For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate

HOMEF@10: Stakeholders Advocate Environmental Justice for Oil, Mining Communities

The fight for environmental justice in Nigeria and by extension Africa, cannot be said to be complete without the input of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF). It was therefore not surprising when Nigeria’s top environmentalists and activists gathered at the Yar’Adua Center, Abuja to celebrate the organisation on its 10 years sojourn EarthNews, Ruth Tene was there.

“Ten years ago, HOMEF was birthed from a dream. It was a dream to have a think-tank focused on approaching knowledge from the basis of diversity and built on a multiversity of co-learning and co-knowing tools were the words of Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF.

Speaking in his welcome remarks at the 10th Anniversary conference which was held in Abuja today, with the theme: Advancing Environmental Justice in Africa, Dr Nnimmo said “The struggle for environmental justice in Africa is complex and broad. It is the continuation of the fight for the liberation of the continent and for socio-ecological transformation.

He said “We bear in mind that colonialism was erected on the right to subjugate, erase or diminish the right to life and the right to the unfettered cultural expression of the colonized. In particular, the colonized were dehumanized and literally transformed into zombies working for the benefit of the colonial powers.

“Ecological pillage was permitted as long as it benefited the colonizers. This ethos has persisted and manifests in diverse forms. Grand theft by the colonial forces was seen as entrepreneurship. Genocide was overlooked as mere conquest” he added

The activist who stated that slavery was seen as commerce, maintained that extractivism was to be pursued relentlessly as any element left unexploited was considered a waste. What could be wasted with no compunction was life. So, most things had to die. The civilizers were purveyors of death. Death of individuals. Death of ecosystems.

Thus, today people still ask: What would we do with the crude oil or fossil gas in our soil if we do not exploit them? In other words, how could we end poverty if we do not destroy our environment and grab all it could be forced to yield? We tolerate deforestation, and unregulated industrial fishing and run a biosafety regulation system that promotes the introduction of needless genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and by doing so, endanger our biodiversity and compromise our environment and food systems.

He maintained that Plunder is presented as inescapable and desired under the cloak of foreign investment.

“Political leaders in despoiled regions pliantly offer ease of doing business templates, tax holidays, sundry lax rules, and other neocolonial governance policies. The reign of exploitation and consumption without responsibility has driven Africa and indeed the world to the brink. The current civilization of death seeks ready investment in destruction through warfare and extractivism rather than in building resilience and adapting to the environmental changes that result from corporate and imperial misadventures”.

He further inferred that “Today, Africa is facing multiple ecological challenges. All of these have resulted from the actions of entities that have seen the continent as a sacrificial zone. While the world has come to the conclusion that there must be an urgent shift from dependence on fossil fuels, we are seeing massive investments for the extraction of petroleum resources on the continent. And we must say that this investment comes with related infrastructure for the export of these resources out of the continent in a crass colonial pattern. A mere 1 percent of the labour force in the extractive sector in Africa are Africans. A mere 5 percent of investment in the sector is in Africa. More than 85 percent of the infrastructure for fossil gas in the continent is for export purposes. 

He maintained that the shift to renewable energy brings the same old challenges to Africa. Extraction of critical minerals for renewable energy is done without prior consultation with and consent of our people. The continent’s environment is being degraded just as it has been with the extraction of oil/gas, gold, diamond, nickel, cobalt, and other solid minerals. The array of solar panels and wind turbines could well become markers of crime scenes if precautionary measures are not taken now.

“Are we against renewable energy? No. They provide the best pathway toward ending the energy deficit on the continent. However, this should be pursued through discrete, autonomous, and socialized ownership schemes.

Meanwhile speaking on the achievements of the organisation Nnimmo said certain things we set out to achieve cannot be achieved in one lifetime. Our vision is to build a world where everyone lives in harmony with other beings and with mother-earth that is a big vision and we cannot achieve that in a lifetime. So far, we have been quite faithful to what we imagined could be and I will say that the unfolding scenario keeps re-enforcing that we are on the right path, because we have to tackle the ecological challenges of this nation of Africa fully otherwise things will not improve on their own.

“In terms of fighting for communities to have their dignity and have their environments respected, we have made good progress, people are speaking up, standing up for their rights, and people are able to speak about what their challenges are. And these are the things we had set out to do as an ecological think tank, for people to analyse on a situation and speak up about what they would like to see”.

The Activist added that “What we want to see is to deepen our efforts in knowledge generation and sharing.  We want to have people respect indigenous knowledge and technology. We want to see a situation where Africa is reckoned with. The amount of damage done to the African region must be compensated, we want to emphasize that because if we do not, the environment may be irretrievable”

“Talking about climate resolution and loss and damage which has been applauded, however, the polluting countries who have exploited the region are thinking about Loss and Damage as a humanitarian gesture, that will never solve it because then we can’t even negotiate it, we are saying it is not charity, you owe us a debt that must be paid, it is a crime to ignore climate debt and we are not going to keep shut about this”.

Nnimmo in his recommendations,  called on African governments to commit to issuing an annual State of Environment Report, to end destructive extraction no matter the appeal of capital,  Demand climate debt for centuries of ecological exploitation and harms, support and promote food sovereignty including by adopting agroecology,  Adopt and promote African cultural tools and also called on them to promote and provide renewable energy in a democratized manner among other recommendations.

“The biggest problem now, he said, is the divestment, the move by international oil companies to leave the Niger Delta and take their profits and move offshore or back home, we need to have a clear guideline about what that means and how that can be done. So, if SHELL, CHEVRON, or Exxon wants to go, they should be asked to clear off their mess or make sufficient payment. The Bayelsa State Government in an earlier report said they need $12b to clean up Bayelsa state, but that to me may just be the beginning, Bayelsa is the most polluted region in the whole world.

“The local people have been blamed; they are the victims but the blame always goes to them.  And the point must be made that there is no one that can just access a pipeline or break an oil pipeline, because the place is heavily militarized and crude oil cannot just be taken out, but a whole ship can escape the Nigerian waters without being arrested, so when things like that happen, we know the stories are deeper than what we have been told.  There is big complicity, Oil theft is an industrial business, it is not a peasant or fisherman’s business”

Dr Bassey charged Nigerians to wake up to the fact that what is happening in Nigeria and what will happen in Lagos with the Dangote refinery is something that is going on a daily basis, recalling that just offshore Ondo, off Awoye shore, at a field called Ororo 1, there was an oil gas well blow out in April 2020, and till date, it is still burning.

“It is still spilling, it has not been stopped, it has not been addressed. How can we have regulators in that sector and such an accident or crime is going on and nothing is being said about it? he queried

His position was further supported by His Royal Majesty, King Bubaraye Dakolo, the Ibenanaowei of the Ekpetiama Kingdom Bayelsa state and Chairman Bayelsa state traditional rulers’ council when he said: “Oil thieves are actually like the beginning and end of pollution, the oil business in the Niger-Delta has been the greatest polluter of environment and by extension the pollution of Nigeria”.

“They pollute the air with gas since 1958 or thereabout, since then there has been flaring, unquenchable fire, releasing nauseous gasses into the air. Some of us are actually ‘living dead’ but we do not know it, so just fall down any moment and die”

He stressed the need for oil thieves to be properly defined, alleging that what had happened in the past is the oil industry peddling a particular narrative deceiving the whole world, thinking that victims of oil thievery are the thieves.

“They are not, there is no menacing oil thief that is actually an oil thief. The menacing oil thieves are victims of thievery. If you do not have an education, a house to stay in, or a school to get a job, then you can’t be a thief, they are victims.

He posited that “The real oil thieves do not stay in mosquito-infested homes, or flood-prone or swamplands. The oil thieves are residents in highbrow areas in Abuja, Lagos, London etcetera. They have yachts, private jets, golf courses, and even refineries of their own. An ‘Oil thief’ cannot be a dirty man, he has clean skin, nice haircuts cars, and beautiful wives.

The King maintained that the entire Niger Delta was badly polluted and a clean-up is very necessary.

“Unfortunately, the federal government has not been straight, which is very unfortunate, they need to be thorough because we all live on this planet and if a set of people are being degraded, before you know it, everybody will be affected. Today I can tell you categorically that the entire insecurity in Nigeria is because of the oil and Gas resources, nothing less, nothing more, so if you are just to the oil and gas business, those whose lands, the oil and gas come from, perhaps, we will not have had the kind of insecurity we have in this country today.

He charged the government to stop paying lip service and be honest, noting that oil thieves are also abroad. There are governments too that are oil thieves because they rely on cheap stolen oil to heat up their environment every season. If you claim to be civilised and every year you receive stolen goods, brought in by ocean liners and you pretend that you do not know, so there are governments, companies, organisations, and even individuals that are oil thieves, but I can tell you that there is no oil thief that is dirty”.

Meanwhile, in a Keynote address, titled, Environmental Governance Between Policy and Practice, His Highness, Ibrahim Usman Jibril, Emir of Nasarawa, CON, FGEOSON, FNIS, FCIPDM, FESMI, FFPPN, said the efforts of both Governments and NGOs towards actualizing laudable policies on environmental governance and putting them into practice are laudable and commendable.

“A lot has been achieved over the years he said, but however stated that a lot more needs to be done because as we cannot afford to rest on our oars”.

“The issues of land degradation occasioned by desertification and erosion are constantly been addressed as seen in this paper (through the activities of NEWMAP and GGW). Similarly, the most contentious Ogoni Clean-up is underway. The recent development of year in year out flooding is becoming a national menace. There is therefore the need for more involvement of government at the sub-national level in Nigeria to give more priority to environmental challenges in their areas of governance.

“In my candid opinion, there seem to be more serious efforts about environmental issues at the national level than at the sub-national level in Nigeria. There are more technically competent personnel at the Federal level than at the sub-national level. This gap must be addressed to enable us to move forward in a much faster and more efficient way in order to save our environment from our numerous harmful practices. The time to do it is now and as the UN SG said at the closing of the last COP 27 in Egypt, let me conclude by quoting him to say that we have “… much homework and little “

The highlight of the event was the public presentation of the book ‘Politics of Turbulent Waters’ written by HOMEFs, Nimmo Bassey and presented by Nigerian Journalist, Author, and Rights Activist, Chido Onumah.

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