UK (University of Bradford) Bradford law professor on ‘environmental genocide’ in Nigeria

showing water and trees

Professor Engobo Emeseh, Head of the School of Law at the University of Bradford, has spoken about the heartbreaking stories she heard and the devastation she witnessed during her four-year research into “environmental genocide” in Nigeria.

Professor Emeseh was one of eight high-profile members of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission investigating the impact of multinational oil company activity in the Niger Delta, alongside former President of Ghana, John Kufuor and chaired by former Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. The Commission’s report estimated the African country needs $12 billion (£9.6m)  to clean up more than 60 years of oil spills – the report names companies it considers are responsible for most of the pollution.

Professor Emeseh said: “When people tell you about their children being ill or being born with conditions that can not be explained, that is heartbreaking. People are dying of cancers, they have high levels of toxins in their blood, they can’t work the land or drink the water because of pollution. This is the effect of decades of oil spills in Bayelsa State, in the Niger Delta, southern Nigeria, which has become progressively worse and worse.”

Head of the Law School

The School of Law is hosting a flagship conference which began on Wednesday July 26 and will conclude tomorrow on July 28 – it will include a free online panel discussion on Thursday July 27 on the Bayelsa State Oil and Environment Commission’s report titled “An Environmental Genocide: The Human and Environmental Cost of Big Oil in Bayelsa, Nigeria.”

When I was younger, you would see hippos, whales and all kinds of wildlife. Now everything is dead.

Professor Engobo Emeseh, Head of the School of Law at the University of Bradford, talks about the devastation to “nature’s lungs” by oil companies in the Niger Delta.

Professor Emeseh, who grew up in the Niger Delta, recalled one particularly poignant moment during her research.

She said: “We were at one creek for two to three hours one day and during that time, there wasn’t a single bird tweet. The silence struck us. Nothing can live there. We’re talking about huge areas of mangroves, nature’s lungs on earth, the largest wetland in Africa and the third largest in the world. When I was younger, you would see hippos, whales and all kinds of wildlife. Now everything is dead.”

The Commission, which published its report, ‘An Environmental Genocide,’ in May, found there to be “systemic failings of international oil company operators” which have been allowed to happen due to a “dysfunctional Nigerian regulatory state.” Professor Emeseh said it’s vital that the human toll is not forgotten.

She said: “I’m grateful for the people who were willing to speak to us and share their pain as openly as they did. Their voices shouldn’t be in vain, we must hear their voices.”

The aim of the Commission was to develop a set of informed recommendations to develop a new legal framework to ensure accountability and an action plan for a healthy environment. The summary stated: “Bayelsa is in the grip of a human and environmental catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. Oil extraction and its impact is the overwhelmingly evident cause of this disaster.”

The figures in the report are stark:

  • A 2012 study estimated that oil spills resulted in Nigeria resulted in the death of more than 16,000 newborns
  • As much as 40 per cent of the mangrove forests, once the largest on earth, have been lost
  • 1.5 barrels of oil have been spilled for every man, woman and child in Bayelsa
  • 97 per cent of the communities affected by oil spills suffer from food insecurity and nearly half of the children living in those communities are underweight
  • Between 1970 and 2014, Nigeria earned an estimated trillion dollars in oil revenue.

The Commission’s recommendations included implementing an environmental recovery programme, together with a support programme to address the economic impact of pollution on families and communities and a public health programme, involving interventions to address contaminated drinking water, comprehensive health screening and long-term treatment to those who develop conditions related to pollution.

Professor Emeseh added: “The report is just the starting point. It will mean nothing unless it makes a difference to the Bayelsa environment and the lives of the people. The recommendations of the report must be implemented  to bring about real change. And in that we all have a role to play- to bring our voices, our advocacy, our ideas and expertise, towards ensuring that effective policies and strategies are adopted  and implemented to ensure justice for the people of Bayelsa and all victims of environmental injustice.”

* To join the School of Law Conference Panel discussion this Thursday (July 27), 3.10pm to 4.40pm, register at Eventbrite –