Wednesday, March 14, 2012

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN`S DAY: BETTY ABAH`S REMARKS

As part of activities to mark this year`s International Women`s Day which held on March 8, 2012 worldwide, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) friends of the earth held a roundtable on Niger Delta women`s plight and Betty Abah Gender Focal Person Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth made her remaks at the occasion with included journalists, widows and pastors. Betty said
As we gather here today to mark the International Women’s day (which held officially world-wide on March 8), with our theme being ‘The Future of the Niger Delta Woman’, I should, ideally, have requested that we observe a minute silence in honour of the death of the Niger Delta woman.
You may wonder if I have gone haywire, for how can we observe a minute silence for someone who is still walking on her feet, or did I miss my way to a funeral proceeding? You may be asking yourself now in composed silence.
Not to worry, except that my troubled answer would be that the average Niger Delta woman, especially in communities hosting the activities of the extractive activities, may be said to be alive, but  technically a walking corpse.
Many of us, I guess, watched the AIT news a couple of weeks ago where a reporter visited Koluama, a community near the site of the recent fire incident at a Chevron offshore rig. Their terribly polluted water sources, the dead fishes floating on the sea (from whence the men earned a livelihood by fishing), the sight of malnourished children, dishevelled mothers and gaunt old men and women was enough to send a message to everyone on the hellish life that people in the Niger Delta face. And that was just one isolated instance that lucky enough to be beamed to the world. Several of such incidences with as much devastating impacts occur almost daily, unreported.
Yet one particular feature that remains memorable and haunting in that AIT coverage was the comment of one of the village women: ‘As we dey so, na deadbodi una dey see o! Na petrol, petrol we dey eat. This spill don kill us finish!’. Now, this is, proverbially, from the horse’s mouth!
I make bold to reiterate here, again, that the average Niger Delta woman is a walking corpse. Why women? You may query. Simply put, the woman in those communities, rich with abundant crude oil deposits, in what is supposed to be a blessing but which has ironically turned a mind-blowing curse, carries a double burden. Besides facing the environmental tortures imposed by the untouchable multinationals like every other person, she carries the extra burden of fending for her home, raising her children and eking an impossible livelihood as the bread winner in many instances. In addition to her woes, she is voiceless in her community, lives without a say in the goings-on, without weight in weighty matters of survivals and excluded from multi-faceed benefits. She is only entitled to crumbs from the many masters’ tables, if at all, she ever gets them. The pollutions (spills, gas flares etc) destroys her farms, her fishing traps, her water sources and sends her across many rivers in search of a bucket of drinkable water, damages her psyche, endangers her health, shortens her life spam,. The African patriarchal tradition and culture clearly impose a padlock on her mouth. How worse can it get?
I had strapped my bag across shoulders and plied my journalism trade for half a dozen years before venturing into environmental activism. I thus prided myself as having  known the vast nooks and crannies and peoples of Nigeria. I had transversed the towns and villages, from Kafanchan in Kaduna State to Ida in Kogi State, from Oke-Ikoyi in Osun State to Nri in Anambra State; from Asaba in Delta State to Farin Ruwa village in Nassarawa State.
Yet the level of acrid poverty, the dehumanisation, the impoverished looks and lives, the deprivation and hopelessness I have witnessed in communities across the Niger Delta in the last five years, as they say, simply beats my imagination. I have seen polluted farms (courtesy Agip faulty pipelines) and deflated women at Ibada-Elume in Delta State; I have seen huge spills and economically dislocated women in Ikarama in Bayelsa State (courtesy Agip faulty manifold); I have seen a whole community relocated and lives taken consequent upon massive spillage in Goi in Ogoniland in Rivers State (courtesy Shell unrepaired pipelines). In many instances, the women, landless, poor and powerless, are the most hit.
 And yet these communities host what is the wealth and well-being of nations, yet these communities have governments who, if for nothing, are supposed to fight for their human and environmental rights. Yet these are humans, these are Nigerians. And they host the black gold. The reality is, these communities, these women are the wretched of the earth.
How did things get this bad? Simple. The multinationals will continue to toy with the lives of Nigerians, will continue to carry out their extractive activities in a most unprofessional and inhuman way and will continue to carry on unruffled when there is a major environmental disaster (e.g. the Bonga spill on the ocean impacting communities in Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States) and devastating fire outbreaks (e.g. the Chevron fire in Koluama, Southern Ijaw Local Government of Bayelsa State since January 16) because our governments do not care about us and because they have conveniently pocketed the governments at the various levels.
I give you a comparison. When the Gulf of Mexico spill occurred in the USA over a year ago, President Obama visited the site twice, he berated Shell BP and ensured the people were compensated. Just recently, a $25 Billion compensation agreement was reached. But not after the head of Shell BP in America resigned and BP’s shares in the stock market plummeted irredeemably.
But what did we see here? President Goodluck Jonathan, a son of the Niger Delta soil has displayed a blatant lack of interest in the lives of these impacted people. He only visited Koluama after much hue and cry, and perhaps on a way from a political strategy meeting in Bayelsa. Weeks after the Chevron fire, Red Cross and other relief agencies hadn’t reached the communities with relevant relief materials because, according to the news, ‘approval for funds for the relief materials were hampered by bickering among Bayelsa State politicians’. Take note also that the President, after taking receipt of the UNEP Report on Ogoni since last year (a report that indicted and exposed Shell’s dangerous antics), is yet to make a definitive statement. We all know the destination that the reported is headed: the shiny presidential dust bin.
Can the government come out, beat its chest and say this is how we have assisted the impacted communities thus far? Can Chevron or Shell make public what relief efforts they have so far undertaken following these incidences? Can they table before the world the compensation plan they have for those affected by these occurrences?  How much, really, is a Nigerian life worth in the insensitive binoculars of the powerful oil multinationals operating in our land?
Ladies and gentlemen of the media, fellow human and environmental rights activists, you can see clearly that today, we have come to bury the Niger Delta woman. For of what value is a life, of man or woman, that commands no respect for his/her rights to opinions, to a sane and healthy environment, to breath even a gale of fresh air? And, as long as the government remain comfortably cocooned in the pockets of the powerful multinationals, as long as the First Ladies of Niger Delta states continue to add more dexterity to their headgears and more support for the longevity of their husband’s political life span rather than lend a helping hand to the impoverished women in these communities, the Niger Delta woman will continue to be a walking corpse.
But we can make a difference. We can speak out against this evil on the mother hen laying the golden egg; we can awaken the conscience of our government. We can turn this day of burial rites to a day of decision. Thankfully, the International Women’s Day affords us this opportunity. It is possible.
Let then the Niger Delta woman live! Picture Above is Betty Abah, Gender Focal Person, Environmental Rights Action/ friends of the earth, using the cover photograph of the magazine she is holding which has a Niger Delta woman to explain her points.

Some of the people at the occasion which held at Ogba Lagos Nigeria on March 12, 2012

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