N’Delta: No food crop grows here anymore
7 Oct 2012
Oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta region face grim situation due to environmental degradation occasioned by decades of oil exploration. CHUKWUDI AKASIKE reports that the visit by the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology to Rivers State reveals that decades after oil companies have stopped exploration in some communities, the soil is still heavily soaked in crude oil
THE Niger Delta region is known all over the world for one thing – the production of crude oil in large quantity. It is this product that has been the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. And though about 95 per cent of the country’s wealth is from this region, most of the oil bearing communities are in a sticky situation, what with the choking air pollution and life-threatening contamination of their rivers and streams.
Residents of the communities hit by environmental pollution occasioned by oil spills have no water to drink or farmlands to cultivate again. Theirs has been a slow, agonising death through privation.
Though displaced on their own soil through environmental pollution, there’s no available low cost housing scheme to serve as alternative. Indeed, in all of these communities, standard of living is so low that most of the fishermen still dwell in shanties built on soils contaminated with oil seepage.
Indeed, based on physical evidence, the communities have suffered loss of aquatic organism and wildlife, in addition to having been prevented from farming activities – another source of livelihood aside from fishing. The sources of their fresh water have been damned, with the attendant air pollution. Indeed, it is difficult to get fresh air as one traverses these communities.
The damage to farmlands is such that no less than 157 hectares of arable lands have given way to environmental degradation.
Other observable effects of the spills are the destruction of economic trees and cash crops. Worse still, some residents claimed that there has been increase in death rate since the first quarter of the year, as well as acute and general health problems which they said were traceable to the effects of the oil spills.
Affected communities include Egita in Ogba/Egbema Ndoni Local Government Area, Ejama Ebubu, Goi and Bodo in Gokana LGA.
Again, in April, the communities suffered gas eruption, at the end of which the soil in affected places turned to muddy substance where plants can no longer grow. In Gokana, for instance, an entire portion of a community was polluted with crude oil. In response, Shell Petroleum Development Company carried out a remediation by having sand tipped on the surface of the soil to cover the spilled oil.
At Goi, the entire river has been contaminated by crude oil. Unfortunately, the community was said to have been omitted by the United Nations Environment Programme during its assessment of polluted areas in Ogoniland.
Here, residents are either ignorant of the implications of using polluted water, or they can’t be bothered anymore by the likely effects, as they continue to live their life as if things were normal. A six year-boy-old was seen taking his bath in the polluted water, while an old woman was processing cassava by the river. When the boy came out of the water, his body was covered with crude oil!
At Edagberi-Betterland, comprising Inedua and Engenni communities in Ahoada West LG, apart from the ubiquitous oil spills, over 1,000 persons have been displaced by floods. The flood forced farmers to harvest their cassava prematurely in order to save them from rotting away.
In Ejama Ebubu (Ogoniland) where oil exploration activities were said to have been discontinued decades ago, the soil is still heavily soaked in oil.
These and other environmental issues took the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology to oil spill sites in some parts of Rivers State, recently. The chairman of the committee, Senator Bukola Saraki, lamented that though oil companies had always given the impression that most of the spills were as a result of sabotage from community members, the committee had come to realise that equipment failure was at the centre of the tragedy that had befallen most of the oil bearing communities.
In Egita, the Community Development Committee Chairman, Mr. Benson Ugochukwu, told the Senate committee that the community remained one of the 16 communities in Egi clan playing host to Total Exploration and Production Limited. He said Egi had suffered the effects of oil exploration and exploitation activities directly.
Ugochukwu said, “We wish to bring to the fore that the menace of oil and gas eruption in Egita community was noticed on April 2, 2012 by the community and was immediately reported to Total E&P Nigeria Limited. In response, the Total team worked tirelessly in their effort to contain the eruption palaver, which took about three months to control. The eruption threw the community into confusion for fear of what might be the aftermath. The trauma was heavy on the people.”
He called for a proper remediation of affected areas in Egita, compensation for loss of lands, economic trees and crops, aquatic organisms and wild life; while residents should be awarded contracts and employment opportunities.
Ugochukwu, who read the community’s address to Saraki and his entourage, urged the Senate committee to prevail on Total E&P to commence necessary negotiation for compensation to be paid for the recent gas eruption in Egita, while also noting that the communities got some relief materials from the oil company.
He said, “We wish to categorically state that Total E & P Nigeria Limited has responded to some of the problems during the period in review, such as the supply of relief materials once to Egita community in May 2012 and the entire Egi clan in June 2012.”
The Senate committee members also visited some of the gas eruption points, and the Bomu Oilfield in Kegbara Dere, in Gokana LGA, which was gutted by fire in 2002 and 2009 as a result of equipment failure.
One of the spokespersons in Ogoniland, Mr. Bariala Kpalap, alleged that Shell did not manage the spill according to internationally accepted standard, calling on the oil firm to clean up the place for the benefit of the affected community.
Goi indigenes who trooped out to welcome the Saraki-led team, described the area as the most impacted in terms of environmental degradation in Ogoniland. One of their leaders, Mr. Tony Digbara, expressed regrets that UNEP visited Ogoniland without considering the plight of the people whose sources of livelihood have been destroyed by years of water and air pollution.
The State Commissioner for the Environment, Dr. Nyema Weli, said government had not been informed about the development. Weli promised that the state government would put measures in place to ensure that those affected by the floods were given relief materials, while a formal request would also be made to the National Emergency Management Agency to assist the people.
At the end of their fact-finding mission, Saraki, who led members of the committee on a courtesy visit to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, said, “The Senate will call oil companies to account and make them take responsibility for their actions. We want things to change because it has taken a lot of patience on the part of the people affected.”
In response, Amaechi thanked the committee for the visit and charged them to take steps towards putting an end to the pollution of the environment by oil companies.