By Daniels Ekugo
The FishNet Alliance has called for support for fishers in Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State and in other coastal communities across Nigeria whose livelihoods have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 and other human-induced environmental stressors.
This call was made during a Community Dialogue hosted by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and attended by members of the FishNet Alliance at Ibeno on 28 August 2020.
The Alliance which is an initiative of HOMEF, also provided fishnets and food items to the Ibeno fishers who earlier this year, suffered a fire outbreak that destroyed their homes and fishing gears.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government restrictions on movement have seriously impacted fishers and farmers in this community who have no formal jobs and who rely on their daily fishing expeditions for sustenance.
Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF, noted that fishers are essential to both local and international economies, but unfortunately, are among the most vulnerable groups especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, the continuous pollution of the Niger Delta by oil and gas-related activities is unacceptable and government must heed to the call for the clean up of the entire polluted Niger Delta communities.
He emphasized that the government must recognize and restore the dignity and rights of the people of the coastal communities to decent livelihoods as fishers, fish processors, and marketers.
He used the opportunity to also condemn the oil spill in Mauritius’ pristine marine ecosystem and noted that impacted fishers must be supported and the environment cleaned.
Bassey lamented the lax and discouraging body-language of government in protecting the aquatic ecosystems in Nigeria from pollution.
“Looking back to the incidence of dead fish along the coastlines of Niger Delta between February and May 2020, it is regrettable that months after schools of fish died in the area there has been no definitive statement from the government about what killed the fish and what actions have been taken to avoid repeat of such occurrences,” Bassey stated.
It should be recalled that the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) had reported that there were 1,300 oil spills in the Niger Delta between 2018 and 2019.”
“It is astonishing that we could have an average of 5 oil spills a day in the Niger Delta without government declaring a state of environmental emergency in the entire region. This is unacceptable,” Bassey stressed.
The chairman of the FishNet Alliance in Akwa Ibom State, Rev Sam Ayadi, called on the government to consult and engage fishers in the drafting of policies to protect the aquatic ecosystems.
This, according to the chairman, would enable the government come up with all-inclusive policies that ensure the safeguarding of their rivers, creeks, and seas as well as guarantying their livelihoods as fishers.
He also called on the government to hold the companies that are polluting their environment accountable for their acts.
A member of the Alliance called on the government and other well-meaning stakeholders to emulate the gesture of HOMEF in providing palliatives and fishing gears to fishers in these trying times.
He noted that these will go a long way in cushioning the effect of the pains caused by the fire incidence that burned their houses, fishing gears and also cushion the impacts on their economy by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the end of the Dialogue, stakeholders resolved and demanded that: “Fishers should be recognised as frontline aquatic ecosystem defenders and should be engaged in policy issues.
“Government should delineate marine protected areas in suitable locations and support fishers to lead efforts to protect such areas. Fishers are ready to collaborate with government in any effort geared towards mangrove ecosystem restorations as that would enhance fisheries recovery in the region.
“Government should put adequate measures in place to help fishers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional knowledge of fishing practices, including those that help mitigate climate change impacts should be adopted in policies.
“Polluting corporations should be held liable for the harms created and should be required to clean-up their pollution and to duly compensate the affected people and communities. Fishers should unite and engage in further dialogues to equip members with skills to serve as environmental defenders and to take action to mitigate climate change.
“Government should support fishing communities with housing and business facilities such as storage equipment and properly built fish markets. There should be more exchange of knowledge between fishers in Nigeria and their counterparts in other African countries through the FishNet Alliance.”