African Literature, Music, and Art
At the Kaiama Bridge and the Environmental Issues and Challenges Women face in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria
The poem, which talks about the ruins of the land in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria , offers a glimpse at some of the many environmental issues that the people of the Niger Delta of Nigeria face. Although the poem does not mention specifically this particular region of Nigeria , a few signs and symbols point to it. These include Egbesu Boys, Kaiama Bridge , and Delta. There is no doubt in the mind of the reader that the once oil rich environment which men and women depended upon which is now full of hazards is the Niger Delta.
The author skillfully raises some of the environmental issues affecting local people of that region. These issues include land (…drilling wetlands that from beginning hosted the congress of life), water pollution (because now the waters have turned to a poisonous brew), noise pollution (…to relieve themselves of the scathing noise above return to the hard soil posthaste…), deforestation, loss of biodiversity, etc. All these problems result from human activities and economic exploitation.
The situation of women is particularly deplorable. Here is what the poem says: “I see the oil-blackened current suffocating Mami Wata and her retinue of water maids; they leave fast the inhospitable dominion for the freedom and health of the open sea”. Mami Wata, the god of beauty, and her water maids, all symbolize the women of the Niger Delta whose physical space is so spoiled that they have to find other places to live for their own survival.
In his article Women in the Niger Delta: Environmental Issues and Challenges in the Third Millennium , A. O. I. Gabriel explores several of these issues and challenges that women face in that part of Nigeria . He details the causes and the consequences of these environmental problems. His study focuses on women specifically. The poem, however, does not limit itself to women; it shows the consequences of such environmental issues on men and women alike.
A. O. I. Gabriel lists some of those issues: depletion of biodiversity, coastal and river bank erosion, flooding, oil spillage, gas flaring, noise pollution, sewage and waste water pollution, land degradation and soil fertility loss, deforestation, etc. He attributes those problems to human activities and oil exploration and exploitation. He notes that these issues pose great challenges to women's economic development of the Niger Delta.
Conditions created by oil exploration and exploitation are such that women are impoverished, especially, rural women who depend on fishing, wood collection, seafoods, etc. Water pollution does affect their activities. He suggests non violent solutions for women: dialogue, peaceful protests, and affirmative actions.
At the Kaima Bridge calls for the Egbesu Boys not to surrender their humanity and their ownership rights. The poem ends with a note of optimism (I see a procession of oil-soaked water spirits wailing their way out…).
The environment of the Niger Delta is seriously impacted by the exploitation of oil by oil companies (ELF, Chevron, AGIP, etc.). The people of the Niger Delta do not really benefit from the oil of their region. Yet, oil exploitation creates all sorts of environmental problems that the inhabitants have to deal with. This is the reason why the Egbesu sometimes sabotage oil installations.
In Colonialism Made Africa Poor and Dependent, Mai Palmberg contends that the independent African states got their national flags but they inherited economic dependence. The dependence rests on two factors: continued colonial division of labour and foreign control of key sectors of the economy. His point is important in that, as he puts it, today the big companies' interest in Africa is only geared towards exploitation of raw materials. This argument does shed light on the ongoing exploitation by foreign companies of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria with little regard to the environment or the people of that part of the world. Economic interests matter more to those companies than the lives of the people who live there.
Ojaide, T. The Tale of the Harmattan . 2007. Kwela Books, South Africa .
Gabriel, A. O. I. Women in the Niger Delta: Environmental Issues and Challenges in the Third Millennium , Fall 2004.
< http://www.jsd-africa.com/Jsda/Fall2004/women%20in%20the%20niger%20delta.pdf >
Palmberg, M. “Colonialism Made Africa Poor and Dependent” from Problems of Africa : Opposing Views” 1986. Library of Congress.