Energy and Maritime Reporters, EMR in Rivers State held a dialogue June 8 at the state NUJ Secretariat where stakeholders and the media interacted on the state of oceans with a resolve to treat the blue zone better for greater dividend for humanity.
The event drew personalities from the shipping sector, UN representative, energy and related businesses and was well attended by journalists.
Central point of the discourse was the harm being done to the water bodies by man through varied bad habits including feeding drains with waste, suffocating the ocean with plastics, defecating in the water and unregulated refining including illegal oil refining, thereby endangering the other living species in the water and also putting man at risk. These were traced to ocean illiteracy.
Emi Membere-Otaji, chairman/CEO of Elschon Nigeria Limited, shipbuilders and owners of ocean-going vessels, while addressing the gathering as special guest of honour, lamented that the rich aquifer of the Niger Delta has been grossly abused and denied the opportunity of being a strong revenue earner as it remains unexplored.
He drew attention to the huge tourism potential being wasted in the region with physical examples of how a country like Maldice is enjoying patronage from innovative investment in a blue economy.
Urging EMRs and other journalists to draw serious attention to issues around the ocean, Membere-Otaji announced the institution of an annual media award on maritime reporting as a starting point with the EMR, a specialized body in the NUJ.
He said oceans are being threatened by human activities which have caused imbalance in oceans.
“The body of water is connected, except the lakes that are interrupted by land. If you throw something into ordinary Nta-Nwogba creek here by your compound in Port Harcourt, it will flow through many streets in port Harcourt to Okrika, to Bonny, and into the Atlantic Ocean.”
The former board chairman of the West African Glass Industry (WAGI), former special adviser to Gov Peter Odili on Investment, and former state commissioner of Health, narrated how he grew up in the waterfronts of Buguma in Asari-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State and how this influenced his life even as an adult and a maritime investor.
He urged maritime reporters and all journalists in the Niger Delta to beam attention on the advantages and wealth in the ocean, while also highlighting the existing challenges and threats. He pointed out that man is surrounded by water and any negative action at any point in the universe affects the oceans.
Membere-Otaji stressed to Niger Delta people and those around the waters that they alone have the task of telling their story so that necessary attention can get to the marine ecosystem.
He said many bad cultural practices such as dumping of refuse into the rivers must be turned around through effective and deliberate reporting.
He said: “About 90 per cent of global trade is by the oceans. The ocean is also home to all manner of plants and animals. There is a community of mammals under the water (oceans) and there is underwater tourism that spills foreign exchange to some islands.”
He added: “There is energy from extractive industries going on in the oceans; largest quantities of oil are extracted in the waters and oceans. The ocean is a different world of its own with everything existing there, just as land is“.
The medical practitioner turned maritime guru also said water has its own governance structure with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and different bodies of the United Nations overseeing the oceans and seas. He noted that unregulated mining activities by IOCs and illegal local operators (kpo fire) are threats to the oceans.
Rivers-born Solari Inko-Tariah, the Inter-governmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (UNESCO-IOC) Focal Point for Ocean Literacy in Nigeria, said journalists wishing to report the ocean needed education and training, saying her organization, Solari Skills And Entrepreneurship Development Centre (SSEDC), is spearheading Ocean literacy in Nigeria and is the implementing partner in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable (2021-2030).
The chairman of the event, Ernest Chinwo, General Manager, the Rivers State Newspaper Corporation, charged Port Harcourt journalists to take over the task of reporting the environment, maritime, oil and gas sectors because the wealth of the nation comes from the Niger Delta.
The Rivers State NUJ chairman, Stanley Jobs Stanley, assured that journalists in the state would henceforth work out strategies to draw attention to issues about the ocean as well as oil/gas.
Environmental activist and executive director of Youths and Environment Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, said threat to the oceans is huge. He also called on those cleaning up Ogoni area (HYPREP) to take out $10m out of the $360m so far released, “to prepare and provide alternative employment to those in artisanal refining to prevent re-pollution during and after the cleanup”.
The chairman of the EMR, Martins Giadom, in his welcome address, said Port Harcourt journalists and Maritime correspondents were now determined to lead the narrative and in the coverage of the Atlantic Ocean but called for support from stakeholders. He commended the management of OIS Indorama Port Limited, Onne Port Complex, Oil and Gas Free Zone, and some other companies.