When it was announced that, Chibeze Ezekiel, a Ghanaian environmentalist and the National Coordinator of 350 Ghana Reducing Our Carbon has received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize award, many were those who shared the joy of his success in the country.
He became one of the six environmental heroes from each of the world’s inhabited continents to have won the prize, dubbed the “Green Nobel Prize,”.
Ezekiel, according to Goldman, led a four-year grassroots campaign to cancel the construction of the first coal-fired power plant in Ghana, changing the trajectory of Ghana’s energy future, hence the Green Noble Prize.
But, a youth-led environmental policy advocacy group called Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) has come out to raise some reservations about the award given to Mr Ezekiel.
According to the youth group in a statement copied to ghenvironment.org, there are some misleading narrative of the coal campaign, published by Goldman which led to the Green Noble Prize award by Ezekiel.
“GYEM, became aware of this misleading narrative in late November 2020, when the Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa was awarded to Ghanaian environmentalist, Mr. Ezekiel Chibeze, crediting his “four-year grassroots campaign” for the abolishment of the 700MW coal-fired power plant in Ghana”, the statement said.
The group said, out of mutual respect, they quickly alerted Mr Chibeze of the false information in the storyline published, and the implications on GYEM as the pioneer and lead proponent of the coal campaign within the three-year period it occurred (2013-2016).
“He responded, by claiming that Goldman and the media (BBC) were responsible for creating and controlling the false narrative” they added.
But according to GYEM, their checks pointed out that, the award nomination, narrative and documentary pieced together were carried out with the knowledge of the recipient of the award and his nominating organizations G-ROC (350 Ghana) and/or 350Africa, an indication that he was not oblivious of the framing of the campaign account.
The statement said, in an attempt to support Goldman in correcting the misleading narrative, on the 1 st of December 2020, GYEM sent them an email, raising serious concerns about the false narrative behind the award and bringing to their attention the detrimental impact such a narrative has on them, as well as the other hard- working activists who played an instrumental role in supporting the campaign.
This they said proved futile, as Goldman failed to investigate their own claims to rectify this injurious mistake.
Setting the records straight
According to GYEM, Goldman published on their website that the recipient directly championed a 4-year coal activism, a fact they have disputed.
The group explained that, the campaign commenced in early July 2013, and by the middle of 2016, a decision to postpone the coal project to 2017 had been announced by the Volta River Authority (VRA), government’s lead implementing institution for the project.
A change in government after the 2016 national elections, GYEM noted, contributed to the collapse of the project, as the new administration (NPP) did not pursue the plan in 2017.
“G-ROC and Mr. Chibeze’s visible and verifiable campaign contributions took place between August and November 2016 as evidenced by their social media footprint with sources of evidence such as bit.ly/Factcheck_1b, bit.ly/Factcheck_1c, bit.ly/Factcheck_1d and bit.ly/Factcheck_1e”, the statement added.
GYEM also described as a clear misinformation the assertion that, the energy policy and infrastructure implementation fall within the purview of the Ministry of Environment. They explained that, it was the Ministry of Energy (MoE) that was responsible for the policy and coordination of the project, while the VRA, a power sector agency of the Ministry was the lead implementing institution.
“The purported press conference that took place involving the Environment Minister was actually a press briefing with the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, at the US Embassy in Accra. The then Minister Mahama Ayariga, was only responding to a question posed by a journalist about why Ghana is choosing to invest in coal. In the presence of America’s top environmental health and air quality expert, Ayariga’s response was merely out of political expedience, as his political party’s (NDC) manifesto (2016- 2021, p.53) contradicted his position at the press event”, the statement said.
According to GYEM, it is also false, the assertion by Goldman that, the recipient launched a coal campaign in 2013 upon learning about the proposed coal plant.
The statement explained that, the coal campaign in Ghana was launched on July 8, 2013 by GYEM and the activity was in a direct response to the announcement of the coal project by MoE on July 5.
“The first non-violent direction action (NDVA) campaign to publicly resist government and oppose the project was a protest held by GYEM at the compound of Ministry of Energy in Accra. This event is extensively documented. For instance, a Facebook post written by Mr. Chibeze himself on October 15, 2013 on the page of Strategic Youth Network for Development Ghana (SYND), an organization he also founded, credits GYEM for spearheading the coal campaign”, the statement added.
GYEM also described as deceptive the claim by the recipient in the award documentary to have started a “massive” social media campaign with the hashtag #CoalKills.
The statement said, Facebook trail and history revealed a very scanty usage of that hashtag by Mr. Chibeze and his organization, G-ROC from August 2016 onwards, adding that, the recipient’s Twitter account has no record of the use of the hashtag.
“Meanwhile G-ROC only opened a Twitter account in June 2020. It is therefore shocking to read the recipient and Goldman allude to a mammoth social media campaign which triggered public interest in the coal issue”, the statement said.
Contrary to what has been put in the public, GYEM revealed that, there is enough evidence to demonstrate that a social media campaign by them and other leading activists using hashtags #NoCoal2Gh and #RejectCoal2Gh was the largest and most extensive in the history of the coal campaign in Ghana. This the statement said, is easily verifiable on both Facebook and Twitter by posts and tweets from individual activists and the organization.
GYEM also raised questions about video footages used in the award documentary where the footage of events that had nothing to do with the campaign were used.
The statement noted that, even though members of GYEM are eager to celebrate with every environmental activist their contributions and achievements in making this world a better place for all, they are with the firm believe that such achievements need to be portrayed truthfully with due diligence and thorough checks carried out by awarding bodies, such as Goldman, in order to ensure the integrity of the work that is celebrated.
By Awudu Salami Sulemana Yoda