Campaign for Legal Rights for the River Ethiope in Nigeria

Earth Law Center and the River Ethiope Trust Foundation (“RETFON”) have launched an initiative to establish legal rights for the River Ethiope in Nigeria. The River Ethiope would be the first waterway in Africa to gain legal rights recognition.

Amongst the rights sought for the River Ethiope are rights to be free from pollution, to restoration, to native biodiversity, and others. The River would also have standing to be heard as a party in a court of law. Finally, one or more guardians would be appointed to enforce these rights. 


Located in the Delta State of Nigeria, the Ethiope begins in the community of Umuaja, where is emerges from the earth at the base of a giant silk cottonwood tree – a place of worship for adherents to the traditional Olokun and Igbe religions. The river runs for approximately 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) until it joins the Benin River (or “Larger Ethiope River”) and empties into the Atlantic. It is believed to be the deepest inland waterway in Africa.


Local communities rely upon the River Ethiope for drinking, bathing, fishing, medicine, agriculture, and many other purposes. It also supports rich biodiversity. Threats to the river include industrial contamination, oil spills, solid waste disposal, and impacts from a growing population and booming tourism industry – particularly at the river’s mysterious source, which is being degraded by overuse.

Next Steps: 

  1. Analyze Nigeria's environmental laws for rights of rivers opportunities 
  2. Draft legal text establishing legal rights for the River Ethiope
  3. Seek passage of new law(s) establishing legal rights for the River Ethiope
  4. Advance implementation through restoration and governmental and stakeholder action

To learn more about what legal rights the River Ethiope may be entitled to, visit ELC's page on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Rivers

Also, read our blog, Rights for the River Ethiope, Nigeria.

Interested in establishing legal rights for your own local waterway? Contact Grant Wilson, Directing Attorney, at