Nigeria’s Niger Delta area is rich in biodiversity but over the years there has been drastic depletion of these resources as a result of a combination of human induced factors, particularly oil and gas exploration.
To stem this ugly development, stakeholders from both the public and private sectors, including those from industry, business, academia, non-governmental organisations and civil society urged the enforcement of policies and institution of a new governance framework, among others as strategies for the conservation of the Niger Delta biodiversity.
These views were expressed in Port Harcourt, Rivers State last week at a two-day inception workshop called by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Nigeria Country Office as part of developing the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Conservation of Biodiversity project in the Niger Delta.
According to Team Leader, Environment, of the UNDP Nigeria Country Office, Mr. Muyiwa Odele the GEF project seeks to mainstream biodiversity conservation issues into the oil and gas sector through the establishment of effective governance structure.
The inception workshop is the beginning of the prerequisite project preparation grant phase, which focused on consultations with stakeholders, identification of ongoing relevant projects in the Niger Delta region and building strategic partnerships.
In his opening address, the Minister, Federal Ministry of Environment, Mr. John Odey, represented by a senior official, stated that the Niger Delta region, which covers an area of approximately 112,000sq km, is one of the largest wetlands in the world.
Odey said the Niger Delta is characterized by diverse ecosystems and abundant natural resources, adding that it is not just a biodiversity hotspot, as per the definition of Conservation International, with many locally and globally endangered species, but that it also contains approximately 60-80 percent of all Nigerian plant and animal species.
Nigeria, he said has benefited from GEF immensely, which has been assisting the country through regional/national projects, including the environmental component of the Local Empowerment and Environmental Management Programme (LEEMP), Fadama II & III Programme, the Nigeria – Niger Integrated Ecosystem Management, Niger Basin Authority Project, Contaminated Sites between Nigeria and Ghana, Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem (GCLME) project.
“It is also a forerunner in the development of policy documents, including the National Biodiversity Action and Strategy and the National Communication for Climate Change Amelioration, among others.”
He said the Federal Government is intensifying effort to meet its obligations to GEF since “the implementation of the environmental policy of the Federal Government stands to benefit from GEF.” The Ministry is also determined to continue to encourage processes for project development initiatives that promote environmental protection, sustainable development and poverty alleviation, he stated.
At the plenary, various participants deployed biodiversity loss in the Niger Delta and blamed it on poor governance at the local and national levels. According to a former chief executive officer of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, Dr. Uko Amadi the region’s biodiversity issues similar have been documented from similar workshops, adding that the reports were never implemented.
Regardless, the National GEF project coordinator, Prof. Johnson Ekpere is optimistic that the new project would be implemented because “what I was told was that this project was already approved. When I did the project identification the question about implementation was always asked and I told them that I was positive it will be implemented.”
The project is certainly on because GEF is really interested in it. A bulk of the money is coming from GEF and the problem of the Niger Delta is becoming more obvious given the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. They must do something and GEF wants to take credit for this intervention.”
Prof. Ekpere said his team would tour the project document sites between last week and the end of September to get reports ready before GEF’s council meeting in November where it is expected to be approved.
“My biggest problem right now is from the Nigeria end. I hope that we will be able to get the oil and gas industry to accept the principles and be able to buy into it, because this is in their own interest whether we are going to succeed in that is my concern.
He commended the study done by the Niger Delta Environmental Survey. “It was a very good study very solid. I have used out of that study, but in project specifications some of the things they did are no longer relevant. So, this is why we are doing a new study altogether. The NDES was done half-heartedly because I don’t think the oil companies were really interested in implementing the NDES.”
He noted that there was now a shift in the situation because the oil multinationals are beginning to see the need to collaborate in sustainable development. “The problem is the ownership structure of the Nigeria oil and gas industry and the over dependence for revenue from the oil sector. The Americans have been able to tell BP to clean up the spill in the Gulf of Mexico because they do not depend on oil for all of their revenue.”
However, the international team leader of the GEF project, Jeffery Griffins identified governance issues as responsible for biodiversity challenges and the inability to reach the normal people in the Niger Delta.
He was addressing points raised by the permanent secretary in the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, who said the government could not set up a meeting with a multi national oil company even when it tried thrice. “It is a system set up in such a way you get frustrated. The truth is that if Nigeria wants to organize itself peacefully it can choose to do so through governance. The truth is that democracy is still not very strong in Nigeria.”
Rising from the group meetings, the first group, which examined biodiversity in the Niger Delta established that Biodiversity in the Niger Delta was very rich in the past, but local belief of its inexhaustibility together with development has resulted in the present depletion.
Reasons they gave for the depletion include; excessive exploitation for human use including (a)selective and general logging; massive deforestation for infrastructural and other development purposes; hunting; slash and burn agricultural system; bush burning for wildlife hunting; gas flaring including ecological changes in the environment and population pressure for development purposes; impacts of climate change; and effects of invasive species.
They concluded that biodiversity conservation is important and that more effort should be put into better understanding of these issues and its importance. “Sensitize people in public, government and private sector, so that full support from all these stakeholders can be achieved for the conservation of biodiversity in the Niger Delta area.”
The second group, which examined the ‘potential for a collaborative partnership for mainstreaming biodiversity management objectives into oil and gas sector practices in the Delta’, identified baseline situations, on-going biodiversity programmes/projects upon which to build, and pitfalls to avoid and recommended the creation of a new governance framework.
Group three, which looked at law and policy at the federal, state and corporate levels, stated that the main objectives of biodiversity laws are to safeguard the living natural world and its variety. Laws, they said do exist at the federal, state and corporate levels, but that the existing laws overlap and are largely ineffective for the reason of weak enforcement.
“Some of them also conflict. The penalties are too low to serve as deterrents. There is the need to review and strengthen the existing laws in order for them to be mainstreamed into biodiversity and oil and gas sectors.”
Working Group four looked at ‘Local Communities and Civil Society in the Niger Delta: their current and future potential roles in mainstreaming biodiversity.’ It stated that the roles of Civil Societies/Communities in managing their resources locally include data collection; advocacy; awareness and education; direct intervention; involvement in forming community associations; involve in identifying the community needs; access/control, (local communities); rights and legislation; and conflict resolution.