For a Safer Earth, Healthier Climate

Land grabbing, Extractivism, and Climate Change (The Impacts on Communities)

By Nnimmo Bassey, HOMEF on 19 March 2024

The challenges confronting our communities and people generally are interconnected. They are often analyzed and presented as though they operate in silos. The reality is that they operate in intricately
connected webs and must be understood as such. Our lands are grabbed for extractive or exploitative purposes.

Extractivism in turn drives climate change. Climate change in turn triggers more extraction, soil degradation as well as land resource issues. The cycle goes on until take action to break it. The purpose of this conversation is for us to unpack the components of the crises, locate the critical nodes and points of vulnerability, and act to propel transformation using cultural tools.

We will together look at three key things: Land grabbing, extractivism, and climate change. As already noted, they are interconnected and are not necessarily hierarchical or sequential.

Land grabbing

Ownership of land in Nigeria was historically in the hands of individuals or communities. Today, through a military decree promulgated on 29th March 1978, communities have been dispossessed of their lands
while ownership has been claimed by the state, euphemistically on behalf of the dispossessed. 

By the overbearing control of the military over the county’s governance structure, that Decree was inserted in the 1999 Constitution and barricaded in as inviolable. In other words, there should be no debate over its operations. The forced supremacy of the Land Use Act can be seen in section 47 (1) which
states that the Act is an outlaw and shall have effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any law including the
constitution.

The Land Use Decree or Act was designed in a colonial template of resource appropriation that deprives the colonized of the fundamental resource and ensures that it is owned and used to meet the practical
needs or other means of enjoyment of the colonizers. Those whose lands are grabbed may only be compensated for the loss of economic crops and improvements on the land. In practice, the compensations have been grossly inadequate, if not outrightly insulting. Consider for example a
payment of N100 for a mango tree when one mango fruit could go as much and such a tree would bear hundreds of fruit for several years.

Lands may be grabbed by different means, and for diverse purposes. By the Land Use Act, the government can grab any land by declaring that it is required for the public good. The use of such land would invariably change, with dire consequences. A forest could be cleared and replaced with a plantation or cash crops for export. A poor community could be demolished, the people get displaced and then their territory could be replaced with expensive resorts, hotels, or gated estates. Wetlands can
be sand-filled and taken up for infrastructural purposes. The list goes on.

The Nigerian government claims ownership of minerals and petroleum resources in the subsoil. So our lands can be grabbed for mining or oil and gas extraction, ostensibly for the common good. Because this often happens without free prior informed consent, when the people are called stakeholders what it means is that while the company and government share the profits, the communities own the pollution. This is also why such pollution is hardly ever cleaned up.

Land can also be directly grabbed through pollution. Two quick examples can show how this happens. A polluted stream by an oil spill becomes the waste dump of the polluter and usage for fishing or potable water is lost. Secondly, dumping of wastes on a parcel of land takes that land out of the control of communities. Often pollution is not an accidental exercise. It is used to dispose communities of their land and creeks and for the exploiter to assume ownership without accountability, responsibility, or a sense of respect for the owners.

Our quest for development without questions also permits lands to be grabbed for infrastructural development. Often such lands are taken without prior informed consent

Our culture and language are tied to our land and our liberation is connected to both.  Our culture nourishes and empowers us to stand against the commodification of Nature and of life. It helps us to defend what belongs to us. It draws boundaries that no one must cross. Our culture is our power!

Extractivism

Extractivism as a concept covers a complex of self-reinforcing practices, mentalities, and power differentials that promote and excuse socio-ecologically destructive modes of organizing life through
colonialism, militarization, depletion, and dispossession. It is a mode of capitalist exploitation…

Although extractivism is used mostly in terms of mining and oil extraction, it is also present in farming, forestry, fishing, and the provision of care. According to an entry in Wikipedia, “Extractivism is
the removal of natural resources particularly for export with minimal processing. This economic model is common throughout the Global South and the Arctic region, but also happens in some sacrifice zones in the Global North in European extractivism.”

Extractivism destroys lands, pollutes the ocean, and destroys water bodies and wetlands. It results and feeds on land grabs, and sea grabs and is aiming at sky grabs with a rise in space enterprises.

Climate change

The fact that climate change is driven by dependence on fossil fuels — oil, gas, and coal — is well known. The main challenge is that the world keeps a blind eye to what communities suffer in the oil fields and
focuses mostly on chasing carbon molecules in the atmosphere. This lack of focus on both ends of the pipeline has left communities destitute by damaging their lands and water bodies and thereby destroying their food systems, economies, and cultures.

The gradual agreement to terminate the petroleum civilization, and Yasunize the world,  implies that the time to remediate and restore lands damaged by oil and gas extraction has come. This remediation and
restoration must be accompanied by reparation.

Our communities have suffered multiple impacts from climate change, extractivism, and land grabbing.  Persistent pollution has been the lot of our communities. Studies such as the UNEP assessment of the Ogoni Environment and the recently published Bayelsa Environment and Oil Commission’s report titled Environmental Genocide all show the dire situation. Some communities have their soils contaminated with hydrocarbons to depths exceeding 10 meters. Waters are polluted with benzene and other carcinogens. The air is grossly polluted with a cocktail of noxious gases through gas flaring. These pollutants do not readily disappear on their own. They must be consciously tackled and
cleaned up. And the time for that is now.

Other impacts of climate change include sea level rise, coastal erosion, and salinization of the ocean. These affect local livelihoods and equally, provoke conflicts or displacement of communities.

Cultural resistance

Our lands are healed when extraction and land grabbing are challenged and overcome. A major tool for successful resistance is our happiness. That is the source of our power. A happy community cannot easily be defeated.

Another key tool is our love. Our love for one another and our love for our land and culture. Love reinforces solidarity. Beyond love, we must build stubborn hope as an antidote to despondency. Hope empowers action.

It emboldens. Boldness empowers the telling of truth, including the reportage of destructive extraction and land grabbing. The oppressed must remain emboldened by the knowledge that while the rich worry about the end of the world, workers and exploited communities worry about the end of the day and have deep stakes in what happens tomorrow.

To resolutely stand against land grabbing and extractivist and also build resilience against climate change our communities need Care and Repair Teams (CARTs) as key agents for overcoming trauma, stressors, and illnesses. These teams can also be agents to press for remediation, restoration, repair, and reparation. These demands and their attainment require the use of every tool of cultural resistance.

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