Season 3: Understanding energy justice with Dr. Mfoniso Antia

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Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:00:00] Welcome to Black Earth Podcast. I'm your host, Marion Atieno Osieyo. In season three of Black Earth Podcast, we're meeting visionary Black women who are creating innovations inspired by nature.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: At the heart of our transition towards a world in harmony with nature is the question of energy. How we source and use energy has been the source of environmental destruction, climate change, human and non human conflict, poverty and inequality around the world.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Our generation must find new ways of sourcing energy that is sustainable and and enables human dignity and animal dignity to flourish.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: In this episode, I meet with Dr. [00:01:00] Mfoniso Antia from the Health of Mother Earth Foundation in Nigeria. Dr. Mfoniso is from the Niger Delta in Nigeria, which is a culturally rich and resource rich region that has been tragically impacted by fossil fuel extraction for several generations. Fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas are burned to be used as sources of energy for human activity around the world.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: In this episode, we discuss the environmental, human, and political impacts of fossil fuel extraction in Nigeria.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: We also discuss what a socially just energy transition looks like, that fosters life for human beings and nature. Join us for this powerful and enlightening episode.[00:02:00]

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Hello, Dr. Mfoniso. Thank you so much for joining us today. Could you please introduce yourself to our listener community?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Thank you, Marion. It's, it's, it's an honor to be here. My name is Mfoniso Antia, before now, I, I, I had my surname before September last year, I got married and, um, I'm still not sure how to be able to put the names, including my husband, I'm an African, you know, and then, um, so that I can still maintain the footprint I have and the sense of work I've done, which I've left some footprint on the internet.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So, um, I'm still not so much decided yet, although on Facebook, you can find me as Mfoniso Antia Koinsel, that's my surname, including my husband's name. So I work with an organization called Health of Mother Earth Foundation as a programs manager, and I lead and manage generation and sharing [00:03:00] hub, which is called Ikike. Um, I recently got a doctorate of philosophy degree in environmental pollution and toxicology from University of Port au Prince in Nigeria.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: That's basically just about me for now.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much Dr. Mfoniso. Um, I'm very grateful to have you here and I'm really looking forward to our conversation as well. Um, so Dr. Mfoniso, how would you describe your relationship with nature?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Yeah, so, um, so growing up I was seen as this weird child and I think at some points my mom had concerns about me because I was always in the bush. Very funny, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, I'd say I personally have a very good relationship with nature. I grew up to know nature, natural environments. I'd often plant trees to sit and eat there. There are times I forget myself and do so. Um, especially mango trees or other fruit trees. I just [00:04:00] plant.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: That's far, far away from me. People are supposed to not just stay there, listen to birds.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Uh, I'd go wandering in the forest, enjoying the calmness it brings. While also hunting for wild fruit. Sometimes I get lost. Totally get lost in the ocean, maybe before the day ends, I'll find my way out during holidays.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: I also love to sit by the water, um, especially then when we had streams and streams and water bodies that were clean and clear. I love the sound of the birds and the stillness of, um, of the river. I often would make joke and say that the calmness of the river is very loud, that the silence was very loud.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So I usually enjoy that. It's a lot of the lushness of greenness of a forest or a field. Um, I think that, I think that engaging with nature is very, very therapeutic for, for me. And I think it is for some other people too. So my relationship with nature is [00:05:00] really good. Um, it's a place I can, I can just, Disappear just by myself and just hear the, the sound of nature and it helps me think well.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, uh, Dr. Mfoniso. Um, I definitely resonate with you about how being with nature, being in nature is very therapeutic and there's already scientific studies all around the world that show that. the multiple like health benefits of being with nature. Um, and you know, it's one of the many reasons why, um, protecting our natural ecosystems is, is so vital.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Uh, we, we cannot truly live in prosperity if the natural environment around us is, is so damaged. And, is even causing ill health to us, you know? Um, and yeah, and so, yeah, [00:06:00] I really resonate with that. And we definitely encourage, um, our listeners, our guests as much as possible to Uh, yeah, of course, be advocates for nature, but really first and foremost, make it a daily or regular practice to really be in nature, um, with no objective, like, but just to really spend quality time with nature.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, yes. Thank you so much for sharing that. Um, um, so our conversation today, uh, Dr. Mfoniso is around, um, energy and how to create, uh, energy systems in our world that, um, foster life. Um, there's so much about the way we extract and use energy in our world today that is [00:07:00] linked to a lot of harm, uh, a lot of death, um, and I guess specifically within Nigeria, many of us have heard for decades, um, the impact of, um, fossil fuel extraction in Nigeria, specifically the Niger Delta.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And so, you know, part of season three of Black Earth podcast is about how do we learn from nature, about how nature creates life in order for us to, to also learn how to create life giving societies and infrastructures in our world.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I guess within the context of, um, healing nature, um, trying to address climate change, we can't really have those conversations without talking about energy. And those conversations also have to be rooted in the communities who are being most affected, um, by the [00:08:00] energy systems that we currently have.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so I, I, I wanted to start off our conversation by just gaining a deeper understanding of how, um, fossil fuel extraction, which is kind of the main ways right now, which globally, yeah, globally, we, um, extract energy, just to get an understanding of, um, the links between kind of fossil fuel extraction and climate change in Nigeria, what that actually looks like.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so could you share a bit more about that?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Yeah. So, um, uh, maybe I would start off by telling you on it, making us establish the fact that Africa as a whole has contributed that very little to the carbon and other greenhouse gases that's in the atmosphere. Which, um, we all know are responsible for causing the climatic condition, the changing climatic conditions, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, like holistically Africa has contributed very little, but that being [00:09:00] said, Nigeria is an oil producing nation. Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm from Nigeria in my introduction. Yeah, I'm an African, I'm a Nigerian. I live in the, I am from the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, and I live and work in Niger Delta too.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Uh, in fact, I work in one of the oil producing, um, states. I work in, , um, I'm from an oil producing state, Akwa Ibom state. And I work in River State, which is, um, where the Ogoni, you've heard a lot about the Ogoni is, so I'm so much into what we all this is happening. So, like I said, that, um, Nigeria is an oil producing nation, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And to be honest, the country hasn't done well when it comes to managing pollution from oil and gas sector. Um, we've had incessant gas flares. From inside gas phase to, uh, to oil well blow out several touches of vessels leading to pollution. We've had a fair share of, um, um, when I say ills from fossil dependency, right?[00:10:00]

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, you know, earlier on when climate change, when, when people started talking about, when especially the CSO started talking about climate change, there were this group of people that we usually call climate deniers. Who would say that it's not true, nothing is happening, that you're just being passionate and emotional about everything.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: But I believe that by now that even the climate deniers, uh, they've come to, to agree that the world is no longer the way it used to be, right? In Nigeria now that you see extreme weather conditions, weather fluctuations, um, no one can exactly predict when the rains will fall, when the rains will come, when the seasons will be dry or when they'll be hammered down as it used to be before.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And, and that's a lot of stress on farmers. You know, the heat wave is on another dimension. I practically have to sleep on the floor, on the bare floor for the past three months. And this is a rainy season, right? I'm not supposed to do that. This is supposed to be a rainy season, but I'm practically sleeping on [00:11:00] the floor, my body is burning, but almost all night, uh, fan is blowing, but I have to still sleep on the floor.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: The heatwave is something else. There are, uh, um, and you know that all of these are as a result of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So, um, even when collectively as a country, we've got to be very neutral to the global greenhouse emissions. Nigeria is still the culprit as a nation because of the manner in which, um, they are flaring out gases.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: If you come to the Niger Delta if you have an opportunity here before you see, um, places where you see open gas place, it's been flaring for years as far back as from when the gas exploration of oil and gas exploration started going on for years, and you cannot comfortably say that even with that. That's we're not contributing to the greenhouse gas emission.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Of course we are. And this is also making it very hard. Um, for the climate is putting stress on the [00:12:00] climate and the weather patterns in Nigeria and in Africa last year, in fact, globally. So, um, that has been what I'll call the link between the fossil fuel dependency and the climate change. And you know, that's, um, for a country like Nigeria, there are a lot of people who still want the whole oil exploration thing to continue.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Uh, it's been alot. Even with this, um, changing climatic conditions, you know, people still do not mind as they want to continue to mint in quote money from the oil and gas exploration.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, uh, Dr. Mfoniso for sharing that with us. It's really, um, disheartening to hear just how much, uh, these impacts, um, are being felt, um, just by you and your community on a day to day basis.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, yeah, I'm really sorry to, to hear this and it's, it just [00:13:00] further emphasizes, um, the urgency of the situation. And I feel sometimes within the global climate discourse, when we're talking about, you know, 1. 5 degrees to stay alive. It's almost as if we're thinking about the future impacts of climate change and how we can avoid that.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: But the reality is that it is now many people, it is now, it was, it was yesterday and it is now. Yeah. Um, and that's the real urgency. Um, so thank you. Thank you for sharing that with us.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I wanted to also have a conversation with you, uh, Dr Mfoniso about power and how, uh, kind of the fossil fuel, uh, energy system, you know, the extraction, um, the management, the consumption of fossil fuel, um, how that shapes power inequalities within countries [00:14:00] and between countries.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I think when people take time to really research the human cost and the human impact of fossil fuel extraction, they get to see just how much it's affecting people's lives, affecting the environment, but an element of power and you know, how that also shapes this whole global energy system that we have.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so I wondered if you could shed light on how this fossil fuel energy system is shaping power within countries and between countries.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Okay, maybe I'll just focus and majorly in Nigeria and how that is shaping power inequalities within Nigeria, firstly, um, honestly, um, you know, firstly, uh, I'd like to just mention, I think it's something you both know that money is power in some carefully saying that in quotation money, money drives people a lot, right?[00:15:00]

Dr Mfoniso Antia: When people see, uh, maybe let me rephrase. Money drives greedy people a lot. If you get to see people who are greedy, who have access to money, they want to maintain that, um, by all means at all costs, in spite of where that is being affected on the other side. You know, before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Nigeria, um, the country depended on agriculture for its revenue, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: It was an agriculture producing, um, nations. As I am told, it was easy to, for people in those periods, maybe from way back before I was born to, to have food. People had food for all. I even heard that they used to share food in universities, you know, in schools, people had food. Everyone had food. Everyone had a means for legal tender because almost all households plants, they had good water and soil that were not polluted then, [00:16:00] and they could plant and bring forth good yields.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: They love to serve their households and then, um, sell some to exchange some, some products that they don't have or just to get money. So it was more or less, I agree that it was, it was, it was still not, um, money for everyone totally. Everybody was equally, you know, equally rich, but they were nice people who were in poverty then right.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And then it came to, um, then came crude oil exploration in the 1960s. The business of exploration and refining became very lucrative and the elites took over.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Communities bearing oil, well, they call them host, host communities or oil bearing communities. Oil and gas were made to believe that this would bring them prosperity.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: They were sending the use of prosperity, more money, more revenue. But little did they know that along the process of exploration [00:17:00] was a timely, a bomb waiting to just happen. You know, Nnimmo Bassey, um, quoted this or wrote this very well in one of his poems. His poems, I don't know if you've listened or read about the poem.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: He captured it in a statement I often like to use. You thought it was oil, but it was blood. So, um, while the community people, the host community, we thought, Oh, we have oil, very little, didn't know that I was going to end up and was spilling their bloods. So beyond the fact that this, this heightened inequality, making only the rich who could afford big money for investment to become richer, it also costs the livelihoods and lives of the ordinary community people.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Communities are dependent on their labor. Their farmlands for their sources of livelihood and revenue now lost all of that due to oil pollution, keeping them at the mercy of the elites who only only remember them during maybe election times.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So, um, you, [00:18:00] you know, when, when the, when the sources of livelihood, sources of food, sources of revenue of a people has been away from them. They are just left at the mercy of anybody who comes with anything to sell to them.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So the rich became richer. Why? Because they could afford, we could have people from the Northern Nigeria come to own oil wells. Several of them in the South. The community people can't have enough money enough to be able to buy one oil well or be able to even transact or be able to do anything that will give them money from the oil that is from their community, you know.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And, um, it's also very funny too. Uh, he, how a country like Nigeria producing oil, yet the common man, common person can not afford to have light and suffering from the rising cost of petroleum products.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, recently we've had this new administration now, nearly it's pattern work and the sale prices are located like seriously. [00:19:00] So the common person who is trying to survive and managing life cannot afford to buy petrol, cannot afford to buy even kerosene for the lamps. And the community don't have lights. Ogoni, itself for example, is one of the biggest oil producing communities of oil bearing communities in Nigeria over a decade or two, they do not have access to light, light in that community.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: How would they survive? How would they produce? How would they continue to live? The, their waters are polluted. They can no longer fish. Their farmlands have been soaked with oil. They can't farm. You don't have water to drink, you just drink whatever is available to them. So that has really increased the inequality, excuse me, the inequality gap, you know, between people.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And then, and then talking about, um, between countries, um, of course, I, I would say that, um, very [00:20:00] little about that, um, Countries that are producing oil have what to use to bargain with other countries. You could see Nigeria often and always going to the other countries to ask for loans, using the oil as collateral or something.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Just keep collecting loans and all of that. Um, countries who have things like oil to, in multilateral spaces are able to speak louder than country to have nothing like that, we bring to the table. So that has really increased inequality between nations and within the nation.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Dr. Mfoniso, thank you so much for sharing that with us.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, yeah, it's really sobering to hear you speak and to share this. Um, especially knowing that, uh, you know, even the communities, Uh, like the Ogoni people who have been, um, part of the kind of [00:21:00] producing communities when it comes to oil, they themselves don't even have access to the basic necessities.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, despite the promises that people give in terms of what, you know, how much wealth or riches oil production can bring to, to communities. Um, I think it's really important for us to have a discussion around power, um, in the sense that, um, there's a lot of discussion about physical and material impacts of, you know, fossil fuel, um, on our environment, which is important to discuss, but in order to really understand how we got here and why there's so much resistance at times to the transition to more renewable forms of energy. You have to understand, uh, the power interests within the whole energy system. Um, [00:22:00] and I'm grateful that you've shed light on it and what it really means when it's impacting people on a day to day basis and communities on a day to day basis.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, another area I wanted to touch on with you, Dr. Mfoniso is about culture. Um, in the sense that, um, you know, so much of our human cultures, uh, is shaped by our relationship with the environment around us. And you know, with kind of fossil fuel, um, or in Nigeria specifically, um, oil, uh, being such a poignant part of, uh, kind of modern history in Nigeria.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I just wondered how this, this current energy system has [00:23:00] shaped, um, human cultures in Nigeria or more specifically, you know, your community that you belong to. Uh, and when I mean culture, I'm talking about things like social relationships. uh, cultural heritage, um, and things of that nature.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So you want to know how, um, the fact that it varies, how, um, maybe the, um, the, the dependency, um, of on fossil fuel has impacted our cultures and maybe traditions and all of that and the relationship.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Yeah. Okay. So, um, we have start with how it's aided vices and the taking up arms in the country. Um, we've had seasons of militancy. There was a season back we had alot of militancy and people being kidnapped for ransom and all of that.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Communities began to take up arms, you know, when they felt that the government and the [00:24:00] IOC is not listening to them, excuse me, or giving them their due or what's due to them.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And this led to loss of several lives and properties. You more, um, people became bolder when even children were recruited into militancy. We can pull that with the use of arms and then kidnapping it was just everywhere.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: At that point, it's, it's became too much that they were no longer targeting the people from the IOC and government. We started, um, even kidnapping the normal, the common person, you know? So, so, um, I'd say that's the dependence on fossil fuel open the way for militancy, and, um, increasing arms and other vices that come around them. Yeah. Things that, um, before now, not so common in Nigeria, but became common state day to day.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, there's also been what I'd like to refer to as cultural, um, cultural adulteration. The business of football is done with them [00:25:00] and then competition or exploitation opened our borders to foreigners.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Foreigners who came in with their own cultures and ways of doing things. Um, if the community that needs us there, um, continue with their own cultures and traditions, suddenly opens it borders.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: If not, there's only a bad thing to open your borders to people, right? But this way you open your borders to people and they come in with their own cultures. And if we're not careful, especially with a people have been deprived of sources of livelihood. They're just open to accepting almost anything.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So with money dangling in front of people, people were able to, um, they were able to sell their culture for theirs, for example sex in exchange for money for example, became a big deal. It was something once forbidden and frowned at you know, became a means of survival for so many in this oil bearing communities.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: You start seeing people, um, young ladies be eager to be married to the Oyinbos in quote, um, wanting to, you know, bear children for them having sex with [00:26:00] multiple partners because they were dangling dollars in front of them. Dangling money, promises of good life, which never even came to be. Some of them were abandoned later.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So families became, um, more about the money. No longer caring you know, about what the source of the money is. So the family would hide under the guise that's my daughter or our daughter is in a relationship with a white man, you know, just because money is coming in, but that's, that was sex for money outrightly.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Before now having multiple partners would be something you really frowned at in a community, having a partner or being pregnant out of wedlock and all of those things with things that were, you know, Sacred to, um, the people, community people, but it became a major state.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: It came things that people no longer cared about. Just leave us. You've got some guys who have money to throw around, you know, nobody really cared. So that really, really pushed social relationships um, scattered homes. You see people who [00:27:00] were once married to a certain person in the community, living their homes to go marry another person, maybe a white man, because there is one in Um, that, that really led to drops in values, um, ethics and all of that in our communities.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much for sharing that Mfoniso. Um, yeah, I think it's important for us to, um, just acknowledge how much fossil fuel as a system, as an energy system, um, it shapes human cultures as much as it shapes the natural environment around us. Um, and these things, you know, can alter communities for forever.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so yeah, I want to thank you for, for taking the time to really explain that to us. And I know in certain situations, it's not easy to maybe recall these things um, and the negative impacts. Um, [00:28:00] but I think it's important to continue to make these connections and, um, so that we don't reduce these discussions to just counting carbon, you know, um, yeah.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, sometimes when I speak to people, um, about the importance of transitioning away from fossil fuels, especially, uh, in the continent, in Africa. Um, I get counter arguments like, um, the fact that, uh, fossil fuel extraction is still, uh, an important source of revenue, um, to like fund public services, um, that there's still so much, um, energy insecurity, energy poverty in Africa.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And so we still need to kind of close those gaps before we start thinking about, you know, transitioning to renewable forms of energy.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:29:00] And even sometimes people argue that in order to actually build the infrastructure needed for, you know, like, um, more sustainable forms of energy, like solar or wind energy, you still need to, you still need energy to create new renewable energy, basically.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And that can only come from existing, um, fossil fuel resources that we have. So these are the kind of arguments that I hear from people.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I wondered what, um, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, how, for example, you guys respond to these perspectives that argue for continued extraction of fossil fuels, which are important considerations, but I still personally, I still, I'm not convinced that that is a good enough case for continuing extraction, knowing how much the human and social environmental cost is.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: [00:30:00] Yeah. Okay. So, um, firstly, um, of course it's acceptable that there's still energy, no poverty in Africa, that's it, that's the case, but that should, the fact that there's still energy poverty in Africa and take for instance, for instance, Nigeria, a country that is producing oil, right? The fact that there's still energy poverty should make us rethink, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: If we have been producing oil for 60 plus years, how come that we have not been able to do something with the revenue generated already? Or what have we done, you know, with the revenue generated already? Um, we'd say want to continue to use it so that we'll be able to transit. Um, these are the questions. This is the kind of question you would ask people.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: What have we done with this revenue generated already? Is this a case of transitioning? Is it a case of revenue? Or it's just a case of the mindset of the people. So an organization, Health of Mother Earth Foundation tried to simplify the people of the dangers and the problems, fossil fuel has brought [00:31:00] since its discovery, right? We tried to let people see where the pros and the cons of a thing, because if the, the importance or the negative impacts of a thing outweighs the positive impact in such a way that oil and gas has. I think it is just wise for people to look for a way to leave that which is bringing problem because we existed as a people before oil discovery, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We existed as a people and we were doing okay. And the one person we try to ask and draw people's attention as we call for oil to be kept in the soil, like I mentioned before, is how has the energy improved since the discovery of oil? How, how has the energy improved?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: I've mentioned earlier that we have, um, communities, oil bearing communities who have not had access to light, you know, you would think that one would think that, um, if the fossil fuel supporters wanted to make a real case, the oil bearing community should be like a pilot, a pilot [00:32:00] scheme for other people, right.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: You know how you have pilots, um, pilot centers, universities where if you want to talk about solar energy, so you use that as a pilot. Why haven't they use this oil bearing communities as pilot for us to see?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Because if you had, if I'd walked into Ogoni, Ogoni land, for example, and seen that these people have had nice things, you know, discovery of good oil, that they have clean water, they have access to good healthcare system. And then you could pick the benefits that this oil has brought to them first. It will be easier to say, okay, let's expand.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Let's go ahead and allow Nigeria, the whole of the nation, embrace this, but it's 60 years laws. And you cannot be pointing exactly one thing, one good benefits that that community had benefited. So how's the production of oil and gas benefited the local persons in terms of energy? You know, this is something that we should ask.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: These are the questions we also ask, but don't do that. Those who benefit financially from the venture will [00:33:00] continue to produce whatever narrative that they feel like they'll continue to sell their perspective and keep their hands, you know, on the treadmill of oil. They will say anything to just continue, bring in context of continuing to lead this energy for us to transit.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: It's not a case of revenue because we've had money and I said it's over and over sorry to deviate, you know, Nigeria as a country, there was it, was it some years back and it's not once we've had to receive money from countries where Abacha, the one time military president looted money to thousands and millions, millions of us dollars.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Sometimes equivalent to what we are going to borrow yet we still go and borrow. And you wonder where have they, where have they kept this looting money? The money that is enough, there was a time I heard that the money that collected from Abacha's looting was enough to give every citizen of the country a million naira.[00:34:00]

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Do you know what that means? If that money was put in good use, we would not be talking about looting revenue for transition. It's just the elites that just keep looting the money and using the money for their own benefit, why the foreman could suffer. So they want to continue to explore oil, continue to pollute the water, continue to pollute the lands of the common man while they go to sit in their palaces and enjoy themselves.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: It is not about transiting. It's not about revenue for transiting. It's just about what they want to do. So talking about using funds from crude oil extraction to help us fund the green transition, the big question is, What have we done with the funds ? Where has the money gone to?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Who's lives has improved? Who's lives has been touched with this money? So that's how we, we've tried to use this question, even when we go to talk to communities, you know, we try to let them see these questions or ask these questions and then allow them to think about it. That's the way we used to counter this narrative that we need this to continue.[00:35:00]

Dr Mfoniso Antia: To be able to fund the transition.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Thank you so much, Dr. Mfoniso..

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So I, I wanted to, to talk to you about the, the health of Mother Earth Foundation. Thank you. Uh, I am very inspired by the work that you do. Um, thank you. I came across. I came across the foundation about three years ago, um, when I was really wanting to make sure that the work I do in the environmental [00:36:00] space, um, is shaped by the perspectives of communities who are being most affected by, um, environmental injustice.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, not just from a place of, um, fairness and solidarity, but I often find that communities who are being most affected by these issues genuinely have the most transformative solutions to share.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, and so I came across the work of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation and I've been following your work ever since.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So I'm very happy that I could speak to you today. Thank you. Um, I wanted you to kind of share with us. The health of mother earth foundation. What your purpose is and, uh, the kind of work that you do. Okay.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So, um, yeah, I'm from the Health of Mother Foundation, in short we call it HOMEF, is a not for profit foundation.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Health of Mother Earth Foundation is an ecological think tank advocating for for environmental justice, climate justice and food sovereignty in Nigeria and [00:37:00] Africa at large. We have our headquarters in Benin City, Nigeria, and we now have a few other offices.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: As we began to grow, we now have a small office in Port Harcourt, where I stay. We have an office in Abuja, we now have a foothold in Togo, too, and then in South Sudan, just to see how to spread our tentacles across Africa.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, it was founded in 2011, but commenced operations in 2013.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: The vision of our organization is to have an ecologically just world where all beings live in harmony with mother earth. And you may say living harmony with nature and, um, the mission driving, um, the organization is, um, working support or to work to support a wholesome ecological and socially cohesive, inclusive communities.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Where people live in solidarity and dignity, and solidarity . We focus on tackling problems relating to harmful extractive and exploitation of nature and peoples. We also tackle problems created by, um, [00:38:00] agriculture models that's colonial and sees food as a commodity, um, thereby generating hunger and biodiversity pollution and approaches including, um, approaches like genetic engineering, varieties and harmful agricultural chemicals and pesticides and herbicides.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We work extensively on genetically modified organisms and how that is affecting our food systems.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We have different group of programmes, um, that help us to actualize our vision. And we have, of course, fossil fuel politics, which talk about all the extractives and the problems of extractivism.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We have the hunger politics as I mentioned, that deals with everything around that food system and, um, um, the way people are trying to, you know, um, control our food systems.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And then of course we have the decks that I lead, the knowledge generation and sharing desk. We call it Ikike. Um, and then we recently added a community and culture decks, which helps us to [00:39:00] interface directly with the community and culture. Um, community with the culture that they're based. And of course we have our comms and media desk.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, we, we are in slowly increasing and growing. We do a lot of work with community people. We have, um, from my own desk, we have, um, the, at the school of ecology, we have, um, sustainability academy. So these are different learning. medium or many platforms that allows, you know, share knowledge that we generate is to give and share knowledge with people.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We also have community dialogues where for School of Ecology and Sustainability Academy, we try to bring people and talk about things and preventing environmental, you know, um, situations and all of that. But the community dialogues, you know, In community dialogue, we get to sit and listen to community people and learn from them, you know, because we believe that community people have power.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: You have the knowledge that we need to share. [00:40:00] And that helps us hear what they want to tell the government. And we take that and then help them to amplify their voices. So we also have conversations. And learning from the wise, these are also platform where, um, I'm especially intrigued by our learning from the wise platform.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Yeah, we have a wisdom holder. We source for any wisdom holder from around the continent, Nigeria and outside, um, where we sit in a traditional moon, hotels by moonlight setting, sit on the mat, sit on the floor. Or, um, and get to listen to these wisdom holders share, um, wisdom from maybe their years of experience or from the interaction with the world and the nature.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And we've often had a very good and sound return. Um, um, fortunately, the second person we hosted, um, Chief Ihonde, from Benin City, very knowledgeable man, passed away some months ago and was buried last week. Um, we were glad to have him. For the times [00:41:00] we had to share with him, we had our people to sit and learn with him.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: But imagine that we didn't have that opportunity to do a lot of things I could have carried to his grave. So we try to, you know, bring all this and all this learning mix together so that we can have our people learn as much as possible. And then also interrogate all that needs to be interrogated as we continue to fight for nature.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Thank you. So I'm sorry to add, so you can learn more about us by visiting www.homef.Org. There you can have a very good steer about what we do.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much. Um, Dr. Mfoniso. So, um, I love learning from the wise, community dialogues. I love the, the depth of the work that you do at the foundation and how much of it is truly centered in, um, dignity of people and dignity of the earth, you know.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I love how [00:42:00] you, um, you are tapping into the knowledge and the wisdom that's innate in the communities that you work with. Um, and really looking to center that and, and having that inform and guide the work that you do going forward.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I think these are really important principles when we're thinking about, um, living in harmony with nature, reconciling our relationship with nature. Um, because that requires us to also ensure human dignity for, for everyone.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I, I wanted to ask you about, um, innovation. Um, um, as I heard you say just now, the communities that you're working with, um, they have knowledge to have insights, they have solutions.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, Based on your experiences working, um, at [00:43:00] the foundation, what does innovation look like when you're really working side by side in solidarity with communities who are most affected by environmental injustice, such as the fossil fuel, um, extractivist model that we have now?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Okay. So for us as a foundation, one of the things that we have really been advocating for has the need to redefine the word development, to define it in a way that suits the African context and reality.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Basically for us, we keep hearing things that, you know, um, um, want to build innovation, want to build development and all of that for the people.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um,. Nnimmo Bassey says if you want to follow the same path as the global North that means you will have to look by country or if people to try and colonize, right?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Because it was from the backs of the streets of the African people. That they got that development and that that's with whatever it is. You know, they often make to believe that innovation and development mostly in profit or public of the global North and bestest.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Yeah. No, it is not. So now you get [00:44:00] people come to sell how we should farm, how we should harvest and all of that, but not forgetting that our people have had to farm and deal with managing the seasons and storage of farm produce all along this year. We have done well with our farm before the oil came.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We're doing very well. What another people fail to realize that this imposition, this, new way of farming the quickest way of doing this, the shortest of being that, um, is a means to an end and the end being colonisation and control.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: You would agree with me that anyone who controls your food system controls you, you know, so people coming from everywhere to say you have innovation in the agricultural system and that this has been the mainstream was in France, in Indonesia, everywhere.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We want to sell pre, um, harvest, yield product or seed. Meanwhile, they send genetically modified seeds to farmers, and they cannot harvest that plant and they have to go back to them all over again to look for, [00:45:00] um, seeds.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: But I was born to meet my grandmother and my my grandfather often drive things like seed okra and maize corn. Yeah, they had a way of storing seeds for the next season. That was innovative. That's knowledge. Some of them put it in a container and close it very tightly and even put and froze it so tightly that it stays till the next planting season.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: But they are slowly eroding this, this, this innovation and thinking that they should bring other seeds, seeds that can yield good yield because we want to. You polluted our lands. Our lands are no longer carry crops and we want to bring things that can yield good yield for us.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Yes, your people, innocently will accept it.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And then in the next planting season, they see that they cannot get the seed and replanted the stems yet they are modified.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Our people are innovative and have age long solutions to the problems we face. The challenge has always been that they've made them to believe that the solution to getting come from their oppressors and those who cause the problems in the first place, which not true.[00:46:00]

Dr Mfoniso Antia: The only demand I would say which would class as innovation, is to allow communities to reclaim their territories. Come and clean up the mess that you're causing now in extracting oil from communities and give them back control of their territories..

Dr Mfoniso Antia: They can control their resources by themselves. Don't tell them how to live their life. Don't tell them how to grow their crops and harvest them. Allow them to live their lives the way they do. Only what we are asking, come and clean up the mess that you're doing.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Recently, you hear that, um, Shell is selling off their properties and want to run off from Nigeria.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Where are you running to without cleaning up? The Niger Delta, since 2011 have been asked to be cleaned thoroughly by United Nations up till now. All the demands that we were written in that report has not been met. Not even one, one. 10 of the demands have been made, met, and yet you want to go, where are you going to?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: You need to sit down and clean the mess. That's the only thing people are asking from them. Clean the mess and then you can go [00:47:00] just clean mess and go and pack your things and go run. That's what I would say would be the only innovation.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: The people are innovative already. You know, who were in a community one time like that. And a man was sharing to sharing with us how they used to prevent river from flooding its banks. He used to have things to waste the river banks and all of that. They, they had mangroves, planting mangrove by the site of the river that held them to wade , the water.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So when the water comes and hits on the mangrove, it return, it didn't have to flow and enter into the communities. But guess what? Oil pollution has killed all the mangroves now. So they no longer can plant. Those mangroves can't even grow. The water just flows straight into the river.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: People's houses have been lost over time. So as for innovation, the people are innovating. It's just to be allowed. Maybe what they need is their mind reawakening. To point them back to how they, how we used to live before.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: To have a situation where older people are able to share with the recent, the current young people, and the communities. What they've [00:48:00] been doing to survive before that would be what I'll say. Um, innovation would look like.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, Dr. Mfoniso. So thank you for sharing that with us. Um, I had a final question for you. Um, so I read your, your most recent, quarterly publication at the health of mother earth foundation that, um, yeah, that theme of the year at the foundation for this year was a culture of life.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I was particularly inspired by a quote from, uh, Nnimmo Bassey , the director of, um, health of mother earth foundation. Um, and he said, to advance the culture of life is to intentionally plan and carry out all activities of life in ways that promote the sanctity of lives in every realm.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Achieving this goal requires a conscious way of being and [00:49:00] doing that negates the culture of death and extractivism. And I think, I mean, this really resonates firstly with. our theme for the podcast in season three, which is about learning how nature creates life so that we can learn how to create life giving systems.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, but I think it really points to the heart of the issue when we're talking about, um, you know, fossil food extraction, um, things like genetically modified, uh, food. It's really that these things represent a culture of death, which is really about extractivism and what, what we're really transitioning away from when, for example, we're talking about, um, you know, uh, renewable forms of energy.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: It's not just forms of energy that are less harmful to earth, but it's moving away from a culture that is about extractivism, because [00:50:00] that really is, that's really is what perpetuating this culture that we live in at the moment, this culture of death. Um, so I, I wanted to ask you, um, you know, , what would a culture of life look like when we're talking about creating energy systems that create life for, for people and for nature?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, firstly, um, when we talk about, um, a culture of life, we'll first have to, Go back to talking about reconnecting with the earth, reconnecting with nature. You know, we have had this, um, a lot of people, let me not tell everyone, we've had this relationship, this monologue relationship with nature, we see nature as a place we just go, take out something and get out, take out what benefits us and get out, and most times we think that [00:51:00] humans, uh, you know, begin to see themselves as the only beings that exist on earth.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Um, well, do you want to say before the, the, the classification human beings, you know, came, it's an indication that there are other beings that are not humans, right? But we failed. Humans have failed to realize that we exist in nature because other beings also exist.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And the moment we, destroy the nature so much that other beings cease to exist. We are actually creating a way for us to not exist as well. So firstly, we would, uh, um, for us to promote the culture of life, we need to return to a situation where we can, we will have dialogues with nature, where we are able to listen to nature and hear it say something. Because before climates, the changing climate became like this, before this condition became like this, the nature started speaking slowly.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: The nature [00:52:00] was warning us. But we're not listening. It was revolting in some ways, but we're not listening. Because if we had listened, we would have seen when it started, the changes became little. When, when we were, it was manageable. But we're not listening. We just wanted to continue to explore. Our monologue nature of communicating with nature, just go pick out whatever we want, extract and extract and extract and extract until nature couldn't bear it anymore.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And then we voted in a big way. So to promote a culture of life, we need to return to , dialogue with nature, be able to see the nature, see us as parts of a whole, not as the whole itself. They're just a part, a very minute part of nature. Very, very minute part of nature. There are other beings, they are beings that we can't even see, but they exist and contribute significantly to our existence.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So we should treat nature as we are a part of it. We shouldn't, we shouldn't treat nature as, um, we are just care [00:53:00] takers of some of the things that nature brings to us. You're just given it to take care of it, to manage it well. You know, we call, in HOMEF, we call resources as Re-Source, returning back to the source.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: If you return back to the source and pay attention to the source, you'll be able to know how to manage it as a caretaker. We should be able to see ourselves as caretakers. So last year, we started last year with a healing territories, um, because we believe that, uh, I know that as a people, um, a broken, we have broken and what's territories, our territories have been broken and, and these needs to be healed.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: But before you heal a territory, the people also needs to be healed too.. So, so we, we need to start a platform that could allow people to essentially community people to be able to talk about their hurt.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: A lot of [00:54:00] people have been bought by crude oil extraction and all of that, but they don't have a place to express themselves, to talk about these hurt and then begin to find ways to feel from them.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So we started the healing territories as a, we added as a theme for last year, but you know, As the year ran almost to an end, we discovered that this is not supposed to be a year theme. But it's supposed to be a continuous process.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: So we've made it a point of duty to bring in the aspects of healing territories into our conversation throughout.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Even this year, as much as this year's thing is culture of life, we are consciously bringing in the aspect of healing territories and healing the people into it. So we created a way to make people see how, how the promoters of our current energy system are promoting the culture of death and we were able to talk about what people could do to counter that and promote the culture of life, which is living in harmony with nature, as I've said, we, we, we really need to, we are consciously sticking with people, communicating with people, talking.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We've had, programs [00:55:00] where we have our speakers come and then in the beginning of starting the program, you tell people to remove their shoes and then have a connection, a barefoot connection to the earth, to be able to feel it, to be able to have that consciousness that you're living here, you're part of the system, you're part of the whole, you're not invincible, you're not, um, supreme, you're not anything different from every other being.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: This is slowly helping, helping us to create the culture of life, making people conscious, you know, um, true knowledge generation and sharing, making people conscious of, and know the difference between the culture of death that is currently being promoted and what we actually need, which is the culture of life.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much, uh, Dr. Mfoniso. I appreciate that. Um, how can we support you, um, in your work, Dr. Mfoniso and how can we, uh, support the work of health of mother earth foundation?

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Oh, that's [00:56:00] nice. Um, I really was hoping that my, my colleague was going to join us. Yeah. Uh, she's a media and comms person.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: And then since your, uh, focus on podcasts. HOMEF recently launched a TV. You could support by sharing resources and tools that help us improve our production. And then also helping share our material, especially those, you know, that will help in amplifying the voices of the community people.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: We want them to be heard. We want them to be seen. We want, um, Whatever is going around their lives to be able to come out to the open. Let people see what they're going through. Let people see that they want to break away from the current, you know, trajectory. They want to live a life in harmony with nature and live their life with them, controlled by them, controlled by their resources and all of that.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Give us a push wherever you can in amplifying the work that we do. We would really much appreciate that.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you [00:57:00] so much, Dr. Mfoniso, and thank you for our conversation. I really appreciate it. And we'll definitely promote all the links, uh, in our social media and the show notes of the episode. By all means.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Thank you so much. It's been a great time speaking with you. I'm so glad we got to do this.

Dr Mfoniso Antia: Thank you.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much for joining us on today's episode. We'd love to stay connected with you. You can subscribe to Black Earth Podcast wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, and you can also connect with us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok at Black Earth Podcast. See you in the next episode.[00:58:00]

Creators and Guests

Marion Atieno Osieyo
Marion Atieno Osieyo
Creator and Host of Black Earth Podcast
Season 3: Understanding energy justice with Dr. Mfoniso Antia
Broadcast by