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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Nigerian media and combating climate disinformation

In one of my Sociology of Education classes, I learnt that the media is one of the agents of socialisation, which is to say that the media is responsible and is thus capable of shaping public opinions, perspectives, and sensibilities.

Malam Balarabe Abbas Lawal
Malam Balarabe Abbas Lawal, Environment Minister

Amy Westervelt of Drilled Media published an article a month ago titled “Hot Take: Fixing media is a climate solution”, where she emphasised the level of control oil companies have on the media. When the polluters are in control of the narrative, we have a new type of catastrophe on hand so no, fixing media as a solution to climate change is not a hot take, it is obvious.

Nigeria is no exception to big polluters’ green-washing claims and tactics, some of the most notable instances of green-washing by IOCs include Shell’s claims that they have a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, despite evidence to the contrary. TotalEnergies claims that they are working to reduce their carbon footprint, despite their ongoing investments in fossil fuels. Other instances of greenwashing by IOCs in Nigeria include false claims about the safety of their operations, and misleading reports about their investments in local communities.

Shell is well known for peddling misinformation in Nigeria, they underreport oil spill data, refuse to disclose accurate information about the state of their facilities and equipment, and also spread misinformation about their commitment to NetZero.

Shell has made a dubious pledge to transition away from fossil fuel as the society adopts cleaner forms of energy. This is dubious because Shell, just like other oil companies, undermine the role their production of oil plays in the perpetuation of oil consumption. There is just no way will Shell and Co generate large barrels of oil without creating a market for it even if it requires obliterating cleaner alternatives. If Shell and Co are deliberate about achieving Net-Zero, then they should be willing to take the bold first step.

Shell says: “Tackling climate change is an urgent challenge. We will contribute to a net-zero world, where society stops adding to the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.”

How will society stop emitting greenhouse gases when you are partly responsible for the emissions, and you produce products that contribute to the emission?  Taking the statement at face value would seem harmless until you give it a second thought.

They further state: “That is why we have set a target to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050.”

Becoming a Net-Zero energy business is not the same as phasing down or phasing out oil production for proper transition. Shell and Co can be a net-zero energy business and still produce huge barrels of oil, what good is that?

Shell in Nigeria also have a reputation for perpetuating the narrative that oil theft and sabotage are the major cause of oil pollution in the Niger Delta in order to evade social and legal responsibility.

Independent bodies have found that narrative to be flawed but the narrative is widely available on the internet. A lay person after a quick Google search would believe: “Ahhh oil pollution in the Niger Delta was never Shell’s fault, what would they have done?”

During COP28, Nigeria was openly invited to phase out fossil fuel. Nigeria’s Minister of State for Environment, Ishaq Salako, argued that it is unacceptable to require Nigeria or Africa to phase out fossil fuel because the economy largely depends on it. According to him, requiring Nigeria to phase out fossil fuel is like asking a sick patient to breathe without life support.

The reason why this view is a stumbling block in achieving sustainable development in Nigeria is because it is a widely held view. In an SDG Café, I told a lady that when Nigerians collectively demand for a pause in oil production for clean energy, the government would consider it a pressing social issue, she replied  “but no we do need oil” and the answer is no you don’t, what we need is energy and it is the role of the government to provide energy that is safe for its citizen with the least amount of negative consequence.

The government has never been serious about developmental issues which explains why we have inadequate electricity supply. There are good and elegant energy transition policies and plans, but none are being paid adequate attention to. When we diversify our energy and move towards renewables, it would affect the pockets of oil beneficiaries and who in the world wants that?

Oil companies, beneficiaries and other corporate bodies relying on the present situation to continue mining profits will use the media to control narratives. There must be an improvement in Nigeria’s and Africa’s climate media to speed up the rate towards sustainable development.

Nonetheless, why does Ishaq Salako think it is unacceptable to demand a phase out? What has the government done in investing in renewables, diversifying energy production and preserving the environmental rights of her citizen? Not a very good job. Have the Nigerian citizens really benefitted very much from the oil economy? Of course not. All the oil producing states in Nigeria are developmentally backward despite generating massive revenues from oil and they are suffering the consequence of oil production. The people who will benefit from immediate and deliberate phase out are the citizens you are very much concerned about.

The Permanent Secretary at Nigeria’s Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Gabriel Aduda, is of the view that COP28 should be concerned about emission reduction and not phasing down or out. What should we expect from an oil beneficiary? Apart from the fact that it is scientifically a misguided point of view, it seems to be peddling big oil fantasy of emission reduction through whatever means, say carbon capture.

What then happens to the oil products generated? According to studies, efforts to tackle gas flaring in the Niger Delta have been largely unsuccessful. What has the Nigerian government done in emission reduction? Very poor job. Corporate bodies continue to impact our environment and there are no legislations that as a matter of corporate responsibility demands for accurate reporting of environmental and sustainability reports.

To address climate change and sustainability issues from the perspective of the media in Nigeria, there have to be increased funding and support for independent and investigative journalists to offer a balanced and accurate portrayal of situations.  The public also must be incentivised to fact-check information before assimilating them.

Finally, the government and decision makers can make a concerted effort to screen off polluters influence on the media through legislation; but, given that the government herself is a player, the possibility is worryingly slim.

By Greatson Odion


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