HOMEF, experts seek sustainable soil, environmental emergency in Niger Delta

uniportIN a renewed effort to tackle climate change risks and advance alternative livelihood schemes, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and leading environmental experts have called for a paradigm shift in policies to ensure caring for land and nature, protection for the earth and society in times of erosion of democracy.

The call was made at this year’s Right Livelihood College (RLC) lecture on Soil Not Oil (Earth Democracy) held at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State, delivered by the 1993 Right Livelihood Award Laureate, Vandana Shiva. The event was organized  by UNIPORT in collaboration with HOMEF and 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate, Nnimmo Bassey.

RLC is a global capacity building initiative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. Founded in 2009, the RLC century aims to make knowledge of the laureates accessible to all and, by linking young scholars, academics and civil society organisations with the laureates, hopes to make their winning ideas succeed and multiply.

The university is the second institution in Africa and fifth in the world, to establish RLC and the laudable initiative will immensely benefit the students and young researchers in UNIPORT  and increase the quality of education, while opening them to more international learning opportunities.

Notably, the lecture was to mark the UN International Year of the Soil and the decades long struggle against oil extraction in the Niger Delta. The UN has chosen 2015 as the International Year of the Soil with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of soil for human life, food security, climate change adaptation and sustainable development.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report assessing the environment of Ogoni found that, in over 40 locations tested, the soil is polluted with hydrocarbons up to a depth of five metres and that all the water bodies in Ogoni land are polluted, while some water contains benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels above World Health Organisation standards.

With oil spills occurring with a disturbing frequency of almost one a day, the soil and waters of the Niger Delta are being severely degraded, thus raising challenges for production of wholesome food,” said Bassey, Director of HOMEF.

Speaking on ‘Reclaiming Our Soil’, the group advocated for  an environmental emergency. “Although the Ogoni report shows the precarious state of the entire Niger Delta environment and the urgent need for the Federal Government to declare a state of environmental emergency and to ensure that no oil divests and abandons its ecological debt to the communities and to the nation, “ he said.

He demanded for resource democracy. “This is a critical moment to intensify the struggle for the decolonisation of the African lands, agriculture and food systems. Corporations and dominant powers have taken us for a ride long enough. We need Earth Democracy.      “Nigeria should join the ranks of Mali and Senegal to put in place, a national food sovereignty policy.

Food sovereignty nurtures the soil, ensures that culturally appropriately foods on the tables, builds solidarity across regions and at the same time cools the plants. It presents mankind real options other than those that exacerbate global warming.”

According to him, “ the African soil has taken cruel beating, whether we think of the gold mining communities of Obuasi in Ghana, the coal mines communities of Witban, South Africa or the soil field communities in our own Niger Delta – the gory tales remain the same.

Our peoples are forced to eat the produce of toxic soils and to drink poisoned waters – a flagrant denial of our collective right of life.”     Also, Shiva, a physicist, philosopher, feminist, activist and author, who has dedicated her life to defending small farmers’ rights  and the rights of people to forests, biodiversity, water, seeds and land, called for new vision that prevents the transformation of life – soil, food and land – into waste and inert material, and treating people as expendable and disposable.

Prof. Samuel Arokoyu who represented the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Prof. Henry Alapiki, who commended the organisers, called for the care of the environment.

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ndowa Lale, represented by Alapiki noted that the Niger Delta people feel the impact in terms of environmental challenges and degradation. For him the issue of  environmental disaster and sustainability should be the primary and key issue for the world today, and indeed Nigeria.

He said: “The fight against environment should come before corruption, because without the fight to restore the environment, livelihood would be threatened.”

Meanwhile, HOMEF also staged seed democracy workshops in collaboration with women in Ogoni and in Erema in Rivers State, where the President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People ( MOSOP), Legborsi Pyagbara urged Mohammadu Buhari administration to revisit the UNEP report and ensure its implementation.

He recounted the suffering of Ogoni people due to environmental pollution, and wants the Federal Government to commence the recommended clean up exercise.

Bassey said: “The President cannot avoid to postpone action, off course, this a low hanging political fruit, waiting to be plucked. Taking decisive action to restore the environment not only respond to a necessity, but grant the people the opportunity to employ their skills to self sustaining livelihood activities like fishing and farming.

So the President should go beyond the signposts they put in communities that the land is contaminated. What we need now is alternative to what the people are drinking, let there be emergency water supply to Ogoni people and to all communities with polluted water, up to Zamfara and Niger States.

Water is a human right, let Nigerians enjoy  potable water. Let there be remediation plan in consultation with  people with agreed time line. Soil is more expensive than oil, and more valuable than oil.

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