Urhobo Historical Society

   Date:         Fri, 16 Nov 2001 06:35:39 EST
   From:        PhoneNews@aol.com
     To:         undisclosed-recipients:;

The Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth, Nigeria is appreciative of the opportunity given to it to feature in one of the activities lined up as part of the activities for the 2001 Annual Convention of ANA. Our particular interest in this convention stems from the theme of the conference, which is "Literature and Environment". We are also interested in this convention because of the venue which is Port Harcourt, the capital of the oil industry in Nigeria.

The oil industry is a major polluter of the environment in the tropical world. Finally, we are interested in this convention because of the timing which is November, the month in which the environmentalist and author Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other minority rights campaigners were unfairly and unjustly murdered by the Nigerian state in cahoots with the transnational oil corporations. As a writers association intensely concerned about freedom of expression, we are certain that ANA shares the view that murder is the final form of censorship.

In this short presentation, our objective will be to push for a more environmentally conscious ANA. In this regard, we shall attempt to share our experience in the field while monitoring the state of our common environment and then use this experience to shed light on the lessons that we have learnt. In ERA, we regard the environment as life.  It is the basis of our sustenance.  It is from it that we eke out a living. And this is true not only for agrarian and pre-industrial to early industrializing societies, but it is even truer for industrial societies. It is human interaction with nature, the application of human labour to nature, which transforms nature and produces our culture whether scientific, technical, artistic, economic, political or social. The Environment is thus very central to our existence.  But what is the state of the environment today?

Centuries and millennia of human action have left its scary marks on the environment.  The result has been that the higher the cultural civilization we have managed to build from transformed nature, the higher the level of devastation we have wrought on the environment. And this process of environmental devastation has witnessed increased and rising tempo since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Capital which is inherently migratory and nomadic, and which is even more so in its modern transnational form, has not only historically exploited labour, it has also degraded the environment in its rapacious and unconscionable exploitation of nature and its resources. In this now global drive for wealth creation and accumulation, the motive force has been greed, higher profits, higher revenues, and not basic human needs. Whatever has been won by collective humanity to meet the real basic human needs, have been won through struggle, or have come about as unintended by products of this world wide rape on the environment.

So who are the perpetrators and perpetuators of the accumulating environmental disaster? Big business, and the not-so-big-business whether indigenous.  But even in this, the transnational corporations (TNCs) are the most guilty.  This is because they are collectively responsible for more than 60 per cent of global investments, and more than 70 per cent of global production. From Alaska to Bakolori, from Oloibiri to Texas, and from Jos to Detroit, the story has been the same. You only need to take a trip to the plateau area to see the devastation wrought by unconscionable and unsustainable exploitation of tin and columbine on the environment. Or take a trip to the Enugu coal mines to see first hand the effects of corporate greed on the environment and on peoples' livelihoods.  Or come to the communities of the Niger Delta, and see what oil and gas exploration and production activities have done to the environment and to the peoples.

In all of these instances, the communities have been left impoverished, their environment rendered in-hospitable. Their traditional economies which were  intimately tied to the environment have been devastated.  The soil has lost its fertility and the waters its fecundity, destroying the basis for farming and fishing. And in all of these situations, this monumental environmental despoliation has been engendered by these direct activities of the big business in the areas. Nor can we forget the deforestation being visited on the Cross River valley, on the forest belt in Edo, Ondo and Ogun states due to the activities of commercial loggers.

It is clear to us  that the biggest threat to human survival in today's world is not the threat of nuclear holocaust, nor the threat of so-called terrorism, but the threat of a completely devastated environment. It is most likely that if this situation continues unabated, then we may soon find ourselves at a threshold where the carrying capacity and life sustaining potential of the environment would be breached, and then the flood gates of disasters will be fully opened, and life, or at the very least, human life, may become imperiled.

This is not sounding alarmist for we are already witnessing the deleterious consequences of unbridled assault on the environment, we have had increasing cases of destructive flash flood incidences in northern Nigeria, and in southern Africa. In the Niger Delta, the flooding circle has changed from every five  years to every year.  There are communities that are now very nearly submerged the year round. The Niger Delta is dying. The principal culprits in this environmental terrorism are the Western transnational oil corporations. They drill. They kill. They destroy. All for profit.

Four years ago, ERA issued a report titled: "Shell and Community  in the Niger Delta" In it, we made the point that "Shell has no sound policy of working with the local people who are its hosts, either in Nigeria or elsewhere. On the contrary, in many ways, Shell like the oil industry as a whole, is contemptuous of local people and arrogant about its own right to do what it likes".  We added that "this deep-rooted culture of arrogant contempt has institutionalised the use of lies and corruption as routine management procedure. As a result, the activities of Shell and other oil companies constitute a human rights abuse of international significance.

" We then advised Shell to assume a wider role in its host communities by taking over certain welfare responsibilities for three reasons, namely: (i) the communities are compelled to host Shell  or be visited with naked terror of the controllers of state power who have an alliance with the oil company;(ii) that this political reality of armed intimidation has always had the backing of Shell and (iii) SPDC's activities have badly affected and continue to affect the welfare of the local people.

Nothing has changed despite a sustained attempt by the oil mogul to present itself in the local and international media as a good corporate citizen. For Shell, you can also read Mobil, Texaco, Chevron, Agip, Elf, etc If you read our new book Where Vultures Feast: Forty Years of Shell in the Niger Delta which has been published in the US by Sierra Books  and Random House and which would be available in Nigeria in the next few weeks, you would get a clearer picture of our thinking on the role of the oil corporations in environmental human rights atrocities against our people.

A major explanation of the attitude of transnational corporations towards our people is what we have described in another book The Human Ecosystems of the Niger Delta as a historically entrenched  culture based on five assumptions, namely: .that profit maximisation is the only basis upon which a company can be run, so that any expenditure beyond what is required to get out the oil is resisted; .that a 'deal' can be made with governments only, regardless of the government's legality or morality, and regardless also of the wishes of the local people; .that once an arrangement has been made with government; a mining company can do what it likes - in fact, to act as if it is a government agency; .that the 'market' (i.e. the industrialised world) has the right to have the resources it wants at the lowest possible price, and regardless of the costs to the local people who are obliged to play host to mining companies; and .that 'we', the mining companies, know best and are acting responsibly.

Our world is changing, and there is a need to do something drastic to arrest the aimless drift. Without getting into the debate as to whether writers should be socially committed or not, one can say without doubt that as a leading part of the creativity vanguard of human society, writers are invariably influenced by their environment. The Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong' O had this in mind when he said several years ago that all writers are writers in politics.

The question is whose politics and what politics. Whether one produces a work of art, explaining for instance the issues involved in the Niger Delta question, or whether one produces a condemnatory work of art on the same issues, the fact remains that one has not escaped the consequences of that situation. Writers can join in the crusade to make our world safer, more humane and more equitable.  What is more, they can use their creativity to promote the cause of environmental conservation, remediation and  restoration.  And in this crusade care ought to be taken so that whatever we do would not be considered as a form of encouragement to the very same institutions which are guilty of engendering the situation which we wish to transform.

Writers have a tremendous influence on the consciousness of their readers, t is therefore incumbent that such great responsibility should be dispensed with great care. From our experience, not just here in Nigeria but also globally, one of the most effective advocacy tools is to achieve a collective censure of a guilty party in world public opinion.  This is the kind of pressure the TNCs and their local collaborators respond to.  And whereas one may also advocate the public censure and isolation of a dictatorship, once the political space has become somewhat liberalized, however relatively, one then needs to device additional tools of advocacy, including critical engagement. Nigerian writers can strengthen the voice of the impoverished communities, by facilitating the exposure of the culpability of the TNCs and local big
business in the impoverishment of our peoples through the devastating impacts of their activities on our environment.

One last word: This conference has been preceded by a controversy as to whether or not ANA should accept funding from transnational oil corporations. ERA had said it would not be in a position to support the welcome cocktail of this Convention if ANA went ahead to  take money from any oil corporation. We were then assured by the Secretariat that money from any oil corporation to ANA would be suspended until this convention where the matter would be conclusively debated. We were therefore alarmed when the chairman of the Rivers State branch of ANA said yesterday that about two per cent of its expenses have been borne by Shell and Elf. Our knee-jerk reaction was to boycott the convention but on a second thought we decided to participate.

If anything, in honour of those writers who do not belong to the Rivers branch of ANA and who were not party to this decision. We are completely opposed to collecting money from oil corporations. We consider their money as blood money. ERA's position is that until these corporations listen to the demands for respect of the people, restoration of the environment and recognition of the people as true owners of the land and the oil, ANA cannot with clear conscience take  any sponsorship from any oil company. When we ask oil corporations to assume welfare responsibilities in host communities, we are saying so as a matter of right - from the point of view of host communities. We are not begging. We have seen that even when you beg, as the Rivers branch of ANA has done, you would be given ONLY  a token!

The oil corporations have no respect for our people. They have no respect for our environment. They have no respect for our governments. The danger in collecting anything from the oil corporations is that they will use it for their evil  propaganda . They will use it to evade tax. Finally, the oil corporations wanted and ensured that Ken Saro-Wiwa was murdered. This is the final form of censorship. To accept their money would be to murder Ken AGAIN.

There is nothing to add.

Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action /Friends of the Earth,
Port Harcourt, NIGERIA
November 2, 2001