In the heart of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, powerful voices and a declaration echoed through, It was that of the women of Ibeno and Esit Eket. The women of these communities, warriors in their own right, united under the banner of change and environmental justice, demanded an immediate end to the oil and gas extraction activities that have plagued their lives, accompanied by the devastating practice of gas flaring.Their resolute declaration was made during a recent Town Hall meeting held on the 10th of October 2023, titled “Strategies to end Gas Flaring in Akwa Ibom State,” organized by Policy Alert, and supported by the Global Green Grant Fund.
The declaration, which bears the signatures of esteemed women representatives from both local government areas, embodies the shared anguish and resilience of these communities. Lady Apostle Cecelia John Ikot from Esit Eket, Rhoda Peters from Ibeno, and Glory Alexander Thomas, the Coordinator of Ala-uchi Women Development Initiative in Ibeno, delivered this impactful message on behalf of their communities.
The women expressed the devastating toll that gas flaring has exacted on their daily lives and their environment. They described how the air they breathe has been fouled, their waterways poisoned, and their once-thriving fishing industry severely impacted. Additionally, their farmlands are yielding less and less, affecting their livelihoods. Even more distressing are the health repercussions, with increasing cases of impotency, infertility, and birth complications.
However, it’s the existential threat to their communities that looms largest. Rising sea levels have wiped out many low-lying areas, erasing not just land but also their cultural identity, heritage, educational systems, traditions, and spirituality.
In light of these dire circumstances, these indomitable women, in collaboration with traditional rulers and other community stakeholders, have issued a compelling demand: an immediate end to any oil and gas extraction activity accompanied by gas flaring. They’ve called for a review of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) of 2021 to strengthen the roles of environmental regulators and ensure that historic and current gas flare fines are invested in remediating the affected communities.
Moreover, these women have urged the Nigerian government to establish clear milestones to achieve the 2030 flares-out target, a critical testament to its commitment to environmental responsibility.
The Director of Mineral Resources from the State Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Emem Imo Ibokette, expressed the government’s readiness to support the advocacy to end gas flaring. She emphasized the need for collaboration and unity to combat this pressing issue, rejecting any form of bribery from the IOCs (International Oil Companies).
In his welcome address, Mr. Tijah-Bolton Akpan, the Executive Director of Policy Alert, emphasized the wastefulness of gas flaring and questioned why the Nigerian government had not taken more substantial action. He highlighted the “Wetinwomengain” project, an initiative to empower women in oil and gas communities to advocate against gas flaring, which has been ongoing since the last quarter of 2022.
The women of Ibeno and Esit Eket have set a powerful example for us all. Their unified voice and unwavering determination serve as a testament to the strength of communities in the face of environmental adversity. As they stand up against gas flaring, they remind us that, together, we can bring about change and protect our environment for future generations.