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Earth Day 2022; Addressing Benikrukru Community Pollution Challenge

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Benikrukru Community

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

On Friday, April 22, 2022, the world celebrated the Earth Day, an annual event by the United Nations (UN) to among other things; demonstrate support for environmental protection, remind humanity that the earth and its ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance, that the healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people.

Most importantly, it reminds all that restoring our damaged ecosystems will help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction, but we will only succeed if everyone plays a part. The official theme for 2022 was Invest in Our Planet.

First held on April 22, 1970, and includes a wide range of events coordinated globally, Earth Day was first observed in the United States when some 20 million people took to the streets to protest against the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. Since then, the occasion has played an important role in raising awareness of other environmental issues.

In fact, the landmark Paris Agreement, which was signed by nearly 200 countries to set a common target to reduce global greenhouse emissions, was signed on Earth Day in 2016.

Indeed, this piece understands the words and position of this world body (UN). Their resolve to create a liveable world appears to this author as a great message of hope for our environment.

But, at about the same time, it invites some maze of high voltage confusion.

Essentially, this feeling of confusion naturally comes flooding when one reflects on the environmental challenge in the Niger Delta region, a region according to the latest data from the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), that recorded a total of 4,486 cases of oil spills, amounting to 242,193 barrels of oil, from 2015 to 2021.

The reported figure of oil spill cases is equivalent to 38.5 million litres of crude loss, representing an average of about 62 cases and 3,362 barrels of oil spills in a month, per data from NOSDRA’s satellite website on April 16.

Oil spillage, as we know, is the release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon or distilled products into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem.

A typical example of, and freshest of such ordeal that comes to mind is the large scale oil spill at Benikrukru community, Warri-South Local Government Area of Delta State, in the early hours of February 17, 2021, from one of the major facilities of a multinational oil company operating in the community, resulting in deadly pollution, environmental degradation, and disruption of both fishing and farming activities in the community and adjourning villages.

Qualifying this occurrence as a reality to worry about is the awareness that despite the excruciating pains that stemmed from the ugly development that the victims and the community have stoically endured, the oil prospecting/production has neither provided relief materials to the affected individuals nor shown remorse for their failings and failures or deemed it necessary to take an active step to clean up of the affected areas through environmental remediation/upgrade.

The community in a recent statement lamented that they expected the Oil giant to come up with a conceptualized remediation plan and proposal for compensation for affected individuals and communities.

But contrary to that expectation, the oil giant persistently, via series of statements/releases lied and absolved itself of any wrongdoing-stating that the said spillage neither emanated from nor has anything to do with their facilities.

This high level of crass corporate irresponsibility/rascality, the community added, continued until a Joint Investigation (JIV) was on April 2 and 10, 2022, carried out. The result established beyond reasonable doubt that the oil company’s facility installed in the year 1972, has recorded what the report described as two pinholes through which the crude oil was emptied into rivers and devastated the environment.

The JIV team, according to the report, included but was not limited to; staff of the multinational oil company,  representatives from NOSDRA, staff of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission of Ministry of Environment, Delta state, Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Delta state, and representatives of affected communities in the Gbaramatu Kingdom.

However, even as the JIV report ended the company’s season of lies and established its culpability, the oil giant which prides itself as one of the best organizations in the country when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has not bothered to provide the community with relief materials. And the world which has benefitted from their God-given natural resources, especially the federal government has looked on while the people of the community suffer this form of hardship.

In reality, there is in my view, no question that Benikrukru and of course Niger Delta region will continue to face such challenges as there is no end in sight to spillage and environmental pollution of the region

There are reasons that support this assertion.

First is the frequency of spillage that occurs in the region. According to NOSRA’s latest report, oil spill incidents occurred 921 times in 2015, resulting in a loss of 47,714 barrels of oil, the highest within the period under review.

In 2016, 688 cases of oil spills occurred, culminating in a volume of 42,744 barrels of oil. And in 2017 and 2018, 596 and 706 cases of oil spills occurred and resulted in the spillage of 34,887 and 27,985 barrels of oil, respectively.

Oil spills occurred on 732 occasions, spewing 41,381 barrels of oil in 2019, and 455 cases were recorded in 2020 with 23,526 barrels of oil. In 2021, companies reported 388 incidents, resulting in 23,956 barrels of oil.

The second reason has to do with weak/poor regulations/monitoring. In Nigeria, there are laid down principles guiding the handling of oil spills. For instance, oil spills should be closed off within 24 hours. But no operator can claim a clean hand when it comes to obeying such law in Nigeria and the regulatory agencies have never bothered to hold them accountable for such failures.

Again, according to NOSDRA, oil companies are required to fund the clean-up of each spill and pay compensation to local communities affected, if the incident was the company’s fault. Yet, there exists no appreciable instance where such obligations to host communities have been obeyed.

Thirdly is the government’s attitude of listening without being attentive to the hazards (both health and environmental) caused by crude oil exploration and production. This challenge is further fed by FG’s erroneous belief that so far the eggs are secured, the condition of the goose that laid the eggs becomes secondary and exacerbated by the government’s constant expression of more interest in promoting petroleum production, without giving symbolic attention to environmental protection process or any substantial action to environmental issues in the region.

Thus, aside from enforcing this directive which says that oil spills should be closed off within 24 hours, this piece holds the opinion that for the nation to enthrone a new order within the sector, the federal government must intervene and address the Benikrukru community pollution challenge. Demonstration of such a new attitude will not only be characterized as rewarding to the community but illustrates FG’s newfound capacity to hold oil companies in Nigeria accountable for their misdeeds.

Until this is done, the majority of the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region will continue to view the call for corporate responsibility as a dangerous fiction imposed upon the wealthy and powerful.  And not even the recently enacted Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) will serve or save the region.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Schneider Electric: Driving the Digital Transformation of Nigeria with Augmented Reality

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Schneider Electric

The future impact of Augmented Reality (AR) will significantly transform businesses and consumer marketplaces in Nigeria, should its adoption be accelerated across various industries and platforms, says Schneider Electric.

As more breakthroughs in technology continue to take root, the group has remained consistent in sensitizing its partners on the potential of AR, being one of the keys to digital transformation in the industry. Companies must therefore capitalize on AR and pursue the opportunities that can significantly boost operational productivity and enhance efficiency.

Speaking on this innovative technology, Belema Koleoso, Territory Technology Lead, Schneider Electric, says although much progress has been made since 2019 when Schneider Electric’s AR technology EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor (EAO) was launched as a global hero offer, which works to enhance data accessibility for quicker and more accurate decision making, there remains a lethargy in the Nigerian market to adopt this technology.

Company campaigns have been run to sensitize clients to understand how EAO uses AR technology to optimize the operation and maintenance of industrial sites and equipment, AR aids effectiveness, helps to optimize human assets, and bridges the prevalent generational skill gaps. In this regard, she specifically highlighted the workforce crises that Schneider Electric foresees in the next 5-6 years, with the aged industrial population as the search for well-trained workers sometimes poses a challenge.

Belema says with AR, companies do not need to lose the experience plants cultivate with the exit of personnel, instead, years of training and experience can be “retained” through iteration of workforce turnover. For example, templates, assets, and manuals can be aggregated into the EOA application, customizable by the client; it puts real-time information at your fingertips, whenever and wherever it is needed, enabling operators to superimpose current data and virtual objects onto a cabinet, machine, or plant. This software combines contextual and local dynamic information for mobile users, enabling them to experience a fusion of the physical, real-life environment with virtual objects. It becomes a mobile work buddy for employees commencing the learning curve and in all reduces operational cost while increasing plant operational efficiency. This ensures that people who are put into the system meet the experience that others who passed through the system left behind.

AR presents completely new ways of executing tasks, with instant diagnosis, contactless maintenance, increased efficiency, and lower cost. Industries, including construction, aviation, consumer packaged goods, energy and chemical, mining and minerals etc., can use EOA to enhance their operations. The cloud-based software rides on any controller to learn activities and aggregates assets, moving past proprietary original equipment manufacturer parent protocols to focus on the tasks.

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Schneider Electric believes increased industry leaders across sectors can therefore use EOA to their advantage, where data drives processes and decisions metamorphosizing to “smart decision makers,” riding on data to make optimal decisions smarter and faster.

In retrospect, Belema says the pre-covid in Nigeria technologies like AR were seen as typically “nice to have.” She says she highly anticipates a time when more people will understand the immense benefit of this innovation and evaluate this technology as a necessity. “Often, the feedback on this is a nice-to-have, after a review of what AR offers. But I will push for people to look at it like this – When you have something that will optimize your processes, it moves from being a nice-to-have to a must-have.”

To drive this renewed mindset, the AR expert opines policies, such as the environmental sustainability policy, can bolster digital transformation. Stakeholders would need to advocate an optimized use of energy sustainably. Enforcement of which would naturally drive the adoption of technology across industries quicker.

“When people see that sustainability policies are enforced, for example, you are penalized for not meeting a target, or incentivized for meeting a target; you would see that the case would be different. Naturally, people will begin to adopt technology to meet their goals.”

She also advocates for Nigerians to consider AR as a total cost of investment that enhances optimal output, as customers are more prone to adopt a baseline approach, where they are satisfied with running their operations minimally without incurring additional costs.

With technology improving and becoming more widely available, it is undeniable that AR will become essential for businesses to thrive in the upcoming years. Schneider is optimistic that its position as a thought leader and industry partner in the digital transformation of energy management and automation is about to gain new ground, enabling the emergence of a new landscape of energy, paradigm shifts for the industry, and a revolutionized experience.

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Climate Change: Between Harriman and Kayanja Ideologies

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climate change

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The debate on climate change is among the most presently discussed topics on the earth’s surface. All these years, I have, going by the commentaries from the Western world, believed that Africa’s non-commitment to the call for global action on climate change was responsible for the real and imaginary challenges confronting the continent.

Making this perceived climate change challenge look real was the recent news report that to tackle the problems, the World Bank Group has committed about $70 billion and urged governments of different nations to set up structures to engage and access the fund.

However, such a belief system recently underwent a positive transformation while listening to Professor Tosan Harriman of Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria.

Tosan, who spoke at the GbaramatuVoice Niger Delta Economic Discourse series held in Warri, Delta State, among other things, said; “the truth is this, we saw the hypocrisy of these people (Western worlds) recently when, because of the Ukraine-Russian war, they are not talking anymore about clean energy, rather, we see them go back again focusing on coal, getting out coal to drive the heat.”

“Africa cannot give away its resources because Africa doesn’t need the English of climate change. Our continent is blessed, our continent has resources, and our continent is galvanizing on those resources to ensure there’s a global world order. Taking Africa’s resources from Africa is like committing Africa to another new colonial tendency that will finally incapacitate and make it useful in the global situation of things, and that’s exactly what my argument has been.

“So, quickly, therefore, let’s have our mindset reconstructed about the fact that we are not a danger to Europe and America; we are not a danger to politics of climate change. The only grammar behind climate change is the economy.

“If they take from you the resources that offered you a comparative advantage, it opens them up to their economic value in the context of a global chain, in the context of a global productivity chain, it opens them up to their economic value where they now begin to sell clean energy to people like us in Africa who don’t need it. It’s so important we have these facts properly straightened out before we get into this other issue.

“The world has been talking about clean energy, what we call resistance against greenhouse gas emission. The kind of carbon deducted from the exploration of our crude oil, those are the carbons that we have, and that’s what the world has been talking about. They needed clean energy that would help the Arctic Circle maintain its height and then help the entire ecosystem to be properly balanced along the lines of certain determination that they thought had been there from the beginning and all of that.

“In Europe and America, if you actually desire clean energy, you should not in the 21st century be talking about coal because coal is all about greenhouse gas emission. If you go to the home of the Queen, you will see them using coal, and I keep making this argument that if Norway as a nation has the level of oil we have, nobody will be talking about greenhouse gas, nobody will be talking about climate change, and I have always held the position that every nation should be allowed to grow within the context of his own resources.”

He said that the best the world can do, which is an issue he raised at the Cairo 27th conference recently held, is that we should look at the conditions of African nations, what we call the dependent nations and all of that, dependent on the global world situation and all of that.

“We should look at their conditions, and then we can’t take them; we can’t take from them the issues that directly propel their sustenance; we can’t be talking of climate change when the entire nation of Africa depends on what creates a greenhouse. The best we can do is to scientifically, now begin to look at this resource and then redesign it in such a way as to mitigate the fears that are already being expressed by these other groups fighting for climate change. Those are the issues we raised, and it’s so profound that the world needs to hear us,” he concluded.

Comparatively, while Professor Tosan’s ideology/argument made a whole lot of sense to me, I, however, still recall how Mr Ronald Kayanja, Director of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), spoke on the same topic (climate change) but maintained a different view.

This was at a function on Friday, September 20, 2019, in Lagos to mark the year’s International Day of Peace, which had as a theme Climate Action For Peace. Kayanja’s understanding and postulations about climate change were the direct opposite of Tosan’s argument.

Apart from Kayanjas’ definition of climate change as changes in these weather patterns over several decades or more which make a place become warmer or receive more rain or get drier, what made the lecture crucial was the awareness of the dangers of and warning on the urgent need to address climate changes which he said have become even clearer with the release of a major report in October 2018 by the world-leading scientific body for the assessment of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC), warning that in order to avoid catastrophe, we must not reach 1.5 C and 2oC.

In a similar style, Kayanja in that presentation used an analytical method and properly framed arguments to underline how; the current conflict in North-East Nigeria is not unrelated to the changes in climate in that region over time. As well as provides a link as to how; the climate change challenge also sets the stage for the farmer and herder violence witnessed in parts of West Africa and many countries that face violent conflicts in Africa: Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Sudan (Darfur), Mali and the Central Africa Republic.

He argued that local tensions over access to food and water resources could spill over into neighbouring countries as people seek to find additional resources and safety – placing more strain on the resources of those countries, which could amplify tensions. In these instances, climate change does not directly cause conflict over diminishing access to resources, but it multiplies underlying natural resource stresses, increasing the chances of a conflict.

As to what should be done to this appalling situation, the UN boss said that the UN Secretary-General had made climate action a major part of his global advocacy, calling on all member states to double their ambition to save our planet.

For me, as the debate rages, it is important to underline that Kayanja’s position looks alluring in principle. But then, this piece holds the opinion that African leaders and policymakers must not allow the propositions canvassed by Tosan go with political winds.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Economy: Simplistic Thinking in Africa and African American Communities

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African American communities

By Nneka Okumazie

There is caution in African American communities not to criticise each other to avoid appearing to take the side of others against the community. This agreement, useful in a few cases, has become part of the problem of the community where there is an appearance to condone horrible things.

If the problem is to avoid sounding like others, then another channel to criticize but not sound like others should have been sought.

In the community, the killings of the same kind, even for some who have made it, sometimes over absurd things, meets mute responses or fierce firestorm from the leaders of the community.

Do not criticize has allowed all kinds of comments and behaviours to fester in the community, and it keeps getting worse, but everyone minds their business because black people come first even if it is evil.

There is a limit to protests. There is a limit to heightened sensitivity over the past. There is a limit to ignoring internal responsibility. Proclamation of emancipation is a starting point, but every other way, as a people, to ensure more strength has to be sought. Civil rights are great but there is a need for the kind of economic success of Asia to be strong and not act or be seen as a victim because victimhood is limited.

There is a limit to entitlement for the sake of it, in a time when economic concerns are a priority for all. An individual success story is already old for a people with the majority on the lower economic and social side. A charity that benefits a small number of people in a small community is negligible for people. Speaking out for the sake of it, against oppression by other races, is also limited for a successful black. Whatever feel-good story on history or origin may promote fantasy, but ensures backwardness in reality.

As more blacks, everywhere, are getting prominent and failing in some positions, the other races have been able to lob criticisms without getting racial, something that many blacks do not attempt for each other.

There are streams of simplistic thinking that are static ends for a people, and breaking out of it, as a people is important for progress.

In Africa, most people keep saying the government is the problem or corruption. But there are different countries, structures, regions, states, governments, etc. yet there is hardly a major success story comparable with some in Asia.

Asian success is different people in different sectors making progress ahead and above the government so that government gets to adopt those into policy. If everyone with some responsibility or a few in different fields pursues major progress, the government does not have the power to crush all of them. The government would have to adopt or enable some. The excellence that made those would have them draw others. The government too would promote some policies whose success or adoption would meet the advancement the people are seeking, so it would work.

But what is obvious in most African countries is that the government often has the best answer, which is often really low, so from other sectors, things are lower, so most things are worse. And whenever there is a crisis, it is even far worse, because those who could try have failed, so left to the government, everything goes down.

Government is not the problem in any African country so long they have sectors and people who hold responsibility. Simplistic thinking says it is government.

Some have also said that they should use African religions for swearing officials into the office to prevent corruption. If enacted, some people would find a way around it, so it solves nothing.

There are desperate Africans who migrate to other continents, by the sea, desert and other ways, to find survival. Their move is parallel to professionals who run away too, because the place is bad, as a belief, not because they are actually in some dire situation.

There is a comment on brain drain, but brain drain is not a problem for professionals who are replaceable. Many of them would not do better than what government would do, so leaving or staying makes little difference, so no matter the certificates or certifications, it is not a brain drain if their work had not been consistently aiming at progress.

For many, success is seen as location or position when success is time or other things not related to material or resources. The things that are needed for progress, like courage, fairness, sincerity, honour, and selfless diligence for all that is not available, makes many to point to the wrong things.

[Psalm 144:4, Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away.]

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