From royalty, stands a Princess for the rights of poor people
During the inaugural United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA) that took place at the UN Complex in Nairobi, Kenya hosted Prince Albert II of Monaco and Princess Caroline Usikpedo-Omoniye of Ozoro, Delta state in Nigeria.
As Prince Albert received state reception by the government of Kenya that included state security from the airport to his hotel room and within the UN complex, Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye humbly strode in unnoticed.
Princess Usikpedo–Omoniye’s presence was only felt when she stood to give a paper on the impact of oil sector on women in the Niger Delta region.
“The Niger Delta Region’s people have suffered maltreatment through political and economic marginalization, violence and environmental degradation. Together, these women want to do even more for their communities,” she told an assembly of world leaders at packed hall.
Later in an exclusive interview with Kenyan Woman, Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye revealed that her organization, the Niger Delta Women’s Movement for Peace and Development (NDWPD) focuses on citizen’s engagement in the Niger Delta and on the impacts of oil pollution.
“I helped found this non-governmental organisation in 2005 with the vision to empower the Niger Delta women and the most vulnerable people in the region,” Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye who is only 39 years old.
The Princess knows all about oil spills too well and she often mobilises hundreds of women who wage peace campaigns to protect their homeland from multinational environmental policies.
She is well known and respected for the work she does of organising training sessions for women, raising awareness and advocating for the rights of women and environmental protection.
“I had to step down from my employment in Lagos to come to Niger Delta to help the vulnerable people especially women whose human rights were infringed upon by international companies and local government authorities,” Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye explains.
A native of Ozoro in Isoko Kingdom, Delta State, Nigeria, Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye is a chartered administrator having graduated from Imo State University.
She has over 20 years working experience in the hospitality industry, information and communication technology and civil society organizations as women’s human rights activist.
Through the Niger Delta Women Resource Centre, she has trained over 350 women and girls in skills and vocations of choice ranging from tailoring, computer knowledge, catering and beauty therapy in 2010-2013. Members are also trained on leadership skills to help them participate in leadership and decision making at all levels of leadership.
Based, on her track record and success stories of fighting for women’s human rights and gender equality, Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for Women Empowerment in Nigeria by the International Human Rights Commission in 2011.
“There is high rate of cancer, infertility, leukaemia, bronchitis, asthma, still-births, deformed babies and other pollution-related ailments in the region hence no action at all against the people’s lives as attention is given to the oil exploration,” she says.
The Princess has participated in ongoing global debates on gender, climate change and environment and shares Niger Delta cases with the world in hopes of raising awareness.
She has presented several papers on the Niger Delta and made interventions on behalf of rural women at global conferences and discussions, including the Rio+20 conferences in Brazil and the Post-2015 Development Framework processes with the United Nations High Level Panel members.
She has steadfastly worked to carry the message of her organisation to global arenas and has reached out internationally to connect with other anti-poverty, women’s human rights and environmental organisations and networks.
She has actively fought for gender equality, women inclusion in decision making and women’s rights ad empowerment at rural areas, in Nigeria.
She was subsequently awarded with Special Recognition Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye is currently appointed the Co-chair for the Women Major Group of United Nations Environment programme, a Global Facilitation Team Member for the Feminist Task Force of the Global Call to Action against Poverty, Member of the Anti-Corruption Internet Database (ACID).
Besides championing for the rights of others and seeking safer environmental conservation within the oil rich Niger Delta, Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye lives her day-to-day life as wife, activist, leader and Princess of a royal family.
“Our fellow women in rural areas require information so that they may know their rights and be able to be involved in all development activities planned amidst them,” Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye explains.
The Niger Delta is located in the Atlantic Coast of southern Nigeria and it is one of the 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world.
The Delta contains the largest mangrove forest in the world is home to over 40 million people in a country that has the largest population in Africa.
However, the discovery of oil as a natural resource in the Delta that was expected to be a blessing has now turned out to be a curse.
“Oil has generated an estimated $600 billion since the 1960s and this accounts for Nigeria’s 97 percent of the national revenue,” says Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye.
Even as this is happening, the population of the Niger Delta’s population, majority of whom are women, live in poverty most of them do not have adequate access to clean water or health-care.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) describes the region as suffering from “administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict”.
It is a place where women are dying early as their life expectancy has been reduced to 45 years. Children also die early.
The gas flaring has caused life diseases and unimaginable environmental hazards affecting basic human rights.
The place has high rate of cancer, infertility, leukaemia, bronchitis, asthma, still-births, deformed babies and other pollution-related ailments. People complain of breathing problems, skin lesions and other health problems, but their concern are not taken seriously and they have almost no information on the impacts of pollution.
However, the group of women led by Princess Usikpedo-Omoniyeare now demanding rights to education for their children, economic empowerment, good infrastructure and environmental restoration.
Women from the Ugborodo Women Group led a 10-day-protest against Chevron in Delta State while Joinkarama Women Group also led a protest against Shell in Rivers State.
“All these we are demanding the protection of human rights, farmlands and sustainable livelihoods given that it’s us women who are majority of farmers in this country,” Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye notes.
She observes that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland could prove to be the world’s most wide-ranging but to Nigerian women; it is a place where women are heavily abused.
The activities of the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta such as gas flaring, are affecting the integrity and wellbeing of women in the region.
“Drinking water, land and the whole ecosystem is messed up and require a new lease of life,” Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye says.
“We are demanding that the companies pay the local communities for the degradation for violating their rights to health, water, food, and sustainable livelihood,” she adds.
The women’s organisations want to be involved in developing road map for a clean Ogoni area.
According to Princess Usikpedo-Omoniye, the group also helps members acquire vocational training at their Niger Delta Women Resource Centre where 350 members have been trained from 2010-2013.
“They have acquired training on computer applications, tailoring, beauty therapy, catering and production of soaps and detergent,” she adds.
All the members are, however, equipped with leadership skills at the Leadership Training Institute where they attend a one day training to be able to participate in leadership and decision making at all levels.
In 2013, the group members were ejected from the 50-year-old Ogeli market by the Niger Delta Governor but the order had to be reversed as the group members demonstrated for five days.
The Governor had to invite the group officials for a meeting that culminated into his change of mind.
The group that has a membership of 1,000 has been in operation since 2005 and has also helped women in managing cases of sexual violation and access to their inheritance..