Chima Nwafo

In the developed world where people place a premium value on life, both youths and adults are sincerely concerned about the growing threat of climate change. And they are reacting differently to the menace. Both public and private institutions are also taking actions in different ways. This is important because the change is manifesting in different ways in different parts of the world.

This explains why students from over 20 countries of the developed world on March 15 left their classrooms for a walkout protest against the attitude of political leaders. To them, why belabour self studying when the environment in which you live does not guarantee future of the earth where you’ll practice your skill or career. Out there, too, Berkeley Earth, a respected nonprofit research group that published its “Annual Temperature Analysis” in January showed that the last four years has been the hottest in over 150 years.

As captured in America’s 160-year-old The Atlantic Magazine, “2018 was hotter than any year in the 19th century. It was hotter than any year in the 20th century. It was hotter than any year in the first decade of this century. In fact, with only three exceptions, it was the hottest year on Earth since 1850. Those three exceptions: 2018 was slightly cooler than 2015, 2016, and 2017. The past four years, in other words, have been the four hottest years ever reliably measured.”

Perhaps one Nigerian public officer, surprisingly a politician, that actually does not hide his concern about the damaging effects of climate change, especially in the already fouled environment of the Niger Delta, is Hon Henry Seriake Dickson, the governor of Bayelsa State. Unlike most Nigerian politicians who are long on words and short on action on environmental issues, the former federal lawmaker feels for the people. He shares their hurts and identifies with their pains, as a true leader should, anyway. But we know that leaders are scarce in our clime, although opportunistic pretenders abound. Although one is yet to meet this people-oriented Administrator of Bayelsa, nor any of his executives, media reports about his performance on the environmental degradation of his region is as impressive as actions are consistent.

There has been a launch of Rise For Bayelsa Campaign: An initiative to attract global attention to the ravaging effects of oil spills, pollution and environmental degradation in the state. To confirm his proactive approach to the menace, which he said has degenerated to “environmental terrorism,” Dickson went a step further on March 27, to inaugurate a truly international body – the Bayelsa State Commission of Inquiry on Environmental Degradation – chaired by Dr. John Mugabi Sentamu, the Archbishop Metropolitan of York/Primate of England. Other professionals from the skillfully selected 10-member committee included former President of Ghana, Dr. John Kufour; Baroness Valerie Ann Amos, a British diplomat who served as the eighth UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Anna Zalik, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University;  Michael J Watts, retired Professor of Geography and Development Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, described as “a fiercely original mind and a brilliant theorist.” Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou – former Head of International Dialogue on Peace-building and State-building, OECD Secretariat and now a private consultant – will serve as secretary, while a former State Attorney-General/Commissioner for Justice, Kemasuode Wodu, will serve as legal counsel.

The Commission was handed a nine-point terms of reference: “To investigate the environmental, health, socio-economic, cultural and human damage caused by operations of both local and multi-national oil companies.”

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They are equally mandated to “analyse the legislations governing the operations of multi-national oil companies in Bayelsa State, and in Nigeria, as well as establish a set of recommendations that would lead to the development of a new legal framework that ensures accountability.”

The Anglican Prelate, who described the effects of oil pollution in Nigeria as shocking, appealed to the international community to join forces in the protection of the environment, which he rightly saw as a common heritage of mankind. The man whose responsibility is to oversee the ecological state of Bayelsa, Commissioner for the Environment Ebipatei Apaingolo, regretted that people of the Niger Delta now “consume crops with traces of carcinogenic hydrocarbons.” But the unfortunate truth is that it goes beyond crops. Water, animal and aquatic life are also affected.

The foregoing woes of environmental degradation of oil-bearing communities and their neighbouring towns and villages are majorly attributable to the inability of the Federal Government that cares less about the health and well-being of the goose that lays the golden egg. Neither does it possess the political will to rein on oil multi-nationals, and even indigenous exploration and production companies. Perhaps, worse, is the nonchalance of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which is often manifested in its non-committal response to environmental corporate social responsibility issues. For example, the people of Nembe-Bassambiri community in Bayelsa State, last Tuesday, approached the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, “to halt the renewal of Lease for OML 29 to Aiteo, pending the outcome of a substantive suit before the court.” According to reports, “the development is sequel to plans by the Minister of Petroleum Resources to renew the lease of OML 29 Oil Block to Aiteo for $82 million, without regard to the position of the community in Suit No: FHC/YNG/CS/62/2015.”

Representatives of the communities had filed an application for an interlocutory injunction way back June, 2017 in a competent court of law, seeking an order restraining the Minister of Petroleum Resources from granting any application for the renewal of OML 29 “beyond the subsisting 30-year term,” ending June 30, 2019. Did the Federal Government obey the court order? As usual, the answer is NO. As a result, “without allowing the court to decide on the interlocutory injunction, Aiteo Exploration and Production Ltd went ahead to make payments to the Ministry through the Department of Petroleum Resources.” To show it was a deliberate disregard for both the rights of the communities and disrespect for the Judiciary, “the 82 million dollars payment was made in five tranches: $18,455,000; $9,277,500; $9,277,500; $6,866,468.23; $20 million and $18,230,000.”

In effect, the message is clear: The Federal Government is intolerant of civilised and peaceful approach to resolving issues involving oil companies, whether multi-nationals or indigenous. Ironically, the same Federal Government will unleash the armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Security and Civil Defence Corps) on youths from same communities each time they organise and protest the unconscionable exploitation and avoidable degradation of their environment. They are usually branded militants and treated as criminals. It’s real Catch22 situation.

•Nwafo, environmental/public affairs analyst, can be reached on: [email protected]; 2348029334754.