World Environment Day 2021; Celebrating Niger Delta Underdevelopment

Similar to the 2030 Sustainable Agenda which calls for smart partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society, creative and innovative thinking by all strata of the society-public and private sector and civil society-to promoting sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection, this year’s World Environment Day 2021, held at Pakistan,  with the theme is ‘ecosystem restoration’ – a global mission to revive billions of hectares, from forests to farmlands, from the top of mountains to the depth of the sea

Celebrated on June 5, annually to encourage awareness and environmental protection while providing opportunity to broaden the basis for an enlightened opinion and responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises, and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment, this year 2021 World Environment Day which kicks off the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), observed that for too long, humans have been exploiting and destroying the planet’s ecosystems. Every three seconds, the Organizers explained, the world loses enough forest to cover a football pitch and over the last century, we have destroyed half of the wetlands.

Now, talking about the need to stop treating our environment with levity, below is the new awareness coming from this year’s celebration.

It was noted during the celebration that as much as 50 per cent of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost and up to 90 per cent of coral reefs could be lost by 2050, even if global warming is limited to an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Ecosystem loss is depriving the world of carbon sinks, like forests and wetlands, at a time when humanity can least afford it. Global greenhouse gas emissions have grown for three consecutive years and the planet is one place for potentially catastrophic climate change. We must now fundamentally rethink our relationship with the living world, with natural ecosystems and their biodiversity and work towards its restoration.

Of course, the world understands the words and position of these world leaders.  We need to fundamentally rethink our relationship with the living world, with natural ecosystems and their biodiversity. Yes, their resolve to create a livable world appears a great message of hope for our environment. But, the message at the same, invites some maze of high voltage confusion here in Nigeria.

Essentially, this feeling of confusion naturally comes flooding when one reflects on the environmental challenge in the Niger Delta region as the situation in the area is quite opposite and different from what the global leaders advocate.

Take as an illustration, in the last three months, the region has been devastated by different oil spillages. From the ruptured pipeline facility managed by one of the International Oil Companies operating in the Niger Delta reportedly ravaged Benikrukru and adjourning communities in Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta state. Barely two weeks after that incident, a similar one occurred in the early hours of Sunday, March 14, 2021, at Polobubo/Opuama Communities, Warri North Local Government Area, of the state.

Before the dust raised by these twin occurrences could settle, another was up.

This time, the Okordia-Rumekpe 14-inch crude truck line operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) discharged some 213 barrels of crude oil into Ikarama community in Bayelsa, where an estimated 1.34 hectares of land was polluted by the leakage which followed a rupture on the pipeline. SPDC among other things confirmed that probe into the incident had been concluded, noting that out of the 213 barrels of SPDC’s bonny light crude stream leak, some 110 barrels are recoverable from the ongoing recovery exercise at the site, leaving an estimated spilled volume at 109.12 barrels.

This litany of spillages aside bringing to our consciousness that though Nigeria prides itself as the giant of Africa and the most populous black nation in the world, yet, it is still riddled with third world challenges, the above accounts are however, not the only ways Nigeria and their leaders have contravened in the region the calls by the global community for a livable planet.

Let’s look at another illustration, last years, precisely on Friday 5th June 2020, during the celebration of World Environment Day co-hosted by Colombia and Germany and streamed live online from Bogotá, I listened with real curiosity to Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez and Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), lead other world leaders such as United Nations UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Presidents of Colombia, Perú, Chile, Kenya, Ethiopia, Southeast Asia, India and Britain,  to call for action to combat the accelerating species loss and degradation of the natural world.

They endorsed a statement, calling “on all governments around the world to retain our precious intact ecosystems and wilderness, to preserve and effectively manage at least 30% of our planet’s lands and oceans by 2030, and to restore and conserve biodiversity, as a crucial step to help prevent future pandemics and public health emergencies, and lay the foundations for a sustainable, global economy through job creation and human well-being.”

At about the same time the ceremony was going on, a report succulently announced that the Niger Delta region was still littered with over 139 gas flare locations. And communal rights to a clean environment and access to clean water supplies are violated without adequate compensation of the people for their loses.  The oil industry by their own admission has abandoned thousands of polluted sites which were never identified and studied in detail.

After about one year the call was made, has there been anything remarkable in governments (Federal/state) management of the region and its people?

The answer remains a valid no.

The area is not only opposite and different from what the global leaders advocate but have morphed from bad to worse. Aside from the fact that for over five decades, when oil was discovered in commercial quantity in the region, ‘a fierce war has been raging between ethnic and social forces in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, and as a direct consequence, a long dark shadow has been cast on the efforts to improve the well-being and economic development of the peoples and community, there are of course, many historical examples and vivid imageries revealing that the region in the estimation of the successive government and multinationals operating in the region is an endangered species strategically marked for extinction using neglect and abandonment as a formidable tools.

Out of many, the most tragic is the International Oil Companies (IOCs) consideration of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and call for public-private partnership in the area as a dangerous fiction created as an excuse to impose an unfair burden upon the wealthy and powerful’. Their lackadaisical handling of the environment and lack of compliance with the implementation of the Global Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) entered with host communities. Equally fueling the discord is a shocking discovery that most of the multinationals find it more convivial getting entangled in legal battles with the host communities as against imbibing good corporate citizens attributes. In the words of the creek dwellers, these operators go to the extent of inciting troubles between the elders and the youths using financial inducement.

Regardless of what others may say, the Federal Government, in my views, has thousands of opportunities to develop the region. All that keeps them away from utilizing/realizing those opportunities is their inability to apply what they learned abroad; from nations that once faced the challenges we currently grapple with. Their failure and failings is further fed by lack of a creative way of looking at the environment and the people they want to serve as well as what it will require to improve their life chances.

 

Utomi, is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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