At a time when Covid 19 has paralyzed all educational institutions and youth capacity building engagements the world over, the Environmental Rights Action, ERA, brought together over 150 children and youth in a 2-day youth environment camp meeting, from August 12-14, 2020, for youth empowerment, environmental education and Energy transition initiatives.
Ebenezer Uhimwen, is 9 and a primary 5 pupil of Nathan American Academy Primary School in Benin City. His best subject is Maths. One day after school, his parents came late to pick him up from school, and so he had to wait outside of the school compound.
‘The sun was very hot that day, and I did not understand why. Later, my daddy told me that the sun was getting very hot because of climate change. I did not understand what climate change was, but from that day I wanted to learn more about climate change’, Ebenezer said.
Ebenezer is not the only one child or youth with passion for issues concerning climate change and the environment. Take for example, Washington Victor, a young quantity surveyor and leader of the Young Era Friends of the Earth Nigeria. While in a Chemistry class in secondary school, a chance mention of the dangers of hydrocarbons to the environment stimulated his interest. His passion further increased as a student of the Rivers State University Portharcourt. Washington told Alltimepost correspondent in Benin City that from his interactions with his lecturers, he discovered that there is still a lot more to learn about the ‘built’ and ‘unbuilt’ aspects of the environment.
Early experiences from both Ebenezer and Washington, as with other young persons in Nigeria seem to indicate that they have scant knowledge of the challenges and opportunities that the environment presents. That opportunity to increase their knowledge of the fullness of the environment and its present challenges came in the form of a Camp meeting for youth organized by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth from12th -14 August 2020. It was tagged 3rd Youth Environmental Camp Meeting with the theme: Youth Empowerment, youth organizing, environmental education & energy transition, and had over 150 Youth and children from Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States in attendance under very tight NCDC Covid 19 regulations. Its objective was to equip youth on topical environment issues relating to its protection, extraction, post extraction and sustainable development at the local, national and international levels.
Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo is ERA executive director. He told Alltimepost during the Camp Meeting that ERA has since 2018 trained over 6,000 youth on developing business models on renewable energy entrepreneurship, repair and installation of solar gadgets and the fabrication of clean energy saving cook stoves. Not only that, Dr Ojo said that it has also trained 300 secondary school teachers and produced environmental education and renewable energy manual that is being deployed for training in the over 60 renewable energy school clubs set up across the four states – Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States.
‘Youths are mostly impacted by environmental degradation especially those from fence-line communities where extractive activities are frequent. They suffer from loss of livelihoods, poverty, disorientation and fear of a bleak future’, Dr. Ojo said during the meet.
From over the seas, Sandra Skiaker of the Operation Day’s Work, ODW, Norway’s largest solidarity campaign for youth urged Nigerian youth at the Camp Meeting to use the opportunity to build networks ‘to make bigger and better operations’.
Two things have made this year’s camp meeting for youth ‘incredibly significant’ – one, it has taken place against the backdrop of the global celebration of the annual international Youth Day, which seeks to draw attention to attention to issues important to young people. Second, it took into consideration the UN SDG Goal numbers 5 (gender equality) 10 (reduced inequality). To achieve these, ERA included physically challenged boys and girls – the deaf and lame – and divided them all into three training ‘outputs’ – school education, Youth organizing: Environmental Monitoring and Waste Management and Youth Entrepreneurs and Renewable Energy.
Part of what made ‘Output 1’ nearly an unforgettable experience for most of the participants was with the experience sharing session facilitated by members of the deaf. Aliu Mustapha, 22 and Kadiri Jennifer, 17, of the Edo State Deaf Association, together with their colleagues successfully put other participants through a course in braille, resulting in a conducive learning environment that made an interaction on the environment almost seamless and fun. For others like Young Promise, 20, a Deltan seeking to be environmental entrepreneur, the sessions with the resource persons was a boost to his plan to set up shop as a solar photovoltaic entrepreneur.
Organisers said that they believe that the camp meeting on the environment for youth has massive opportunities – opportunities that Inerepano David and Emmanuel Leton, both undergraduates in universities in the Niger Delta said that they had been looking for. According to Inerepano, ‘After I listened to Mr Ibrahim Muhammad Shamsuddin and Mr Morris Alagoa, I’ve come to learn that renewable energy is way safer, economical and healthier for the environment and for everyone’.
Mr Anthony Azubuike, director/clerk, Senate committee on Ecology and Climate Change at the National Assembly said during the meet that there are expectations that a Bill to establish the Renewable Energy Council, which has passed through second reading at the National Assembly would be passed into law soon. ‘When passed, the Bill will address research, development, financing, regulation, revenue generation for clean energy’, Mr Azubuike said.
At that, ERA’s mission of youth empowerment, education and youth involvement in energy transition would be counted as a critical building block towards ending gas flaring and pollution in the Niger Delta.