being keynote address delivered by Comrade Celestine Akpobari at the 2019 Correspondents’ Week organised by the Correspondents’ Chapel, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Rivers State at the Presidential Hotel, Port Harcourt, on Monday, December 2nd, 2019
The term Media typically refers to components of the mass communications industry, such as print, electronic and social media. It could be publishing, the news media, photography, cinema, blogging, twitter, face booking and broadcasting etc. These entail the three major divisions of the media which are print, broadcast and internet publishing. It is sometimes called the traditional and new media.
On the other hand, the Environment means different things to different people. Simply put, the environment in the context for which we are gathered here could mean “our natural habitat”. The environment can also be defined as “the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates.” According to the late Ken Saro-Wiwa, ‘man’s first right to nature is a beautiful environment” and I think Ken was referring to the handing over of the already prepared biblical garden of Eden to man for keeps by God. Unfortunately, a clean environment is the least thing we think about in Rivers State in particular and Nigeria at large both at the governmental, corporate and the individual level. I have always said that everything about a man is tied to his environment, destroy the environment and you have destroyed the man.
The Journalist is innately endowed by God with the power to make and un-make. The role of the media in making and de-marketing issues, institutions and/or persons all over the world, can never be over emphasized. It is on record that Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ernest Sissei Ikoli and Herbert Macaulay, etc, who fought for and won independence for Nigeria, succeeded because all of them have a background in Journalism. The success story of the late ken Saro-Wiwa in environmental campaigns is also because he was a writer.
From above analysis, it becomes very clear that the media occupies a very strategic position in protecting the Rivers environment and there is no doubt about this fact.
The Environment on the other hands refers to our immediate surroundings and constitutes the physical, social and biological aspects surrounding of living organism including us, the humans. The media as a communication tool use to inform, educate and entertain thus operate in an environment and if that is the case, then there is the moral obligation and responsibility for the media to protect the environment in which it operates with Rivers State as a case study. The need for the media to protect the environment cannot be over-emphasized because what affects the environment automatically affects the media and its practitioners who live and operate in the immediate surrounding environment.
The Rivers environment has been under serious threats since the 1950s when the multinationals commenced oil mining activities in commercial quantity in the area. While oil has contributed to social the economic development of this State and country, its associated hydrocarbon has threatened the environment, livelihoods and health of farmers, fishermen and other members of society more than anything else. There is nothing that captures this scenario than the foreword to the UNEP Report on Ogoni in 2011 by no less a personality than Mr. Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. According him, “the history of oil exploitation and production in Ogoniland is a long, complex and often painful one that to date has become seemingly intractable in terms of its resolution and future direction. It is also a history that has put people and politics and the oil industry at loggerheads rendering a landscape characterized by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame, set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned”
Commenting further on the report, Mr. Achim Steiner said, “The findings in the report underline that there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed”
It is on this UNEP Report implementation in Ogoni and the Niger Delta that I will center my discussion and there from, define the role of the media in protecting Rivers environment. However, there are the issues of soothe, flooding, indiscriminate dumping of wastes, especially plastics that are also helping in killing fishes in our polluted rivers and the role of interventionist agencies like the NDDC that are also very important and should naturally occupy the time and space of the media practitioner but yet, under reported. We would come back to that if time permits.
As deadly and scary as the UNEP report on Ogoni is, how many journalist and media houses have dedicated blogs and spaces on their website to report a day to day follow up on the activities of the Hydrocarbon Pollution & Remediation Project (HYPREP) and what the Project was set up to achieve? Apart from regular tracking from a few of you and media houses present here, how many Journalists have taken time to investigate profiles of the companies currently on site to remediate the first 21 lots? How many of you seated here have a plan to do a monthly or quarterly briefing on Rivers Environmental Audits and findings? How many have community sensitization plan on the environment? What pressure is the media mounting on the Rivers State Government and the NDDC to take proactive measures in curbing the menace of perennial flooding in the state? These are the activities and actions that stand a journalist or media houses out and make them win relevant National and International awards’/ scholarships. It is these actions that open opportunities for sustainable funding better than sensationalism and the annual ritual of selling awards to undeserved persons and corporate organizations. Finding answers to above questions will help us in properly setting an environmental agenda for the media in Rivers State.
Going forward as watch dogs of the society, I will like the mass media and Correspondents chapel that invited us here to do the following:
UNEP report and its implementation
Open up further investigation into UNEP Report by studying a critique by Professor Richard Steiner, a Consultant to UNEP. According to him, “The UNEP study provides a quantitative understanding of hydrocarbon contamination only, and thus does not constitute a comprehensive ecological assessment of oil damage. A full ecological assessment is described and recommended in UNEP’s own manual on oil spill damage assessment and restoration (which I drafted on contract to UNEP in 2004). But in the Ogoniland study, the UNEP team surprisingly did not follow its own recommended procedures to comprehensively assess ecological injury from oil spills”
Engage with HYPREP and the supervisory Ministry for Environment to extract a workable timeline of activities that must be religiously followed in order to fast track that life saving assignment.
Considering the fact that the clean-up of Ogoni will take 35 years, the media must immediately engage with HYPREP, Ministry for Environment, Niger Delta State Governors and the NDDC to kick start the environmental audit of some polluted sites in the region
Engage Governors of Niger Delta States to declare a state of emergency in the provision portable drinking water for citizens in the region since according to UNEP Report, the water people drink in that polluted territory is filled with benzene, a known cancer causing carcinogen. In addition, drinking water in the Delta is 900 times above World Head Organization’s standards and 1000 times above Nigeria drinking water standards
Engage with State Governors in the Niger Delta, Federal Ministry for Environment, Ministry for Niger Delta, The NDDC(Niger Delta Development Commission) and other relevant agencies to take early warnings on flooding and the welfare of affected communities seriously. In recent years, citizens from the region have suffered untold hardship because of abandonment by both the Federal and the various State Governments.
Indiscriminate waste disposal
The media must to at all times, sensitize citizens on the need to keep their environment clean. Our city that was once referred to as a garden city is fast becoming a garbage city. All hands must be on deck to reverse this ugly trend. Indiscriminate dumping of polythene and plastics during raining period is the fastest means of transporting these hazardous materials directly into the river where the hungry fishes feed on and transfer those poisonous chemicals to consumers
I cannot end this address without talking about gas flaring which started in the Old Rivers State. According to the Environmental Icon Rev Nnimmo Bassey, “…..judging by what we saw in Bauchi few weeks ago where gas flaring started even before oil production, gas must have been first flared in 1956 at Oloibiri when oil was discovered in commercial quantity.
About 8 billion cubic meters of gas is flared annually in Nigeria which is 75% of gas production and when calculated in monetary terms, the country looses about 2.5 billion United states Dollars. In 2005, a Federal High Court sitting in Benin declared gas flaring illegal in a case between Mr Jonah Gbemre of Iwherekan community, Delta State and Shell, till date, that judgment has not been reversed.
Between 7th to 18th of November 2016 during the COP22 at Marrakech, Morocco, President Mohammad Buhari promised that Nigeria will strive to end gas flaring in the country by 2020. That magic year is just by the corner and I will like the media to lead in this campaign to end continuous cooking of the atmosphere and thereby destroying the environment God gave man to dress.
Thank you for inviting me.