Oby Ezekwesili, former minister of education and solid mineral resources in Nigeria, was also the vice president of the World Bank in charge of Africa region. She was a panelist in some of the high level seminars that took place during the African Development Bank, AfDB, annual meeting held in Marrakech, Morocco, from May 27 to 31. She was also recently appointed a board member of World Wildlife Fund, WWF. In Morocco, Ezekwesili, spoke with Maureen Chigbo, editor, Realnews magazine, on how to make sustainable development a strategy to address community poverty reduction vision for environment that has wildlife, among other issues. The interview took place immediately after the high level seminar and panel discussion on illicit trade in wildlife featuring Ali Bongo, president of Gabon, Donald Kaberuka, president of AfDB and Jim Leape, president of WWF. Excerpts.
Realnews: The belief is that poverty has a hand in illicit trade in wild life. Can you explain it?
Ezekwesili: The products of illegal wild life trade are often very sophisticated products and so the markets for them are especially outside of Africa. But those markets have to work with facilitators within the communities these animals are poached. And so some of the members of the communities that should ordinarily be protective of the environment both the forest and animals find themselves using poverty as an excuse of being facilitators of the criminality that results in wild life assault. So underlining that sort of conversation is how to make sustainable development a strategy to address the community poverty reduction vision for environment that has wildlife. But then, poverty itself does not, in any way, induce criminality. And so there should be the right kind of surveillance, institutions of enforcement, institutions of prosecution and institutions of sanctions when bad behavior is detected. Unfortunately, as you heard President Ali Bongo say, a number of the countries really do not have the capacity neither have they invested in the kind of training as well as institutional building that will support an effective administration of wildlife. The initiative that the African Development Bank is supporting or partnering with the WWF is to move the agenda towards the kind of investment that will lead to the strengthening of the administration and enforcement and sanction of bad behavior.
Realnews: The closing statement Ali Bongo made here is that Africa is not about oil but about rain forests. But in Nigeria, we know that oil exploration has effect our environment
Ezekwesili: We know that technology is offering us opportunities to do extraction in environmentally sustainable way. So, if it is not being done, that does not mean it can’t be done. It can be done. Oil exploration is done in countries like Britain and Norway. They don’t live behind them environmental degradation and destruction. The kind of weakness in our own system is about governance that fails to sanction this sort of bad behavior especially when it is perpetrated by corporate entities that have absolutely no reason not to adhere to the highest standards of the best practices in environmental standards and protection in ensuring that the right kinds of safeguards are put in place in extraction.
Realnews: It’s like our government is afraid of the multinationals. The international oil companies spilled about 40,000 barrels of oil in Bonga and then there is the Okoloma gas explosion….
Ezekwesili: It shouldn’t happen. When it happens, there ought to be a consequence. It is unforgiveable for international oil companies to get away with any kind of mistake or behavior or by product of their activities that will negate the rights of citizens to have livelihood conditions because the citizens are already impoverished. And so anything that worsens their situation is unforgivable. So, what needs to happen between the oil companies and the government, is that there needs to be a real ownership of the problem of environmental disaster which in 2013, we ought not to be staying with devastation that go unpunished or without consequence or without any kind of redress being given to victims.
Realnews: Shell is a supra government in the country and if government tries to tackle it….
Ezekwesili: No don’t say that; you make it seem as if you are talking of some banana republic. Nigeria is not a banana republic. Nigeria is a great nation. If there is absence of political will to make these companies do the right thing, that is a political thing. But to make it seem as if a company can be greater that the country, we are talking about a sovereign nation here. Our president has to take the kind of position that President Obama took when the oil spill happened in the US. We saw how quickly the company involved addressed the situation. We are strong enough to do exactly the same thing. No government is stronger than the other within their national boundary. This is the boundary of Nigeria and any company that will operate within the national boundary of Nigeria, clearly knows that there are regulatory systems that underpin the expectations and the activities of oil companies in Nigeria. Who is monitoring? Who is ensuring that when there is violation that appropriate sanctions according to the law are effected.
Realnews: I talked to you earlier about how the Zoo in Enugu has disappeared and nobody is asking question. How is what is being discussed here about protection of wildlife affecting our country?
Ezekwesili: Enugu once upon a time had a major zoo. And what you are saying is that the zoo has gone into extinction and that the animals are poached, sold or gone. There are places like Obudu, where there are still a lot of games even in Bauchi. Those kind of places will be places that the incident of illegal wildlife trade may be happening. But until it is surfaced as an issue in our national discourse you might not know what is going on. I have only recently joined the board of WWF, so I will take more interest in understanding. I know what’s going on in the rest of Africa already but I have not paid attention yet on how it affects Nigeria because wildlife has never really been a major topic of conversation within the public space of Nigeria. But as I learn more, I will be able to speak better on it.
— Jul. 1, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT