When natives of South-west Nigeria heard of their country’s significant oil wealth, they sought it. From Agbami to Olokola, they believed in the prospect of a bright future, and they imported a plan to pump huge quantities of the associated heavy metals through the region. Agbami’s discovery was the catalyst for an all-out construction boom in early 2000s Nigeria. Curiously, the projects were also responsible for a major environmental disaster, a silent rip-off on a grand scale, the authorities say.
Today, Nigerians call the resulting environment catastrophe Lake Rice. It is so toxic that people of the region, and their husbands, are advised to go along with their wives to the nearby fringes of Rivers State, where they are fitted with gloves and fitted with masks. It is also said to be poisonous.
It is no exaggeration to say that much of South-west Nigeria now suffers from an environmental disaster, built into the fabric of the region’s thinking through the rise of oil, with Nigerians arguably trying to forget the mining history that enabled the region to harvest such resources in the first place. The Guardian’s Editorial Board writes:
“We should not exaggerate the environmental impact of Lake Rice. Sadly, though, a lack of civic awareness, bad faith and greed has led to untoward consequences. This has altered the landscape of a great nation of fantastic richness. Famine is no longer an issue, as it was with two of the more well-known oil spills in the Gulf of Guinea. The collapse of the international price of oil in recent years has affected the Nigerian economy to the extent that many people here now view energy as a luxury.”
New York Times columnist and “Fresh Air” contributor George Packer writes that the current disaster means the country will have to transform itself:
“Everything should have changed. In the late 1970s, the World Bank launched a process of economic reform, forcing Nigeria to break the great stranglehold of a cartel of oil companies. Suddenly, two-thirds of the population saw the light. But the energy crisis, which ultimately might cost Nigeria as much as $130 billion, is disrupting them anew. Of course, it has nothing to do with oil. It does, however, have everything to do with climate change and development.”
There is some talk among stakeholders in Nigeria’s oil sector about how to reduce the ecological damage, and there are plans to set up clean up and resettlement areas that will be located not just in Agbami, but also in the nearby communities of Otuoke and Farmoko. But that seems unlikely to stop the people of the region from fishing and farming. On many of the shores of Lake Rice, there is still filth, the wave of toxins left in the wake of the oil firms’ work. However, a recent report from Cascadia Global Research also found that Lake Rice could turn out to be a boon for Nigeria. Because the lake is not currently replenished, it is warming. There is hope that if the environment does turn around, there could be jobs on the back of it.
Yinka Richera of Nature Watch Nigeria wrote recently on Nigeria’s growing recognition of the national crisis. That said, infrastructure projects of the sort that are behind the spurt in industrialization in South-West Nigeria will continue to hurt the environment long after they are completed. In response to the crisis, Richera says, Nigeria needs to better reskill its youths so that they understand how to maintain and restore the ecosystem. The lines of demarcation between private enterprise and the state should be blurring.
Read the full piece here.
Can land continue to be agriculture? The World Bank is only in its early stages of attempting to answer that question. In their report “If Agricultural Development in Sub-Saharan Africa Is to Continue on Its Current Path,” the report concludes that agriculture in the region still represents 85 percent of GDP and is a mainstay of employment, even after the fall of the price of oil. The World Bank has warned that sustained reform will be needed in order to avoid further weaknesses in the sector. The reasons for that fragility range from overdevelopment to insufficient systems to keep food available, and the uncertainties of climate change. Read the full report here.