Seminar Papers

Environmental Injustice in the Niger River Delta a case study of the Third Generation of Nigerian Novels a case study of Kaine Agary’s Works

Environmental Injustice in the Niger River Delta a case study of the Third Generation of Nigerian Novels a case study of Kaine Agary’s Works

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Inyang, Ndiana-Abasi Harrison


The third generation of Nigerian novels, which emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is characterized by a focus on environmental issues. These novels often explore the relationship between humans and the natural world, and the impact of environmental degradation on both.

One of the most prominent themes in third-generation Nigerian novels is the environmental impact of oil extraction. The Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria’s oil is produced, has been severely polluted by oil spills and other forms of environmental damage. This pollution has had a devastating impact on the region’s people and environment, and it has been a major source of conflict.

Novels such as Helon Habila’s Oil on Water and Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow explore the environmental and social impact of oil extraction in the Niger Delta. These novels show how oil pollution has led to the destruction of farmland, the contamination of drinking water, and the displacement of communities. They also show how oil extraction has contributed to violence and conflict in the region.

In addition to the environmental impact of oil extraction, third-generation Nigerian novels also explore other environmental issues, such as deforestation, desertification, and climate change. These novels show how these issues are interconnected, and how they are all having a negative impact on the lives of people in Nigeria.

The representation of environmentalism in third-generation Nigerian novels is significant because it highlights the importance of these issues to the Nigerian people. These novels show how environmental degradation is a major problem in Nigeria, and they call for action to address these problems.

Some of the other novels that represent environmentalism in third-generation Nigerian novels include:

  • Tide by Isidore Okpewho
  • Abuja Nunyi by Denja Abdullahi
  • The Carnivorous City by Toni Kan
  • Love My Planet by Vincent Egbuson
  • The Forest of a Thousand Daemons by Ike Okonta

These novels show that environmentalism is a growing concern in Nigeria, and that Nigerian writers are using their work to raise awareness of these issues.

Environmental Injustice in the Niger River Delta a case study of the Third Generation of Nigerian Novels a case study of Kaine Agary’s Works

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.

Environmental Injustice in the Niger River Delta a case study of the Third Generation of Nigerian Novels a case study of Kaine Agary’s Works

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

Textual analysis of Kaine Agary

Kaine Agary, a native Nigerian, has devoted much of her life to writing about the Niger River Delta and the struggles that Nigeria has faced because of the oil boom. In her essay, “My Blessing, My Curse,” she uses a woman’s perspective to highlight the injustices that the people of Nigeria have faced since the struggle for oil began in the country.

“My Blessing, My Curse” reads much like “Lament” by Debra Marquart, a poem about the oil boom in North Dakota. Both works discuss the way in which the struggle for oil tears apart the beautiful land that encases the resource, and both works draw emotional response in their readers by comparing the devastated land to a woman.

Agary’s essay is narrated by the personified country of Nigeria herself, using human concepts to illustrate the country’s beauty (and fated destruction). In the beginning, Nigeria describes herself as paradise: Her head is covered in “great bunches of plantain;” her legs “[stand] long and strong, the healthiest of rubber trees;” and “between [her] legs [is] a secret treasure,” the oil for which the Western world longs and strives (152).

In a turn of events, Nigeria gets trapped in a marriage to a “white lover” who plans to use her for the precious treasure she keeps secret. Before long even her sons, native Nigerians, with “eyes…devoid of compassion,” are using their own mother for wealth and power (153). The essay ends in despair, and a cry for help.

The comparison of Nigeria to a woman is persuasive and emotional. It strikes the hearts of everyone because, regardless of ethnicity or economic wellbeing, everyone has a mother. The essay reaches out to the people of Nigeria, especially to the long-suffering Ken Saro-Wiwa supporters who face roadblocks and hardship every day of their lives, and it shows them that they aren’t fighting alone.

Agary’s novel, Yellow-Yellow, is the narrative of a young Nigerian woman, Zilayefa, whose village home is destroyed by an oil spill. Inspired by those who’d found a better life before her, she relocates to Port Harcourt, a bustling city with opportunities around every corner.

But these opportunities only accentuate the reality of Nigeria’s situation: The oil companies virtually rule this once beautiful, independent country. Not only do the companies effectively support Nigeria’s economy, but they also supply the best jobs; so in order to live a prosperous life in Nigeria, one’s best option is to keep feeding the corrupt businesses that are destroying their country in the first place. The irony is heartbreaking.

If we recall the concept of the “white lover” from My Blessing, My Curse, we can see how this same idea plays a role in Yellow-Yellow. We first see it in the form of Zilayefa’s absent father, a Greek sailor who visits an Ijaw village for just long enough to impregnate a young, dark-skinned Nigerian woman before he leaves without a trace. Zilayefa is only half Nigerian, making her skin much paler than most of her friends and acquaintances (thus the nickname, Yellow-Yellow).

This is the first presence of the “white lover” in Zilayefa’s life, and as she grows up and her life begins to form around her, more and more white lovers present themselves. Her first kiss is with a much older white man from Spain, who, like her father to her mother, shows her a great time for two nights and then disappears with no warning.

Each white lover to enter Zilayefa’s life tempts her with love and companionship, only to take it away unceremoniously, along with her heart. These lovers can be seen not just as plot devices, but also as literary representations of the Western world exploiting third world countries for their precious resources.

Agary wants her readers to see the effects of the Westerners who exploit poorer countries in order to improve their own lives, and she shows this by writing about the exploitation of women. This feminist approach brings the injustices that Nigeria faces into a new, fresh light, connecting to readers not just in the second or third world, but in the Western world as well.

Western oil consumers can draw a connection between the “white lover” and themselves; because of our desire for faster, wealthier, better lives, we’ve lost track of the wellbeing of the land that gave us this resource, not to mention the wildlife and people that still live there. It forces the Western reader to see Nigeria not as foreign and unimportant, but as a real place with real people, and real, irreversible damage.


The purpose of this paper was to examine Environmental Injustice in the Niger River Delta a case study of the Third Generation of Nigerian Novels a case study of Kaine Agary’s Works. Agary is seen as an important Nigerian writer from the Niger Delta who have published a lot of poetry collections that expose the problems of degradation, oil exploitation and environmental pollution.

The writer address the Niger Delta Question because of their proximity to the events and an understanding of the twists and turns of the struggle as well as the movement of history, the poems analyzed, in the main, versify the troubled relationship between the people of the region and the government at the centre in terms of the obnoxious laws that dispossess oil-bearing communities of their natural resources: marginalization and alienation of the region resulting in poverty, anger, agitation and armed struggle:

the militarization of the region by the government to counter militancy: and the seeming escalation of violence and gradual descent into anarchy and disintegration. Moreover, their poetic works also reflects on the economic, social and political implications of eco-degradation in the region as well as the eco-alienation, the sense of Separation between people and nature, which seems to be a significant trope in Niger Delta eco-poetics. These predicaments of the people are manifestations of living in wealth and dying in abject poverty.

Works Cited:

  • Agary, Kaine. Yellow-yellow: A Novel. Lagos: Dtalkshop, 2006. Print.
  • Agary, Kaine. “My Blessing, My Curse.” Curse of the Black Gold: 50 Years of Oil in the Niger Delta. Ed Kashi and Michael Watts, eds. Brooklyn: powerHouse Books, 2008. 152-153. Print.
  • Marquart, Deb. “Lament.” Small Buried Things. Moorhead, Minnesota: New Rivers Press, 2015. 52-53. Print.
  • Reads, Geosi. “In an Interview with Nigerian Writer, Kaine Agary.” Geosi Reads., 09 Feb 2011. Web. 05 April 2016.

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