Ravaged by spillage: Hard, messy life of communities in Niger Delta

The promise to clean up the oil mess which has ravaged the Niger-Delta region for years is yet to significantly take off. AUSTIN EBIPADE visited some communities in Bayelsa State where life is hard due to the effects of oil spillage.

RECENTLY, the Federal Government took the step toward the clean-up of Ogoniland to signpost its promise of stopping further environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region. Ogoniland, the face of oil spillage that has devastated both the eco-system and the economic life of the people, was where the clean up project kicked off. The clean-up which started in June may cost $1 billion and 25 years to complete, yet it has hardly taken off, just as many other parts of the region are still reeling in the after-effect of the oil spillage and economic emasculation which might take generations to remedy.

Residents of two of these communities—Otupoti and Kalaba in Ogbia and Yenagoa Local Governments of Bayelsa State—woke up recently to discover that their rivers, farmland, and creeks were bubbling with spillages that had spread rapidly thereby inflicting grave danger on the ecosystem in both communities. Some of them had picked up their fishing gadgets, farm implements and other working tools to visit their farmland, but were disappointed as an oil leak had devastated their environment.

Residents of both communities were irked by the occurrence, particularly on discovering that the spill was as a result of a leak from Agip trunk line in the area that traverses their farmlands and the creeks all over their communities.

The spill has not only impacted Otuopoti and Kalaba, but also neighbouring communities along the Nun River and the Ekoli creek such as Abura, Elebele, Biseni, Okordia, Otuaba, among others. Residents have lamented particularly, the delay from stakeholders, such as federal, state and local governments, including Agip, the operator of the oil field in the communities. The ruler of Otuopoti, Chief Cousin Wongo, and his Kalaba community counterpart, Roman Orukari, told Sunday Tribune that the losses from the spillages were overwhelming because the people earn their livelihood from fishing.

They explained that residents of the communities have lost millions of naira because the spill has destroyed their environment, their farmland, vegetation and eco-system as they have been denied their means of livelihood.


Any intervention by government?

The two traditional rulers averred that several recommendations and entreaties had been made for the area to be properly remedied, as was the case with Ogoniland, yet government and the oil multinationals had paying lip service to their promises. They reasoned that crises, insurgency, hostility to expatriate oil workers, pipeline vandalism and threat to national assets, were as a result of delay in remediating spill impact on the region’s ecosystem, adding that if the Federal Government and Agip were able to match words with action, it would go a long way to redress cases of squabbles with oil firms and threat to national assets. They, however, called on government and the management of the oil firm to carry out a thorough clean up of the wide-spread spillages in the various communities.


Effect of spillage

oil-spilt“The spill has destroyed our waters. Our people usually paddle to the middle of the river to fetch water, no thanks to the spill that has destroyed our sources of water.

“We can no longer bathe in the river because of the spill, just as we cannot use the water to wash anything.

“Many of our people have been thrown out of their natural occupations such as fishing, farming, canoe carving and by-products from economic trees. This is as a result of the spill that has left dead fishes floating on the river, while others simply migrate very far into the ocean,” Chief Wongo, traditional ruler of Otuopoti, said.

He added that farmers are not left out of the problem as the toxic materials from the spillages have destroyed the nutrients in the soil, thereby making the land useless for farming for the next five to seven years, while economic trees have also gone into extinction, leaving canoe carvers with no materials to remain in business.


Health challenges

It has been discovered that the oil spillage has its health hazards as it is capable of affecting breathing while also polluting the environment and ecosystem with chemical component. Many are grappling with health issues such as whooping cough, tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases in the communities.


Economic impact

In both Otuopoti and Kalaba communities, there are several cases of students dropping out of school, which has been traced to the spill. Neighbouring communities are not left out of the crisis because most parents can no longer carry on their fish or farm expedition from where proceeds are spent on their education. The adverse effect has led to hunger in the communities as the bread winners have been denied their means of livelihood since they can no longer engage in their natural occupation.


The people speak

A resident of Otuopoti community, Mrs. Cecilia Osain, told Sunday Tribune that the spillage has affected fishing activities in the local rivers. “Those who go to fish come back with no catch as spilled oil has compelled the fishes, crayfish and shrimps to seek fresh water, beyond the reach of fishermen.

“Bathing in the river is no longer safe as those who do itch all over. The only source of water the community relies on for drinking, cooking and other domestic uses is the adjoining creeks that are not yet affected by spillage,” Osain said.

She lamented that months after the spillage occurred, the mess has not been cleaned up, while appealing to government to prevail on Nigerian Agip Oil (NAOC) to quickly carry out a clean-up exercise.

Also, Chairman, Community Development Committee, Simpson Isikpi, noted that it was true that the spillage had polluted the rivers in the community. “We cannot drink water, our aquatic life such as fish are dying,” he said.

Comrade Lamawal Wilfred, spokesperson for Ogbia Brotherhood, a social group in the community, called on operators or owners of the affected pipeline to send experts to ascertain the cause of the leak.

Comrade Wilfred expressed worry and anger over NAOC’s delay in embarking on thorough clean up exercise, even as he bemoaned the multiplier effect of the oil leak from Agip’s oil field in the area.

Mr. Samuel Opuro, also a community leader in Kalaba, called on the federal and state governments to provide relief materials to ameliorate the plight of the people.


Environmental Right activist speaks

Mr. Morris Alagoa, of the Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth (ERA/FON) called on the oil multinational to take urgent steps to clamp-down on the spill in order to avert imminent danger, even as he posited that the spill is affecting swamp fishing period which is spreading fast to the creeks and other farmlands.

He bemoaned the insensitivities of all stakeholders for failing to do the right thing, by swinging into action for a clean-up exercise in order to control its spread and the attendant negative effects.

Alagoa averred that most of the pipes used by oil multinationals buried underground have expired and needed to be replaced, yet the firms have not done much to effect a change.

He noted that some of the wellheads are rustic and ruptured, while oil multinationals continued to feign ignorance, and that most of them have refused to carry out Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) before commencing operations in oil bearing communities.