Preface

The essays preserved in this collection were written as responses to the unrelenting ecological assault on local communities in Nigeria, across Africa and elsewhere. Some speak of the unyielding wedlock between governments and transnational corporations in what would probably best illustrate what is meant when people claim that love is blind. The blind walk of autocrats in the vice grip of kleptocrats results in unrelenting pummelling of the grassroots.

Most of the essays contained in this volume were written as short opinion articles for Nigerian newspapers between 2010 and 2013. A number of these were published in a weekly column titled Oil Politics that ran in the then promising Nigerian newspaper 234NEXT that suddenly went kaput. The online links no longer lead to the articles. I now post newer articles as blogs[1]. Hopefully these will be better preserved for the future.[2]

The longer pieces in this collection are based on speaking notes and talks presented at meetings and conferences. As would be expected, they were responses to issues that either were in the news at that time, or in some cases issues that did not make it into the news.

The essays here largely deal with on petroleum extraction and climate justice. They are mostly focussed on Nigeria’s Niger Delta – one of the most polluted places on the planet. It is instructive that although the ecocide visited on this region by the oil companies is well acknowledged, only perfunctory mention is made of their crimes in the media.

The reader may wonder why these dated essays have been collected together in this book. The fact is that the issues that I consider here are unresolved and continuous—what happened decades ago is still happening today. The demands of local communities for environmental remediation and the halting of destructive extraction remain unheeded today as they were then. The international corporations still operate behind military shields. Demands for social inclusion by local communities are still met with brute force. While progress has been made on some fronts as a result of determined vigilance of the suffering communities, there remains much to be done.

While a larger part of the blame for the destruction of the environment must lie at the door of the multinational corporations, it is certainly the case that there are individuals in communities who are also responsible for polluting for personal gain to the detriment of the majority of the people. Examples of such activities are the highly polluting bush refineries of the Niger Delta.

The tragedy is that environmental laws are not in short supply, neither in Nigeria nor elsewhere. But the problem lies in the failure of enforcement of such laws and regulations. Polluters are known to ignore court or executive orders, seeing themselves as being above the law and above sanctions. We see this repeatedly in Nigeria. Illegal activities, such as gas-flaring, continue to be perpetuated. There are minuscule penalties for infraction. In some cases, proposed legislation is ‘booby-trapped’ so that either it never sees the light of day or incorporates such huge loopholes that crudest criminals can casually walk through with impunity.

The same can be said of the UN climate change negotiations where we have witnessed systematic  lowering of ambition and a disavowal of commitments as each year goes by and as the problems become more entrenched. I highlight the fact that Africa bears disproportionate impacts from a problem that she did not create. Some of these burdens are heaped on her by way of false solutions such as the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

The essays here underscore the vital need for individuals and communities to take more than a passing interest in the Conference of Parties (COP) and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The lack of ambition evidenced in these negotiations and the fact that the aggregate outcomes are not taking us out of the woods but digging deeper into inescapable holes should wake us all up to action. The planet is facing destruction both as a result of the lack of action and as a result of the adoption of ‘false solutions’ that only exacerbate the speed of climate change. But much of what is agreed is frequently worded in inaccessible jargon. We face the challenge of sharing our views, stories and experiences in popular language to ensure that everyone can participate in developing political alternatives to the rhetoric of these conferences.

Cultural awakening was a tool that entrenched the Ogoni struggle and makes it stand out as one of the most successful mobilisations of heavily deprived peoples. The struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) echo in some of the essays and indicate how unresolved environmental issues continue to persist over decades. The fact that the struggles are documented and preserved in various media helps to keep the window for action open. In the face of dastardly degradation, silence is not an option. Or, as Saro-Wiwa put it, ‘Silence would be treason’[3]. Non-violent resistance remains the way in which those communities who have been most affected around the world continue to advance their cause. And that is what builds hope and shows that even where the sky is dark victory can still be snatched from the jaws of cannibal polluters.

The essays that are preserved in this collection will contribute, I hope, to developing and deepening an understanding of the ecological challenges ravaging Nigeria, Africa and our world today. They illustrate the global nature of these terrors. These essays are not meant just to enable coffee table chatter. No. These essays are intended as calls to action, as a means of encouraging others facing similar threats to share their experiences.


  1. See at http://www.nnimmobassey.net or http://www.nnimmo.blogspot.com
  2. EDITOR'S COMMENT: For those essays published elsewhere, we have done some light editiing for consistency as well as to correct errors.
  3. See: http://darajapress.com/catalog/silence-would-be-treason-last-writings-of-ken-saro-wiwa (accessed 26 September 2016)

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