At the Eleventh Interactive Dialogue of the General Assembly on Harmony with Nature, Nigerian members of the Ecological Economics to Protect Biodiversity in Harmony with Nature panel, Irikefe V. Dafe (Founder-President, River Ethiope Trust Foundation) and Mabel Okiriguo-Emmanuel (of the Federal Ministry of Environment), in a video address on Friday, April 22, 2022, insist that it is high time man corrects past mistakes and builds a proper relationship with Nature
Greetings from the people of Nigeria. I am Irikefe V. Dafe, Founder-President, River Ethiope Trust Foundation. I thank H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid, president of the UN General Assembly, and Mrs. Maria Sanchez Mercedes, Coordinator of UN Harmony with Nature Programme for the invitation to address you today through this medium on your 11th Interactive Dialogue to commemorate International Mother Earth Day 2022. I am deeply honoured. I am addressing you on behalf of my organisation and Mrs. Mabel Emmanuel of the Federal Ministry of Environment, Abuja, Nigeria.
No doubt, it has become abundantly clear to us that our existing relationships with Nature is totally a failure, and it is time to end that legacy and seize the opportunities before us to chart a new path to enable us to correct past mistakes, manage present challenges, and meet future challenges that Nature is likely to face. The covid-19 pandemic has made it clear to us that our existing economic, social, and environmental laws in many countries have not only failed to address the plethora of ecological problems facing humanity today, but have helped to accelerate human-induced environmental crisis globally.
The pandemic has made us to know that our production and consumption patterns promote zoonotic (viruses) diseases that can kill us and that our public health systems are completely inadequate in many parts of the world largely due to improper health policies; that our economic systems are not in tandem with the principles of the sustainable development goals; and that ecological destruction also wreaks havoc on human health and social infrastructures were unable to adequately protect us in time of emergency and crisis.
During this period of covid-19, we have also faced the “fact that economic systems based on creating wealth for the few, rather that meeting the needs of the many, can literally destroy entire societies. We have witnessed the fact that frightened people – without good leadership – can deny reality and wreak havoc. We have seen that inequality is not just “unfair” – it’s a matter of life and death, especially when crisis arise. And we have felt deeply how important human relationships are as we experienced isolation, lockdowns, and the death of loved ones”.
More importantly, the covid-19 period reminds us that humanity shares so many things in common and encouraged us to see the whole world as a “Web” where every one of us is a functional strand in it. Significantly, whatever we do to the web we invariably do to ourselves.
Now in the years ahead, what type of transformation agenda or changes must we hope for and implement? It cannot be business as usual – the business as usual was what brought us into this pandemic mess, we found ourselves today! So, the type of transformation agenda to push for in the years ahead must be innovative, data-driven and social re-designing in the areas of policy change, leadership change and system change on all critical fronts such as governance, economy, policy, social safety net, spirituality, health care, and ecological systems (food production, biodiversity, and climate change) etc. But this may be extremely challenging, considering the levels of inequality, lack of political will and conflict in most parts of the world.
In almost every nation, “we seem to be moving in a vicious cycle, where things that are not right are growing faster and obstructing changes. This is how we realise that the problems are systemic, and they could lead to systemic collapse if we continue business as usual” and expect to get different results. To meet these challenges, there is a fundamental first step we can all embrace; one that is beneficial, necessary and within our capacities. This is the improvement of human relationships. And this must be premised on “fairness, equity, justice, cooperation, dialogue, inclusion, comprehension, agreement, solidarity, respect and mutual trust” in our journey to move from industrial revolution to ecological revolution.
And we must understand that we are all together in this journey and “we must look out for one another if we are to survive”. Experts in the social sciences have told us that most successful collective uprising were those in which people first established high levels of solidarity. “And the world’s most ancient societies survived – for several thousands of years – based on the principle of living with Nature, sharing food and other resources, equality of social status, participatory decision-making and collaboration”.
This was the vision that informed my decision in April 1992 to set up the River Ethiope Trust Foundation and devoted the past 30 years to searching for ways to facilitate collective action through our global networks. Distinguished colleagues and friends, in the next eight years, we need to step up our game. We are racing against the clock to develop societies that can live together peacefully, with one another and with Nature, before the critical systems collapse. We urgently need to build solidarity through mutual support and collective action.
Moving forward, our organisation and the Federal Government of Nigeria along with other key stakeholders have formed collaboration in Nigeria with the primary goal of promoting the recognition and implementation of Rights of Nature in Nigeria. This collaboration has yielded some advances and progress including: the introduction of Earth law/Earth jurisprudence education in three Nigerian universities; the establishment of River Ethiope Basin Institute at the Delta State University Abraka Nigeria; drafting of Harmony with Nature Academy Concept; submission of rights of Nature memorandum for inclusion into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and into the Delta State Environmental Conservation Bill 2021.
Other advances made include the Federal government of Nigeria’s endorsement of the first national dialogue on Rights of Nature in Nigeria; and stakeholders’ declaration on River Ethiope rights and drafting of River Ethiope Rights Bill 2019 in a bid for the River Ethiope in Nigeria to be the first aquatic ecosystem in Africa to be recognised as a living entity with legal rights.
Finally, let me invite you to join us in our mission to evolve Nigeria’s laws to respect and protect Nature. We are sure if you do, your contribution will be invaluable as we continue to work for one fundamental goal: to take action for Nature and human’s existence that depend on Nature.