The Right Livelihood College Lecture 2022 was co-hosted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the University of Port Harcourt on 30 November 2022, at the faculty of Social Science with over 250 physical participants and virtual attendee. The Lecture with the theme “Environment, War, and the Global Energy System” was delivered by Jamila Raqib, executive director of Albert Einstein Institution, USA. This was the 8th of the annual lecture series is delivered by Right Livelihood laureates at the campus. 

In her lecture Jamila Raqib, urged communities to protect their environment and protest against human pollution while she urged governments to use power to bring about positive changes globally. “The feeling of powerlessness around the world in the face of the world’s crises is sad and dangerous, because it leaves people thinking how they can change their situation. We are seeing increased engagement of movements around the world, challenging the destructive energy system of the world. What we do at the Albert Einstein Institution is to document these strides, to use their stories to foster hope and build resilience of similar communities.

“The real power comes from knowing how these actions can be coordinated, knowing when to act and how to act is vital. The most effective movements are those who take seriously the importance of training and educating those involved, we need to make sure people have access to the right training and information, so they won’t have to reinvent the wheel. People who advocate for violence are sometimes doing it to protect other people, but they also endanger the lives of those people. We need to also reflect on what, when and how we do what we do and how it’s undermining the power of those who cause these harms,” she said.  

The Right Livelihood College lecture as a global capacity building initiative was founded in 2009. The College operates as a global network of campuses at universities with the aim to make the knowledge of the Laureates accessible to all and, by linking young academics and civil society organizations with the Laureates. The hope is to make their “winning ideas” succeed and multiply. This year’s lecture was a prelude to the formal awards ceremony for 2022 which held later that evening in Stockholm, Sweden. This was acknowledged by Nnimmo Bassey, director of HOMEF, as he informed the audience of the four laureates who were joining Right Livelihood family. The new laureates are:

Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman “for promoting peace, demilitarization and human rights in Somalia in the face of terrorism and gender-based violence”, Oleksandra Matviichuk and the Center for Civil Liberties (CCL) “for building sustainable democratic institutions in Ukraine and modeling a path to international accountability for war crimes”, Cecosesola of Venezuela “for establishing an equitable and cooperative economic model as a robust alternative to profit-driven economies” and Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) “for their courageous work for climate justice and community rights violated by extractivist energy projects in Uganda.”

Another lecture was given by Prof Ben Naanen of the University of Port Harcourt. In his lecture, the erudite professor stated among other things that the concepts are all linked. “When we talk about the environment, we talk about exploitation, and when you talk about exploitation, you talk about conflict. This is about environmental crime were people are carting away environmental resources, it’s about criminal gangs operating across the border, this is the basis of environmental crime and the struggle over environmental resources leading to conflict”. 

Alongside this year’s lecture, discussions on the salient issue of oil theft in Nigeria and the lack of political will on the part of the Nigerian authorities to curb the menace ravaging the economy of the country was discussed. The Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) said that the theme of the lecture was appropriate because of the very close connection between the state of environment and the ecological health of communities and society at large. “The lecture on non-violent resistance helped the students understand the various ways to creatively protest harmful activities. The lecture offered avenues to creatively prepare and build resilience and capacity to resist harmful activities and to prepare people for their liberty. The lectures are organized in a university setting for students to appreciate that their education did not end in classrooms, rather these exercises help them to broaden their vision to see what is happening elsewhere in the world and to generally stand up for what is right.

Bassey further stated that the Niger Delta region, Nigeria and the world at large would be free from environmental and climate change issues if investment in renewable energy are more.” Nigeria as a country should begin to invest more in renewable energy, using solar, wind, heat in the air or the waves. This is where we should invest our resources on and that is the future of energy in the world. We have a lot of war being fought over resources. Africa is now a focus for extraction of fossil fuel and that means that we may expect more conflicts on the African continent” 

Prof. Owunari Georgewill, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, said that the lecture was part of the livelihood college series of public lectures held over the years since the university signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Right Livelihood Award Foundation and HOMEF.

Georgewill, who was represented by Prof. Fidelis Allen of the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, said that the lecture’s theme was crucial.” It’s meant to think about problems of extreme violence and how it contributes to other problems especially the energy insecurity and environmental problems including climate change.” Allen, who is also the Coordinator of the Rights Livelihood College Campus at the university, said the threat of conflict in the world had increased recently, adding that the war between Ukraine and Russia also contributed to energy insecurity globally. 

Allen further stated that the environmental problems in the Niger Delta region were systemic and driven by economic development models that have been adopted over the years and Nigeria has focused on economic growth, and the economic growth strategies for bringing about change do not consider the environment as a crucial factor. “When development is defined without environment, it is usually not development. What we are seeing over the years is more money from the environment at the expense of the integrity of the environment. If we can think about development holistically in terms of how the Niger Delta can be preserved, swamps, rivers preserved; if we can think about modest economic development, think about the non-oil sector as drivers of economic growth and development, it may be better for us. What we need is an approach that will take incremental steps away from fossil fuel which is important for our environment.” 

The lecture is part of the university’s culture to engage in issues and provide the platform for students and colleagues to talk about these problems and suggest ways in dealing with them at the sub-national and international level. The meeting was true to the objective it sets which is to ignite minds to know that oil extraction needs to be stopped in Nigeria and Africa because a whole lot of resources extracting in Africa is meant for exports and not for use locally and holding accountable the companies that pollute our environment but blames our communities for the damage should be our responsibility while our government should think of ways to educate younger minds, with what can be done to protect the environment and impact in human lives globally.

Nnimmo Bassey, who sits on the international jury responsible for the selection of the Right Livelihood Laureates, including in the 2022 Award,  noted that the selection process was rigorous but winners were selected from various regions and awards is to people who are taking genuine and nonviolent action and not profiteers in the face of global crises.

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