At WED Dialogue, Poetry Festival, humanity told to reconnect with environment

Ekaete George

The 2020 World Environment day was marked in Nigeria with a virtual event tagged, WED Dialogue and Poetry Festival 2020.

Facilitated by Ekaete George, a writer, gender and development advocate, the event featured leading environment justice activists, poets and journalists.

Nnimmo Bassey, Director of the ecological think-tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) who was the special guest speaker opened the dialogue on the theme of the event Biodiversity in Nigeria: The Artivism Nexus, by saying, “the challenge is to get reconnected with ourselves and realise that humans are a part of biodiversity, every other being our relatives. An event like this brings us together to remind ourselves that art must have a purpose… and each one must add to the value of the space in which we find ourselves. We have a very high pedestal… but if we are silent, then we are losing a very big opportunity to make a difference in the struggled for a saner environment, devoid of human manipulation.”

Odia Ofeimun, who was Poet of Honour, led the poetry sessions of the festival with a reading of a poem titled, Come, Come Over to Finima and Help Us. The poem decries the ‘indifferent ruin’ by oil exploration activities that have destroyed biological diversity in the coastal waters of the Niger Delta, and the need for concerned stakeholders to come to the aid of the environment in places like Finima.

WED Dialogue and Poetryfest featured numerous poetry presentations by Iquo DianaAbasi, Obari Gomba, Fortune George, Graciano Enwerem, Usman Garko, Uzo Nwamara, Betty Abah, Leonard Ugwu, Anote Ajeluorou and George.

The second-panel discussion was on Communication for change: The Place of Writers.

Country Director of Splendors of Dawn Poetry Foundation, Diego Okenyodo, who is also a poet, and development communications professional emphasized the need for writers to educate themselves about the social norms around the issues that are at the core of environmental justice.

He highlighted the mining and other extractive industries issues of environment that need to be properly investigated in order to grasp the depth and breadth of the issue and to write from a place of knowledge. Betty Abah, women and children’s rights activist encouraged that people are products of their environment which makes it imperative that all involved should take a closer look at the issues of environmental justice and become better positioned to write for change.

Leading the panel on Ideas of Justice: Energy, Environment, Gender and Sundry Issues, Chitzi Ogumgbada, and Energy Justice Researcher encouraged writers and activists to the inherent complexity of defining justice, therefore writers and activities must ‘engage deeply with the theoretical and conceptual underpinnings of justice… because what might be just in one situation might be unjust in another justice’. He said that it is important for writers and activists to clarify their focus.

For example, the concept of Ubuntu or Eti Uwem in environmental activism recognizes the fact that the writers can engage deeply with an idea of justice that works for them and the society in which they write. Emem Okon, Executive Director of Kebetkache women development resource center says that women bear the brunt of the degradation of the environment. She highlights the commitments that women have made in the Niger Delta where she works on mobilizing women to take action in their spaces for environmental justice.

She assured women writers of Kebetkache’s readiness to partner with women who use their writings to campaign for the environment.

Tijah Bolton, Executive Director Policy Alert, stated that women especially bear the brunt of the degradation on the environment and as custodians of environmental resources in their roles as fetchers of food, water and firewood in rural communities it should be on record that they are not aggressors but victims in the struggle for environmental justice.

The event ended with A Call to Action by Poet of Honour, Odia Ofeimun, Guest Poet, Obari Gomba and Host/Facilitator of WED Dialogue and Poetryfest, Ekaete George. Odia Ofeimun using his rousing poem of three poems Now they Ask, What Have Your Verses Done, called on all to take action that will create change for ‘it is how you see that determines what you decide to change’.

Obari Gomba delineated seven action points from the WED Dialogue and Poetryfest as summarized below:
Writers must apply writing as a tool for environmental activism. To fight for the environment is a fight for life on earth and our lives. Industries though the key to development, should not be allowed to profit at the expense of the environment. Any industries that carry out activities that pillage the environment are in the business of destroying life. Whereas society tends to bestow ownership to men, women and children are equal stakeholders of the environment. Of all the sectors in our cultural life, writers have brought the subject of the environment to the front burner of public consciousness, the consciousness about. Nigerian writers must continue to do more. If writing is not matched by environmental activism it is possible that our society will not wake up from its habit of environmental despoliation for a very long time. Writing for the environment is for our good and for the good of posterity.

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