The Environmental Rights Action, ERA, /Friends of the Earth Nigeria, FOEN, has begunn moves to revive Host Communities Network, HOCON, for efficiency. At the National General Assembly of HOCON held on Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Port Harcourt, and attended by members of the organization from varied parts of the country, and Non- Governmental Organizations, NGOs, with the theme “Connected Resistance”, the acting director of ERA/FOEN, Chima Williams expressed happiness over the size attendees, saying it was not by accident that ERA chose the theme of the event.
The ERA/FoEN boss said the leadership of his organization believes in connectivity, hence all hands must be on the deck to attain desired result. According to him, no one can make Nigeria, as only Nigerians can it.
He pointed out that communities are primary beneficiaries of the negative activities of oil companies in the country, adding that everybody wants change but it depends on the change wanted and called for concerted effort. “We need to work together, we are the sufferers”.
Williams insisted that positive change that will benefit the majority is what the people want.
He further stressed that ERA believes in accountability, as trust is key to cooperative work. The essence of the gathering, he said was to bring in old members and infuse new members. He thanked Comrade Nnimmo Bassey whom he said made the gathering possible through the Global Green Fund Grant, GGF. In his speech, national chairman of HOCON, Comrade Bache Ibegwura said it was his greatest pleasure to be in their midst, and appreciated the ERA acting ED. Comrade Ibegwura explained that HOCON had its first outing in 2007, adding that it was established by Nnimmo Bassey.
HOCON national chairman stated that it is the communities that make up the township, but regretted that communities are not recognized in the Nigerian system. HOCON, he noted has been passing through a trial period since 2013.
Ibegwura expressed joy that the group is beginning to come back to life with new persons. “We are here to contribute our quotas to make life meaningful. I am happy to be alive to see the revival of HOCON”, he stated, and thanked all for coming.
Also speaking, Alagoa Morris, ERA Bayelsa State, said environment is a very large area, pointing out that, “deforestation is very much in our environment and the communities are crying”.
Alagoa said HOCON needs trusted members who can perform and not just youths who are after themselves. According to him, things are becoming difficult for those in the communities because those polluting the environment have their agents in the communities.
He said HOCON members should be empowered with requisite training for field reports and commended the media for their efforts in reporting HOCON activities.
Sharing experiences in their various communities, a female representative from Gokana in Ogoni, Rivers State, lamented what she described as the negative activities of the oil companies in her area, which she noted have destroyed their farmlands and polluted their rivers. This, she added also affected their main source of drinking water. She said this has led to the death of her people, and sicknesses everywhere in the community, without good hospital to treat them. She described the reactivation of HOCON as a welcome development that would go a long way in fighting their cause.
On his part, Comrade Victor Chibu from Ebonyi State said extraction of skin, granite, and other mineral resources are going on in his state on daily basis, and the activities are affecting their environment. Also, high taxation by government, he said is scaring away genuine investors from the state. The environment in Ebonyi State, Comrade Chibu bitterly cried out, is gone, as gullies and floods have taken over everywhere, causing people to suffering so much.
He commended those behind the revival of HOCON, saying the idea is lofty while a representative from Plateau State informed the Assembly that the climate situation there is very cold and mining activities are on creating many challenges.
According to him, “we are witnessing climate change because majority of our lands are devastated by mining”. He also hailed the transformation of HOCON, and expressed optimism that it will achieve set objectives.
Tijani Abdulkareem from Kogi State said environmental degradation has wide-reaching effect as, “environmental degradation somewhere is degradation everywhere so building connected resistance I a good thing”. He said three companies, Dangote and two others are operating in Kogi State with dire consequences for the communities.
According to him, Dangote trucks kill citizens almost every day resulting in youth anger and the burning of 18 trucks in 2018 and locking up of mining sites demanding inclusive Environmental Impact Assessment.
Abdulkareem lamented that community cabals gaining from the process careless about what happens to the environment. He stressed the need to enlighten community members to understand why they should protect the environment.