An event like this creates an opportunity for all present to reflect on the future of the Niger Delta people and that of their unborn children, reason being that the environment which is simply put here as our mother is our surrounding and whatever we individually and collectively put into it is what we will receive or get back. Having stated this l ask that we stop a moment and ask ourselves what and how have we contributed to the state of the Niger Delta Environment and by extension that of the globe.
There is a plethora of literature on Niger Delta, its people, environment, economy and more, but for our purpose, the Niger Delta region is a wetland with delicate environment and it has been of enormous economic, political and social importance since 1956 when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, in present day Bayelsa State and in 1958 when the first exportation was commenced through Bonny terminus in Rivers State.
Some of the discourses on the Niger Delta and its natural endowment will include and not limited to; Crude Oil Resource: A Blessing or Curse in Nigeria: A study of the Niger Delta, Tamuno and Felix (2006); Crude Oil Resource in the Niger Delta: Oil ABlessing or Curse: The Nigerian Experience;Agbaeze and Ukoha (2018). Due to the significance of this singular product to Nigerian state and its foreign allies the region has become exposed to the influence of both traditional and foreign economic assaults and abuses.
The region is blessed with water crisscrossing the entire region as rivers, creeks, and oceans and so the people depend heavily on fishing and its related activities; and it has mass expanse of arable land which make many engage in farming and its allied activities. However, these agrarian and aquatic economic activities of the people have suffered a lot of setback due to the actions of the Nigerian State and its Colonisers.
The Nigerian state is said to have had political independence in 1960, but economically you can say that she is still colonised as her foreign partners through its corporate establishments still control and direct how the resources of the region should be harnessed. The reason being that Nigeria does not have the appropriate technologies needed to control how the natural endowment should be extracted and utilised.
The discovery, extraction, distribution and consumption of crude oil and its related products have certain consequences that are of importance to this audience. First, the indigenous people are alienated from what is naturally theirs; second, their environment is degraded and polluted and third, there is loss of livelihood and so an alternative is to be sought.
Interestingly however, the world is a globe and so there is no water tight compact between the earth’s water, air and land; and so, whatever harm done to one aspect of the globe directly or indirectly affects the other. At such realisation, the advanced economies who are the perpetrators of the negativities and despoliation of the Niger Delta environment and Nigerian economy began to make policies and take actions to protect their environment and its people. On that pedestal, Nigeria and other less developed nations in conjunction with the advanced nations under the United Nations signed treaties to protect the world’s environment.
It is obvious that Nigeria is a signatory to several treaties to protect the environment, which may be international, regional and national; but your question and mine is, does the Nigerian state and its foreign partners that is, International Oil Corporations (IOCs) follow the International best practice in the process of carrying out its economic activities in the Niger delta? Your answer is as good as mine.
Having come to the realisation that the activities of the IOCs in collaboration with the Nigerian government have caused the people of the Niger Delta more challenges than imagined, and also that wherever there are challenges be it war (inter and intra), regional or global that women are the worst hit, l think that is why the organisers of this programme have joined other well-meaning citizens of the world to demand for environmental justice; and we all have to join our voices to theirs to ensure that justice is achieved, especially as environmental justice is currently on going in Spain with world leaders participating.
Nigeria is a patriarchal society, and so most times the opinion of women are not sought for before important decisions are taken, therefore, those who take decisions on their behalf do not really understand the position of women on any matter. Evidence abound that aside the crude oil and its related activities which is the economic mainstay of Nigeria, that women are the economic back bone of the nation; and so, they have the right to demand for environmental justice through the opportunities provided by civil society organisations like Kebetkache Women Development and Resource Centre who is preparing you to have the capacity as women to demand for climate change action.
This then brings us to the centre of our discourse. Environment which we stated earlier is our mother and whatever we inject into it gets back to us. It therefore, means that as women who are by nature teachers, advocates, role models and much more should have the capacity to differentiate between a healthy environment and otherwise, and as such, they should also be able to decipher what is environment friendly. Equipped with such knowledge they will be able to garner a force that can demand environmental justice from anyone who operates and does business in the Niger Delta environment; be it national government, corporate entities or individuals to deal with the environment friendly?
CURRENT STATE AND NATURE OF NIGER DELTA REGION ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AS A HUMAN RIGHT
To be able to understand why environmental justice is a human right issue and so must be demanded for by a people, let us briefly articulate the catalogue of environmental challenges that have bedeviled the Niger Delta people for more than five decades. First, they are, oil spill and pollution. Oil spill is said to have occurred when crude oil seeps into the environment from the pipe line(s); and some factors account for such occurrence, which may be as a result of aging of the pipelines, corrosion, vandalism and accident.
For whatever reason that causes crude oil to seep out of its pipeline into the environment what follows is what is termed by environmentalists as pollution. Pollution according to Bellamy (2007) is the unfavourable alteration of the physical, chemical, or biological balance of the environment that has adverse effects on the normal functioning of all life-forms, including humans. This goes to explain that the presence of crude oil on the environment can manifest in the death of aquatic lives, birds of the air and animals on the land. The land also becomes unproductive due to caking of the soil.
Next is gas flaring, this is a situation when gas which is one of the end products of crude oil is allowed into the atmosphere through a funnel. Flaring of gas warms up the environment and when the area is concentrated with this dangerous gas it returns back to the earth as acid rain. The effect of such gases on our environment are very deleterious as the corrugated roofing sheets turn brown and ragged. It also accounts for increase in temperature and the humidity that we experience in the Niger Delta region; this in turn contributes to what is popularly known as climatic change.
Another experience that is common in the Niger Delta region is the increasing rate of flooding and erosion. Due to the high temperature, the icebergs of the earth are melting thereby leading to increase in water (sea and ocean) levels. Increase in water levels leads to seas and oceans overflowing their banks there by causing and flooding has become a reality in the region. You can attest that currently we cannot clearly determine when dry season will end and rainy season will set in. It is a common thing to observe that most communities are experiencing erosion more than ever before, this is because the integrity or matrix of the earth has been greatly disintegrated as a result of human activities on the environment.
Of essence also is the nature of the roads in the region. Due to activities of the IOCs with their earth moving machines and the attitude of the government both state and national in the area of provision of social amenities, most of the roads in the region are impassable and death traps; this accounts for the high rate of road traffic accidents and loss of man-hours on our roads when you want to commute from one state to another.
In addition to the above is the militarisation of the youth of the region which stemmed from the reaction of the people to the unguarded extraction of the abundant natural resources in the region by the IOCs. The actions of the youth have exposed the people who reside and do business in the region to unhealthy consequences such as, kidnapping, armed robbery, formation of cult groups and associated cult rivalry activities. Their activities have advertently affected the economic life of the people as some corporate organisations moved their headquarters outside the Niger delta region. Some private establishments and families also moved out of the region.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AS A HUMAN RIGHT
Having reminded ourselves of what the state and nature of the Niger Delta region is currently and bearing in mind its economic relevance to Nigeria and the world at large, let us briefly examine what environmental justice is. Environmental justice is a movement promoting the fair treatment of people of all races, income and culture with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies; Enger and Smith (2002).
Fair treatment in their view and to which l agree to, implies that no person or group of people should shoulder a disproportionate share of the negative environmental impacts resulting from the execution of domestic and foreign policy programmes. The Environmental justice movement is in other words known as Environmental Equity.
Environmental equity is defined by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as equal protection of all individuals, groups, or communities regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status, from environmental hazards. Environmental justice has many facets in the forms of legal, economic and political; and that is why it is appropriate to approach it in a variety of ways by the public and private sectors; and the health sectorinclusive. The health sector should naturally focus on the health aspect of environmental matters.
NIGER DELTA WOMEN TO DEMAND FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IN THE AREA OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change is a concept which refers to the observable alteration in yearly cycles of the world’s temperature, rainfall, wind and tides. The change in this area is very obvious and because human beings contribute greatly to this change and with the available knowledge at your disposable, you are to my mind well equipped to individually and collectively as a right press it upon your various arms of government, IOCs and communities to treat your environment friendly.
Some ways to be friendly with the environment will include but not limited to; ceasing to dump both domestic and industrial wastes in drainages and water ways; burning of plastic and hydrocarbon materials, artisanal refining (kpo fire), gas flaring, hewing of trees, eliminate the use of biomass for domestic use.
Finally and above all is the ability of the government to enforce the observance to the existing regulations on environmental issues both globally and locally, which the Nigeria state is signatory to. The Nigerian state should also ensure that the IOCs adopt the international best practices in the process of extracting the natural resources which in the bowel of the earth (crude oil), which the main economic stay of the nation with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than 90%, more especially as Nigeria is referred to in literature as a mono-economy and consumer nation.
All Niger Delta people should act as watchdogs for the safety of their environment by forming environment friendly clubs. It is also required that sincere education and advocacy on the friendly utilisation of the environment and its resources by the Civil Society Organisations should continue. The reason is that the health of our environment is in the hands of all of us, as there is no water tight compartment between the world’s water, air and land (environment); Nsirim-Worlu, (2004).