The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is becoming more urgent as climate change  impacts force the world to respond.. The handwriting is boldly declaring that the burning of fossil fuels have taken up carbon budget and wrapped the earth with a thick blanket of greenhouse gasses that have resulted in the hottest days in recent history.

Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation and Health of Mother Health Foundation (HOMEF) co-hosted a public forum on the theme “What after Oil, Climate and Environmental Resilience in Extractive Communities” to discuss the implication of waning oil fortunes for the nigerian economy as well as oil field communities. 

Nnimmo  Bassey in his welcome address stated that “While climate change is a global crisis, we cannot deny the fact that we face peculiar impacts at both national and sub-national levels. For one, the global shift towards more sustainable energy technologies is bound to provoke a precipitous reduction in global demand for hydrocarbon fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. With nearly 86 per cent of Nigeria’s export value coming from fossil fuels, the global energy transition will have profound effects on our economy. The prospects of a zero-carbon future will also have a far reaching environmental, social, and governance impact on Nigeria. Most affected by this will be the improvised extractive communities who have been treated as sacrificial zones since the first commercial Oil well was sunk in Olobiri 65 years ago. The impacts of climate change are already being experienced through sea-level rise and coastal erosion. These impacts are multiplied by the massive pollution whose intensity going by NOSDRA report amounted to 1,300spills or an average of 5 spills a day in year 2018 and 2019.”

The panel discussion that followed was moderated by Amara Nwankpa of Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation. Panellists included Mr Nnimmo Bassey, Director HOMEF, Martha Agbani Executive Director Lokiaka Community Development Centre, Dr Lanre Shasoru Representative from the VP office and Bekeme Masade-aolowola Chief Executive, CSR-in-Action. 

The panelists expressed their thoughts on the neglect faced by the community and proffered solutions on what should be done.  Martha Agbani who spoke on behalf of communities noted that ‘’The Niger Delta is a disaster zone due to high levels of environmental pollution.” She decried the high level of deforestation in the area and opined that there were cases of desertification also due to the pollution that has made it impossible for vegetation to thrive. She also spoke of the ubiquitous the gas flares, and pollution which has led to poverty, hunger and violence.  She noted that the area has very low life expectancy due to the poisoned water, air and land. 

Bekeme Masade-Olowola  of CSR in Action noted that although there has been some improvement in the way the oil companies operate, they still perform poorly on all sustainability indices . “There is room for more improvement” she said, adding that the Petroleum Industry Act may provide some impetus for changes. 

From the office of the Vice President, the representative Dr Lanre Shasore   noted that the visit of the Vice President to the Niger Delta yielded useful information.  “One thing we found in the Niger Delta is that there is a great deal of oil pollution and environmental degradation in that area, and we also have intervened in those areas as regards things to be done in terms of remediation. In 2010-2014, over 7 trillion Naira was invested in the region. Since the tour of the Vice President to the Niger Delta many things have been done to improve the area. There have been the implementation of the Ogoni clean-up and the introduction of modular refinery and the PIA which will address issues of the host communities. As we prepare to put an end to oil, it is easy to divest from oil but it will affect us and our livelihoods. We will like to see a continuation of oil but not to the detriment of the Niger Delta communities as we want to promote a safe environment.  Nigeria is not ready for the end of oil we are a gas community, this is what we live for and as long as it is safe for our community we should continue. The world has taken the position to move away from oil but they are not discussing this position with us, and they do not seem to want to take us along as they end oil.’’ 

Dr Nnimmo Bassey while responding to the question on the end of oil stated that “Nigeria had the warning before now and we have had enough time to move from fossil fuels to cleaner energy but apparently not much has been done. We do not see indications that we are taking the matter as seriously as we ought to. There are vast numbers of Nigerians who do not have energy today, and yet gas flaring continues unabated. Government keeps ignoring its deadlines to end gas flaring and there is no serious reason to believe that the practice will end in 2030 as the government has announced. Oil companies are beginning to divest from onshore fields and are moving further offshore because they wish to be unaccountable for their polluting activities and wish to pay less royalties to the government.” Bassey also enumerated the pitfalls in the PIA and the fact that communities will not be better off with its coming into being. 

The forum pushed for a just transit away from fossil fuels as further investment in the sector amounts to climate change denial. The forum also recommended investment in cleaning up the Niger Delta and in building resilience in the area. It was recommended that the loss of revenue from exploiting new oil fields can be offset by stopping oil theft. 

In her closing remarks the Regional director Ford Foundation, Dr Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye, noted that oil will not completely disappear from the soil, but if we do a proper planning, the transition from oil will not affect the country or the region the way the transitioning from agriculture and others left affected communities impoverished. “If oil companies cannot be held responsible before the divestment, how do we intend to hold them when they have left?” She asked rhetorically.  If we look at the fact oil may be relevant in the next 30/40 years from today but oil companies are divesting, civil societies should change their language and the manner in which they engage the system in ways that yield positive outcomes.

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