Females as Victims of Environmental Degradation in Contemporary Niger Delta Novels. A Study of Yellow Yellow by Kaine Agary, Love my Planet by Vincent Egbuson, Amongst the Survivors by Million John, and Stars of the Long Night by Tanure Ojaide.
CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION
1.1 Background to the Study
Literature is a carrier and reflector of society which captures the life and essence of a people‟s existence in totality. Terry Eagleton in Literary Theory: An Introduction posits that “literature is concrete rather than abstract, displays life in all its rich variousness and rejects barren conceptual enquiry for the feel and taste of what it is to be alive” (196).The Literature of a given society illustrates lucidly the composition of that particular society in relation to their culture, history and experiences.
Arts in its diverse forms is used to capture the realities of human experiences, and these experiences can only thrive within an environment. Abalogu Onukaogu and Ezechi Onyerionwu in 21st Century Literature confirms, thus: “no meaningful or serious literary creation can ever achieve credibility and authenticity if it discountenances the environment”(55). Undoubtedly, the environment shapes the content and texture of the literature. No work of art achieves credibility if it is extricated from the environment that produced it.
The environment indeed plays a significant role in the lives of humans. One can also appreciate the issues of environmental concerns as forming the centre point of present day global writing. The environment, which involves man, the air space, land and water, is seen as a world or system with unified elements that are interdependent.
A.C. Emeribe in his article “Environmental Management and Protection in Budgeting” asserts that “the environment is that which gives physical sustenance and affords man the opportunity for intellectual, spiritual and social growth…the natural and manmade are essential for his wellbeing and enjoyment of basic human rights” (208).This explains the reason why the 19th century Romantic poets yearned for nature.
Passion for nature, a yearning for the past and freedom of imagination were three impulses of the Romantic Movement. Poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Gordon Byron upheld the Romantic Movement which consist in its attitude to nature. For Wordsworth and his contemporaries, nature was not mere physical loveliness, but something deeper.
Females as Victims of Environmental Degradation in Contemporary Niger Delta Novels
As such, these poets worshipped their environment, because they saw in all natural objects the indwelling of the Supreme Being. The Romantic poets discovered that nature is a healer and a teacher. In Wordsworth‟s words as quoted in R.D. Trivedi: “One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral and of good, than all the sages can” (331). A clean environment was, for Nature Poets, an exclusive concern. For them, it translated to religion, thus making it a goal to convert humanity into this new religion. Theirs is an advocacy for simplicity, love for one‟s neighbour and faith in divine providence.
James Ewah states it clearly in his essay, “Ecodrama and Conservation Policy” that “man and nature depend on each other for ecological balance and optimum survival” (293). In essence, the environment aids man‟s growth at all existential levels and generally constitute the foundation upon which his enjoyment of basic human rights is built.
In traditional African societies, humanity‟s sustenance basically was from plants and animals. Mankind also held aspects of nature sacred; the forests for instance were basically the home of ancestors, the rivers and streams, a coven for men‟s potency and women‟s fertility. This brief explanation inspires what Cherryll Glotfelty calls, “the relationship between human culture and the environment” (xv).
Earlier in the 20th century however, the renowned English historian, Arnold Tonybee noted the dangers human activities posed on the biosphere. Expressing his fear over an environmental disaster, Tonybee in Love Glen, warns that humanity now has the “capacity to make the biosphere inhabitable and will, in fact, produce this suicidal result within a forseeable period of time if humans do not now take prompt and vigorous concerted action to check the pollution and despoliation that are being inflicted upon the biosphere by shortsighted human greed”(25).
Undoubtedly, the devastating blows constantly thrown at the natural environment by humanity‟s sense of capitalist industrialism and consumerism steadily but unfortunately accounts for the disappearance of the non human world. Mankind‟s inordinate exploitation of natural resources continues to make human existence precarious. Niyi Osundare in his Eye of the Earth therefore voices out:
What we have now is a remembered landscape, echoes of an Eden long departed, when the rain forests were terrifyingly green…Left mostly now are echoes whispered in the stubborn ears of memory. Most of those trees so vivaciously native to this forest have met a rapid death in the hands of….merchants with the exploitative improvidence. (x-xi)
The natural environment is usually a place of naivety and innocence, where species thrive naturally and harmoniously in an atmosphere devoid of rancour or acrimony. However, with the advent of technologies, the world is reduced to what is commonly called a global village, thereby rendering the natural innocence of most environments vulnerable to alien, often harmful cultural forces.
Environmental problems result from natural changes and also human activities. Naturally occurring environmental problems are basically ecological changes, which may also be aggravated by human activities. Examples of these changes are earthquakes, erosions, flood, wind storm, stream siltation, etc. However anthropogenic environmental problems principally include pollution and other vices resulting from industrial, agricultural, commercial, domestic and socio-economic activities such as waste dumping, gas flaring, oil spillage, drilling, bush burning, deforestation, over population.
Females as Victims of Environmental Degradation in Contemporary Niger Delta Novels
The well-being or otherwise of every specie in the ecosystem depend largely on the level of tolerance and of willingness of all to stretch their natural desires and capacities only to the limits of acceptability by all; failure of which leads to dissentions.
One of the most pressing issues the world continues to contend with is the unimaginable disappearance of the non human world. Mankind‟s sustenance and existence depends on the non human world which places it more important than humans since it provides the material support base for the latter.
Man‟s attention has been drawn to his inordinate exploitation of natural resources that continues to make his existence precarious. The twenty first century person according to Ogaga Okuyade in Ecocritical Literature: Regreening the African Landscape “negotiates existence under chaotic environmental conditions; a situation created by mankind‟s uncanny translation of the functions of the environment to meet his ever insatiate greed for satisfying his unquenching taste for resources” (xii).
Capitalist acts of consumerism such as oil exploration, uncontrolled cutting down of trees, burning of forests etc endanger mankind‟s existence because as the natural resources continues to be depleted without conscious efforts of their replenishment, life expectancy of man is being reduced. These careless and rough handling of the environment amount to degradation.
The environment is indeed a common heritage of humanity and needs to be protected, but unfortunately, deterioration of the environment through human actions continues unabated. Mankind has continued to consistently reduce the environment to a mere object or item that can be exploited for his sustenance and greed. Raj Kumar Mishra in Ecocritical Literature laments that:
Today, we live in a world of tropical warmth, chronic drought, desertification, deforestation, acidifying oceans, frequent coastal inundation, tsunami, cyclones, increasing food and shelter shortages, accidents at nuclear power stations, oxytocin applied vegetables, industrial pollution and many more lethal activities. (1)
Ecological degradation therefore refers to the filth, ruin and dilapidation that arise from unwholesome environmental practices, a situation where human beings, plants or animals, are exposed to contaminants and hazards at such level that adverse effects occur. The contaminants of an environment may include industrial operations, activities of construction, mining companies, smokes or fumes resulting from combustion or burning, the release of gaseous chemicals in the air as well as the use of pesticides in mechanized agriculture.
Females as Victims of Environmental Degradation in Contemporary Niger Delta Novels
According to the environmental critic, Partha Das Sharrna, basic concepts of ecological degradation include “eco-system imbalance, forest deterioration, fresh water degradation, soil degradation, air pollution, and global warming”. Each of these issues, according to him, is attributable to the substantial and progressive rise in human population and in technological sophistication.
Cynthia Deitering in her essay titled “The Postnatural Novel: Toxic Consciousness in Fiction of the 1980s” paints a picture of a world living in fear of an alarming level of ecological degradation arising from toxic waste productions and dumping on both lands and waters. Her study is a descriptive survey “that reveals man‟s progressive preoccupation with the “toiletization” of the planet … a shift from a culture defined by its production to a culture defined by its waste” (196).
Ecological degradation is one of the biggest problems of our world today. Mankind is in a perpetual state of crisis; a situation created by the destructive translation of the functions of environment to meet human‟s ever insatiable greed for satisfying his taste for resources.
As human beings advance in intellectual knowledge and technological abilities, their desires expand and grow, far beyond the provisions of basic necessities of life, to that of construction of larger than life structures, far away from basic comforts but mostly for mere fantasy and aesthetic satisfaction. From one generation to the other, there exists in humans the urge to overthrow systems, destroy and waste existing structures in order to rebuild.
The reckless need and bizarre satisfaction to deconstruct in order to reconstruct occupies an alarming space in the activities of humanity. Adekoya (qtd in Edward O. Wilson) therefore avers that “humanity has so far played the role of planetary killer, concerned only with its own short term survival. We have cut much of the heart out of biodiversity… all human beings, without exception are geological agents and participate in different degrees in the gradual killing of the planet Earth” (299).
Females as Victims of Environmental Degradation in Contemporary Niger Delta Novels
The results of these activities and desires are dirt, pollution and degradation. Indeed, a denuding of the local environment through exploitation of earth and water resources becomes a constant reality that humans and non human natural organism have to grapple with. The insensitive desire to conquer, subdue and subjugate inform much of the degradations in the ecosystem. The result of degradation amount to a denigration of the socio cultural, moral and economic structures of the physical environment.
Regrettably, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria is an apt example of one of the most battered ecosystems of the world. The processes of exploration, drilling, production, marketing and distribution of crude oil, gas and their products are the prime sources of human induced degradation of the Delta environment.
The activities of oil industries in the area have induced remarkable degrees of negative impact, which amounts to deterioration, degradation, rape and despoliation. The intensive exploitation of the area‟s rich oil resources brought with it severe environmental degradation. Ken Saro-Wiwa in Genocide in Nigera: The Ogoni Tragedy describes in a detailed manner the despoliation that has beset his homeland thus:
Oil exploration has turned Ogoni into a waste land; lands, streams, creeks are totally and continually polluted, the atmosphere has been poisoned, charged as it is with hydrocarbon vapour, methane, carbon monoxide and soot emitted by gas which has been flared twenty four hours a day for thirty- three years in very close proximity to human habitation. Acid rain, oil spillages and blow outs have devastated Ogoni territory. High pressure oil, pipelines crisscross the surface of Ogoni farmlands and villages dangerously. (96)
Niger Delta today, in the hands of oil explorers and exploiters is a wasteland. Iniodu Ukpong agrees with Ken Saro-Wiwa as he describes the region in his poem Niger Delta Blues as a chimney, where smoke of death oozes, a city of David, where terrorists conduct experiments. In despair, he describes the region as devastated, dejected, endangered, exploited, marginalized and militarized. G. Darah, in Revolutionary Pressures observes of the Niger Delta:
In the Niger Delta, the extractive industry of the oil and gas has inflicted tragedies worse than has been experienced elsewhere in the world…because the Niger Delta is the most populated of all the Deltas on the earth, negative effects of oil mining and other ecological disasters have had more devastating consequences on human beings. (5)
Onyema Chris quoting J.Ushie bemoans the degradation in the Niger Delta environment and the mindless crude exploitation that goes on in the area, thus:
The Niger Delta is completely vandalized, its once fertile land soaked in and sterilized by crude oil, its people living in thatch and mud shacks, its rivers, streams and creeks poisoned, its fishes murdered, its people left uneducated, left without drinkable water, left without electricity supply, left without jobs, left without health facilities, and without food…live in the midst of oil spillages and round the clock gas flaring. (442)
Females as Victims of Environmental Degradation in Contemporary Niger Delta Novels
The people of the area as a result of their degraded environment are unfortunately bedeviled by poverty. The loss of farmlands and aquatic life have left the inhabitants devastated and pauperized.
Alamieyeseigha D.S.P in his paper, “Niger Delta Crisis, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” decries the situation of the Niger Deltans:
The people of Niger Delta region are highly dependent on their environment (land, water and forest) for sustenance. They were attached to their environment and made their living from the exploitation of its resources as farmers, fishermen, hunters and forest product gatherers. As a result of environmental degradation and petro business activities, the economic activities of the people were soon dislocated… the impaired capacity of the people due to a degraded and devastated environment is a major cause of poverty in the region.
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is traditionally defined as the area drained by the tributaries of the River Niger before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Niger Delta can be referred to as the “oil zone” of Nigeria. According to Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr:
The oil zone of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, comprises of about 37 million people, spread in about 1,600 communities that harbour the various tributaries through which the Niger – the largest river in West Africa and the longest in Africa – empties its waters into the Atlantic Ocean.
It has been described as one of the most densely populated parts of the world and one of the world‟s greatest ecosystems; Africa‟s largest and the world‟s third largest mangrove forest, the most expansive fresh water swamp in Western and Central Africa and Nigeria‟s major forest concentration of high biodiversity and the centre for endemism. (45)
The area as Iniodu Ukpong argues, “ is rich in natural and mineral deposit (Crude Oil and Gas) discovered in 1956, and has remained the economic backbone of the Nigerian nation, geographically, covered within the geological Niger Delta includes the six states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers. However, a more inclusive geopolitical definition extends to the Oil producing states of Abia, Imo and Ondo”(3).
Ashton Jones points out that “the Niger Delta Region lies within the West African tropical rain forest biome and its natural ecosystems can be described by six distinct ecological zones namely, Fresh water swamp forest, Tropical Rain Forest, Derived Savannah, Mangrove Swamp forest, Sand Barrier Islands and Estuaries”(21). Ukpong posits that:
The sub regional area of southern Nigeria had been named variously in line with the prevailing interests. During the era of flourishing slave trade, it was christened among the Slave Coast… In the 1850‟s during the era of real commodity business in Palm oil and Palm kernel, the region was popular as the Oil Rivers, with places like Bonny, Brass and Calabar as major trade centres … The British declared a protectorate over it in 1885, hence the region became the Oil Rivers Protectorate and in 1893 was renamed the Niger Delta Protectorate. (2)
Situated in the Niger Delta is an abundant reserve of mineral resources of high economic value on land and in the waters. It includes a wide variety of solid minerals, crude oil and natural gas. Some of the exploitable minerals found in the region are granite, marble, phosphate rock, gypsum, sand, clay, salt, limestone, coal, sliver etc. However, crude oil is the most extensively exploited mineral resource in Nigeria.
The Niger Delta, Ukpong insists “ is the most prospective of the five major Sedimentary basins in Nigeria; the Anambra Basin, the Chad Basin, the Benin and Benue Basin, where oil exploration has taken place. Crude oil, discovered in Oloibiri, a community in Bayelsa State of Nigeria in 1956, has since formed the pivot of the nation‟s economy” (12).
Ashton Jones posits that “the Niger Delta holds the largest oil reserve in Africa and the tenth globally, thus contributes about 10% of the world‟s light crude oil which is highly valued for high yield of light oil products and low sulphur content… crude oil has been the object of Nigeria‟s monotypic economy with revenues accounting for 25% of GDP, about 90% foreign exchange earnings and 70% budgetary expenditure” (5).
The oil has grossly succeeded in enriching the nation and securing a pride of place for the country in the international arena, but the paradox of poverty in the midst of wealth holds true for the Niger Delta people, whose environment is daily battered; their resources feed others while they go hungry and wallow in neglect.
Nigeria, reputed as the most populous Black nation ranks among the top global producers and exporters of crude oil which has been the major revenue for Nigerian nation for over fifty years. The proceeds from oil has built and continues to build the nation‟s capital – Abuja, even Lagos and some states up North into world class socio- political sites. The oil proceeds has indeed acquired for the nation respect and pride.
G.G. Darah, highlights the role of the oil gains from the Niger Delta in the execution of Nigeria‟s International Military and Diplomatic Duties thus:
Nigeria‟s financial and diplomatic muscle was decisive in compelling the apartheid tyrants to “step aside” from power. All the money that funded Nigeria‟s involvement in the anti apartheid struggle came from the oil wealth of the Niger Delta. The same is true about the N13 billion Nigeria expended in waging ECOMOG wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. (114)
The rise of oil as a key world socio-political and economic issue is indeed one of the most incontestable facts of the modern world. Oil, in all its capacity is a top global revenue earner; it is also undoubtedly a propellant of crisis situation and a huge figure in the international conversation on ecological degradation.
Oil, the most traded commodity in the present age has contributed in no small measure to the world‟s discomforting position. Oil spillages, gas flaring, and other toxic substances have left the environment degraded and depreciated and the people poorer due to loss of their natural occupation – farming and fishing.
The narrative of degraded environments, decimated cultures and misappropriated economies remains the same in many African Countries. The narrator in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man says of Ecuador “By 1968, Texaco had discovered petroleum in Ecuador‟s Amazon region. Today, oil accounts for nearly half the country‟s export. A trans Andean pipeline built… has since leaked over a million barrels of oil into the fragile rainforest” (3).
The narrator observes with dismay “that vast areas of rainforest has fallen, macaws and jaguars have all but vanished, three Ecuadorian indigenous cultures have been driven to the edge of collapse and pristine rivers have been transformed into flaming cesspools”(4). “Exploration and exploitation activities”, he decries, “leaves Ecuador battered in many ways: destruction of indigenous cultures, human lives, hundreds of thousands of species of animals, reptiles, fishes, insects, plants” (6). In this same vein, Niger Delta today, in the hands of oil explorers and exploiters is a wasteland.
The violation of the environment share a similar narrative with the violation of females in the society (the woman and the girl child). Both are victims of subjugation and subjection powered by the willful obnoxious activities of Capitalism and Patriarchy.
The portraiture of a battered nature and the denigration of females are juxtaposed in this study. The violation of nature and women, have necessitated a global call for renegotiation and a change in attitude towards unhealthy and counter activities meted out on them which culminate in tragic climaxes.
Apparent violations of the female folk are woven around the strictures that surround them. In order to ensure that women are not victims of violence, the General Assembly of the United Nations in its Resolution of 48/104 1993 made a proclamation tagged, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW). The declaration defines violence against women thus:
a violation of human rights…a form of discrimination against women…all acts of gender based violence that results in or are likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering to women, including threats, coercion of such acts, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. (1993, Article 1)
Some of the forms of violence perpetuated against women include rape, female genital mutilation, honour killings (a form of violence against women in which women and girls are killed by family members because the women are believed to have brought shame or dishonor upon the family.
This is commonly practised in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Jordan Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen), Acid throwing (also known as Acid Attack, throwing of acid on the body of a person with the intention of injuring or disfiguring them out of jealousy or revenge.
This is usually common in countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Cambodia in such mild disputes as dowry dispute, refusal of marriage or sexual advances), Forced marriage (in which one or both parties is/are married against his/her/their will), human trafficking (the transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion…to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation),
mistreatment of widows (widows subjected to serious forms of abuse often fuelled by traditional practices such as widow inheritance), unfounded accusation against women of witchcraft, stoning, flogging, marriage by abduction, breast ironing or breast flattening forced marriage and much more. These are some of the issues women and girl children battle with even as they face gendered challenges in their local environments which further stifle their wellbeing.
Aduke Adebayo, in “Feminism in Francophone Afrian Literature: From Liberalism to Militancy” asserts:
whether she lived in the bush or in the city, however, the African woman was and is still doubly oppressed. Firstly, she is oppressed by colonialism and neo-colonialism like her male counterpart and, secondly, she is oppressed by her patriarchal arrangement whereby the women and the children belong to the minority group in the sense that they are denied some privileges and freedom, which society normally allows for the dominant group. In this case, the dominant group is male. (69)
The African woman, belongs to the minority group and is considered as an individual with overwhelming problems. She struggles because she is a woman, secondly, she has to assert herself as a black woman and finally, she struggles for social integration.
The society approves of a woman once she is married and considers her successful when she bears children, even more successful when she bears sons. She is commended when she allows an unequal alliance between her and her husband. In her book, Getting Rid of It, Lindsey Collen draws a direct parallel between the institutions of marriage and of slavery.
“Like slaves, women are voiceless, without agency or freedom, particularly in patrilineal systems” (38). In these, a woman can be passed from the authority of her natal male relatives to ownership by her husband‟s family without ever acquiring autonomy. Ini Obong Uko observes in “A Failed Sexual Rebellion” that:
The dominant socio-political structures that exist in African society are those that impede the full development of women‟s potential… These commence in the girl child who is conditioned to stay home and do domestic work, enjoy almost no leisure, unlike her male counterpart who is free to play and associate. At adolescence, the essence of her life revolves around serving her father and brothers, and she is made to believe that these roles make and define ideal womanhood.
At adulthood and in marriage, the woman is assumed to have been properly grounded in servitude, muteness, invisibility and dependence with a natural acceptance of a corresponding male superiority and dominance. (130)
Patriarchy and female exploitation are a phenomenon which have bedeviled womanhood and by extension our society. Justina Okoye in Gender Consciousness describes patriarchy as “a system of male authority which oppresses women through its social, political and economic institutions; a system ruled by men in which women are inferior”(60).
As such, Juliet Mitchell in Woman’s Estate agrees that, “economically, women are the most highly exploited group; they are also the most physically determined as inferior‟ (67). In many situations, men and their ideologies control women‟s reproductive and sexual capacities, and as a result, women are trapped by their men‟s reproductive anatomy, capability and by a dogma of compulsory heterosexuality.
Beating wives and forced sex in marriage is a socially acceptable expression of male authority in marriage in several African cultures. A sociological research made by Dorcas Appiah in Ghana found „a high level of acceptance for beating women as a way of training and bringing them to order‟.
This research and evidence from the novels suggest that such marital violence is often condoned by the social group. Unfortunately so, physical abuse (unless it is severe enough to endanger the woman‟s life) is not usually seen as a reason to end a marriage. In fact, it is more likely to be viewed as a vital mechanism for sustaining marriages because it teaches women to conform to behavioural patterns that are acceptable to their husbands.
In such cultural situations, women are expected to be content with docility. In Yvonne Vera‟s Butterfly Burning for instance, there is a subtle tension between Fumbatha and Phephelaphi. He assumes that Phephelaphi will be content with a domestic and reproductive role. For him, it is simple: “we are happy together. I work. I take care of you. It is not necessary for you to find something else” (59).
In fact, Helen Chukwuma posits in Feminism in African Literature that, “ most African women are trained and oriented from infancy to realize themselves and their true worth outside themselves, thereby negating any knowledge of self. A woman‟s greatest aspiration is finding a male and thereafter bearing children. Every other thing is secondary: education, a career, material wealth, social acclaim.
All these are subsumated to marriage and motherhood” ( x ). The young girls are unfortunately raised to remain content with a second place position in relation to the boys, such that she grows into a woman still looking up to the man. Ngozi Ohaeto quoting Simone de Beauvoir agrees with this assertion, thus: “…humanity is male and man defines the woman not in herself but as relative to him…she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the subject, he is the absolute. She is the other” (26).
Chimamanda Adichie decries the situation of women as she states in her “Feminist Quotes” that “we do a much greater disservice to girls because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller…we make them feel as though being born females they‟re already guilty of something. So girls grow to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they really think…they grow up to be women who have turned pretence into an art form”.
The violation of the Niger Delta environment is indeed as horrendous as it is overwhelming, these violations are replicated in the lives of women in the area whose mainstay and sustenance hinges on their immediate environment. The women in the Niger Delta are victims, first, of general gender based discriminatory practices and disadvantages. There is generally a disproportionate representation of women in every strategic sector in the region. Women are under represented in the strategic heights of politics, government, economy, educational institutions and employed labour.
Majority of women residing in the Niger Delta are peasants who have been marginalized in the process of production and distribution. Women are victims of economic crisis. Women bear greater consequences of social disruption arising from economic crisis in the Niger Delta. Considering that women are more sedentary and constitute a greater proportion of subsistence farmers, they suffer most from the adverse effects of soil degradation and pollution. They suffer losses in farmlands and fishing waters.
As subsistence fisherwomen, they suffer from the pollution of the creeks and rivers and the decline in fish stocks. Filomina Steady in her article “Gender Equity and Eco system Balance” points out that “women in developing countries are among the primary victims of the synergistic effects of environmental degradation and poverty. In view of the heavy reliance of poor women on natural resources, they are among the first to notice and feel the effects of environmental stress, often increasing their work load, reducing their access to land and other resources undermining their health”.
Women‟s health becomes endangered by environmental degradation resulting from scarcity of clean water, desertification exposable to toxic chemicals and hazardous waste. The women, much more than men are inflicted with the horrendous fate of oil induced health issues in the Niger Delta; with their exposure to poisonous gases from gas flare platforms, use of polluted water, females in the region stand a higher risk than their male counterparts due to their physiologies.
Most women in the area are faced with the travail of deformity and death as a result of illnesses and diseases such as cancer of the lungs, skin, womb and various respiratory tract diseases. Cases of miscarriages, infertility and malformed babies are also rampant in the degraded region. The women in Ojaide‟s The Activist raise an alarm: “there is much more happening to us women in recent years.
Our pregnant women are delivering so many malformed babies. What used to be a rarity is now common place… newly married young women complain openly about the weakness of their men” (219).
A UN world Report, qtd in Filomina Steady states that “women in Africa are constantly exposed to health hazards, have a high maternal morbidity and mortality rate, low life expectancy and suffer child loss as a result of high infant mortality rates”. In her article, “Gender Equality and Ecosystem Balance”, Steady indicates that an emergent trend of carcinogenic diseases in the Niger Delta is traceable to the exposure of these people to the radioactive element of gas flaring.”
Women are the least beneficiaries from employment in the Oil Companies. They are also excluded from the token compensation arising from acquisition, pollution and devastation of farmlands and fishing waters. Compensation claims are made by traditional rulers and local elites, and women are least recognized as owners of land and water resources.
Women are also victims of other consequences of the social economy, young girls in the region are lured and deceived into responding to oil workers‟ lusts. Most of them impregnate the girls, abandon them to their fate, leaving the girls saddled with the responsibility of nurturing children who would never know their fathers. The incidences of female prostitution, teenage pregnancies and broken homes have become more pervasive. Most of these women are also separated from their husbands by the exigencies of work, as the men migrate into cities in search of greener pasture.
Today, farming in the area has become an exercise in futility; the land has been raped of its virginity, deprived of its fertility through the continuous exploitation and irresponsibility of the oil multinationals. The fact that women in this degraded area have been as battered as their environment cannot be over emphasized. They are raped and dispossessed of their mainstay. Ukpong highlights the state of despair as caused by:
Indiscriminate cutting of pristine forests, terminal scare of wildlife, extinction of biodiversity, loss of soil fertility and fecundity of rivers, acidified atmosphere, corroded roofs, disease conflicts, militarization, extra judicial killing, inflation, poverty, prostitution, rape, death. The realities of an abused Delta are made manifest in physical, biological and socio-economic environments. The communities sprawl in abject poverty and untold misery as their traditional economy powered by fishing and farming collapses before their presence. (21)
Unarguably, women, metaphorically associated with the earth and their children are worse hit by the tortured Niger Delta environment. The loss of farmlands and aquatic life as a result of battered environment affects the women much more than anyone as they hold the responsibility of running the familial base.
The women are also affected psychologically, their lives are benumbed with intense fear, deprivation and abuse which often manifests in disorganized and agitative behaviours. In recent times, therefore, women have been involved in the struggle to rescue, preserve and conserve the environment from being destroyed completely. They (women) strongly believe that in finding justice for the environment, they would have found justice for the womenfolk and by extension for humanity.
Women have since begun to question the repressions that are rife in the society, rejecting all forms of social misrule and obnoxious practices which continue to put her down. Women have indeed arisen to demand for their rights and the need for society to understand their roles as indispensable partners. Adebayo Aduke in “Feminism in Francophone Afrian Literature: From Liberalism to Militancy” insists that “it is the woman‟s right to demand her autonomy, her independence; to decide for herself, in her mind and conscience, in her capacity as a full-fledged individual; to exercise control over her body, her desires and aspirations” (292).
Women‟s special connectedness to the earth have propelled them to demand for justice. Women infer that since humans are dependent upon the earth for survival, the earth and all life forms should be treated as sacred and must be preserved. Adichie, on this stand, advocates for “a different world, a fairer world, a world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves”.
Earth, for women, is an ecosystem where all life is connected and humans live in balance with nature, devoid of any discrimination in gender, class or race. Ecological justice therefore serves as the only panacea to minimizing the excruciating pain women in the Niger Delta region suffer, given that when justice is done to the environment, it invariably trickles down to women, the highest victims of environmental degradation.
As such, Tanure Ojaide in Ecocritical Literature, agitates for an “ecology of justice; human rights that will bring harmony to the relationship between humans and their environment for the respective wellbeing in the interconnected cycles of life” (66).
In an attempt to gain ecological justice therefore, women around the world have since risen to the occasion. They no longer sit back to stare while the environment is abused and debased. Such women include Maathai Wangari of Kenya, whose initiative, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) has become for many a symbol of women‟s quest for environmental citizenship.
According to Edlyne Anugwom in Empowering Women for Gender Equity “the GBM founded by Maathai in 1977 is a national movement and its goals are to reclaim land and replenish soil, by planting trees to promote environmental conservation and rational land use and to give employment opportunities to rural women of Africa”(75). The movement Anugwom continues “has spread to over twelve African countries and responsible for having planted over ten million trees in Kenya and for producing income for over 50,000 women”(75).
Maathai who was once attacked by the Kenyan Police for mobilizing a group of women to plant seedlings in Karura (a government commercial area) in the outskirts of Nairobi in Kenya, was not deterred, owing to her conviction that the environment alone ensures the survival of humans and must be treated with utmost repute.
The effectiveness of grass root feminist awareness and environmental advocacy is also explicitly illustrated in the Chipko Movement, where women in India successfully mobilized to protect their forests and natural resources. As forests began to be felled for commerce and industry, Indian women mobilized themselves to protect their livelihood. According to Vandana Shiva, “in 1977, a forest on Salet, India, was threatened by loggers, the women adopted the strategy of Hugging the trees to save them, recognizing fully, the importance of forests as sources of fuel, fodder , timber, medicine and food” (25).
Ecofeminism, coined in 1974 by French feminist, Françoise d‟Eaubonne, expresses a connection of the ecology and women. The philosophy of ecofeminism specifically emphasizes the way both women and nature are treated by the patriarchal society. Sussan Griffin explains that “ecofeminism is a movement that focuses on the historical linkage between the denigration of nature and the female”.
Stating further, she says that “Ecofeminism continues the progression within traditional feminism from attention to sexism to all systems of human oppression such as racism, classism, ageism, heterosexism” (9). Ecofeminism appeals for the right of every living thing to exist, while also campaigning against masculinity and the mentality that devours and destroys the bodies of women and their sexuality. Indeed, the loss of farmlands and aquatic life, violence from the military, rape and brutalization bring forth a trampling on the rights of the people and untold misery on the lives of women and children.
These despoliations wrought on the environment has indeed jolted writers into a painful consciousness of our dying world and in line with Nnimo Bassey‟s insistence in “The Land is Dying”, writers have deployed creative energy towards “promoting the cause of environmental conservation, remediation and restoration”.
Chris Onyema observes in “Jungle and Oil Green: Currents in Environmental Discourse” that “much of the recent eco critical discourse in Nigeria is focused on works by writers from the inland Niger Delta area in a way that tends to give Nigerian eco writers a monochromatic view of distraught sensibilities from eco oppression, toxicity, and pollution discourse”(189).
Arts for Arts Sake does not apply in the grid of contemporary writers. Writers engage themselves with what happens in the society. Through their works, critical analysis of the trends that rock the society are projected, for according to Saro-Wiwa, “Literature must serve society by steeping itself…by intervention, writers must not only write to amuse or take a bemused, critical look at society, they must play an interventionist role…the writers must be l‟homme engage, for the word is power and even more powerful is it when it is expressed in common
currency” (81). This work will study Tanure Ojaide‟s Stars of the Long Night, Vincent Egbuson‟s Love my Planet, John Million‟s Amongst the Survivors, and Kaine Agary‟s Yellow Yellow. Through these works, the researcher shall examine how writers have recreated females as major victims of environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region and its implications.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The ecological experience of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria has remained a major issue of global discourse in recent years. Efforts have been made by writers to showcase to the world what goes on inside the region in terms of disastrous oil exploration and exploitation by multinational companies, enabled by the insensitivity of the indigenous government.
The statement of the problem is that there has been palpable multiplicity of environmental issues in the Niger Delta, especially as it affects females in the region. This, thus, has agitated concern towards a conscious probing as to how this ailing challenge can be ameliorated, if not, arrested wholly, as represented by Kaine Agary in her novel Yellow Yellow, Vincent Egbuson in Love My Planet, Million John in Amongst the Survivors and Tanure Ojaide in Stars of the Long Night.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to investigate the nature of the Niger Delta environment as presented by the writers. This study analyses the various portraits of degradation in the area; the physical environment, the moral depravity, and decadence in leadership.
This study analyses also the nature of the characters that inhabit this environment .It interprets the environmental, psychological, economical and emotional impact of environmental degradation with particular reference to the females (women and young girls).This study analyses the mistreatment of women as encouraged by patriarchy and interprets the relationship between the sexes arising from the peculiar nature of the Niger Delta environment.
1.4 Scope of the Study
Literary writers have written copiously on the gory experiences of the people in the devastated Niger Delta. It definitely would not be practicable to peer into all the works and their authors within this space. Therefore, four novels by Nigerian writers of Niger Delta Origin have been selected for study in this research. They are: Love my planet by Vincent Egbuson,(2008) Stars of the Long Night(2012) by Tanure Ojaide, Amongst the survivors(2010) by Million John and Yellow Yellow (2006)by Kaine Agary.
Vincent Egbuson‟s Love My Planet centres on Toundi, a young girl whose love for the earth is deep. She explores various environmental problems traumatizing the Nigerian society. The problems explored ranges from gas flaring, water pollution, flood and oil spillage, which results to hunger, poverty, disease, malnutrition, armed robbery, prostitution.
Toundi stands out in the novel as a quintessential ecofeminist who showcases to the world the suffering and pains of the women in her society. Egbuson in his work, brings to the fore the degenerate situation of the Niger Delta. He describes that the interaction of the people of the Niger Delta with their environment has seriously been influenced by many forms of oil generated environmental pollution. He regrets that the ordinary people, especially women and children are the most traumatized victims.
Tanure Ojaide in Stars of the Long Night, agitates for the restoration of a pristine environment in which pastoral beauty is enthroned. Ojaide prides in his traditional Agbon community blessed with ecological endowments, a community where men and women thrived in farming, fishing, weaving of mats, production of palm oil, but who for their desecration against nature and the gods eventually loses their eco harmony.
Ojaide questions the repressed position of the woman in this community, her encumbrances and her struggles in a patriarchal traditional society. He brings to bare, the different shades of violation which the woman faces in her local environment.
Million John in Amongst the Survivors portrays his once eco harmonious Niger Delta environment before the arrival of oil explorers. He laments over the distorted fecundity of the area as a result of the activities of the Seismographic Company, counting their losses in farm lands and aquatic life.
John presents women whose lives are violated and traumatized by poverty as a result of the activities of the oil companies. He also x-rays the lives of the youths, especially girls whose moral decadence are as a result of the degradation of their environment. He also questions the Nigerian government’s complicit gaze at the excesses of the oil companies who neither subscribes to accepted standards of exploration nor extends any form of duty care to the people. John, through his work calls for a retrieval of a healthy environment, one in which plants, animals, and humans will cohabit and sustain each other.
Kaine Agary in her novel Yellow Yellow brings to the fore, the violation and debasement of both the land and the woman. Zilayefa, the protagonist is an intelligent young girl who encounters the difficulties of growing up in a region wrecked by neo- colonial exploitation and environmental degradation. The inner turmoil and confusion of the protagonist denotes the chaotic state of the region as it affects the woman and the girl child. The novel is an exposition of the travails of women as they struggle to find existential fulfillment in the devastated Niger Delta.
This research is restricted within the boundaries of literary art, but with a wider view of literature from broad and related fields of Humanities and Social Sciences. Considering also, that ecocriticism is an interdisciplinary study of literature and environment, such opinions from geographers, geologists and social scientists are relevant to the understanding and treatment of issues in this study.
The writers whose works are studied in this research represent very sensitive minds whose energy has shown an unprecedented commitment to the issues which are the concerns of this work. The writers here are all natives of the Niger Delta region who are consumed by their abiding passion for their place of birth and the need to draw the attention of the world to the degradation of the area through their works.
This piece of work considers the contemporariness of the select works written between 2006 and 2017. Although, interest on Niger Delta environmental issues is well over fifty years, yet, it obviously received greater attention after the gruesome hanging of the environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others in 1995.The aftermath of his death continues to resonate as seen in the resolve of more youths who are ready to give up their lives rather than be muffled in this struggle.
This work focuses on females as victims of environmental degradation in contemporary Niger Delta. The work will be conducted based on the Qualitative Content Analysis Methodology which is apt in analyzing text details. The work therefore entails a close examination of events in the local Niger Delta environment and how they affect characters depicted in the novels.
To this end, the primary data sources of the research are drawn from the novels to be studied; Yellow Yellow by Kaine Agary, Love my Planet by Vincent Egbuson, Amongst the Survivors by Million John, and Stars of the Long Night by Tanure Ojaide. The researcher has consciously chosen the texts because they bother mainly on the despoliations on our immediate environment with women as receptors of the excruciating travails. Each of the novels treats the identified problem of pollution/degradation of the area and how it informs the violation of the female characters therein. These primary sources reveal first hand experiences through which the analysis of the problem is made.
Data from other literature considered secondary are also utilized in order to enrich this study and also situate the work within a global context. The work is explored through access to articles, texts, conference papers, magazines on environment, pictorial and video clips on the Niger Delta disposition. This study in its interdisciplinary nature sought views from authorities in other fields such as ecology, health sciences and geography to enhance data analysis and interpretation.
1.6 Significance of the Study
The work studies a repertoire of themes that uniquely portray concerns about women. It sets out to give a nuanced view of the woman entrapped in the Niger Delta turmoil which will elicit an advocacy for raising consciousness for women in the area of violence whilst also highlighting their rights in a degraded environment. This study will therefore contribute in enriching the literature in the area of ecofeminism.
Strong attachments to the natural environment in the works of 19th century English Romantic Poets such as Williams Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge are proofs that literature and the environment enjoy strong natural affinities. However, Critics such as William Slaymaker argue that African Literature has not contributed much to ecocriticism or environmental literature because according to Slaymaker, “African writers see ecocriticism as western and in conflict with African concerns”.
This work seeks to debunk this assertion because it has the potential of affirming that the African writer has always given expression to environmental issues citing such instances as Chinua Achebe whose debut novel, Things Fall Apart, though an exploration to the colonial incursion in Africa gives life to the environment. Besides, there are others as Niyi Osundare whose Eye of the Earth makes overwhelming input on environmental concerns down to today’s writers especially of the Niger Delta breed.
This research which studies females as victims in a degraded environment would undoubtedly contribute richly to interdisciplinary discourse on women and the environment which is topical in global agenda. It will acquaint and provide readers with a lee way to understanding and appreciating, not just literature but their links to environmental sensitization, sustainability and human development anchored on the agitation for the protection of women‟s rights and social justice.
The work will thus serve as a reference point to uphold women as vanguards in the effort to preserve, protect and safeguard the environment. It will equally contribute strongly to the body of knowledge and stimulate researchers in the area of gender and environmental studies.