Friday, October 5, 2018

Geoethics as a solution to tremors in Abuja and other geohazards

Arinze Harrison Ikwumelezeh
(Coordinator of IAPG-Nigeria)

Arinze Harrison Ikwumelezeh
On 18 October 2018, the world shall join the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG), to celebrate the International Geoethics Day. This initiative was born in 2017 with the aim to raise the awareness of the geoscience community and society as a whole about the importance of geoethics.

As affirmed by Silvia Peppoloni (IAPG Secretary General) "...The International Geoethics Day falls into the Earth Science Week and will be the occasion to strongly reaffirm the geoethical values..." in which the world is presently realizing. Geoethics holds the key to not only ensure that we maintain a sound biodiversity balance, but also to achieve most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the case of Nigeria, the recent tremors in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) leaves no one in doubt that we have come to the place where we must become responsible in our geological activities and other issues pertaining to environmental governance.

According to media reports, tremors that lasted for three days in Mpape and some parts of Maitama district in Abuja left not only residents, but also the whole country, apprehensive that an earthquake was about to occur.
The residents of the affected areas were alarmed by the sudden ground shakings, which started on 5 September and occurred till 8 September, and they were seen moving to other places in the city for the fear of losing their lives.

The Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dispelled fears of an earthquake stating that even though an "abnormal" occurrence, the area was not in a seismic zone. Nevertheless, the government agency added that the incident was likely caused by stress in underground rocks resulting from human activities which included rock blasting and mining.

According to the statement by FEMA: "Whilst appreciating the call from the public, the FCT emergency management agency (FEMA) wish to make the following statements; That the possible cause of the earth shaking might be as a result of earth tremor. That it is a sign of seismic movement within the earth. This is caused by sudden break along a fault line which results in sudden release of energy that makes the ground to shake. It is caused by stress in underground rocks and may be due to rock blasting and mining activities in an area."
This, therefore, is why Nigeria as a developing country must now review all its geoscientific sectors with a view to ensuring that tremors in Abuja and others that have happened in other states before now – like in Kaduna State in 2016 – would not occur again. We are very much aware of the fact that we do not have the material resources and psychological preparedness to face natural phenomena (and potential disasters) of significant magnitude.

Earth sciences or geoscience includes all fields of natural science related to the planet Earth. It is the branch of science dealing with the physical constitution of the earth and its atmosphere, the study of our planet’s physical characteristics, from earthquakes to raindrops, from floods to fossils. Earth sciences include the study of geology, the lithosphere, and the large-scale structure of the Earth's interior, as well as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Typically, Earth scientists use tools from geography, chronology, physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics to build a quantitative understanding of how the Earth works and evolves. Earth sciences affect our everyday lives. For example, meteorologists study the weather and watch for dangerous storms. Hydrologists study water and warn of floods. Seismologists study earthquakes and try to predict where they will strike. Geologists study rocks and help to locate useful minerals. Earth scientists mainly work "in the field"—climbing mountains, exploring the seabed, crawling through caves, or wading in swamps. They measure and collect samples (such as rocks or river water), then they record their findings on charts and maps.

Interestingly, when the geo-resources are exploited, these geoscientists must inculcate a fresh Earth-centric consciousness of responsibility for their direct and indirect activities to be sustainable, leaving a better environment for future generations. This is where geoethics come in.

Ethics is the field of knowledge that deals with the principles that govern how people behave and conduct activities. Ethics is well established as being of relevance to other scientific disciplines (e.g., medical ethics, bioethics). Given the multiple interfaces of geoscience with society, it is appropriate that we all consider our social role and responsibilities. Geoethics, therefore, is the branch of ethics which relates to the interaction of human activity with our physical world in general and with the practice of the Earth sciences in particular.
This is not just a niche area of research, but extends to all geoscientists irrespective of their field (e.g., volcanology, engineering geology, hydrogeology, metamorphic petrology) and employment sector (e.g., industry, academia, public sector). Geoethics provides a framework for us all to reflect on the shared values that underpin our work as geoscientists, and how these values shape our professional actions, and our interactions with colleagues, society and the natural environment.

For us in Nigeria, it will address the problem in the Niger Delta, regarding resource exploitation. It will also address indiscriminate mining in Abuja and other states; and also tree-felling in the Northern parts of the country, which has worsened desertification and seasonal flooding.

This is why the Nigerian section of the International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG) organizes its First National Conferenceon 18-19 October, to celebrate the International Geoethics Day 2018. This is in order to seek avenues of integrating geoethics into working practices and providing opportunities for networking and promoting the application of geoethics for sustainable development.

The main theme of the conference is Integrating Geoethics into the Extractive Industry Governance. Other sub-themes are environmental and social responsibility; Utilizing citizen science as a new paradigm for tackling security challenges and intelligence gathering; Communications, experiences, approaches and concepts in geoscience education; Geo-risk management for safer and more resilient society; Making geoethics a central issue in the conduct of scientists; and Ethical considerations in developing young geoscientists and defining avenues for geoscience in Nigeria.

The event, which will take place at the Rivers State University Auditorium, Faculty of Law, shall have as special guest of honour, His Excellency Governor Nyesom Wike of River StateAmong the distinguished speakers there are Hon. Obinna Chidoka, Chairman House Committee on Environment, (chairman) Prof. Blessing Chikezie Didia - Vice chancellor Rivers state University (vice-chairman), Prof. Charles Ofoegbu, Director, Institue of Geosciences and Earth Resources, Nasarawa State University, Keffi; Professor Uraih Lar, Professorial Chair in Geology University of Jos, Dr. H.O Nwankwoala, Senoir lecturer Department of Geology University of Port-Harcourt and Mr. Fyneface Dumnamene, Youth and Environmental Advocacy Centre Port-Harcourt.

There is no doubt that our country needs to lead Africa in this all important sector because it holds the promise to enhance vital developmental sectors like agriculture, mining and natural resources management. Recently, the IAPG and Geoscientists Canada signed a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) expressing a mutual desire to cooperate on a range of themes in the field of ethics in geoscience with a view to promoting principles of ethics, research integrity, and professional ethical deontology in geoscience activities among their networks. Geoscientists Canada is the national organization of the nine provincial and territorial regulatory bodies that govern Canada’s professional geoscientists and geoscientists in training. Geoscientists Canada coordinates development of high national standards of admissions, competency, practice and mobility to ensure that Canada is served by skilled versatile, reputable and accountable geoscience professionals.

Nigeria needs developmental strides like this in order to prepare its future geoscientists for the challenges ahead. And also to carve a niche for the country in the comity of nations.

As a developing country, our young geoscientists need to make commitments for enduring nation-building. This is why we should embrace the the Geoethical Promise for the Nigerian early-career geoscientists, to strenghten their social responsiblity in the geoscience research and practice. This is the only way to avoid in the future the Abuja tremors and possible earthquakes.


NGC1 - First Nigeria Geoethics Conference "Integrating Geoethics into the Extractive Industry Governance": 18-19 October 2018, Port Harcourt (Nigeria); 
Download the poster (pdf file):

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics