Erstwhile Executive Director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Nnimmo Bassey, has said that the secret of the organisation’s success over the past two decades of its existence lies in the fact that it viewed every scene of environmental harm as a crime scene.
He noted on Tuesday in Abuja in a presentation to commemorate 20 years of the civil society organisation that, even though ERA sometimes resorted to civil actions as a measure of resistance, it was obvious that these were not sufficient to stem environmental crimes.
Bassey, an architect and head of ERA/FoEN since 1993, wants environmental laws to be fine-tuned to make it possible for criminal charges with long jail terms to be pressed against individuals and corporate bodies who reap profits from environmental damage.
“Ecocide would be an appropriate umbrella law to confront the massive lawlessness that run rampant across Nigeria and many nations of the world today,” he submitted.
The activist revealed that he and his colleagues remained focused over the years and especially during the difficult days when Nigeria was under military dictatorship “because we had dedicated ERA people and because we had an unambiguous philosophical compass that ensured we did not drift. Today I look back with satisfaction that ERA people, whether in or outside ERA, have stayed the course.”
He added: “Over these years, we have suffered persecution, faced afflictions and enjoyed triumphs. Our triumph has been that our work with communities impacted by deforestation, land grabs, oil spills, gas flares and pollutions of all types has succeeded because the people have resolutely stood against the pushers of these harmful practices.
“Today I look back across 20 short years of momentous changes. I am happy that the four persons (Oronto Douglas, Nick Ashton Jones, Godwin Ojo and I) who brought this group to be are still engaged in the defence of Mother Earth in one way or the way. I remember our days of challenging harmful big dams in Northern Nigeria, massive logging in forests in many of our southern states. I remember our struggles against oil spills and gas flares. I remember our battles against wholesale destruction of communities by government to pave the way for corporate claws to sink deeper into our lands.
“We have fought steadily against the wasting of our environment and livelihoods by the petroleum sector. The world’s addiction to carbon-high life has elevated dirty oil companies to the level of the gods. Easy oil has now given way to tough oil. The scraping of the bottom of the barrel has thrown up dangerous extractive methods and spewing ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and sentencing the world to climate catastrophe. And while global leaders would not commit to provide funds for adaptation and resilience building, multiples of what is needed is being expended on wars fought for profit at the expense disposable lives – sometimes in the name of exporting democracy. In the era of peak oil it appears we have passed over peak democracy without attaining democracy in the first place.
“Today I call upon all of us to tell the emperor that he is naked, to tell the promoters of neoliberalism that they are running (at one spot) on empty tanks! Let us shout it out loud: it is time to leave the oil in the soil; from Yasuni to Ogoni, to Kaiso in the Rift Valley to Lofoten in Norway. And if Nigeria is serious about fighting global warming, gas flaring must be stopped immediately. Shutting down oil production in order to tackle the gas flaring problem makes economic sense if we consider the implications of catastrophic global warming. And of course the government must halt oil theft, halt the regime of unaccounted for oil through lack of metering. Do I need to add that delays in cleaning up Ogoni land and other polluted parts of Nigeria are an unacceptable disregard for the right to life and to a safe environment of the people.
“Today, while celebrating our 20 years of marching on for environmental rights, I remember individuals and communities who have greatly inspired me as a person: Ken Saro-Wiwa, executed by the state on false charges on 10 November 1995. I remember the peoples of Umeuchem, Bakalori, Odi, Odioma, Ilaje, Gbaramatu and others. I salute the mentoring I continue to receive from our foremost community activist, Comrade Che Ibegwura who, at over 80 years, keeps trudging on the path of environmental justice. I salute Sister Majella Macarron, a Catholic nun from Ireland whose gift of books in those early days helped to frame our work. I salute my colleagues in ERA. I salute my wife and family for unstinting support over the years. I salute all our comrades across Africa and across the continents of the world. Your presence here today is of great significance to me and to us.
“As we look back, we also look forward. Twenty years have passed. Twenty more will come; and much more still. The road is long and the runners will be many. The baton must be passed on. And so, while remaining in the trench with the foot soldiers, it gives me great pleasure to hand that baton to my brother and comrade, Godwin Ojo. And I thank you for marking this day with us.”