Monday, 10 August 2009

Warring to green the earth

MRS. Betty Abah is the Project Officer/ Gender Focal Person for Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of The Earth – Nigeria (ERA/FOE), an international non-governmental organisation that brings to fore the effects of environmental hazards as well as tobacco in Africa. She is also the presenter of Tobacco and You, a programme on radio, which is used to educate and mobilise youths against tobacco smoking. Through her organisation, she has equally mobilised women in the Niger Delta region to clamour for environmental rights; a project she says is geared towards addressing problems caused by oil exploration and gas flaring in the area. In this chat, Abah tells CHIEMEREM UMENNE various projects and person.

BENEATH the soft voice of Betty Abah lies a strong zeal to mobilise and sensitise people through various campaigns that will improve their lives and environment.
As the gender focal person for ERA/ FOE, she oversees women-related projects mainly in the Niger Delta region. While lamenting the effects of oil spillage, gas flaring and militant’s activities in the area, Abah says, “nobody has paid attention to how women and their children are affected with their occupation — farming. “Their farmlands are no longer okay for cultivation, they breathe in fumes, and the pregnant ones keep on having miscarriages or stillbirths. Women in the region have varied cases of cancer ranging from the skin, cervical to lung as a result of gas inhalation. Many of them are illiterate and have been directly rendered hopeless.” Betty continued: nto the cause, “when there is any reconciliation between or among parties, it is always about the men. The women are usually excluded in the discussion, thereby leaving them helpless and making them to put their problems on witchcraft, which is not real. But empowering them, especially the displaced ones will enable them to fend for themselves and their children.” She also educates, especially the youths, about tobacco and its health hazards, with the aim of controlling tobacco intakes; and this informs the radio programme — Tobacco and You. “I bring in former smokers who have dropped their habits as testifiers, control advocates or doctors. They share their experiences on smoking and how they were rescued as well as advice against it.” HAVING been with ERA/FOE for two years, she talks about her discoveries in the fight against tobacco. “In recent years, there has been an upsurge in smoking in Nigeria. This is because of the invasion of tobacco firms. But the habit is becoming increasingly unpopular in the developed world because their governments are hostile to these firms as it is glaring that smoking is dangerous to health. The governments promulgated laws on the use of tobacco and made the companies to pay high tax rate, thereby making the product very expensive for the people. Even though they provide employment, they should also be checked.” With various attempts made to educate people about the hazards of smoking, she contends that the indirect advert strategies are adopted by cmpanies to counteract the efforts. Such methods are seen through the “various sponsorships for sporting events, entertainment parties, fashion and style events, where packs of cigarettes are distributed to the audience, thereby making the products attractive to them.” In curtailing such activities, Betty calls for tobacco related non-governmental organisations in the country to wake up to their duties of curbing the upsurge. The 15-minute radio magazine programme, she says, is proactively geared towards addressing the problem. It runs on Star FM (Lagos), Family Love FM (Port Harcourt), Aso FM (Abuja) and Freedom FM (Kano). BORN in Benue State; Abah graduated from the University of Calabar in 1999, where she studied English and Literary Studies. She feels fulfilled seeing environmental menace being tackled by concerned authorities. “Though people have the right to some actions, authorities have to protect them when necessary,” she notes. Speaking on smoking in public, Abah notes, “it is not only the smoker that is affected, but the inhaler or people nearby as they tend to inhale the larger percentage of the smoke unlike the smoker who blows it out”. The national tobacco control bill currently in the National Assembly and backed by ERA/FOE, she muses, seeks to have a comprehensive ban on tobacco adverts and its related activities. She, however, charges youths to desist from smoking as it is capable of luring them to experimenting on harder substances, thereby, hampering the realisation of their ambitions. “Makers consciously add nicotine to products not because of flavour, but for addiction to the blood, which unconsciously get the victims craving for more. This has resulted to increasing number of psychiatric patients due to uncontrolled pre- tobacco intakes in the country,” she demurs. ON possibility of achieving the set objective of her organisation, Betty informs, it is a step after the other, a case she quips led to the mobilisation of Edo State women last year, following the displacement of their farm lands by Michelins Tyres Company, which is yet to pay compensation to them. Narrating her experience at a conference attended in India, she notes, “not only are women calling for the ban on tobacco smoking in public places, but have also extended it to their homes as data shows that a large number of women die from acute lung-cancer, not from smoking, but from inhaling smoke. Children who stay around habitual smokers usually have asthmatic attacks, and if they naturally have asthma, they have higher chances of getting chronic ones. On the challenges facing her campaign, Betty informs. “I don’t see myself as a woman, but as a human. Knowing these facts makes me to work the more. Besides, there are deadlines to meet in the media than in this job, so, it is pretty good.” Her perception about non-governmental organisations is a mix grill. She reveals, “some of the NGOs, who ought to be in between the people and the government, have turned it to a money venturing business; however, some have been able to make some landmark progress in correcting some of the social ills.” To her, “NGOs are to be at the grassroots, working with the people and not at the seminars or conferences speaking English and at the end, it doesn’t translate into anything.” She has taken her campaign to nursery and primary schools in states such Lagos, Benue, Oyo, Ogun states, where she has also established anti-tobacco clubs. MARRIED to John Abah and balancing her job and family life cordially, she relaxes with her colleagues by “ getting cracking in the job and getting so informal. Her role models are Prof. (Mrs.) Ebele Eko, former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academics, University of Calabar; Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, Publisher, Business Eye magazine and Rev. Okey Ifionu, member, Thisday Newspaper’s editorial board.

No comments:

Post a Comment