The Challenge Of Biodiversity In The Niger Delta

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Issues of insecurity and poverty in the Niger Delta region were at the front burner of a recent project steering committee meeting of the Niger Delta Biodiversity conservation programme.
The Niger Delta Biodiversity conservation programme is a United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP)- sponsored programme to preserve the natural resources of the region from extinction.
Information obtained from the website of the organisation defines the goal of the programme as a contribution towards the sustainable use of the significant biological diversity in the Niger Delta to uplift the living standard of the people.
According to the UNDP, “the project is to mainstream biodiversity management priorities into the Niger Delta oil and gas sector development policies and operations.”
Aligned with the Global Environment Facilities (GEF), the project also seeks to strengthen the policy and regulatory framework for mainstreaming biodiversity.
The UNDP also said that, “the project will target Nigeria’s oil and gas sector which is the backbone of Nigeria’s economy.
The Niger Delta biodiversity project is currently running in four states of the region. The states are Akwa-Ibom, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States.
Thus, the project steering committee meeing which held in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State captial was to take stock of achievements recorded so far with a view to planning ahead.
The meeting was attended by all members of the committee, including traditional rulers, officials of the conservation programme, community leaders, members of the civil society, top civil servants, members of the academia, journalists and others drawn from the four implementing states of Rivers, Akwa-Ibom Delta and Bayelsa.
Day one of the meeting featured the project over view, progress report, actions from last project steering committee (PSC) meeting states/key, achievements of 2017, implementation, midterm review, state/community updates by the four states as well as updates by oil companies.
Also featured were special sessions on project implementation challenges/ risk, state government commitment, community, oil companies engagements, project sustainability and recommendations.
Day two witnessed the presentation of priorities for 2018, draft work plan for 2018 as well as discussions and endorsement of the 2018 draft workplan.
National coordinator of the programme, Dr Mathew Dore said that within the past three years, the UNDP has evolved measures towards the preservation of rare animal and plant species in the Niger Delta region.
Dr Dare added that, several studies were carried out within the last three years on variety of issues, one of which was reforestation, stressing that in this world of climate change, the UNDP was aligning and engaging with oil bearing communities to protect globally endangered species.
Accordingly, over 54,000 trees of various species have been planted across the four implementing states. Dr Dore listed communities that benefitted from the tree planting programme to include, Esit Eket, and Odio in Akwa-Ibom state, Kwana, Magho, Afara Etche and Alesa Eleme in Rivers State.
In Bayelsa , Ogbogolo Samgbe, Oluasiri, Zarama, Ayama, Adigbe and Biseni were beneficiaries of the tree planting programme while in Delta State planting and scoping were carried out at Umuaja, profiling of Abigborodo community in Delta North, engagement of the people of Abigborodo in mangrove tree planting, while a study on the use of raffia palm was carried out in the community.
Furthermore, in Delta State, trees were planted in Patani, Udipbori, while the existing man and animal relationship were preserved by ensuring the survival of the West African dwarf crocodile in Emu community in Ndokra West Local Government area.
Dr Dore said that several communities in the region were taught on the conversion of water hyacinth to produce organic manure.
He described the Niger Delta as a complex ecosystem, adding that the problems of poverty, hunger and deprivations in the region have made it difficult for people to conserve their natural resources.
Also speaking, the former Regional Manager, Environment, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC), Engr Charles Oforo, said that sustainability of the project depended on the collaboration between the UNDP, multinational oil companies operating in the region, the various state governments and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Engr Okoro said that the communities must be made to see the project as their own, while the government must take the issue of conservation seriously. He particularly criticised the NDDC for not giving serious attention to issue of biodiversity conservation in the region, adding that the three percent annual budget of oil companies to the commission are not meant for the purchasing of vehicles but to empower the people and preserve the Niger Delta ecosystem.
Also speaking Professor Maxwell Iweghue of Delta State University, Abraka, regretted that the governments were not giving attention to the issue of biodiversity conservation in the country.
The university don also decried the lack of drainages and parks in most cities in the country, adding that time has come for the society to appreciate the importance of the ecosystem and take practical steps to preserve them.
He commended the UNDP for the efforts so far, but stressed the need for more awareness programme on the importance of conservation.
For Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Delta State, Mrs Ukem Ajofo, the state government is ready to assist the UNDP to actualise the project in Delta state.
A traditional ruler, HRH, Samuel Ekaso, from Odio Community Eket, urged for more effort by the UNDP to check the ravaging effect of the Nipa palm in communities in the Eke area of Akwa-Ibom state.
He also called for a trust fund for communities with a view to empowering them to protect their environment.
Each of the states affected in the programme also took time to highlight areas of challenges in the implementation of the programme.
The four states which spoke on implementation of challenges/risk identified bureaucracy, lack of government commitment, issues of conservation, poverty as well as inadequate manpower in forestry management in the region as some of the problems they experience. They also identified youth restiveness, incessant demands for compensations by communities in the region and lack of alternative source of livelihood for the people.
The states stressed the need for poverty eradication programme, employment and training of forest guards in the region, while illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalisation be checked. The Niger Delta region has lost several of its animals and plant species to oil exploration and exploiting activities and the call for conservation is coming at a time when the region needs to regenerate itself with a view to preserving its resources to generations unborn.
Moreover, Nigeria is a signatory on the ban on trade on endangered species and the African convention on the preservation of nature and natural resources.