Niger Delta, the delta of the Niger River in Nigeria, is a very densely populated region sometimes called the Oil Rivers because it was once a major producer of palm oil. The area was the British Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1885 until 1893, when it was expanded and became the Niger Coast Protectorate.
The Niger Delta, as now defined officially by the Nigerian government, extends over about 70,000 km² and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria’s land mass. Historically and cartographically, it consists of present day Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States. In 2000, however, Obansanjo’s regime included Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River State, Edo, Imo and Ondo States in the region. Some 31 million peopleof more than 40 ethnic groups including the Bini, Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Oron, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Isoko, Urhobo, Ukwuani, and Kalabari, are among the inhabitants in the Niger Delta, speaking about 250 different dialects.
The Niger Delta, and the “South South Zone”, which includes Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa State, Cross River State, Delta State, Edo State and Rivers State are two different entities. While the Niger Delta is the oil producing region the South South Zone is a geo-political zone.
The delta is an oil-rich region, and has been the centre of international controversy over devastating pollution and ecocide, kleptocracy (notably by the Abacha regime), and human rights violations in which Royal Dutch Shell has been implicated
EcoJustice is seen as an approach that analyzes the increasing destruction of the world’s diverse ecosystems, languages and cultures by the globalizing and ethnocentric forces of Western consumer. EcoJustice perspectives understand social justice to be inseparable from and even imbedded in questions regarding ecological well-being. A made up term used mostly by environmental activists to justify their suspiciously socialistic outlook when making laws which put tighter binds on economic progress. Also used by eco-terrorists to justify bombing other people’s property, placing potentially deadly metal bits in trees marked for felling and other less than sociable activity. In their uses it appears to assume that the earth is a living being capable of feeling pain and they are (usually by arrogant assumption and lack of fact-checking) through their actions somehow righting the wrongs caused to the earth by human existance.
Ecojustice as a movement encolded as the niger delta struggle and resource control believes all Niger deltans and indeed all Nigeria have a fundamental right to enjoy air, land and water that is clean, healthy and safe. Ecojustice represents environmental groups and concerned citizens who feel these rights have been infringed upon by government decisions at any level, or by industries or corporations.
Ecojustice aims to set legal precedents that will ensure a strong and thriving environment for humans and wildlife alike, both for present generations and generations to come. The organization takes on cases at any level, from lower courts to the Supreme Court of Nigeria
While Ecojustice fights battles at municipal and grassroots levels, the organization also plays a role in the strategic development of new environmental laws, often in cooperation with other environmental or conservation groups. Ecojustice works hard at seeing that laws are always an accurate reflection of how the world has developed and changed, and it sees to it that those laws are enshrined and respected within the Nigerian legal system.
Ecological responsibility in linkage with social justice is what the world needs now. Healthy earth community requires advocacy and action on urgent environmental issues in ways that connect with struggles for social and economic justice. Eco-justice envisions and values ecology and justice together, since there will be little environmental health without socio-economic justice, and vice versa. (Some discussions of “sustainability,” a prominent concept in environmental studies and political discourse, have parallel ethical meaning, to the extent that they encompass social justice principles. See Cobb, 1992.)
Today, there is growing appreciation for and “construction of what is often called an ‘eco-justice’ ethic…that holds together concerns for the natural world and for human life, that recognizes that devastation of the environment and economic injustice go hand in hand, and that affirms that environmental and human rights are indivisible” (Pedersen, 1998). The vision and values of eco-justice ethics express a spiritually grounded moral posture of respect and fairness toward all creation, human and nonhuman. E-J ethics are shaped by religious insights and scientific knowledge, interwoven with social, economic and political experience.
How the Term Emerged
After the first Earth Day, “eco-justice” became the theme of a group of North American, ecumenically-engaged Christian ethicists (including this author). In a seminal article on “Ecological Responsibility and Economic Justice,” Episcopal priest Norman Faramelli of the Boston industrial Mission emphasized that “choosing [to work for] ecology instead of [against] poverty, or vice versa, is to make a bad choice;” the way ahead is to choose both (Faramelli, 1970). That posture was not characteristic of the emerging environmental movement, which even today too often lacks passion for, or adequate principles of, social justice. Conversely, many social justice and peace activists viewed environmentalism as a distraction (and even today can remain rather disinterested in sustainability). To foster converging commitments to ecology and justice, American Baptist leaders Richard Jones and Owen Owens introduced the term eco-justice.
By 1973, a strategy to advance integrative ethics of ecology and justice became the focus of an ecumenical campus ministry initiative at Cornell University called the Eco-Justice Project and Network (EJPN), initiated and then coordinated for two decades by Presbyterian social ethicist William E. Gibson. He defined eco-justice as:
the well-being of humankind on a thriving earth,…an earth productive of sufficient food, with water fit for all to drink, air fit to breathe, forests kept replenished, renewable resources continuously renewed, nonrenewable resources used as sparingly as possible so that they will be available [to future generations] for their most important uses…On a thriving earth, providing sustainable sufficiency for all, human well-being is nurtured not only by the provision of these material necessities but also by a way of living within the natural order that is fitting: respectful of the integrity of natural systems and of the worth of nonhuman creatures, appreciative of the beauty and mystery of the world of nature. (Gibson, 1985, 25)
In addition to authoring several substantive essays on the subject, Gibson solicited short articles by engaged scholars on a range of eco-justice topics and published them in a quarterly journal he edited called The Egg, selections from which were recently republished under one cover (Gibson, 2004, Parts I & II). Within two decades, a significant body of writings emerged that emphasize respect for everykind and show intersecting concern for ecology, justice and faith (See diagram in Bakken et al., l995).
Norms of Eco-Justice Ethics
The basic norms of eco-justice ethics can be summarized as follows:
* solidarity with other people and creatures – companions, victims, and allies – in earth community, reflecting deep respect for diverse creation;
* ecological sustainability – environmentally fitting habits of living and working that enable life to flourish, and utilize ecologically and socially appropriate technology;
* sufficiency as a standard of organized sharing, which requires basic floors and definite ceilings for equitable or “fair” consumption;
* socially just participation in decisions about how to obtain sustenance and to manage community life for the good in common and the good of the commons.
The solidarity norm comprehends the full dimensions of earth community and of inter-human obligation. Sustainability gives high visibility to ecological integrity and wise behavior throughout the resource-use cycle. The third and fourth norms highlight the distributive and participatory dimensions of basic social justice. These norms illumine an overarching imperative: to pursue right relations in reinforcing ways that are both ecologically fitting and socially just. (Hessel, 1996 offers a more detailed discussion).
Each norm is ends-oriented and means-clarifying, illumining both where we want to go and how to get there. The observance of each ethical norm reinforces and qualifies the others in contextual decision-making oriented to just and sustainable community. All four are core values or criteria to guide personal practice, issue analysis, and policy advocacy. An ethic of eco-justice applies comprehensively to ominous environmental threats intersecting with major societal problems.
Bakken, Peter, Joan Gibb Engel and J. Ronald Engel. 1995. Ecology, Justice, and Christian Faith: A Critical Guide to the Literature. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, Preface, xvii.
Birch, Charles. 1975. “Creation, Technology, and Human Survival,” taped recording, reels 1 & 2 at the World Council of Churches Assembly, Nairobi, Kenya.
Cobb, John B., Jr. 1992. Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, and Justice. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Engel, J. Ronald. 2007. “The Earth Charter as a New Covenant for Democracy,” Religion and Culture Web Forum of the Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago. This posted essay expands on Engel’s article, “A Covenant Model of Global Ethics,” in Worldviews, 8, 1, 2004.
Faramelli, Norman. 1970. “Ecological Responsibility and Economic Justice,” in the Andover Newton Quarterly, Vol. 11, November.
Gibson, William E. 1985. “Eco-Justice: New Perspective for a Time of Turning,” in D. T. Hessel, ed., For Creation’s Sake: Preaching, Ecology, and Justice. Philadelphia: Geneva Press, 15-31.
________. 2004. Eco-Justice—the Unfinished Journey. Albany: Sate University of New York Press.