By Simon Ugwu, The breather provided the environment by the global city lockdowns since early March has amplified the value of investments made by corporate, governmental and social organizations in preservation of biodiversity. And the recognition of the Finima Nature Park in Bonny Island of Rivers state as Ramsar Site of International Importance marks a positive paradox of establishing nature’s sanctuary in the middle of petroleum industry hub.
The annual World Environment Day (WED) held on June 5 with the theme sharply focused on biodiversity, a shared global concern that compel concerted and coordinated action plans and diversified investments in programmes that seek to preserve natural flora and fauna amid surging industrial pollution.
The United Nations Environment Programme which coordinates the annual global event declared in a statement: “It is, without a doubt, time for nature.”
In Nigeria, the federal government seized the mood of the season to nominate the Finima Nature Park for promotion into a world class conservation site recognized by the United Nations under the intergovernmental environmental treaty on wetlands.
The Finima Nature Park, managed for NLNG by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), was established in 1999 as part of the company’s response to global environmental concerns and the need for a more sustainable environment.
The park covers 1,000 hectares of freshwater swamp forest lying along Nigeria’s southern coastal area on Bonny Island, Rivers State. The park was designated an internationally acclaimed centre for Wetland Education and became a member of Wetlands Link International in 2019. This made it one of the 350 Wetland Centres globally and the second in Nigeria.
A Ramsar site is a wetland designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention which is an intergovernmental environmental treaty established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1971.
The nation’s expanding gas liquefaction company had in February received a letter of nomination from the Federal Ministry of Environment to make Finima Nature Park a Ramsar Site of International Importance.
The letter of nomination is the company’s last requirement for the attainment of Ramsar Site status, having met all the other conditions, including being a haven for migratory birds and a Wetland Education Centre. On completion of the process, Finima Nature Park will be listed as one of the 2, 300 sites in the world.
The Finima Nature Park is one of the prime symbols of environment conservation efforts of NLNG, a company primarily established to earn huge foreign exchange income for the county by harnessing, processing and selling natural gas hitherto flared at the country’s oil production sites in the Niger Delta.
The company has so far converted over 6.37 trillion cubic feet of associated gas to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and Natural Gas Liquids (NGLs) in the past 20 years, thus helping cut gas flares in the country from over 60% in 1999 to less than 20%. The gas valorization operations earned the company over $100 billion or N36 trillion gross income in the first 20 years.
Call to action on biodiversity in the overall theme of WED 2020 was reactivated by remarkable drop in air, water and plant pollution during the city lockdowns imposed by governments furiously working to contain spread of SARS-C0V-2, the raging novel coronavirus that caused the prevailing global pandemic.
With the main focus of WED 2020 on biodiversity, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) led more than 143 countries in celebrating efforts and investments in protecting environment.
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, said in advance speech circulated to the global media ahead of the event that the theme of the 2020 WED tells the story of the damage our species has wrought with facts.
According to him, humanity has altered 75 percent of the earth’s ice-free surface since 1990, deleting over 420 million hectares of forest equivalent to three times the size of South Africa and nearly one million animal species. He added that illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade crime in the world.
According to him, as ecosystems and biodiversity fall to cities, agriculture, infrastructure, climate change and pollution; nature’s ability to provide food, oxygen, clean water and climate regulation plummets.
“This directly impacts human health and wealth.” He declared.
He paid tributes to investments in “nature’s infrastructure” for climate regulation, stressing efforts at preservation of wetlands, forests, mangroves and other habitats that describe Finima Nature Park in Bonny Island.
Inger Andersen emphasized plans, programmes and investments in keeping wild spaces wild, stopping deforestation and restoring degraded land to protect biodiversity, boost food production and store carbon.
He pointed at the imperatives of making agriculture biodiversity positive, integrating natural infrastructure with built infrastructure to reduce climate impacts and bring biodiversity back, and backing sustainable production and consumption to conserve the planet’s resources.
The UN chief also called for policies that promote energy transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy, retrofit built infrastructure to be more energy efficient, and invest in public transport expansion and bicycle paths.
In justifying investments in nature preservation, he noted that about half of global gross domestic product (GDP) depends on nature, with oceans and forests sustaining billions of people with 86 million green jobs from forests alone.
In projecting the role of nature in human healthcare, Andersen stated that some four billion people rely primarily on natural medicines while natural climate solutions such as afforestation and using greenery to cool cities and buildings could provide around one-third of the emissions reductions needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
He said everything UNEP does is in partnership because, according to him, “the world is too big and interconnected for anybody to go it alone in the face of the environmental problems challenging our species.”
The Finima Nature Park is one of the programmes that form the centricity of UNEP conservation collaborations in Nigeria. The park which shall now be known globally as ‘Finima Nature Park’ increases the number of Nigeria’s Ramsar Sites of International Importance to 12. It would also act as a carbon sink through the carbondioxide sequestration abilities of the vegetation.
The NLNG has driven enormous community development and nature conservation projects in the host operations region, including the Finima Nature Park and the critical Bonny-Bodo road project which links the island with the rest of Nigeria and contributes to economic and social stimulus of the area.
Up till now, Bonny Island has remained an isolated piece of ancient culture reservoir, harbouring colonial relics and occupying huge space in history books. Historical accounts have it that Bonny has all the potentials for rapid economic development, being the host of colonial trading ports, anchor point for European traders, and landing ground for sailing missionaries.
The island was the melting point of economic activities right from the 15th century when the kingdom established good relations with the Portuguese and sent Prince Abagy as its first Ambassador to Portugal in about 1450AD. In the 19th Century AD, Bonny Island also served as Christianity’s first port of call in West Africa. It was also home to many illustrious sons and daughters of Nigeria.
However, the evolution of oil industry in Nigeria altered the shape of activities in the island which now hosts key national petroleum assets including pipelines, export terminals and sundry upstream oil and gas production facilities. And due to its strategic position, Bonny, particularly the Finima axis of the island, hosts facilities of various multinational oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Agip, and Total.
Rising petroleum industry activities and growing production assets mean that the host communities became exposed to petroleum industry footprints, especially emissions that emanate from flare booms at oil production sites, flow stations and terminals.
The location of the liquefaction plants of the NLNG in the region has however significantly addressed gas flare and associated issues in line with policy agenda of the government captured in several implementation programmes.
With recognition of the economic potentials of gas in the 1980s, government had articulated new policies under the Associated Gas Fiscal Arrangement (AGFA) and subsequent Non-Associated Gas Fiscal Reform Act (NAGFRA) that laid out generous incentives for gas valorization projects.
One of the most audacious investments under the fiscal incentives is the NLNG Limited which became the country’s first ever incorporated joint venture (IJV) that runs on efficiently managed world class processes for local business operations while significantly driving development of its host communities through Africa’s largest corporate social responsibility programmes.
Over the years the company has grown in leaps and bounds, delivering huge cash returns to shareholders, paying lumpy taxes to government and devoting significant funds to corporate social responsibility to benefit the people and enhance living standard in areas that host its business activities.
The company is in a pact with the Bonny Kingdom to accelerate development in the island and literally transform it a global commercial centre only comparable to Dubai in the Middle East.
Mr. Tony Attah stated: “NLNG’s financial contributions to Nigeria and the Niger Delta have been significant. It has committed more than $200 million to corporate social responsibility projects in the Niger Delta especially in the areas of capacity building and infrastructure development.
“The company also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bonny Kingdom for the economic development of the Kingdom over a 25-year period. In that MOU, NLNG committed to providing N3.0 billion per annum which cumulatively, is N75 billion in 25 years to the sustainable development of Bonny.”
With the activities of the 2020 WED, NLNG has not only solidified delivery of its mandate in curbing gas flares and associated emissions through its highly hyped Train-7 project but also positioning nature conservation and carbon sink programmes in the forefront of its CSR goals.
Finima Nature Park is fondly described by nature enthusiasts pearl on the coast, considering its location on the edge of the continent, constantly kept wet round the years by swings of waters waves from the Atlantic Ocean.
NLNG stated that it recognizes the requirement to balance development needs with the need to adopt a life cycle approach in preserving and protecting biodiversity in its core area of operation; adding that the Finima Nature Park was established in recognition of the importance of the flora and fauna, the sacrifices of Bonny people, and their aspiration and commitment to keeping a permanent record of their natural heritage and culture.
“It is also part of NLNG’s contribution to national and global conservation, in line with Rio Agenda 21, the Ramsar Convention and Convention on Biological Diversity,” the company added.
The Finima Nature Park, a 1000 hectare expanse of land in Bonny Island designated for the sole purpose of Biodiversity Conservation and held in trust through a partnership of both NLNG and the Finima community, covers rain forests and mangrove swamps as well as an ecologically important area of sandy soil with fresh water ponds and tall timber between the swamps and the beach which is a good representation of the Niger Delta ecology.
It harbors medicinal plants and several wildlife species of high conservation value. There is also a variety of mammals, different bird species (mostly waterfowl) and reptiles, including crocodiles and monitor lizards.
The Park which has the environmental conservation agenda to protect the forests and guarantee species preservation is closed to all extraction and harvesting activities including hunting and gathering.
Currently managed by the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), plans are underway for the management of Finima Nature Park to be transferred to a Board of Trustees whose members are drawn from the host community and other critical stakeholders in order to encourage community participation and sustainability.
The Finima Nature Park, according to NLNG, also provides grounds for research and development by conducting surveys to establish baselines for monitoring changes in species composition and numbers.
Other development, capacity building and educational programmes revolving round the park include knowledge sharing, agricultural technology, renewable alternative energy technology training courses, and exotic livestock breeding.
“The goal is for the youths to work with the Park to setup demonstration on Agro-forestry and renewable alternative energy projects and build awareness in the community of the efficacy of alternative energy sources,” according to NLNG.
Thus, bringing the Finima Nature to global standard and acclaim conforms to the tradition of the company in assisting the kingdom preserve its prized natural identity while building an eco-tourism industry that is based on biodiversity and carbon sink that purifies the air for humans.