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TNG Interview: FG should save 20,000 species of fishes in the Niger Delta before they go extinct – Hon Abiante



…insists establishing a research institute will help

…Bill on institute waiting for Senate’s concurrence

…says we are still waiting for FG’s report on dead fishes in the brackish axis

Hon Awaji-Inombek Dagomie Abiante is a second term lawmaker representing Opobo/Ndoni/Nkoro Federal Constituency of Rivers State, a P.hd holder and astute administrator in this chat with, (TNG) Regional Editor, North, Emman Ovuakporie, Abiante spoke extensively on the marine resources in the Brackish axis of the Niger Delta, spanning from Escravos in Delta State through Calabar, the need to establish a research institute on fishery in the Niger Delta to save over 20,000 species of fishes and a Ministry of marine resources, excerpts.

You once said the Brackish axis in the Niger Delta can serve as the Nigeria’s fish basket and earn foreign exchange, can you explain?

Nigeria spends an average of 1billion dollars annually. You are talking of about 500billion naira thereabout as at today. What are the kinds of fishes that we even import?

Part of the things that we import is the sardine, before you talk about the mackerel, tuna and all of that. As at the last check, we have well over 20,000 distinct species of fishes within this environment.

So we can develop the molet, we can develop the tilapia to take over whatever import we are making and the fact remains that we can even develop to the point of exporting it because we have not given adequate attention to the issues of fishery in this country.

You are also aware when they begin to talk about illegal fishing, where do we go from? It means that people come, fish and take them away. So if you develop the impact industry, you will discourage people from coming to poach from your environment as well.

So there are lots of things we can get from helping to develop this industry. You can’t just wholesale and adapt it to the one and it will work, it will not work.

The fish that you culture in fresh water, you take them to salt water environment they will die and vice visa. The ph is different, the salinity is different, the turbidity is different, even the products of the two environments they differ.

So concentrate on this, you have in some other areas. We are not asking for too much. This is our occupation, this is what we have always done and we are doing it very well, we are using it to help ourselves. Some of us went to school through those efforts of fishermen giving us school fees and buying books for us from what they were doing as fishermen.

Now we have had an economy, operations, activities that have destroyed that environment. If we have this, it will enable us at least understand what is happening within the system, plan properly and avoid some of the pitfalls that are there.

There was a time there was this issue of dead fishes everywhere, up till now where is the report? It is because we don’t even have people who have adequate understanding of that portion of the marine environment. So you call for investigation, where is it?

But if we have a research institute, there would have been doing something, it is possible that they would have even preempted it and forestall its occurrence; and this environment that we are talking about stems from the mouth of the Escravos River all the way to Calabar, even inwards.

So look at the fishing population between these states; every time you want to show us the picture of the Niger Delta it is the fishing port that you show us, those thatch houses and what have you, can’t you just improve, at least let them have a means of livelihood so that every day they will not begin to say government has not done anything for us.

This is a sure way of, oh, if you can fish like this, if you can apply this, if you can breed like this, you will improve on your catch; at least if you used to earn N500 a month, you can now earn N2,000 a month and that will be the way to go.

Q: On the issue of the dead fishes you mentioned till date there is no report on it?

A: I have not seen any.

Q: You as a professional person, what do you think would have caused those things?

A: I don’t want to preempt anybody, the investigation is on, so let us wait and if at the end of the whole thing, there is no report and we don’t even know what has happened, then we can begin to speculate. Whatever I say now could be mere conjecture, mere speculation.

So we have asked that they tell us why did we have that occurrence and we will still wait until when the reports are laid and considered.

Q: You made mention of over 20,000 fish species. Will bringing an institute to do researches protect the lives of those species because some of them have already gone extinct?

A: What will be the mandate of a research institute? A research institute is supposed to preserve the environment, understanding what the challenges will be and proffering solutions, that is what they are supposed to be doing.

They will conduct research on everything that challenges the people and everything that would add value to whatever it is that they have in that environment; that would be the fulcrum of the research institute.

We used to have these species over the years and when we go fishing we no longer see them, now what is happening? Has the water temperature changed? Has the turbidity changed?

So what do we do to ensure that even under this increased turbidity, temperature, salinity of the water, what can we do to ensure that we sustain it, these are the areas that are why they call it research, you search and you search until you have solutions.

You essentially exploit what you have and what you have advantage over that is what you exploit to get solutions to.

What are we challenged withdraw the, we are challenged with resources, as we speak today we are unable to fund our budget, so if we are not funding our budget we will continue to spend money importing fish and exporting employment.

If we improve on what we have, you will conserve it and you will also create employment and those that you are employing will also pay tax. The industries that will come up around this industry will also pay tax.

Today we have a ministry of mines and power because of solid minerals, they may not have been there all these while, that ministry was not in existence all these years, correct? We also have a ministry of digital economy, did we have that kind of ministry before? And we have several other ministries so established, why were they established? They were established to take advantage of what is available.

Is it an advantage in the fishes and the marine resource area, if there is an advantage, how have you administered it because if you go through the budget of the ministry of agriculture, less than 10% of the budget is dedicated to the issue of fishes and when you don’t understand, even in policy formulation, it could become very challenging.

We have an advantage in the area of petroleum resources and that is why we have a ministry for petroleum resources. And if you get back to several countries, both in our west Africa region and outside, those who are desirous, those have been desirous of taking advantage of their marine resources, they have specific ministries in charge of fisheries, aqua culture, marine resource, ocean resource and whichever form they name them.

One of such countries I think is Senegal, they have a separate entity responsible for the issues of fisheries and marine resources. If you go to Gambia they also have that takes care of that resource because it gives them what they want in Sierra Leone, so much of their earnings, their national income comes from fisheries and marine resources.

So why have we not been able to, even China they have. Is it Denmark, they have. So you give priorities to what you want to do. If you ask me, name could even be so much. Oh, they have a ministry of fisheries, then you will take it to heart that look, this is what we are going to do.

As we speak the sea fisheries Act, it is about two amendment, whereas the penalties there are so ridiculous, some are N25,000, some are N50,000 for contravening the laws, maybe for coming to fish in my country with net sizes that are not approved. Or if you are fishing with expired licences, N50,000.

Some of the penalties are so ridiculous that somebody who wants to flaunt can just say let me just keep this N50,000 if I am caught, I will pay and I will move on. For the man that is even going to police them, will N50,000 fuel the boat that he will use to go and police them, it won’t.

So it simply means that we are not just serious about the whole thing, we are not. If we are serious it will be known. If we are serious the attention we give to this sector would and we have been on this thing since the 8th Assembly, trying to get attention of government to the fact that look we deserve more, we deserve to be treated better.

And apart for this call for a research institute, the other aspect of the agriculture, you have trainings for them. Federal college of agriculture here, Federal college of agriculture there; where is the Federal college of fisheries for the people who are inside the water, they live there.

They need to understand what new technologies there are so that they can improve.

What are the Federal college of agriculture doing, it is new technology, so they too they want to know what new technologies are available to them for them to be able to earn a living.

So when a man is not interested in you, he is not interested in you, no matter what you say, no matter how you go about it.

I have raised this issue right from the 8th Assembly, can you create for us an independent ministry of fisheries, aqua-culture and marine resources so that we can optimize the resources in those areas, save government the headache of having to import fish and probably grow to the point where we will be exporting and earning foreign exchange. Nobody cares, nobody wants to listen.

Q: What state is the Bill to establish the institute of fishery, aqua culture and marine resources?

A: I have had so much bashing, I have had so much abuse, lack of understanding from my constituents. I don’t blame them because when a man is hungry and there is a smell of hope that there will be meal, of course, some people may not even remember to wash their hands because they are hungry, they want to rush the food. They want this thing like right now, they want this thing like 10years ago.

So when we came and wanted to craft that bill, I said look this is what we want for our people, up till now they have been very eager. He said he was going to give us a fishery institute, what has happened to it, they don’t know the processes, they may not even know how much you have put in; all they want is that thing that is dear to them, dear to their heart, they want it immediately, they want it like 10years ago, 5years ago.

I get abused each time I go and speak of it, they said even the one he said they were going to do, they have refused to do, we have not seen anything. I don’t know what to do again.

At least you witnessed the fact that in the 8th Assembly we pushed the bill from the point of obscurity, nobody ever thought about it, in fact some professionals in the industry didn’t understand the need for the institute. They didn’t understand and appreciate the fact that there is a segment for it.

So when we brought the bill and we engage them, a whole lot of them said oh, this has opened our eyes, this is the way to go and they supported the bill. The bill passed all processes, first reading, second reading, robust public hearing that even the Nigerian Agricultural Research Council came and they supported the bill and said yes this is worth doing.

It got through committee considerations as it should be in the House of Reps, went through third reading in the House of Reps, it was passed in the House of Reps, that is what it means.

It also started the journey in the senate for concurrence and the 8th senate saw the need for the little thing for an area that produces so much for this country, just small because if you take the marine environment from the mouth of the Escravos River to Calabar, that is where you have the oil and gas industry infrastructure, minimum 90% of the oil and gas infrastructure is from the mouth of the Escravos River up to Calabar. So what are you giving back to the people?

The senate considered all of it and they passed it. The clerks went through the processes of tidying up whatever drafting that they needed to do and the bill was graciously passed on to Mr President for assent; yes I give back 0.0001% of whatever it is, I give it back to the people sustaining the economy of this country. What the signature means is that I give back this little fraction to this environment.

Up till now as I speak to you, I have not heard anything about it, whether it was returned to the house I have not heard anything about it. If it was returned they would have told us it has been returned.

We are orphans we don’t know where to go, I came into the 9th Assembly by God’s grace and the bill started another journey. It has passed the House of Reps, I am not a senator so I wouldn’t be able to say what is happening with the bill in senate.

But I can tell you that it was sad when I engaged some persons from the ministry agriculture probably for the lack of depth, all they said was that we have an institute at Bama, we have one in New Bissau and I told them that doesn’t answer the question. The question is what do you have for the brackish environment?

Q: What do you mean by brackish environment?

A: In the marine environment, there are three clear distinct areas. You have the fresh water, you have the ocean environment, that is the deep ocean environment and there is the portion in-between the ocean environment and the fresh water environment and that is the brackish water.

People don’t live in the ocean, people live around the brackish water environment and that is where they also eke out their living. Within the brackish water environment, we have well over 20,000 species of fishes in the Brackish axis being threatened by extinction.

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