Geo-ethics as solution to Abuja tremor and other hazards By Harrison A. Ikwumelezeh

On October 18, 2018, Nigeria and the world joined 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.

The Geoethics Day falls into the Earth Science Week and was the occasion to strongly reaffirm the geoethical values in which the world is presently realizing holds the key to not only ensure that we maintain a sound biodiversity balance, but that we shall be able to achieve most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the case of Nigeria, the recent earth tremor 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, the earth tremor 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 shake of the earth, which started on Thursday, September 5 to 8, as they were seen relocating to other places in the city with 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 earthquake zone.

Nevertheless, the government agency added that the incident was likely caused by stress in underground rocks resulting from human activities which included blasting and mining of rocks.

This, therefore, is why Nigeria as a developing country must now review all its geoscientific sectors with a view to ensuring that the Abuja tremor and others that have happened in other states before now – like in Kaduna state in 2016 – would not repeat it, or develop into widespread national emergencies.

We are very much aware of the fact that we do not have the material resources and psychological preparedness to face natural disasters of significant magnitude.

Earth science 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, and floods to fossils.

The Earth sciences can 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 science affects our everyday lives.

Interestingly, when the Earth 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.

For us in Nigeria, it will address the problem of the Niger Delta as regards 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.

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 MoU 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 scientists 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 a proposal of Hippocratic-like oath for early-career geoscientists, expressing their commitment to geoethics values in geoscience research and practice.

This is the only way future ‘Abuja tremors and possible earthquakes’ could be avoided.

Ikwumelezeh, National Coordinator, International Association for Promoting Geoethics, Nigeria Section, writes from Abuja

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