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10 - Enforcing environmental rights under Nigeria's 1999 Constitution: the localisation of human rights in the Niger Delta region

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2011

Koen De Feyter
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
Stephan Parmentier
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Christiane Timmerman
Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
George Ulrich
Riga Graduate School of Law
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Localisation implies taking human rights needs as formulated by local people (in response to the impact of economic globalisation in their lives) as the starting point for both the further interpretation and elaboration of human rights norms, and for the development of human rights action, at all levels, ranging from domestic to global. In other words, it is a process that examines how local communities engage with issues from a rights-based context, particularly from (but not limited to) deprived or disadvantaged positions, in order to seek relevance in a globalised context. Local communities in the context of human rights localisation research are defined as groups or organisations, inclusive and plural (other than political or religious groups), which are based at the level of a geographic community and are unified by common needs and interests as articulated in human rights terms. This section engages the experience of the inhabitants of Nigeria's oil-rich Delta region. Although the Niger Delta region comprises several separate and distinct ethnic groups, it is recognised as a regional entity within common discourse in Nigeria. Another common factor that unites the inhabitants of the region is the identical experience they share as hosts of the oil industry. The environment and the people of the Niger Delta region have suffered adversely from the oil industry and have been unified in their opposition to the modus operandi of this industry. In the opinion of the host inhabitants of the Niger Delta region, the oil companies explore and produce oil in a manner that conflicts with the attainment of their socio-economic and environmental well-being.

There are two important issues to take note of early on in this chapter. The first is to define the term ‘Niger Delta’, one that has different connotations. It has different meanings within political, environmental and economic discourse. Politically, the term refers to the six states in Nigeria's South–South geopolitical zone. They comprise Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers states. The economic delineation of the term generally refers to all the contiguous oil-bearing–oil-producing states in Nigeria. The Federal Government adopts this broad definition in the Niger Delta Development Commission Act. Section 2(1) (b) lists the states including Abia, Akwa-lbom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers State. The geographic delineation of the Niger Delta region which is adopted herein refers to the three states located along the delta. These states also referred to as the ‘core Delta’ include Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states. The second point to note is that although the chapter examines and refers to the evolution, development and impacts of human rights strategies in the Niger Delta in general, it lays specific emphasis on the adoption of the concept of environmental human rights. The chapter examines specifically the reasons why, despite growing global recognition of the concept of environmental human rights and the broad interpretation of the right to life to include the right to a healthy environment in particular, there remains a dearth of human rights-based cases originating from the Niger Delta region. In other words, it seeks to examine why the inhabitants of the Niger Delta region are yet to exploit environmental rights litigation despite engaging in the rhetoric of a rights-based approach to challenge the oil industry's adverse impacts on their environment and socio-economic existence. The chapter examines the reasons that could be responsible for a dearth in environmental rights litigation against the Nigerian oil industry against the backdrop of the erroneous perception that environmental rights are not recognised by the Constitution and thus are legally unenforceable. It argues that the Constitution has provisions that promote the recognition and enforceability of environmental rights which have been effectively localised.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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