By Patrick Aigbokhan
Resource governance has assumed a prominent position in the debate of national issues among stakeholders in both private sector and all tiers of government in Nigeria.
Critical as it is, not many Nigerians are conversant with its role in, and relevance to nation building, hence the need to advocate transparency and accountability in exploring the phenomenon.
And not many individuals, organizations and other key stakeholders in the country, have shown interest in, or commitment to supporting and enacting the course in a bid to fight corruption and rid the country of its perpetrators at large.
As its regular course in the fight against irregularities and excesses of government and private sector activities, as it affects human life, the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) recently identified accountability and transparency as essential for resource governance in both private sector and all tiers of government.
The group, at a one day training it organised recently for journalists in Lagos on Resource Governance and Accountability, canvassed for strict adherence to transparency and accountability among stakeholders in the country on the subject.
The training, which was held at the Excellence Hotel, Ogba, had in attendance three facilitators, who took journalists through all that is required to report issues of resource governance effectively.
The facilitators were Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, ERA/FoEN; Mr. Wale Fatade, Executive Director, Media Support Centre, MSC, and Mr. Lekan Otunfodunrin, Managing Editor, Online, The Nation newspaper.
In his presentation, titled; ‘Resources Governance and Environmental Accountability Within the Change Agenda’, Dr. Ojo explored the fundamentals of resource governance, its relevance, as well as effect on nation building in all tiers of government.
Using environmental issue as a case study, Dr. Ojo decried the level of involvement by the media in reporting issues bordering on accountability of environmental resources on a mere surface level.
He challenged the media to go beyond reporting conventional news from common angles to the depth of mind-bugging environmental issues such as climate change.
Defining governance as the processes of interaction and decision-making among actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation of social norms and institutions, noting that, governance institutionalizes norms and practices, Ojo further described Environmental governance as the observance of norms and practices that ensure sustainable management of nature’s gifts.
“It promotes sustainability as the supreme principle in managing human interaction with Natural resources. It sees natural resources as a common trust we humans use collectively in a transparent and accountable manner so as to ensure stable climate and biodiversity.
“Natural resources governance is seen as the new frontier in global transparency and accountability advocacy campaigns (Resource Conflicts; Resource Curse; etc),” he stated.
The ED also identified examples of key issues that require attention in Resource Governance and Environmental Accountability in Nigeria to include menace of fossil fuel transnationals, noting that oil companies operate in Nigeria with impunity and even in total violation of global environmental standards and under business rules shrouded in secrecy.
While recalling that ERA/FoEN launched the global ‘Publish what You Pump’ Campaign, asking for the installation of meters on well stations, Ojo stated that till date, no oil corporation is compelled to publish what it pumps.
Other instances of issues that require much concentration, according to Ojo’s presentation include, weak institutions, and the JIV Process; Farming Environmental and livelihood problems from a broader perspective; social security; non-passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), among others.
He also stated that people and environment suffer as a result of faulty regulations in the country such as soil degradation including surface and ground water; Water pollution (coastal zone and the sea); Destruction of wildlife and biodiversity; Destruction of Local Livelihoods; Degradation of natural landscapes and habitats; Destruction of cultural landscapes and heritage; Air quality problems- health problems; General Destruction of quality of life and poverty.
On the importance of stories on environment and natural resources, Ojo stated that the Journalist as a Crusader has huge platform for creating mass awareness, trusted by the public and policy makers; Connects community agenda with policy agenda; ability/capacity to challenge the status quo; feared by the industry and create space for public debate and advocacy.
He also listed the leads of reporting the environmental within the change agenda to include Ecocide: ecological crime and criminal liability; Protection of Human Rights; Polluter Pays Principle; Protection of Local Community; Access to Justice (time consuming; high cost of litigation; burden of proof; Remediation and Compensation syndrome; Publish what You Pump (what volume of oil being extracted on a daily basis?; Leave Oil in the Soil and a post petroleum economy (renewable energy and Community Power) and Transparent and Accountable Government (and systems).
In his presentation titled, ‘Vitals of News Reporting’, Mr. Wale Fatade, Executive Director, Media Support Centre, revealed critical measures to reporting issues of resource governance.
Giving the definition of news as what somebody wants to suppress, according to Lord Northcliffe’s definition, Fatade noted that any media report that doesn’t contain any news content is mere advertisement.
He identified the key elements of news to include freshness of the information, people focused, compelling attributes and reader-friendly language.
On the criteria for news judgment, the MSC ED listed newness and unusual information contained in the news, its significance and interest to the reader, and its ability to address human issues that could also be related to non-human sources like fire, flood, disaster, among others.
He also noted that issues of conflicts, tragedy/disaster, progress/development, crime, money/finance, the underdog and religion should be considered when identifying what makes news.
Others are famous people, health issues, environment, entertainment, sports and other human interest issues.
While also describing press releases, events, unusual happenings, speeches of government officials, among others as sources of news gathering, Fatade cautioned that compelling stories must be written in elevated language.
“Your intro’ is important just as nut-graf or topic sentence.
Topic sentence is the sentence that summarizes the main idea in a paragraph,” he emphasized.
Mr. Lekan Otunfodunrin, who took journalists on the topic, ‘Exploiting the FOI Act in Reporting Environmental Governance’, described it as an Act to make public records and information more freely available, provide for public access to public records and information, protect public records and information to the extent consistent with the public interest and the protection of personal privacy, protect serving public officers from adverse consequences of disclosing certain kinds of official information without authorization and establish procedures for the achievement of those purposes and; for related matters.
He defined Environmental Governance as the means by which society determines and acts on goals and priorities related to the management of natural resources, which includes the rules, both formal and informal, that govern human behaviour in decision-making processes as well as the decisions themselves.
He also described Environmental governance as being synonymous with interventions aiming at changes in environment-related activities, knowledge, institutions, decision-making, and behaviours.
“More specifically, we use environmental governance to refer to set of regulatory processes and organizations through which political actors influence environmental actions and outcomes, “ he said.
The editor also listed the Key principles of environmental governance to include, embedding the environment in all levels of decision-making and action; conceptualizing cities and communities, economic and political life as a subset of the environment; emphasizing the connection of people to the ecosystems in which they live and promoting the transition from open-loop/cradle-to-grave systems (like garbage disposal with no recycling) to closed-loop/cradle-to-cradle systems (like permaculture and zero wastes strategies).
Citing the issue of ‘Global State of Environmental Governance’, Otunfodunrin explained, “Despite a great awareness of environmental questions from developed and developing countries, there is environmental degradation and the appearance of new environmental problems. This situation is caused by the parlous state of global environmental governance, wherein current global environmental governance is unable to address environmental issues due to many factors”.
On the State of Environmental Governance in Nigeria, he explained with reference to the theory of John Lekan Oyefara, PhD of the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria that says, “Governance or good governance in this regards is talking about ruling authority that provides enabling environment for the citizenry to achieve their goals and aspirations. Good governance here is not talking about people who fill positions of power for the fun of it, but people who fulfill their mandates as expected according to historical expectation.”
Also on State Legislations on the Environment in Nigeria, according to the same reference, he stated, “Despite these legislations and policies on environmental protection and conservation, environmental degradation has continued to worsen in Nigeria. The widespread view blames this on the ineffective execution of environmental protection laws in the country.”
On how to use FOI in reporting Environmental Governance, he noted that the act cannot be used without vast knowledge of it.
“FOI provides the media the opportunity to hold government and its agencies accountable
It gives the right to have access to records,” he said.
Although there are restrictions to information that are made available to the media under the FOI Act, due to certain policies that are binding, he urged the media to take advantage of the FOI Act as a powerful weapon to unravel the mysteries behind the misdeeds of resources managers in the country, rather than under-utilizing it amidst its benefits.