Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), on International Human Rights’ Day, Tuesday, December 10, 2019 in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital flagged off earlier publicized campaign for the Mobilization and Sensitization of ONE MILLION YOUTH VOLUNTEERS AS HUMAN RIGHT DEFENDERS AND PROMOTERS in the Niger Delta. The One Million Youth Volunteers’ Network would also work on environmental advocacy, climate change, anti-corruption, health issues and contribute to community development through volunteerism in communities with a proposal to establish an indigenous Niger Delta Cultural Park to preserve and showcase the cultural heritage of the people of the Niger Delta, similar to the Crazy Horse Memorial Initiative in South Dakota, United States of America. The Executive Director of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface in 2018 participated in the prestigious United States Government Exchange Program, the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), learned about volunteerism and how it is contributing to community development in American communities and exchanging same in the Niger Delta to work with the youths to drive development in the region. 

(Mr. Fyneface Dumnamene)

Speaking at the launch, Executive Director of Advocacy Centre, Mr. Fyneface Dumnamene, explained that the historic Niger Delta One Million Youth Volunteers’ Advocacy Network would be mobilized in the nine Niger Delta states of Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers State. According to Mr. Dumnamene, the motivation to actualize this mobilization of one million youth volunteers for community development advocacy in the Niger Delta was strengthened after learning about how the American people are volunteering and contributing to the development of their communities, especially those of the indigenous peoples of U.S States of North and South Dakotas as demonstrated in Standing Rock, Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation in Pine Ridge, Crazy Horse Memorial and Feed South Dakota. He said “one million out of the over 29 million youths that constitute nearly two third of over 40million estimated population in the Niger Delta region, according to National Population Commission (2006)” is not much to bring them together to better the lives of others. Adding that, “The mobilization of one million youth volunteers as human rights defenders and promoters in the Niger Delta is very important because the human rights space in Nigeria is shrinking. Our human rights records and international ratings are getting poorer and Nigeria’s human rights image is denting. Although there has been some level of improvements on human rights under the 1999 Constitution (As amended), Nigeria’s human rights ratings are still nothing to write home about and requires deliberate efforts to work with relevant authorities and government agencies to promote and strengthen our human rights records for overall National Development”. He further said “Collectively, the One Million Youth Volunteers will work towards the establishment of a NIGER DELTA CULTURAL PARK where our cultural values, identities, traditions, heroes’ sculptures, historical works and heritage of the Niger Delta indigenous peoples, among others would be preserved and showcased to the world as a tourist hub to create jobs for the youth as well as generate tourism revenue to the region”, he explained.(Prof. Julie Umukoro)

In her keynote address, Prof. Julie Umukoro of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Port Harcourt, enjoined youths not to just see themselves as the leaders of tomorrow, rather, they should count themselves as leaders of today, contrary to the popular notion that youths are the leaders of tomorrow, saying that “tomorrow may never come, so let us deal with today”. She said if the youths do nothing about the development of the region, nothing could happen, as according to her, the Niger Delta region has been sufficiently abused, therefore it was time for the youths to rise to the occasion to save the environment, calling on Niger Delta youths to say “enough is enough” to the environmental abuse. “Niger Delta youths should have reason to speak out about the ongoing environmental crisis in the region. Revolution is not about fighting constituted authorities. When we continue to cut down trees in our environment, we cause environmental crisis without realizing the effects of our actions on the environment”, she warned. She said it was time for the youths in the region to think of little things that could cause positive change; just as she challenged them to come up with peaceful developmental initiatives that would draw government’s attention to the plight of the area, saying that pockets of positive actions from groups in the region could make a marked difference in the development process. While calling on youths in the region to volunteer assistance in their immediate environment, Prof. Umukoro, reiterated that the word, ‘Revolution’ implies positive change, adding that anyone who does not want positive change would remain stagnated in life; even as she advised youths in the region to revolutionize their actions for better living standards. Her words “Don’t see the word ‘revolution’ from the derogatory perspective. Let us stop criticisms and take actions to cause positive change. Think of embarking on positive actions. The Majority may not be always right. Have your own opinion and make your point, than just keeping quiet. Teach others by your actions and criticize less”, she advised. The theatre acts lecturer who doubles as President of United States Government’s Exchange Program Alumni Association of Nigeria (USGEAN), Rivers State chapter, emphasized the urgent need for the younger generation to come together to galvanize positive social actions to stem the abuses of human rights in the Niger Delta.(Prof. Prof. Barineme B. Fakae)

In his goodwill message, former Vice Chancellor of Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) Port Harcourt, Prof. Prof. Barineme B. Fakae, said the environment was in the hands of the youths, saying that man’s life span on earth was short as our days are numbered and as such, there was need to use the environment sustainably for the sake of our future. He advised youths in the region to take actions that will lead to sustainable management of the fragile environment, reiterating that “the future of the youth is in the hands of the youths themselves”. While commending the organizers of the human rights day event and the flag off of the One Million Youth Volunteers scheme, the former V.C recalled his bitter experience his captors in the forest after he was kidnapped in the past, warning that the current generation should be weary of being caught in the spirit of Hezekiah. (Prof. Andrew Efemini)

On his part, Prof. Andrew Efemini of the Department of Philosophy, University of Port Harcourt who flagged off the One Million Youth Volunteers’ Campaign on human rights, in his goodwill message predicted that except things were properly organized to save the environment, which he defined as a holistic concept, not restricted to only oil pollution and garbage management, maintained that the “quality of the environment has something to do with how well we live, how long we live or whether we live a healthy life or live unhealthy life” He expressed worry that two million years to come, “we may just wake up to realize that we are living a wasted life as almost all our cities may go down due to lack of proper environmental management. People will then voluntarily give up their cities so that we can re-plan our cities to be compatible with human reasoning. That we are now building jungles, consuming land in a way that is incompatible with long term goals of man could cause environmental crisis”. “Brazil, has seven just percent of its land used for farming, producing 51 billion Dollars from seven percent of its land been cultivated. While in Nigeria we are nearing 55%. If you go to Onitsha in Anambra state, in all those communities, you will hardly find farm land today. The same thing is happening in Lagos. Lagos has expanded to Ogun state, just as Port Harcourt has now taken its land to Emuoha, still expanding towards Elele. If you re-plan Port Harcourt, with modern science of environmental city management, Rumuola can take most of us. If you visit modern cities now, you will see 10 to 20 storey buildings with lifts. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, you build one kitchen; you take a plot of land. “When we discuss the environment, I want our people to think. We need to understand the issues at stake. When talk about environment here they refer to what Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has done and what Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) is not doing. “What we are doing or not doing has even become a greater challenge for environmental management of the future. This is where I should draw your attention to the fact that if we don’t conceive the environment very well, we are going to make a mistake and that is the major reason why we are not managing our environment along contemporary modern lines. If we don’t reform our politics and democratize genuinely, you will discover that we will be hitting our heads on the rock and will be reproducing the reverse of our desires in terms of environmental management. Is the political class aware that we have hardly done anything well as a people in terms of ideas and where we should be going to? “Our challenge is first of all, to come to terms with what environment crisis will mean for our future and present. The environment has something to do with how we live our lives within the environment. Environment is every external element that influences humans, just as governance determines how we live in the polity. We are building jungles in most cities. Our buildings don’t conform to the reality on ground. We have failed to actually manage our environment. The quality of politics in our environment has grossly affected our environmental management and planning. We are heading for an environmental crisis if we are not careful in our environmental management. Political consciousness is critical. Africa can only change when Nigeria changes in its politics”, he maintained. (Mrs. Chinwe Okoroji)

In her address, the Rivers State Coordinator of the National Human Rights Commission, Mrs. Chinwe Okoroji, who represented the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Mr. Tony Ojukwu Esq, at the event, said there is no doubt that Nigeria as a nation has made reasonable progress in entrenching the culture of human rights even as there is considerable room for improvement, adding that the provisions of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as amended and other human rights treaty obligations which Nigeria freely entered into have made profound positive impact in the provision and protection of human rights in the country. “The theme of this year’s celebration, “Youth Standing Up for Human Rights” is imperative, given the increasing population of young persons in the country and the need to collectively ensure that the youth participate actively in decision making to enable them contribute meaningfully to nation building. “The youthful energy of the young people should be positively utilized and channeled into national development and that can only happen when they are assisted to live their rights and realize their potentials in life. In our efforts to comprehensively tackle the emerging human rights concerns, we thought it expedient to maximize our human rights education to ensure firstly, that Nigerians at the least know their rights and also appreciate to seek redress from appropriate institutions such as Human Rights Commission, the Public Complaints Commission, the Legal Aids Council of Nigeria and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, as the case may be. “One of the trending human rights concerns of the nation is the issue of sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). The commission has set up a high powered investigation panel which is expected to provide sustainable solution to the prevalence of SGBV, especially amongst the vulnerable people in our society. “As we celebrate the 2019 international human rights day, the commission is happy to announce the institutionalization of a yearly human rights summit and award to fulfill Nigeria’s human rights obligation and build a culture of human rights dialogue and respect in Nigeria” she noted.

The high point of the event which was attended by over 120 people from Bayelsa, Delta, Imo, Rivers and other States was the flagging of the campaign by Prof. Andrew Efemini, calling on interested Niger Delta youths that wish to join One Million Youth Volunteer Advocacy Network in the Niger Delta to register on the database by texting YEAC THEIR FULL NAME, SEX, AGE, HIGHEST ACADEMIC QUALIFICATION AND STATE OF RESIDENCE TO 33811 on MTN, Airtel, Glo and Visa Phone networks.(Campaign flag-off by Professor Andrew Efemini supported by Professor Julie and Pastor Charles Assissi, a Board of Trustee Member of YEAC)Bellow are photos of a cross sections of participants at the regional flag-off on December 10