Artivism in Nigeria to Fight Fossil Fuels

By Landry Ninteretse

“I have a dream
When our farm land will no longer be affected by mining activities
When our water are free from all manners of pollution
When mining pits shall be closed and reclaimed
I have a dream
When blessings from God, in the land and sea, will no longer be a curse
When Nigeria and the rest of the world will break free from fossil fuels
When man and nature shall become friendly again as in the time of Adam”

That quote is from one of the poems written during a two-day workshop focused on artivism tactics for climate actions, especially those focused on fighting fossil fuels.

Photo from the Break Free action in Nigeria. May 2016. Photo by Babawale Obayanju
Photo from the Break Free action in Nigeria. May 2016. Photo by Babawale Obayanju

Ten climate activists from Niger Delta and the federal capital of Abuja attended that workshop organized by 350 Africa in the lead up to the Break Free Campaign which consisted in incredible, diverse and courageous actions on the six continents to challenge the oil industry to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The participants are part of local non-profit environmental and climate groups and were selected to attend the workshop based on their strong motivation and interest in artivism.

As a co-facilitator, I was incredibly touched by their inspiration and creativity of participants. On the first day, they were able to write/create 15 songs and poems! Though these products were not entirely perfect, they demonstrated not only the huge potential and spontaneity within the participants but also their willingness and readiness to take action. We hope to continue refining these songs and poems and come up with final version which can be used during future local mobilisation events.

Either in ordinary English, broken English or local dialects, the songs and poems talked about the destruction caused by the extractive industry, the continuous environmental aggression/depletion of natural resources and the violation of human rights of impacted communities. But it wasn’t only negativity and pessimism. Songs and poems of these activists contained seeds of hope, solidarity and resistance.

My dream for the nature — poem by Oliver
We want climate justice now — song by Glory Song
Mother earth cries out — poem by David

During the break, one participant approached me and asked why we have decided to run an artivism workshop. I explained that 350 Africa has recently identified the use of artivism (Art and Activism) as a key component to mobilize urban and rural communities, youths, farmers and impacted oil and coal-field communities and to build up their resistance to an industry which has caused and is still causing unprecedented human and environmental ravages.

Artists, in any given society, are influential figures, who can bring attention to all kind of issues.
Photo from the Break Free action in Nigeria. May 2016. Photo by Babawale Obayanju

350 Africa has been using artivism at its events, and has built a good relationship with different groups of artists over the past few years. This relationship has sparked new potential for 350 Africa and other social justice movements to spread its climate justice message to a larger, youthful audience. In other parts of this continent, extremely rich in terms of traditions and cultures, songs, poetry and drama are increasingly being used to first create community awareness on environmental issues and then build resistance against a gradual invasive oil and coal industry.

This first workshop empowered participants in the struggle against the oil industry for Break Free and beyond. Because our intention is to gradual touch and mobilize diverse categories of populations and ensure that the combined forces of business and politics cannot continue unchallenged. And we have never seen a great way of engagement than artivism!