WAP2014winnersSoon after we announced the winners of our What About Peace? contest in April, reports of tragic acts of hate, violence, and intolerance began to unfold in Nigeria. These heartbreaking stories were a stark contrast to the stories of hope that we received from a school in Nigeria that were submitted for the What About Peace? contest.

One of those stories came from Grand Prize winner, 15 year old Ebuka Ikeora. We reached out to Ebuka and his teacher, Chima Emmanuel to share their perspectives.

This summer, we will feature the words from enthusiastic winners of the contest and we’ll share their thoughts behind the incredible art they presented and what this big win means to them. These anecdotes not only showcases their art pieces but also encourages fellow students to come up with great entries for the new school session.

Ebuka’s words for peace really inspired the judges. What struck Grand Judge, Carleen Pickard the most was “it encourages us all to take action daily in our community to make peace at home.”

When asked to comment about the ongoing conflicts in his own country Ebuka says, “Let there be peace, let there be true harmony, let us all refuse to be enemies, let us build a Nigeria for tomorrow, let us make a new history for our children today that we have wiped our ugly past and let us feel peace in our arms again. The message of peace relevant in our time is ‘WE REFUSE TO BE ENEMIES’

Here are their stories…

In conversation with Grand Prize Winner- Ebuka Ikeora

wiCongratulations on your great win! How does it feel to win such a grand prize and that too competing with so many international array of entries?
Thank you so much. I want to express from the depth of my heart my gratitude to Global Exchange. I never knew it was a reality till my teacher Mr. Emmanuel broke the news to the entire class. I was short of words. I am a Nigerian, black, and yet made headway in this competition. Thank you God.

The essay written by you- ‘They Learned to Kill’ is definitely a very thought-provoking read. What inspired you to write about how peace can be promoted?
Nigeria is a story and case study any day. Our class teacher Mr. Emmanuel loves to discuss about peace. He has told us many stories of war and would always tell us that peace is the best way of life.

How did you find about the contest?
I heard it from Mr. Emmanuel Ugokwe. It was thrown open to every student and we knew already what to write and were all geared up for the contest.

Your first thoughts of participation?
I did not write the essay to be the grand winner, but like I said, I have a story that needs to be told and when the right time for it came, I did write.

Were you confident of winning the contest?

How do you define peace in one line?
It is the true union of hearts that gives man the opportunity to live a more meaningful and productive life with others.

Who do you most admire in your life?
Mr. Emmanuel Ugokwe. He is such a goodhearted man who came as a gift to this generation. As a writer, he has put up many things for public, yet he is humble. He is behind every move I make and helps me all the way.

On what issues you like to write about the most, other than peace and democracy.
I like to write about the violence against women, equality of humans, health issues for the minor and pure freedom.

In conversation with Ebuka’s Teacher- Chima Emmanuel

untitledYou have been an important part of this win. How does it feel?
I feel like a newly crowned king, so happy for my student Ebuka winning the grand prize.

How did you convey ‘What about Peace’? contest to students?
I told the students about the contest during the class. Many expressed interest and wrote.

Students write best about what concerns them the most. Is this why Ebuka chose to participate in the contest or was it you who promoted/persuaded him?
We have writing class and many of our students over the years have won many awards. They like to write on global issues like peace, pollution, security and the rest. I promote these issues to my students. I encourage them to make their voices heard, but I don’t persuade them. We won juror award winners and honorable mention last year and this year as well.

What do you like the most about Ebuka?
He is humble and wants to learn. He was not good in writing before but when I brought to his attention that writing can take him to places and expose him to many fundamental facts, he picked from there. We relate as friends like all my students. He has been invited to United Kingdom to receive his essay award by Living Forest.

How do you plan to celebrate this win with Ebuka?
Already our graduation ceremony is on the 27th July and school management is planning it big to applaud Ebuka. He will be crowned writing ambassador for the year and we plan to celebrate this all year long for this pride he brought home.

Could you share with us some real life experiences where you have actively promoted peace among people.
I like to promote peace to my students. We also practice peace, preach it in our school and educate our children to see peace as a way out of the many mistakes in the society. I make peace with people whenever the need calls.

Do you think Global Exchange’s ‘What about Peace’ program is an inspiring platform for students like Ebuka to creatively write about peace and share their feelings.
Absolutely. Global Exchange is providing the entire world with the message of peace.

What will be your message to the Nigerian government which is currently facing widespread violence and crisis?
It is really bad to see what all is happening in Nigeria. The government needs to do something to bring back our girls. We have to fight for the respect and equality of our women and stop the violence.

Ebuka and Chima’s peace messages encourages us all to act everyday and become aware of our universal connection. Their stories underlines the ongoing conflict that has been a large part of their life as Nigerians. But it is not the theme of violence that dominates their stories, but rather a sense of hope for a better tomorrow and the need to come together in times of conflict to bring hope and call for peace.

Congratulations to Ebuka on his win, as well as to his teacher Chima Emmanuel for also taking the time to share their words with us!
What About Peace? is a Global Exchange international arts contest for youth ages 14–20 to express ideas and thoughts about peace by responding to the question, “What About Peace?” through artistic expression.

This post was written by social media intern Sakshi Pathania. 

Originally posted at www.earthrights.org/blog

After nearly two years of work and consistent opposition from big oil, substantive provisions of legislation initially introduced by Senators Lugar (R-IN) and Cardin (D-MD) as the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (ESTT), were signed into law by President Obama as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act on Wednesday.   Offered by Senator Leahy (D-VT), the provision will require both US and internationally-based companies registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to publish what they pay to governments for the commercial development of oil, gas, and minerals, while creating a new international standard for transparency in the extractive industry.

The provision, which will apply to 90 percent of the largest internationally operating oil and gas companies, made the cut during an all-night House-Senate conference committee meeting over the Wall Street reform bill.

The bill will have significant impacts in countries like Burma, where a lack of transparency has contributed to corruption, authoritarianism, and gross human rights violations, directly linked to the natural gas industry. According to EarthRights International’s new report,Energy Insecurity: How Total, Chevron, and PTTEP Contribute to Human Rights Violations, Financial Secrecy, and Nuclear Proliferation in Burma (Myanmar), the lack of publicly available information on revenues received by the military junta in Burma has facilitated the misuse of these funds, including massive diversion of resource-related public monies.

In fact, data from a leaked IMF report indicates 70 percent of Burma’s foreign exchange reserves are from gas exports and that gas-related payments from corporations, amounting to billions of dollars, contributed only one percent of total budget revenue.  That means that less than one percent of the largest source of income for the Burmese state actually enters the state budget. Had these revenues entered the state budget, they would have accounted for 57 percent of the total 2007/2008 budget.  The majority of the gas revenues are believed to be held in offshore banks, with reports indicating that hundreds of millions are channeled into the personal bank accounts of individuals closely associated with the ruling military junta in two offshore banks in Singapore.

When this new transparency bill takes effect — likely in 2012 — companies including Chevron, Total, the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, and others will be forced to disclose how much they pay the regime in Burma, something they have been resisting for years. For communities and civil society inside and outside of Burma, this information can be used in attempts to hold the authorities in Burma accountable for how these monies are spent.

The reach of this bill is truly global. Communities in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Algeria, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Russia, Columbia, Thailand, and around the world will know how much their governments receive from corporations including Shell, BP, Chevron, Exxon, Newmont Mining, and most of the other energy and mining majors operating in their countries.

EarthRights International was active throughout the legislative process, lobbying the U.S. Congress directly while providing public education, letter writing, advocacy, and training to other organizations in support of the transparency provision as a member of Publish What You Pay United States, a coalition of 32 nongovernmental organizations that advocated for the legislation.

This bill takes aim squarely at the “resource curse,” the documented pattern in countries rich in natural resources where this wealth leads to negative development outcomes. Senator Lugar (R-IN), one of the main supporters of the transparency provision summarized the importance of this measure quite well, saying: “History shows that oil, gas reserves, and minerals can frequently be a bane, not a blessing, for poor countries leading to corruption, wasteful spending, military adventurism, and instability, and too often oil money intended for a nation’s poor ends up lining the pockets of the rich, or is squandered on showcase projects instead of productive investments.”

While a major victory for communities in resource-rich countries, there are still several stages before the legislation is implemented and companies begin to report their payments. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must issue proposed rules that provide detailed guidance for companies covered by the bill. This process will take up to one year to complete. Groups like EarthRights International and our Publish What You Pay US colleagues will play an active role in this rule-making process, ensuring that critical information on payments is available in an effective, timely, and complete manner. Once the final rules are issued, companies will be required to disclose payments in their annual filings to the SEC going forward.

We expect that Big Oil will continue to resist these efforts as they did with the legislation. The American Petroleum Institute (API), a national trade association representing about 400 corporate members, including major oil and gas companies, made several misleading claims in a letter to members of the Senate in 2010, stating:  “API feels that requiring only U.S-listed extractive companies to disclose revenues creates a competitive disadvantage for these companies in the global energy marketplace.” Members of the US Senate were not persuaded by this specious claim, with Senator Cardin calling API’s claims, “a red herring.”

This bill may be the beginning of the end for the cloud of secrecy and corruption associated with resource extraction around the globe. With other countries like the UK considering similar measures, there is a great hope that revenue transparency becomes a norm for the industry, and we can begin to see the responsible use of these critical revenues for the benefit of local and national communities.

For more information on the transparency bill, visit www.earthrights.org

Photo Credit: Rainforest Action Network

As a student, former Military Intelligence Officer, and veteran, I’ve spent the last six years studying political violence and its causes.

Simply put, when the process of dialogue between disputing parties breaks down and the aggrieved party is denied recourse through the political and legal systems, its members take the next logical step, which military theorist Carl von Clausewitz describes as the “continuation of politics by other means.”

This can be observed in places such as Iraq and Nigeria, developing nations which have three things in common: oil, governments that rely more on fear than representation to maintain power, and foreign investors who collude with these governments in order to gain access that resource.

In the case of Iraq this has led to sectarian conflict and attacks on U.S. troops, who are in the position of having to preserve a fragile security situation while Chevron and other companies attempt to quietly exploit their window of opportunity to re-enter the country.

Nigeria, in comparison, has lost up to 25% of its oil production capacity due to insurgent attacks in the Niger Delta, where Chevron contaminates the air and water with impunity and has directly supported the Nigerian military in its brutal operations against peaceful demonstrators. Faced with the devastation of their food and water supply and the failure of their governments to hold these companies accountable, it is not difficult to understand why citizens of these countries turned to armed conflict in order to change the companies’ cost-benefit analysis.

On May 26 at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting, I witnessed Chevron refused entry to proxy shareholders from Ecuador, Burma, Nigeria, Colombia, and numerous other places around the world which have been severely harmed by the company. I cannot help but wonder what these individuals’ communities will think after they return from thousands of miles of travel without having been afforded the opportunity to make a simple statement before Chevron’s new CEO and Board of Directors: treat us like human beings.

The air was thick with contempt in front of Chevron’s Houston headquarters as these individuals were escorted out by smirking security officials after being informed that their papers did not meet the company’s qualifications for entry. My thought, watching these community leaders exit the building in compliance, was that Chevron had just made a major strategic miscalculation.

We in the U.S. are fortunate enough to still have a political system which, however frustrating it can often be, still makes it possible to effect change through peaceful political and legal means. Chevron is an American company. Therefore we have a responsibility to hold it accountable for its human rights violations around the world and to impose political and financial costs on it for these violations.

Through a series of long term regulatory and policy battles we will make it increasingly costly for companies such as Chevron to operate with impunity and simultaneously make renewable alternatives more attractive to investors, the ultimate objective being to bring the power of energy production back into the hands of the people. The technology to accomplish this exists today. Our challenge is to win over or oust those politicians who stand in our way through the electoral process.

Our security, our democracy, and our moral authority in the world are at stake in what we will look back on as one of the great political battles of the 21st century.

T.J. Buonomo is a Chevron Program Associate with Global Exchange and founder and editor of Citizens for a Sovereign and Democratic Iraq.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Military Intelligence Officer, U.S. Army.