By Juliet Ukanwosu
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to intensify plans towards energy transition, stakeholders have reiterated the need to take the perspectives of impacted communities into serious consideration.
Giving a keynote address at a high-level Roundtable organized in Abuja by the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation and Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), His Royal Majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse III, the Olu of Warri, stressed that now more than ever, is the time for government to be closer to the people.
The meeting funded by the FORD Foundation had other key stakeholders from the Niger Delta, including His Royal Majesty, Mene Suanu Baridam, Kasimene Bangha VII of Ogoniland, stressing the need for a just transition, and for Nigeria to articulate a clear implementation roadmap that brings all relevant stakeholder to pursue a common vision.
The Olu of Warri emphasized the need for government to create spaces for dialogues with the aim to harness the views of communities that have been affected by the long term fossil fuel extraction, and who now face the looming threat of climate change, adding that justice can only be delivered when historical issues are resolved before the transition to clean energy.
According to him, “Putting the people at the center will ensure more equitable and more developed communities. There can be no serious discussions about the Nigerian energy landscape without emphasising the critical contributions of the Niger-Delta,” he said.
The Royal Father added that since the discovery of oil in the region, the people have faced all forms of physical, environmental and psychological hardships. “Since the discovery of oil in Oloibiri the regions resources have been the cornerstone of our national economy, yet our existence is marred by environmental degradation, consistent energy poverty and the looming threat of climate change.”
Also supporting the Olu of Warri’s position, His Royal Highness, Mene Suanu Baridam, Kasimene Bangha VII of Ogoniland, expressed the hope that impacted communities will be centered as integral stakeholders in Nigeria’s energy transition journey.
He urged the government to come up with policies and reforms that will alleviate environmental impacts in the Niger Delta region, while emphasizing the need for the transition to be just.
Reiterating their positions, the Director of Ford Foundation, West Africa, Dr. Chichi Aniagolu-Okoye stressed the need to avoid a repeat of the mistakes made with fossil fuel extraction, by ensuring that communities are centered in Nigeria’s energy transition plans to avoid their been abandoned post fossil fuel era.
“Many of those communities in the Niger Delta today are the ones sustaining the Nigerian economy and once those minerals are no longer wanted the communities will become abandoned. We have seen a consistent situation where we have abandoned communities, in the 60’s it was tin, then coal and the communities that had these minerals have since been abandoned,” she pointed out.
Speaking further she added, “Now the world is moving on from fossil fuels, but we reàlise that it’s still communities that are going to mine those non-fossil fuels and if we do not get it right, as we did not get it right during the fossil fuel era, the communities will be abandoned,” she said, while insisting that the right policies be put in place to avoid a repeat of such situations.
In his remarks, Executive Director, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, Amara Nwakpa, stressed that it was crucial that the shift to clean energy does not perpetuate the existing system’s inequities, but contributes to repairing the socio-economic damages wrought by years of unrestrained fossil fuel extraction.
According to him, the effectiveness of such a transition is fundamentally tied to prioritising people and communities. “And that effectiveness is guaranteed when there is collaboration between government, civil society, industry, and communities in crafting effective strategies, plans, and reforms,” he noted.