John Cardinal Onaiyekan
Photo: Flicker/ Catholic Church (England and Wales)
The post-discussion report mentioned that there’s a problem with multi-national mining companies in
Africa, and talked about the idea of an international tribunal to hold these companies accountable. What is it exactly that you would like to see?
Of course, we are bishops, so we are very optimistic and we say nice things. Obviously, we will target our message to the ideal situation. We believe that there are certain things which just should not be done. The law of profit should have limits in terms of how you exploit natural resources. This is not only in terms of the economic conditions under which that’s done, how much you pay for the raw materials you’re taking out in relation to how much it’s actually worth – that’s an old story, and these are the old quarrels we’ve had – but also in terms of the environment. How much is anybody allowed to devastate the environment, simply because they want to extract resources, such as minerals, oil, and so on?
I will add two other considerations.
The first has to do with simple justice. Some of these multi-nationals operate with double standards. I can’t see BP, Shell, or Mobil doing what they’re doing in the Niger Delta in the North Sea, or in
Texas. They’re the same people, which means that things they wouldn’t tolerate at home they do quite freely in Africa. Maybe they think Africais a no-man’s land where anything can happen.
The second consideration, and it’s an item that has very much occupied and preoccupied the synod fathers, is the responsibility of our own leaders. Mobil, Shell, Agip … I have to make sure I mention different countries, so they won’t accuse me [of bias] … you can also add Elf. They all come, but they don’t just move in and start doing these things. In all the cases, there is some amount of so-called agreement with the local rulers, who claim to have negotiated on behalf of the people. Now, the synod has come out very strongly that our leaders ought to protect our environment. They ought to have their eyes wide open. If one is to be generous in judgment, you’d say perhaps [these leaders] are ignorant in judgment, but we’re not so sure they’re that stupid. We have very intelligent people, both in and outside of government, who ought to know to insist on a basic minimum.
A flare in Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Photo: Flicker/Danny McL
That brings us back to the whole idea of an international code of conduct. It would be useless if it’s not going to be implemented, which has happened with many other codes that have been simply ignored. It seems that in the world of today, the more powerful you are, the more you can afford to ignore the rules which they quite happily impose on others. That’s the world we live in.
We may add, to, that more and more now we are realizing that we are not only on one planet, but in one village where we live together as a human family. Destroying the environment in
Nigeriaaffects the whole of our planet. Maybe the more that is recognized, the kind of international approach might become more feasible because it would be seen as enlightened self-interest to really put some rules into the way things are. Just like every city has rules as regards what to do with the trash they produce, for the sake of the immediate environment, if we begin to see the whole world as one environment we will be ready to put our heads together – knowing that what happens in one place affects the other places.
I was in
New Yorkthree weeks ago, with a team of lobbyists around the United Nations summit on climate change, and this matter came out very strongly. It became very clear that if we’re talking about the industrial growth of the rich countries, that is not only linked with the exploitation of raw materials from poor nations, but also with lots of consequences for the environment. How you produce, what you do to your factories here, is already having negative effects for places far, far away, such as islands. Some Pacific islands are disappearing, which have been there for centuries. At first, we did not see it in Africa. We used to think that floods and droughts are God’s work done to us, so we would go pray and sacrifice. Now we know that it’s not God’s cause, that people are responsible.
Unfortunately, human beings are short-sighted, so they don’t look far enough. Maybe that’s where a group like ours, the bishops, together … and don’t forget, we’re not just Africans here. We have bishops from the
U.S., from Europe, from Asia– we have a common mind on this matter. [We should] treat our planet well, and do all we can to make sure that every single individual in this family can live decently, so that all of us can live in peace.
Almighty, everlasting God,
Who in Thy beloved Son,
King of the whole world,
hast willed to restore all things anew;
grant in Thy Mercy that all the families of nations,
rent asunder by the wound of sin,
may be subjected to His most gentle rule.
Who with Thee lives and reigns, world without end.