Health of Mother Earth Foundation held the maiden session of the School of Ecology with the theme Life after Oil on 30-31July at the organisation’s head office in Benin City, Nigeria.
Life after Oil is aimed at challenging the mindset of people towards dependence on extractives and especially on the concept of energy and development based on fossil fuels. Participants learned that development is possible without harming our planet and we that economic wellbeing and progress can be achieved through respectful use of the gifts of Nature.
A key focus of the school was that humans must reconnect to Nature and that a good way to do that is the platform of re-source democracy. The school particularly aimed at shifting the focus of Nigeria from fossil fuels resources and to building a vision of life beyond oil.
This session brought together passionate scholars from the Niger Delta and from other parts of Nigeria. After a careful review of many applications that were received, eighteen participants were admitted into the school.
Among the many other lessons, the two-day academy featured intense brainstorming and discussions on Political Economy of Fossil Fuels and Development Pathways, Extractivism and Crude Visions, Mechanisms of Empowerment Programmes, Pathways to a Clean Energy Future, Environmental Monitoring, Biodiversity and Agriculture (agroecology and food sovereignty).
Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF opened the presentations with an interrogation of our current political-economic system and idea of development. He pointed out that the present pathway of development which exploits and harms the environment and the poor but benefit a few leads only to more chaos in the world. He stressed that the fossil fuel civilization is in its dying days and this fact cannot be wished away.
The climate is changing because of the way we utilize fossil fuel resources and to have a good chance of keeping global temperatures at pre-industrial levels (2oC), we have to keep two-third of fossil fuels below the ground. Africa is on the verge of having more violent conflicts with hardnosed dependence on the model extractivism. We must stand up against exploitation. We must redefine development.
The presentation that followed, taken by Ken Henshaw, director of We The People, a social studies and development centre, featured discussion on mechanism of what is popularly termed in Nigerian as “youth empowerment programmes.” There have been very poor results from the huge sums of money and energy put into those efforts aimed at tackling youth unemployment and engaging them with the aim of bringing about an economic diversification in the country Nigeria. According to recent statistics, the highest unemployment rates are found in key oil producing states in Nigeria: Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom States.
It was also noted that Nigeria has the 20th highest illiteracy rate and 8th lowest life expectancy in the world despite our huge oil and gas earnings. Out of sixteen empowerment and diversification programs investigated in the HOMEF’s Beyond Oil Report (2017), only one empowerment programme yielded positive results and only two diversification programmes remain effective. Many of these programmes never worked mostly because they were poorly conceived, planned and monitored. They also failed because rather than leveraging on available skills and capacity, beneficiaries were often chosen on the basis of political patronage.
The so-called empowerment programmes also fail because of a lack of continuity by governments and because new administrations focus more on creating new ‘legacy’ projects rather than pursuing and building on efforts made by their predecessors.
The School of Ecology also looked at the need for citizens to engage in budget preparations through participation in public hearings and thereafter to monitor their implementation. It was said that if budgets are monitored, there would be feedbacks to show fault lines and we would be able to tell what projects will be impactful or not. There is need to demand transparency. The need to bring local governments into fiscal government frameworks was also emphasised.
Biodiversity for progress
Another session was led Dafe Irikefe, executive director of River Ethiope Foundation, looked at the threats on biodiversity caused by oil and gas exploration and extraction. Climate change, population increase, invasive species, overharvesting of resources, pollutions - including plastic pollution - threaten biological diversity. Some of the solutions to biodiversity erosion include: improvement of waste management systems, focus on prevention of biodiversity loss, restoration and protection of biological ecosystems. Mechanisms to organize and implement biodiversity protection solutions identified included: better understanding of biodiversity issues through improved monitoring; more effective communication and education; improved financial and economic tools; political leadership and commitment at all levels of society.
Dirty Energy, Clean Energy
The impacts of dependence on dirty energy sources include climate change experienced through droughts, flooding, massive population displacement, coastal erosion and the shrinkage of water bodies such as Lake Chad.
In the session handled by Yadoma Mondara, executive director of Bukar Mandara Foundation, a climate change and environment focused non-governmental organisation, renewable energy was considered as the sustainable alternative as they would tackle climate conditions, competitiveness in our economy and make energy supply more secure.
Quick steps towards a clean environment highlighted include: walking often (avoid driving where possible); avoiding single-use and disposable items, car pooling, using the stairs instead of elevators.
Ideas on transition to renewable energy
• Transition from fossil fuels is overdue. Meanwhile, we must actively invest in and develop our alternative sources of energy.
• Renewable energy has the potential of creating more and safer jobs and protecting local livelihoods as well.
• Nigeria can double her earnings from currently operating oil wells if ongoing industrial-scale oil theft is stopped. According to a former Finance Minister of Nigeria, as much as per day. This is likely a conservative estimate as there is a lack of adequate metering system in Nigerian oil operations. Earnings recovered from oil theft and penalties for oil spills and ecological damage can then be invested in the development of alternative energy sources.
• The search for new fossil fuel resources should be halted as currently booked ones, if extracted and burned will already lead to catastrophic temperature rise.
The School of Ecology in a session taken by Cadmus Atake-Enade, HOMEF’s project officer on Fossil Politics, also emphasized the need for citizens to be active in environmental monitoring and reporting by paying attention to changes in their environment, exposing infringements and demanding timely interventions.
Another topic considered was on food systems and related challenges. This module which was taught by Joyce Ebebeinwe, HOMEF’s project officer on Hunger Politics, looked at the options we have for food after the mindless harms done by oil extraction to our environment and sustainable ways of producing food.
Agriculture is recognized as an alternative for economic development. But what system of agriculture? It was established that an agricultural system which will bring about economic diversification, is one that supports small scale farmers. This will necessarily be one that is not driven by corporate interests but which focuses on empowering farmers, avoids chemical and artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides but rather replenishes ecosystems and helps to tackle climate change.
Agroecology was acknowledged as such a system of farming which in addition to being productive, proffers solution to the food challenges including climatic impacts, pollutions, pests and diseases. Attention was drawn to the fact that modern agricultural biotechnology (genetic engineering) is falsely projected as the means to food security and economic empowerment for farmers whereas this technology locks them into dependence on corporate systems and jeopardises human health, biological diversity and cultural preferences.
The highly energetic maiden session of the School of Ecology rounded up with the following action points:
• Further interrogation of the concept of development to chart ways to build systems that promote wellbeing and cooperation rather than competition, waste and conflicts.
• Development of an environmental charter for engagement with politicians during the 2019 elections- to demand for their plans towards environmental protection and conservation of biodiversity.
• Focus on monitoring how much government at state and federal level is investing on Life after Oil.
• Promotion of food sovereignty and campaigning against genetically modified products.
Each of the scholars in this session made personal commitments to the Life After Oil vision.