Dr Eucharia Nwaichi, a biochemist at the University of Port Harcourt, has won the prestigious 2022 John Maddox Prize for her evidence-based approach to uniting conflicting communities over pollution in the Niger Delta.
Nwaichi becomes the 11th recipient of the prestigious Prize by developing solutions and putting forward evidence to advance public discourse around soil recovery in challenging circumstances.
Tracey Brown OBE, Director, Sense About Science and Judge, made the disclosure in Abuja on Monday.
The director said nominations received included scientific evidence in difficult discussions about laboratory safety, testosterone levels in Olympic athletes, and vaccine efficacy.
“It is frustrating that in so many parts of the world, people are indulging reactions against research without a thought about how important that evidence and the freedom to discuss it could be.
“It’s especially frustrating when research institutions do not defend that space or their researchers. We are delighted that the award goes to Dr Nwaichi.
“She engaged opposing hostile forces in asking scientific questions to make sure solutions would be effective, a refreshing approach in a world where it is becoming common to stake out political sides around research findings.”
Brown said the Niger Delta, West Africa’s largest oil producing region, suffered serious contamination, saying the research on effective ways to clean up the soil (phytoremediation) was urgently needed.
She said Nwaichi convinced local communities and oil companies to take part in research to find viable solutions, in spite of the intense and dangerous levels of conflict and personal risk to herself.
“Through her constructive approach using scientific evidence she has been able to resolve a dispute between local communities and an oil company on the effects of liquid waste on fish stocks in Rivers State, diffusing a conflict that threatened to escalate into violence.
“She continues to work with local communities to trial new methods for soil remediation despite the intense personal threat to her from representatives of a different oil company whose officials confiscated her recordings and data.’’
On being the award, Dr Eucharia Nwaichi, said receiving the John Maddox Prize from such reputable institutions was a huge honour, with a resonating feeling.
“When my husband received the great news, he said ‘the ‘uninformed bully and chauvinists who failed to recognize your work for society have unintentionally referred you to the right people’.
“Scientists, like me, are emboldened by this singular award to confront obstacles and ensure credible evidence is used to inform policies for sustainable development.”
The John Maddox Prize is a joint initiative of the charity Sense about Science and the leading international scientific journal Nature.
The Prize has been awarded annually since 2012 to researchers who have shown great courage and integrity in standing up for science and scientific reasoning against fierce opposition and hostility.
Dr Eucharia Nwaichi goes home with a £3,000 pounds’ grand prize. (NAN)