Seminar Papers

Oil Politics and Environmental Degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears Of The Delta

Oil Politics and Environmental Degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears Of The Delta

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The purpose of this paper was to examine oil politics and environmental degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears of the Delta. Ikiriko’s Oily Tears is a collection of thirty poems, twenty-three of which are on the oil motif.

Out of the thirty poems in the collections, twelve were analyzed and used for this study there are; “Evening Already”, “Oily Tears” ,“The Call of the River Nun”,“Okara’s Nun”, Okara’s, Delta Tears”, “Remembering Saro-Wiwa,”, “For Ken” , “Ogoni Agony,“To Alfred Diete-Spiff”, “Rivers at 25” and “Oily Rivers”. 

Ikiriko is seen as an important Nigerian poet from the Niger Delta who have published a lot of poetry collections that expose the problems of degradation, oil exploitation and environmental pollution. Minority rights appear to be more contentious wherever resource-distribution is contested.

Oil and Power are linked inextricably in the poetry that Ibiwari Ikiriko have written on the Niger Delta mosaic. Power determines control and dispossession.

Thus, the poet have depicted the attitude of the state and its centres of control towards the condition of the oil-bearing communities. The exercise of state might is cast as a strategy of repression which is designed to ensure accumulation for the state and its privileged entities.

This paper is to examine the extent to which the poems of Ikiriko, stand as mirrors on various sites of tension and conflict in the Niger Delta.


As a people we have developed a life-style that is draining the earth of its priceless and irreplaceable resources without regard for the future of children and people all around the world” At the heart of the struggle for participatory environmental governance is the question of land control and preservation.

O.A. Mayowa, the Nigerian political scientist opined that violence and ethnic agitation in Nigeria can be described from environmental and economic perspectives .The search light of eco-poetics is on the consequences of this interplay of social politicking on the Nigerian natural environment.

Based on this dismal socio-economic landscape, Nigerian writers have risen to the occasion. It brings to the fore the environmental state of the Niger delta. As an environmentally conscious poet, Ojaide allows the social facts in his lived environment to find expression in his art.

This trademark is also characteristic of the style of Ken Saro-Wiwa: the martyred poet and eco-activist. Saro-Wiwa was killed by the Sanni Abacha military regime for daring to stand for the natural environment against the wanton destruction of the Niger Delta eco-system by oil cartels.

Doki, observes that the African poet occupies a very prominent and unique place in the literary firmament in his capacity to use orature as a medium to re-enter the essence of his tradition and culture. According to Doki, the African poet stands tall above others because of “his ability to employ in African poetry elements from African flora and fauna and devices from traditional African images.”(30).

His imagery, themes and symbolisms are also drawn from a communally accessible pool and he can express himself in a truly African idiom. He observes that what distinguishes the African poet from the European poet is that “Africans are more closer to the natural environment than the West are.

The African poet, he opined does not distinguish himself absolutely from other objects of nature such as, fauna, flora, mountain, etc. On the contrary, the European poet is detached from the object and this tendency tends to isolate man from his environment. It is from this attribute that African world view that we can better appreciate the greatness of African poetry and creativity.

These same attributes have earned the African an eminent place on the literary map.

Doki‟s position may be true to a point but not wholly true for a European nature-poet like John Keats who in one of his letters to Richard Woodhouse in 1818, observes that “The poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity – he is continually in for – and filling some other body, – the sun, the moon, the sea, men and women who are creatures of impulse, are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute. – the poet has none, no identity, no self” (Gittings, 87)

Based on this position, Keats, Ojaide, Osundare etc, are the most unpoetical of all things: They are not “detached from the object nor isolated from their environment”. They are “more closely related to the object” and do not distinguish themselves from objects of nature like trees, mountains, rivers, stars, moon, etc.

The study by Ezenwa – Ohaeto (1994) continues the discussion on the interaction between literature and nature, but it only makes passing remarks on literary ecology. Its focus is on morality in Nigerian poetry. Niyi Osundare‟s and Obiora Udechukwu‟s poems are effective because they portray the environment of modern Nigerian poetry in terms of craft.

They combined in their artistic rendition African oral poetry and foreign poetic elements. Their poetic craft are fresh and innovative and so can be classified as modern Nigerian poetry. Ezenwa‟s observations are obvious in respect to Nigeria nature poems.

This paper looks into the areas where nature poets, especially those from the Niger delta use a combination of personal experience, poetic artistry and foreign poetic elements to project and promote the cause of the Niger delta environment.

Oil Politics and Environmental Degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears Of The Delta

Environmental degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears of the Delta became imperative and of such Ikiriko sees degradation as the act of lowering someone to a less respected state. He also belongs to the renowned prolific African poets who use literature as a medium of exposing the evils committed by the upper class against the poor people in their society.

Such evils according to them are environmental degradation, exploitation, deprivation, loss of self-respect, intimidation, suppression and corruption which the lower classes of people go through in the region. This prompts Watts to opine:

The prominent place the Niger Delta occupies in national and global consciousness is linked to its strategic importance as the source of over 75 percent of Nigeria’s petroleum production and exports.

The Niger Delta presently hosts Nigeria’s oil industry, including oil multinationals, state and local oil companies, oil service companies, thousands of kilometers of oil pipelines, ten export terminals, four refineries and a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) sector (639)

The above shows that Niger Delta is (Nigeria’s main source of oil and gas) and the importance of gas in Nigeria’s economic growth and political stability cannot be over emphasis. As Niger Delta writers, they expose the sad situation of the Niger Delta people as they go through miserable standard of living and that calls for immediately for immediately of action.

To them, parasitic relationship between man the environment where humans prey on nature will not only be injurious to the environment, but also man as well. They also write on the harsh realities that characterize in Niger Delta region where “the oil boom in Nigeria has meant a doom for the Niger Delta people. This concurs with the view held by Opko that:

The Niger Delta region has over the years suffered from environmental crises based on oil spills from oil pipelines. The entire Niger Delta has had persistent cases of oil spills which till date. They do not have a lasting solution. Spilled oil from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SDPC), TOTALFINELF, Chevron, Mobil, and account for great ecological declines, it accounts for poor agricultural products (209).

The above exploitation and experience of the people of the region have stimulated and authenticated plethora of different attempts by Niger Deltans. Looking on the above mentioned exploitation, brutality, torture and killing as grounded in the novels, their focus is on the historical past to an examination of the current socio-political problems of corruption and social inequality in contemporary Nigerian society.

The poets also expose the fictional situations explored in the Nigerian society as well as the harsh socio-political realities of contemporary society. In Ikiriko’s Oily tears of the Delta, he portrays the ecocides and exploitations of the poet is a protester against social injustices of his society and his clarion call on the people for unification in tacking the problems of the region.

It is on the above mentioned issues the seminar is triggered to examined oil politics and environmental degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears of the Delta with a view of analyzing the effects of social injustice, economic inequality, and environmental degradation, coupled with human violations in the life of poor masses of Niger Delta.

Statement of the Problem

Over the years, poets, playwrights and other activist have cried about the poor condition in the oil booming states which is known as Niger Delta but yet little or no attention has been give to this cry by both the past and present government of the day.

Researchers and scholars both from the region and out of the region have carried out investigation on the poor health, basic amenities, such as good roads, drinking water, good schools nor good means of livelihood except by those who are involved both legally and illegally in oil extraction.

It has also been observed that many researchers have carried out findings on the poetic work of Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears of the Delta but little or no attention has been paid to oil politics played on the soil of Niger Delta, nature of environmental degradation caused by the exploration of natural resources, geopolitical injustice and marginalisation and devastated landscape in “Oily Tears Of The Delta” which are the silent aspet that this work seeks to examine. 

Oil Politics and Environmental Degradation in Ibiwari Ikiriko’s Oily Tears Of The Delta

Theoretical Framework 

 For the purpose of this paper Ecocriticism theory was adopted with emphasis on Glotfelty’s definition, is the theoretical framework of this paper. Sheposits: …ecocriticism is a study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment …

Most ecocritical work shares a common motivation: the troubling awareness that we have reached the age of environmental limits, a time when the consequences of human actions are damaging the planet’s basic life support systems. This awareness sparks a sincere desire to contribute to environmental restoration.

(1994, “What is Ecocriticism?) Glotfelty subsequently makes a case forthe inclusion of ecocriticism in the canon of literary studies. Slaymaker (2007) supports this notion by noting that, “…environmental literature and ecological criticism are a resonating dynamic signal generated by concern for the health of the earth and its resources” (691).

Ecocriticism, as we know it today, began its career officially around the year 1990; it refers to ‘the diffuse critical field that heretofore had been known as “the study of nature writing”. Nature writing itself refers to a set of writing, both fictional and non-fictional, that focuses primarily on nature.

Eventually, ecocriticism was streamlined to be a critical perspective that is concerned with how nature (both humans and nonhumans) is represented in texts. It became an umbrella term for such phrases as ‘ecological criticism’, ‘environmental criticism’, ‘environmentalism’, and so on.

Our focus here is however on ecocriticism as a literary theory. One thing that has been recognized about ecocriticism is its elusiveness in terms of definition. However, at the 1994 WLA meeting in Salt Lake City, different scholars were at their best in reacting to the question ‘What is Ecocriticism?’ Those reactions/definitions have been assembled under the title Defining Ecocritical Theory and Practice (which was the theme of that meeting), located at

Christopher Cokinos, one of those scholars, defines ecocriticism as “the critical and pedagogical broadening of literary studies to include texts that deal with the nonhuman world and our relationship to it” ( For Harry Crockett, “[e]cocriticism elucidates relationships between human and non-human nature [ ] privileging literary inscriptions of those relationships….”

Similarly, Thomas K. Dean defines it as a “response to the need for humanistic understanding of our relationships with the natural world in an age of environmental degradation”. Cheryll Glotfelty has also famously defined ecocriticism as ‘the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment’ (The Ecocritical Reader xvii).

All these definitions share one salient point in common: ecocriticism is concerned with how nature is represented in texts and the relationship between humans and nonhumans in an environment as represented in a literary text. The impetus of ecocriticism was buoyed, as we saw in Dean’s definition, by the phenomenon of ‘environmental degradation’.

Ecocritics reasoned that environmental degradation is a corollary of man’s relationship with nature. So, their textual concern is how this relationship is represented. As Hans Bertens remarks, “Ecocriticism’s examination of representations of nature does of course not limit itself to the way animals are represented. It examines representations of landscapes and of nature in its original state…”

(Literary Theory 200). Landscape itself by definition includes”the nonhuman elements of place—the rocks, soil, trees, plants, rivers, animals, air, as well as human perspectives and modifications” (Scheeze,

From the forgoing, it is obvious that ecocriticism takes a holistic and inclusive view of nature or earth, perceiving nature as being constituted by humans and nonhumans. Hence, Cheryl Glotfelty has asserted that “ecocriticism takes an earth-centred approach to literary studies”.

More sarcastically, Kate Scope asserts that, “`it is not language that has a hole in its ozone layer; and the ‘real’ thing continues to be polluted and degraded even as we refine our deconstructive insights at the level of the signifier” (Rigby “Ecocriticism” 154).

There is no question about the fact that these criticisms are directed to structuralism and poststructuralism. On the other hand, ecocriticism poses itself as a critic of modernity and science. As Ursula K. Heise puts it:

Environmentalism and ecocriticism aim their critique of modernity at its presumption to know the natural world scientifically, to manipulate it technologically and exploit it economically, and thereby ultimately to create a human sphere apart from it in a historical process that is usually labeled ‘progress’ (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Ecocriticism” 507).

Similarly, “science is viewed as a root cause of environmental deterioration, both in that it has cast nature as an object to be analyzed and manipulated and in that it has provided the means of exploiting nature more radically than was possible by premodern means” (509).

It to this end that Walter Benjamin has observed that there is “no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (Rigby 153). Man, over the ages, has been laying claim to being the master thereby arrogating himself the right to exploit nature to his selfish end.

Ecocritics see that claim as fundamentally false. They maintain that man has no right whatsoever to exploit nature the way he does; since in actual fact, nature precedes human existence. Kate Rigby addresses it this way, “The physical reality of air, water, fire, rock, plants, animals, soils, ecosystems, solar systems et cetera, to which I refer when I speak of `the natural world,’ nonetheless precedes and exceeds whatever words might say about it” (154).

Ecocriticism therefore poses itself as an ethical discipline that mounts a discursive resistance against man’s unbridled and wanton exploitation of nonhuman earthlings through the interpretation of texts.   Ecocriticism is therefore suitable for dissecting the environmental issues raised by the poet in their collections of poetry, referred to from here on as Oily Tears

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