the project to proceed without meeting the requirements of the law, particularly that of Environmental Impact Assessment. Moreover, as required by law, an EIA cannot be claimed to have been conducted if there are no consultations with citizens that would be impacted by the project.”

Observers think the project may be a cover for land grabbing, illegal logging and poaching and the destruction of habitats in the forests and reserves that are protected by law and preserved by custom. They question why a project of this nature would reportedly enjoy contributions from Nigerian banks without requisite preliminary surveys, plans and approvals.

The affected communities inform that “besides the fact that the proposed route was going to cause untold damage to the globally important park, it also demonstrated that the route had been selected without looking at a contour map, let alone having an engineering survey.”

Chief Edwin Ogar of Ekuri community stated that: “the destruction of Ekuri and other community forests because of the revocation for a super highway, will aggravate climate change crisis with dire consequences on humanity in general particularly among the poor”.

HOMEF calls on the Government to

  1. Comply with the laws of the land including by conducting Environmental Impact Assessment, other relevant assessments and consultations as enshrined in ILO Article 169
  2. Halt the rampaging bulldozers that are already destroying farms at Etara/Eyeyen and are continuing towards Ekuri and Okuni forests/communities.
  3. Reroute the Super Highway along a less damaging path and away from Community forests and the National park
  4. Reward and support communities that protect our forests rather than penalize and dispossessing, displacing and impoverishing them.

HOMEF also calls on all peace loving Nigerians and citizens of the world to join the call to rethink this project and work to preserve the tranquility that has reigned in this forest before the threat of the bulldozers.

(Press Statement by HOMEF in support of the threatened communities. 01.03.2016)

They Don’t Care if We Exist – Crude oil Spill Impacts at Forcados

14th February was celebrated as Lover’s day across the world, but in parts of the creeks of the Niger Delta it turned out to be a tragic day. While lovers dressed with a touch of red, Forcados communities were braced for the unknown with the threat of having their water ways coated with crude oil rose by the hour. On that day, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC or Shell) announced that there was an oil spill from their 1.2 metres (48 inches) export line and that they were investigating the cause. The point of leak lies under 4.5 metres of water.

To be sure that the right thing was done, that the environment was protected and that communities were not left in limbo, the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed and the Minister of State for Environment, IBRAHIM Usman JIBRIL, visited the Forcados Terminal on 19th February to see things for themselves. They forsook the luxury of getting there on a chopper and took to the boats to get there through the choppy, and at times, treacherous waves. Their move sent a strong signal that the business of ecological defense in these parts was taking a necessary curve.

We should also say here that since taking office, these ministers have toured the environmental crisis hot-spots in Nigeria – including those polluted by oil and industrial activities, those impacted by desertification and loss of wetlands and those facing the menace of gully erosion. They have also been in constant consultations to ensure that the implementation of the UNEP report on Ogoni environment is not only implemented but that other parts of the Niger Delta would not be left on the lurch.

WP_20160219_033The trip to Forcados was all business. Forcados in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, Nigeria hosts the second oil export terminal in Nigeria besides the one at Bonny in Rivers State. There was no media announcement and no paparazzi. Government officials on the visit were John Nani – the Commissioner for Environment, Delta State and Dan Yingi – Chairman of the Environment Committee of the Delta State House of Assembly The other officials were Mrs Akutu -the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry  and  Idris Musa of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA). And then there were three of us from the environmental justice constituency: Emem Okon, Monday Itoghor and yours truly.

Arrival at Forcados Terminal was an hour’s bounce on the waves in a convoy of military boats. On the way we passed solitary boats with stoic fisher women and men hoping for a catch, and obviously at home with the boisterous waves around them.

On arrival at the Terminal, the visiting team was given a presentation on the incident by Shell officials. Before zeroing in on the incident, they went on a history tour of developments on the Terminal as well as on past incidents.

Spills remembered

The terminal commenced operations 1971, that is 45 years ago and had a major upgrade in 1998.

Shell noted that the incident of 14th February 2016 was almost on the 10th anniversary of an 18th February 2006 militant attack on the pipeline. They also mentioned an attack on their 36 inches produced water pipelines in 2006. Produced water is dumped into the creeks and rivers of the Niger Delta after treatment by the production companies.

The company provides constant electricity from gas turbines to the two major communities in Forcados, Ogulagha and Odimodi. Shell has 36 power generating turbines here and only needs 2 to power their operations at the Terminal. Since the shutdown power is supplied from diesel run electricity generators. This may soon be rationed as supply runs low.

Shell also informed that on 4th March 2014 there was a third party interference on their export line at a depth of 8 metres and that this was a through a sophisticated theft point that only professionals could have done.

The current spill happened 5km off the coast and led to a shut in of 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil from government owned Shell, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC) and a Nigerian company, Seplat Petroleum Development Company.

Chronology of a Spill and Response

The loading of a vessel, MT Yamuna Spirit, commenced from 10:00 am on 12th February 2016. Loading was suspended at 0:20 am on 14th February when the spill was noticed. Seplat and NPDC were informed to stop pumping crude oil to the Terminal at 5:41 pm on 14th February.

Shell deployed booms at 9:35 am on 15th February to curtail the spread of the crude and a specialised surveillance aircraft arrived from Ghana at 10:30 am on 17th February to join the effort. By the time of the visit, they had deployed 27 skimmers and plastic tanks for collection of recovered crude. They also stated that community people were recruited to join the clean up effort.

There were booms and skimmers deployed by Shell here, but these were clearly rudimentary and ineffective. The crude oil simply coursed beyond the feeble booms while the skimmers whirled and skimmed what they could.

When the Minister asked what actions had been taken to protect and assist the impacted communities, Shell officials informed that so far they had recovered 25 barrels of crude and had mobilised relief materials such as rice, beans, vegetable oil and water to the major communities.

Tellingly, Shell would not disclose how many barrels of crude oil has been dumped into the sea, creeks and the lands from this incident.

Cause of Incident

WP_20160219_023Although investigations by the Joint Inspection Team –made up of company and government officials, as well as community representatives- have not been concluded, Shell insisted that the spill was caused by a third party interference. How are they so sure of this? They displayed thick concrete pieces collected from the sea bed at the point of leakage. The pipe is protected by being encased in concrete reinforced with wire mesh. The second point that they claimed provided irrefutable proof was that some communities people informed them that they heard a big bang at a time that coincided with when the spill occurred.

On being questioned by the Minister of Environment, they agreed that they would have to wait for the conclusion of the investigations and further expert examination, before drawing any conclusions about the cause of the spill.

My note here was that even if the exact time of the rupture of the pipe was known, hearing a loud notice from the community could not rigidly prove that a third party interference had occurred on the pipeline at a point 5 km out at sea. That sounds like one “hearsay” taken too far!

The Minister of Environment appreciated the fact that Shell notified her ministry of the spill on 15th February. She told them that President Buhari is determined to ensure a clean up of Ogoniland as well as the entire Niger Delta. She noted that whether the present incident was caused by equipment failure or by third party action, the government was concerned that the communities, the environment and the economy should not suffer.

They Don’t Care if We Exist

After the Official presentation it was time to visit some of the impacted communities. We headed towards the open sea, but after about 15 minutes in choppy waves and heavy salt water sprays, it was obvious that it was not the right time to proceed in that direction using the boats we had. So back to the Terminal we returned. From here we went to Oseigbene  village (also called Okutu) right at the edge of the Terminal to see things for ourselves.

Shell had tried to say that the spill was being contained and kept from hitting the shoreline, but the visit to this village showed very extensive crude oil pollution of the community, especially their creek, the major source of potable water. There were booms and skimmers deployed by Shell here, but these were clearly rudimentary and ineffective. The crude oil simply coursed beyond the feeble booms while the skimmers whirled and skimmed what they could.

The mangrove forests were heavily impacted. Dead crabs and fish littered the shoreline at the village. It was a river of oil as far as we could see. The effort to put up a clean-up show for the visiting Minister did not quite pan out as they may have expected.

Community women spoke up. The told the Minister that Shell does not appear to care whether they existed or not. That no one cared if they were humans. They had no road, no electricity and no water. They had no jobs and were not engaged in the clean up processes. They had also not received any relief materials. Their children were sick as a result of the spill and some were in hospitals receiving treatment. After the visit the oil company officials said they were not aware of any illnesses arising from the spill.

The Minister assured the community that her visit was to ensure that their situation was handled properly and that their environment would be cleaned up. She also noted that the women and children bore special impacts from incidents like the present one and that something would be done to assist them.

A short helicopter overflight of the spill point showed efforts being made to curtail the spread of the spill. Again the booms deployed out there did not appear to far any better than the ones seen at Oseigbene.

This is the story of oil and the Niger Delta.

Dialogue with Bulldozers at Ekuri Community Forest

EkuriBulldozers, Superhighway and Ekuri Community Forest

Bulldozers and forests are not friends. Neither are highways or super highways, as the people of Ekuri Community are learning. The Ekuri Community Forest in Cross River State, Nigeria, is an acclaimed example of how communities can sustainably manage their forest. Now, this forest is under threat from the State Government that has embarked on the construction of a 260 Km, 6 lanes dual carriage super highway through their forest, using the highly controversial Land Use Act of 1979 as a cover for dispossessing the people of their land, forest and patrimony.

When the ground breaking ceremony for this project was conducted by President Muhammadu Buhari on 30th October 2015, the Ekuri Community thought that having an all-weather road pass by their community would bring to an end their perpetual struggle to secure access to the outside world through the earth road they had built by community effort. This thinking was shattered by a Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper on 22nd January 2016 decreeing, among other things, that:

“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.

Land Grabbing

The community studied the “Notice of Revocation” and the line profile and found that some of the coordinates show that their forest, community lands and settlements would be taken up by the Super Highway and the extraordinary right of way of 10 Km claimed by the government – beyond the 200 metres right of way allowed from the centre line on each side of the road. Little wonder the community characterises this usurpation as a case of crass land land grabbing. This sort of grabbing tends to suggest that this part of Nigeria is Tarzan country or simply a no-man’s land.

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming.

Before this, some critics of the Super Highway project such as the Rainforest Resource Development Centre (RRDC) had stated that “the BLUE PRINTS of such a huge 260km 6 lanes Super Highway project running across the entire Cross River State of Nigeria was not made public before the commencement of construction at the ground breaking event.  Significantly also, the blue print of the said project has not been made public till this moment.  This is a contravention of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 of the National Assembly as well as other related legislations…”

Other significant issues raised include the fact that no credible Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have been conducted before the taking off of the project. The project threatens the Cross River National Park as the highway traverses the buffer zone of the forest.

In its press briefing of 6th November 2015, the RRDC expressed the fear that contrary to the requirement of the Land Use Act, no schedules of compensation (including the names of beneficiaries) had been made public.  “The risk is that this project could end up escalating rural poverty if the issues of compensations are neglected.  This is so because the affected indigenous people and communities of Cross River State of Nigeria who own these resources could end up losing their sources of livelihoods, income and wellbeing, as well as their natural heritage and territories.”

Heritage Destruction

What RDDC feared is unfolding before the eyes of the Ekuri people and the world must not keep a blind eye to this.

The Ekuri protest Letter against the Super highway, dated 6th February 2016, reminded the Cross River State government that they had “for centuries conserved and managed our Ekuri community forest for its rich biodiversity and ecosystems services not only for our sustainable development but for the entire world. Since 1992, we pioneered formal community forestry in Nigeria and established the Ekuri Initiative (an NGO registered with the Federal Government) with a mandate in forest conservation, sustainable forest management, community development and poverty reduction. Since its inception, we have recorded inspiring successes. We have developed and implemented a land use plan which we jealously adhere to, a flagship community forestry project in Nigeria (a credit to Cross River State), the largest and best community managed forest in West Africa totaling 33,600ha. We received the UNEP Equator Award in 2004 for our outstanding passion, commitments and efforts to reducing poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of our biodiversity. We have been visited by several communities from Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique and a host of researchers to learn from our experiences. Our activities have been replicated by international development agencies and local NGOs and has brought fame to Cross River State and Nigeria as a whole. The planned destruction of our community forests which we have labored so hard to protect and conserve is not a welcome development. The resolve of our forebears to conserve our forest must be continued in perpetuity being a bequest and legacy to all the Ekuri people living and yet unborn.”

Dialogue with Bulldozers

With the level of dispossession staring them in the face, the Ekuri Community decided to reject the passage of the Super Highway through their forest and demand a realignment of the road. According to community sources, their petition received a quick but shocking response:

“At the receipt of the Protest Letter, the Governor has quickly sent a bulldozer this morning to Ekuri to begin the destruction of the Ekuri community forest in the name of the Super Highway. This is to show power and strength against poor communities and in defiance of the dictates of the rule of law.”

If the world keeps quiet and allows the bulldozers to have their way, they would not only bulldoze the future of the Ekuri people, the act would entrench impunity, satisfy the lust for capital, promote deforestation in one of the last remaining pristine forest in Africa and blunt our collective hope for tackling global warming. This is a challenge, not just for Ekuri Community but for the entire global community.

 

Eco-Instigator #10

E-I 10 CoverAs is the tradition of HOMEF, Eco-Instigator #10 was issued at close of December 2015 in order to bring you some comments from the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Needless to say that we were at COP21 and came away with a conclusion that the poor and the vulnerable were once more sacrificed in order to let polluters keep polluting. Climate inaction promoting carbon markets were hoisted as totems to appease the climate gods – the fossil fuel industry and their political partners.

This is a teaser from this collector’s edition, the HOME RUN, or editor’s note. The full magazine comes online at HOMEF’s website. The cover image, by the revolutionary artist, Angie Vanessita, is from Oilwatch International’s call for the creation of Annex 0 nations.

HOME RUN

2015 has been quite a run. Crowning it with the Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) wrapped up the year with a rather sour taste. The gathering in Paris this December was decidedly shrouded in a thick fog of the dread of terror attacks. Some people thought the unfortunate terror attacks in Paris just two weeks before the global gathering provided the cover for official denial of space for mass mobilisations against climate inaction.

In this edition we bring you articles and opinions on COP21. Mainstream media have been awash with reports that COP21 was historic and that the world is on track to tackle global warming. We think it was another missed opportunity as it actually entrenched the regime of voluntarism that permits polluters to keep polluting, open up pathways for untested technologies, avoid providing new climate finance and lock the planet on a burning grate.

There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures.

COP21 provided a robust space for civil society mobilisations and actions. On the streets, the human chain was the strategy for actions on 29 November. The mass mobilisations of 12 December were endorsed by the French government at the last minute. Plans for mass civil disobedience had gone ahead and activists were ready to face the consequences if the protests were disallowed. Statements from the streets clearly showed that the COP had missed the mark.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal was constituted and sat for two days in the Maison des Metallos, Paris. Experts, victims, prosecutors and judges presented or listened to cases of crimes against Mother Earth and at the end judgements were passed. There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures. We bring you a special report of the sitting of the Tribunal.

Oilwatch International sent a powerful call to the COP to create an Annex Zero group of nations, sub-nations and territories of peoples taking real climate caution by keeping fossils under the ground. No REDD in Africa Network issued a powerful briefing titled STOPPING THE CONTINENT GRAB and the REDD-ification of Africa. Grab a copy!

The Eco-Instigator team and all of us at HOMEF thank you for your support and solidarity throughout the year. We look forward to your continued support in the year(s) ahead. To stay updated with activities at HOMEF, sign up for our monthly eco-bulletin by sending an email to home@homef.org.

Whatever you do in the coming year, take care to ensure you stand for the rights of Mother Earth and in solidarity with all peoples.

Until victory!

Nnimmo

Giant Cigarettes in the Sky – Nigeria’s Toxic Gas Flares

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Horizontal gas flare, Niger Delta (c) Aloja

Gas flaring is the obnoxious practice of burning natural gas associated with crude oil extraction. To use the words of Joseph Croft of Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN) in the excellent environmental documentary film No Where to Run, the gas flares are like giant cigarettes attached to communities. Some flares are located horizontally, at ground level, posing even greater dangers to the communities. There are several examples, including at Oben, Edo State and Kolo Creek in Bayelsa State.

Communities with gas flare stacks are sentenced to live with these furnaces and cannot avoid the heat, the noise, the poisons and the offensive vista.  It is estimated that flared gas could potentially generate over 25,000 GWh of electricity which would meet a high proportion of Nigeria’s most ambitious power projections.

The Associated Gas Reinjection Act of 1979 outlawed gas flaring in Nigeria with effect from January 1984 and was aimed at compelling oil companies producing oil and gas in Nigeria to submit preliminary programs for gas re-injection as well as detailed plans for implementation. Oil companies can only flare, as an interim measure, if they have site-specific certificates permitting them to flare. Permitted or not, companies are required to pay fines for lighting those giant cigarettes in our communities. Unfortunately, routine gas flaring continues.

About $1.1bn gas flare penalties are reportedly not collected annually. This is more than the amount required to commence the full implementation of the UNEP report on the clean up of Ogoni environment. It simply goes up in smoke annually by way of uncollected fines from gas flaring. This sum could also assist in plugging the deficit in the 2016 National Budget if the reneged oil companies are compelled to pay up.

The penalty for gas flaring remains low and does not offer real incentives to defaulting oil companies to stop the practice. The current penalty for gas flaring in Nigeria was set by a Ministerial directive issued on 15 August 2011 at $3.50 per 1000 standard cubic feet. Attempts by the National Assembly, including through the moribund Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), to raise the penalty to equal the commercial price of natural gas has not seen the light of day.

About $1.1bn gas flare penalties are reportedly not collected annually. This is more than the amount required to commence the full implementation of the UNEP report on the clean up of Ogoni environment. It simply goes up in smoke annually by way of uncollected fines from gas flaring. This sum could also assist in plugging the deficit in the 2016 National Budget if the reneged oil companies are compelled to pay up.

The Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker website informs that, according to a report issued in 2012 by the Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force, oil companies often do not pay the fines “and when they do are still paying the old penalty of N10 per 1000 standard cubic feet flared.”

The Task Force reported that the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, was “unable to independently track and measure gas volumes produced and flared. It depends largely on the information provided by the operators. There were no available records or information in respect of gas flare volumes for the years 2005 and 2011.” There are no readily available records for fines paid for gas flared in the period 2012-2015.

The loss of revenue to Nigeria from non-compliance to the 2011 penalty regime is enormous. According to the report of the task force, “Using the DPR gas flare information (irrespective of the inherent errors…) to compute the potential revenues for the relevant years at the rate of $3.50 per scf is $4.1billion versus the $177million computed by the DPR using the N10 per scf.”

The Nigerian Gas Flare Tracker hosted by the Federal Ministry of Environment is a tool that every Nigerian should look up to be informed about the atrocious gas flaring going on at about 220 locations across the Niger Delta. It is a great tool for public information. It is a tool that should spur policy makers into action to rescue our environment.

See the Gas Flare Tracker map here.

 

Slow-Tracking the Ogoni Clean up

 

The 30 days ultimatum issued to the Federal Government of Nigeria by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) over the delayed clean-up of the devastated Ogoni environment did not come as a surprise to observers. The President was widely acclaimed when he declared that the implementation of the UNEP report, released on 4 August 2011, would be fast-tracked. That was five months ago. The initial things that were expected to be done include populating and inauguration of the structures that would over see the implementation exercise. These have not been done. Without these basic structures nothing else can happen.

In the words of the president of MOSOP, Mr. Legborsi Pyagbara, “We are seizing this opportunity to remind the government that the unusual delay for the take-off of the project is becoming unbearable and indeed taxing our patience.” He went on to urge the Federal Government to announce the structures and the roadmap for the implementation of the report in a manner that respects the sensibilities of the communities.

He further stated, “The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide being committed against the Ogoni people. We are giving the Federal Government a 30-day ultimatum to commence the implementation of the report or we will take up a series of non-violent measures to press for our demand.”

“The ongoing delay on the part of the government will continue to be seen as an act of genocide being committed against the Ogoni people.”

The struggle by the Ogoni people took on special impetus in 1993 at the maiden Ogoni Day celebration at which event Shell, the oil company most implicated in the decimation of the Ogoni environment, was declared persona non grata in Ogoniland. The present ultimatum was issued at a rally held to mark the 23rd anniversary of the epochal Ogoni Day on 4 January 2016.

Characterising the slow track on which the implementation process appears to be stuck as perpetuating genocide against the Ogoni people may appear to be rather strong language, but what are the true implications of continued inaction? Disease, poverty and very high mortality rates.

The level of pollution in Ogoni is absolutely astonishing. One can easily become dizzy, just stepping into some of the communities due to the heavy cloak of hydrocarbons fumes hanging in the air. Oil spills clog the streams, creeks and swamps and in some places dribbles of the noxious substance are found along community footpaths. Making matters worse is the fact that some of the spills that occurred years and decades ago have been either ignored or have been shoddily handled. Feeble attempts have been made at K-Dere to cover up decades old soil spill with soil.

Examples of crude covered environment dot the K-Dere, Bodo, Goi and other communities. What we see in Ogoni is sheer ecocide.

UNEP specifically called for emergency actions with regard to some of the heavily polluted areas such as Nisisioken Ogale. Here is what UNEP said in a press release issued on the occasion of the release of their report about five years ago:

“In at least 10 Ogoni communities where drinking water is contaminated with high levels of hydrocarbons, public health is seriously threatened, according to the assessment that was released today.

“In one community, at Nisisioken Ogale, in western Ogoniland, families are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene– a known carcinogen–at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization guidelines. The site is close to a Nigerian National Petroleum Company pipeline.

“UNEP scientists found an 8 cm layer of refined oil floating on the groundwater which serves the wells. This was reportedly linked to an oil spill which occurred more than six years ago.

“While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.”

The clean up of Ogoni environment will not be a 100m sprint, but a marathon requiring 25-30 years of dedicated work to accomplish. We are inching towards the five years mark since the alarm bells sounded at the release of the UNEP report. It is five months since President Buhari announced he would fast-track the implementation of the report. We cannot see anything happening on the ground, as attested to by MOSOP.

While the report provides clear operational recommendations for addressing the widespread oil pollution across Ogoniland, UNEP recommends that the contamination in Nisisioken Ogale warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation efforts.”

Dwindling oil revenue should not be an excuse for not cleaning up the environment of Ogoniland, the Niger Delta and other polluted places in Nigeria. It should rather be an impetus for taking the clean up challenge and punishing polluters who are hooked on habitually corrupting our environment. Ecological corruption is more deadly than financial corruption as it sentences whole communities of humans and other species to ill health and death.

Let the clean up shift form the slow track to the announced fast track. And let the 30 days ultimatum be an encouragement to do so. The Ogoni people have been supremely patient and further testing of their patience would not be the best way to go.

 

 

Between Subsidising Polluters and Thieves

The movement against subsidising the fossil fuel industry continues to grow and is an integral part of the keep it in the ground struggle. However, in places like Nigeria, contentious subsidies are those related to the importation of petroleum products. The debate is yet to fully focus on the cost of production and related malfeasances.

Keep it in the soil

The last mass national mobilisation in Nigeria happened in January 2012 when the pump price of petrol was raised from 65 Naira to 141 Naira per litre. The reasons given by the government then was that the increase in pump price of petroleum products was necessitated by a removal of subsidies.

The mobilisations lasted a full week and literally brought the government to its knees. The debates during and after the protests threw up many questions:

  • Why should Nigeria export crude oil only to import refined products?
  • Why are the refineries not functioning as they should despite heavy investments in their maintenance?
  • What is the value of the subsidies and would government need to subsidise if the products were refined in Nigeria?
  • Is there in fact any subsidy?
  • What volume of products is actually imported into Nigeria?
  • What quantity of petroleum products are consumed in Nigeria?

fuel_queues_2_755475260

Official responses to the questions were varied – depending on which official was speaking. The public believed there was an unbridgeable gap between the amount of money spent on subsidies and the volume of products actually imported. The questions still remain to be answered.

Eventually the pump price of petrol was brought to 97 Naira (then about $0.60) per litre. The price hike was moderated to 87 Naira per litre in January 2015 due to a downward slide in the price of crude oil.

It is obvious that crude oil is cheap because the true cost of crude oil is not being paid. The environment and the people continue to subsidise crude oil extraction, refining, transportation and consumption.

When President Buhari announced the 2016 national budget on 22 December 2015, he told the nation that the pump price of petrol would remain at N87 per litre in the new year. If there is already a negative subsidy due to the the drastically reduced price of crude oil it appears that right now the Nigerian people are the ones doing the subsidising. Put it another way, the people are being taxed for what they are not consuming.

Keeping the pump price of petrol price at N87 per litre and still paying subsidies in a situation when crude oil price hovers around $36 per barrel compared to about $90 at January 2012 and $47 by January 2015 is not easy to explain. To add to the consternation of many, an official of the NNPC recently stated that the pump price of petrol is higher than it ought to be and that there are many inefficiencies in the system.

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The Group General Manager, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) told journalists in Abuja on 18 December 2015 that petroleum products were overpriced in Nigeria and that subsidies would not find a space in the 2016 budget. According to him, “Our review of the current PPPRA (Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency) template suggests that there are significant inefficiencies in the current template.”

Earlier in that week the Minister of State for Petroleum spoke of similar inefficiencies but announced that the Nigerian government plans to revert to the old pump price of N97 per litre for petrol in 2016. What are we to believe?

True Cost of Crude

It is obvious that crude oil is cheap because the true cost of crude oil is not being paid. The environment and the people continue to subsidise crude oil extraction, refining, transportation and consumption. This subsidy manifests in extreme pollution as land, sea and air, including as evidenced in the Niger Delta, the Amazonia, the Alberta oil sand fields and the fracking fields of the USA. The environment and the people have absorbed enough beating by the petroleum sector. Lives have been decimated and now the planet is being set on fire.

This mother-of-all-subsidies can only be halted by keeping the fossils in the ground. The challenge is for all humankind. Mother Earth deserves a Sabbath of rest to recover from the abuses that continue to be inflicted on her.

Elimination of subsidy does not necessarily mean an increase of pump price of petroleum products. It indeed essential to eliminate phantom subsidies, save the people from needless taxation, and apply the saved funds to the remediation of the dastardly polluted Niger Delta.

Two Good Days of Inspiring Indignation

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For two days in the Maison des Metallos, Paris, experts, victims, prosecutors and judges presented or listened to cases of crimes against Mother Earth and at the end judgements were passed. There were solemn spiritual moments, moments of awe at the rapacious destructive capacities of humanity and many moments of tears as these destructions, including murders, were painted in words and pictures.

The International Rights of Nature Tribunal held parallel to the UNFCCC’s Conference of Parties where historical and current climate atrocities or real solutions are loath to be mentioned, not even in square brackets.

The Tribunal derives its authority from the peoples of the world as the children of the Earth. The basic framework comes from the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth (UDRME) that was adopted at the Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2010 after the spectacular failure of COP15 in Copenhagen. At the commencement of the sitting of the Tribunal on 4 December 2015, the presiding judge, Cormac Cullinan, led other judges to vote and formally adopt the Convention and Statutes of the tribunal. These guide the running of the Tribunal and underscore the solemn duty of sitting as judges on the cases of infringements against Mothrer Earth.

This was the third session of the Tribunal, having sat first in Quito, Ecuador in January 2014 and then in Lima, Peru in December of the same year. The Tribunal was hosted by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature in conjunction with NatureRights, End Ecocide on Earth and Attac France with Natalia Greene heading the secretariat.

As I sat on the panel of judges along with Tome Goldtooth (USA), Alberto Acosta (Ecuador), Osprey Orielle (USA), Terisa Turna (Canada), Felicio Pontes (Brazil), Damien Short (UK), Attosa Soltani (USA), Ruth Nyambura (Kenya), Christophe Bonneuil (France), Philippe Desbrosses (France) and Dominique Bourg (Switzerland) we were repeatedly reminded that all beings on Earth are our relatives and that what we do to anyone of the children of the Earth we do to ourselves. The preamble of the UDRME states that “We are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny.”

It also came through that the crimes against Mother Earth are often wilfully committed because some people and the transnational corporations see nature as capital and Mother Earth as a dead organism. In a proposed case against cruel treatment of animals we saw shocking video of a wounded bull being butchered alive with hundreds of people gleefully watching.

The prosecutors, Ramiro Avila and Linda Sheehan led the witnesses in bringing out deep systemic alternatives to environmental protection and seeking to show that it must be acknowledged that ecosystems have the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate their vital cycles and that these ought to have legal standing in a court of law. The line-up of witnesses helped to ensure that Indigenous Peoples and oppressed communities had the space to share their unique concerns, knowledge and solutions about land, water, air and culture with the global community.

The presentations by experts and victims showed that climate change violates Articles 2 Sub sections a-j of the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, especially the right to life and to exist; the right to be respected and “the right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue its vital cycles and processes free from human disruptions.”

Witnesses underscored the fact that although climate change is caused mostly by human activities, it is inaccurate to place that blame and the burden for action on all humans. In his presentation, Pablo Solon stressed that 10% of the richest individuals in the world contribute 49 per cent of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 90 companies contribute over 60 per cent of all GHG emissions. The top corporate polluters include Chevron, ExxonMobil (USA), Saudi Aramco (Saudi), BP (UK), Gazprom (Russia) and Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands).

Evidence were adduced to show that the trio of governments/politicians, transnational corporations and the UNFCCC are complicit in the climate crimes as they work together to ensure that real solutions are avoided, binding commitments to cut emission are set aside in preference for voluntary or intended actions. In addition, the tribunal rejected the claims that destructive actions were taken on the basis of the necessity of development or that when emissions began to happen, and grew, the polluters did not know or anticipate the outcomes, are unacceptable.

The case was established that at play is the logic of capital and power and that the major corporations who have caused the problems are the sponsors of the COPs and have hijacked the system.

The fact that the extreme forms of extraction promoted by humans are crimes against Mother Earth came through very forcefully when the case of hydraulic fracturing or fracking was taken. Fracking was presented as a RAPE of the Earth and is one of the worst threats against the planet. Facts adduced in this case include that it sets stage for disaster each frack uses up to 2-8 million gallons of fresh water and that one well may be fracked up to 18 times. The process involves the use of up to 750 chemicals many of which, including benzene and formaldehyde are toxic. Billions of gallons of “frack fluid” and 60 per cent of chemicals used remain or are stored underground while the remainder are stored in open air pits.

“We all need nature to survive and it is fundamental that we protect her. Governments should hear the indigenous people who are in the frontlines of defending nature…My struggle is for you, for all of us and for the future of humanity and for the future of our children.”

The Tribunal received evidence of radioactive wastes, toxic waters being left everywhere fracking takes place: in farms, schools, neighbourhoods as well as offshore. Witnesses and experts also insisted that fracking is guaranteed to pollute ground water. Testimonies of health impacts, deaths, rapes and other social disruptions dropped a pall of grieve over the venue of the meeting.

In the case against the Belo Monte and Tapajas mega dams in Brazil, the Tribunal was informed that 60-70 dams were being planned to be built over the next 20 years. Belo Monte alone will destroy 5000km2 of the forest and related biodiversity. The social impacts were described as ecological and cultural genocide against the indigenous communities.

Speaking forcefully about his lifelong work defending the Amazon forest, Cacique Raoni Kayapo told the Tribunal, “We all need nature to survive and it is fundamental that we protect her. Governments should hear the indigenous people who are in the frontlines of defending nature.” Looking piercingly at the panel of judges and then at the audience he intoned, “My struggle is for you, for all of us and for the future of humanity and for the future of our children.”

Other highlights of the sessions include the presentations that demanded that fossil fuels should be left under the ground in line with the findings of science requiring that this be done if we are to avoid catastrophic temperature rise. Oilwatch International presented the case for the creation of Annex Zero (0) nations, sub-nations and territories that have already taken steps or are in the process of doing so, of keeping fossil fuels under the ground. This was presented as real climate action and points at the pathway to a safe world. Examples were given of sites of such initiatives in all the continents of the world. Another highlight was the case for the recognition of ecocide in international criminal law.

The Tribunal accepted new cases including those that will try crimes against animals, the depletion of marine life, the Rosia Montana Mines in Romania, the extreme damage of the environment of the Niger Delta by the polluting acts of Shell and the crimes tied to the extraction of tar sands in Canada.

These were two days of plain talks and truth. They were days in which the raw injuries inflicted on Mother Earth and her children were laid bare. They were days of pain as well as of joy. Tears flowed freely from all sections of the hall. Indignation did not give birth to paralysis but to a resolve to stand up for Mother Earth.

In spite of the pains, the aches and the cries of Mother Earth that her children displayed, the words of Cases Camp Horinek kept echoing that the days of the Tribunal were indeed good days.

 

—This piece was first published as Two Good Days When Crimes Against Nature were Exposed by New Internationalist