An Ecocritical Analysis Of Tanure Ojaide’s The Activist And Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow

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An Ecocritical Analysis Of Tanure Ojaide’s The Activist And Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow


Ecocoritical studies intensely show the relationship between man’s environment and literature. In this way, ecocriticism becomes a standpoint that brings environmental discourse to the fore within a literary context; a context that shows the exploitation and decay in man’s environment. Following this assertion, the themes that border on environmental degradation are routed in migration, pipeline vandalism, blowouts owing to gas flares and pollution. Most of the analyses on the concept of ecocriticism take the direction of the greenish nature of the environment and the extent of the marginalisation of a people.

This research views ecocritism from a different perspective. It depicts ecocritism as a theory that deploys the tools of ecoactivism and resistance in the reading and analyses of Tanure Ojiade’s The Activist and Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow. It also shows the manner in which humans strive to unchain themselves from the manacles that hold them bondage by resisting the discourse of ecotrauma. This study also delves into the negative impacts of oil activities in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria by connecting the ecocritical patterns of ecoactivism and resistance to the utterances and actions of the characters in the texts.

Chapter One


1.1 Background To The Study

Man cannot be separated from his environment because his perception and interaction with his surrounding make up his being. The destruction of the natural things that surround man is caused by man himself by the acts of destroying and recreating his habitat. Thus, ecocritical studies examine the way in which humans and the natural environment interact and counter each other. Byron Caminero-Santangelo will comment in his essay that ‘Laurence Coupe sees ecocritism as an approach to literature which considers the relationship between human and non-human life as represented in literary texts and which theorizes about the place of literature in the struggle against environmental destruction’ (705).

The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is rich in crude oil, but it is in a state of omnishambles because of ecological problems. The discovery, exploration and exploitation of oil in the region have affected agriculture, fishing as well as the living conditions of the people. With the leakage of oil from pipes and its spillage into lands, farms, and water, the Niger Deltans are faced with a threatening disaster. Best Ordinohia and Seiyefa Brisibe note that ‘oil spillage affected at least 1500 communities in the eight crude oil-producing states in Nigeria, and were mainly from the 5284 oil wells that were drilled as at 2006 and the 7000 km of crude oil pipeline that cross the Niger Delta region. Oil spillage often results in contamination of surface water with hydrocarbons and trace metals, as measured using atomic spectrometry’(4).

They further note that ‘th e crude oil of the region contains some naturally occurring radioactive materials. The crude oil spillage reduces soil fertility. It also smothers economic trees and food crops, outrightly killing them or reducing their yield causing a 60% reduction in household food security. The deterioration of the quality of staple food leads to a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition’ (4). Crude oil spillage also results in the bio-accumulation of heavy metals in surviving food crops like cassava and pumpkin. Pat Okpoko in Environmental Impact of Technological Intrusion in Nigeria notes that crops and economic trees affected by oil spillage show signs of scorching, yellowing and shedding of leaves, stunted growth and death’ (4). He notes further that ‘fishes caught from the polluted streams are often unpalatable and show signs of reduced growth and reproductive performance and consequently decreased population’ (62).

When pushed to the wall, some Niger Deltans try to make the government and the world to understand their predicament. This has led to untold violence, killing, maiming, gunrunning, destruction and vandalism of pipelines, and the kidnapping of foreigners. Young girls who cannot find jobs find succour in the hands of foreigners and wealthy Nigerian men who after sleeping with them give them money that ought to be naturally theirs. Chris Onyema notes that ‘since the discovery and commercial exploration of oil in this area in 1958 until date, the people of the Niger Delta have been suffering from acts of bioterrorism, oil pollution of lands and water, gas flaring, hunger, diseases and poverty. Poverty breeds prostitution, gas flaring breeds cancer and respiratory diseases’ (189). Sometimes, they feel that violence is the only answer to their problem.

After the amnesty that was granted to the militants of Niger Delta, some of its indigenes still resort to thuggery. Ojaide says that ‘the area boys were fighters attempting not only to reclaim what had been robbed from them, but also holding firmly to what was theirs that others were attempting to snatch away’ (55). For Ato Quayson, ‘violence becomes a means by which some people visit displeasure on those associated with the state, particularly minor officials and those seen as colluding with it’ (58). Also, Ngugi wa Thiong’o lends his voice to that of Quayson to say that ‘violence in order to change an intolerant unjust social order is not savagery, it purifies man. Violence to protect and preserve an unjust oppressive social order is criminal and diminishes man’. (28). It is against the marginalization of the economic and political deprivation of the people of Niger-Delta that Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni people fought and died for. Saro Wiwa views the exploration of oil by multinational companies as anti- people exploitation.

Ed Simon will subscribe to Sam Uniamikogbo and Stanley Aibieyi view that ‘considering the role of oil in National Development, the struggle for indigenous control of activities in the industry has persisted over the years. Among oil exploring countries like Mexico and Libya, this struggle has culminated in apparent revolution, which ultimately forced out foreign oil firms from the industry and made way for national control of oil operations’ (157). The blame for the pollution and spillage of oil in the Niger Delta region are not supposed to be apportioned to foreigners alone because Nigerian leaders collude in the decay that is threatening to gulp the nation. Oil activities take a toll on the people of the region, and people migrate to other parts of the country in search of a better life. It is ironical that the region that contributes to the growth and development of the nation cannot cater for the needs of its indigenes.

1.2 Statement Of The Problem

The criticism and analyses of the decay in the environment have been done from different angles, with most researchers focusing on the gaseous and non gaseous state of man’s environment, while some researchers critique The Activist and Yellow-Yellow under the themes of political activism, the girl-child education and the representation of the male figures as depicted in the primary texts. The lacuna the researcher filled is the analyses of The Activist and Yellow-Yellow using the ecocritical tools of ‘Ecoactivism and Resistance’. The researcher also related the portrayal of the negative impact of oil activities in the primary texts to the tools of ecoactivism and resistance. In the long run, the protagonists are studied, to find out their bearings and the manner in which their environment affects their characters and their relationship with other characters in the texts. In the Activist, the Activist, like Ken Saro-Wiwa is an ecoactivist.

As a way of liberating his people from marginalisation, he teams up with Pere Ighogboja, to set up an oil bunkering business. In Yellow-Yellow, there is Zilayefa, who leaves her village for the assumed comfort the city offers. There is a chain binding the industrial activities of oil and its result in the lives of the characters of the narratives. With the spillage of oil into water, fishes and water are condemned. When oil spills into farms, many people give up farming and they look for alternative means of livelihood. For some who dare to challenge the status quo, they resort to vandalism of pipelines to get even with the government. For some in the village, migrating to the cities to search for greener pasture become the only alternative, but they end up despondent and disillusioned.

1.3 Purpose Of The Study

The major aim of this research is to show the disastrous results we get by the rough handling of our environment by man. This we can detect by the actions of the characters in Yellow-Yellow and the Activist shown through the tools of ecoactivism and resistance. The researcher tries to avoid the repetition of the works previously done by other researchers by sticking to her research problem. Reference is made to other works depending on their connection and relation to this work, but the crux of the work is an in-depth analyses of the primary texts in order to fill the lacuna left by other researchers.

1.4 Significance Of The Study

This research will add to the growing number of research done on environmental studies. It will also add to the rich and encouraging research done using the Niger Delta literary texts. The authors of the primary texts to be studied; Tanure Ojaide and Kaine Agary are from the rich but impoverished Niger Delta. Ojaide is from Delta State and Agary is from Rivers State. They are aware of the extent of the rot in their region. The significance cuts across almost all fields of life because man cannot be separated from his environment. When the environment is endangered, the responsibility of restoring it to its default nature rests on man. It will also be useful for other researchers whose fields of study border on environmental studies.

1.5 Scope Of The Study

This study is based on the following texts: Tanure Ojaide’s The Activist and Kaine Agary’s Yellow- Yellow. The choice of these novels is not just because they are close to home, but because, to a great extent, they clearly show the economic and social result of oil exploration and exploitation. Where necessary, reference is made to other works that have ecological or ecocritical background. While analysing the texts, close attention is paid to actions, objects, thoughts, ideas that contribute to the degradation of man’s environment.

The analyses in this research are dependent on ecocriticism. This theory shows that there is a relationship between literature and man’s environment. Glotfelty and Fromm opine that ‘most ecocritical works share 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. Either we change our ways or we face global catastrophe, destroying much beauty and exterminating countless fellow species in our headlong race to apocalypse’ (xx). It has been observed that not much work has been done on ecocritism by black writers and critics. Most of them refused to adopt ecocriticism or the literature of the environment.

William Slaymaker notes that they feel that ecoliterature and ecocriticism are another attempt to ‘white out’ black Africa by colouring it green (683). Their hesitation is because of their suspicion of the green discourse emerging from Western centres. But, since the early nineties, black writers have shown interest in their environment, seeking for change, and redressing issues that relate to environmental hazards. It is noted that there is a branch of ecocriticism that sees to the globalization issues in any depth. The branch is referred to as ‘Envronmental Justice’.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines ‘Environmental Justice’ a s ‘the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies’ (2). Slaymaker notes further that ‘it is obvious to black African intellectuals, as well as their white counterparts, that environmental justice, as a global paradigm, will be used in the world marketplace when decisions are made about production, consumption of resources, and pollution caused by modernization, industrialization, and population growth’ (684). In the long run, the scope will cover the primary texts of study, and on the theory the research is hinged on.

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