AKIN ADEWAKUN, in this piece, reports the environmental pollution confronting Abereke, which is a collection of riverine communities in Igbokoda Local Government Area of Ondo State Lagos.
These are, definitely, not the best of times for the people of Abereke, in the coastal community of Igbokoda Local Government Area of Ondo State. While still trying to grapple with the global plague, the Covid 19 pandemic, which has continued to constitute clear and present danger to lives and livelihoods in the community, there seems to be a bigger ‘epidemic’, threatening to consume the entire communities within Abereke.
And, unfortunately, residents and indigenes seem to be at their wits’ end, regarding how to deal with emerging scourge.
In the past few years, one of its natural resources, the vast volume of waters surrounding it, that had once been the major source of livelihood for residents, is increasingly turning into a nightmare, instead of a blessing for the people. This development is attributed to the activities of oil companies that have come to explore the oil found in commercial quantity in the area, without regard to the safety of the people in the area
For many in the community, therefore, the activities of these oil companies in the area are at a huge cost to them, and not mutually-beneficial, as the oil companies had made them believe it would, prior to the commencement of their activities in the area.
Abereke, by every standard is blessed. Its proximity to huge water bodies provides residents and indigenes with the viable option of going into fish farming. This perhaps explains the huge number of individuals eking out a living from this aquatic endowenment.
Besides, the area also prides itself as being one of those communities, in the riverine region of Ondo State, that confers the state with the oil-producing status. Oil is found in commercial quantities in this area, a development that has made it the natural abode of oil companies.
Unfortunately, the discovery of oil and its subsequent exploration in this community, which should naturally be a blessing for the people, is becoming a nightmare.
The average indigene of the community would prefer those days of ‘innocence’, when all the community could boast of was an unpolluted and uncontaminated water, where they could carry out their fishing activities.
“For us, the discovery of oil in this area has taken us many steps backward. Those glorious days our waters served as a blessing to us, seem to be reclining in our memories. They are being gradually confined to the dustbins of history,” stated Prince Taiwo Aiyedatiwa, an indigene of the community, and also a pig farmer.
To a stranger in Abereke, it is a herculean task reconciling the vast resources under the belly of the community, with the standards of living of its people.
Besides a public primary school, constructed in the community some years ago, to cater to the elementary education needs of its over 7,000 inhabitants, there are no other educational institutions, or public facilities to depict government presence in the area.
For instance, juveniles in the community, desirous of gaining more knowledge after their primary school education would have to trek some kilometers to fulfill such dreams. There are neither public secondary schools nor tertiary institutions in Abereke!
“Any child that wants to go to secondary school in the community must be ready to relocate or trek some kilometers daily,” explained Aiyedatiwa, while highlighting the plights of the people of the community to Nigerian Tribune.
Aiyedatiwa, who is also the Secretary General of the Abereke Communities, Igbokoda, stated that besides the non-availability of tertiary educational institutions, public health system is virtually non-existent in the community.
“Some of these things really make us to wonder why the community still remains this way, in spite of the resources derived from this area on a daily basis,” he added.
But while Aiyedatiwa and other indigenes of the state had got used to this obvious neglect and are very much determined to make the best out of the seemingly hopeless situation, the activities of the oil companies and the attendant degradation and devastation of the community’s vegetation, farms and livestock by the oil companies, seem to be getting too much for the people to handle.
According to Aiyedatiwa, besides failing to live up to the terms of agreement in the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the people before commencing oil exploration in the area, the activities of oil companies, especially Chevron and Guarantee Oil, has left much to be desired.
“The oil companies are leaving the communities worse than they met them. While it is glaring those companies are not too keen on adhering to the terms of the MoU signed with the people, as evident in the utter neglect of Abereke and others, should their activities be conducted in such a way that it would leave our communities worse than they met them,? he asked rhetorically.
Aiyedatiwa was obviously speaking the minds of many indigenes, who believe that rather than being gainfully employed by those oil companies, their activities, instead, had continued to negatively impact the people’s sources of livelihood.
According to him, the area had been ‘on fire’ since 18 April, 2019, when Chevron’s Ojumole Oil Well in Ilaje Local Government Area of the state, caught fire, due to oil spillage, resulting in losses for many indigenes, whose major occupations revolve around fishing, farming and rearing of animals, mostly pigs.
Unfortunately, while the people were yet to recover from the loss, another fire outbreak caused by Guarantee Petroleum Company Limited, started on the 16 of April, 2020, both in the onshore and shallow water, offshore, in the area.
The fire, which has continued to wreak havoc on livelihoods in the area, still remains unquenchable till date!
He explained that since the indigenes of the community were mostly into fishing, farming and rearing of animals, mostly pigs, the spillage and the attendant fire had left those animals dead.
“Today, our water is polluted, and the foods we eat are highly contaminated. And we are presently left distraught ,” he added.
Aiyedatiwa explained that Abereke and Abereke Seaside community, are very close to each other.
According to him, the seaside community is linked to Abereke through a canal that leads to the sea, adding ‘whenever there is a spillage on the sea, it will enter through the canal and the wave will take it into Abereke community from the canal. That’s why our water, food and vegetation get polluted, and our animals get killed, anytime there is a spillage or fire at the seaside.”
Other communities affected by the latest incident, he stated, include Ayetoro and Oroyo.
The countenance of Deji Ehuwa, an indigene and a fisherman, affected by the Ororo Oil Spill, speaks volume about what the people in the community are going through.
In a chat with Nigerian Tribune, Ehuwa stated that the fire that broke in April, last year, had left him without any source of livelihood since then.
“We can’t go fishing now, because fire is still raging where we normally do that till date. Apart from the fact that there are even no fishes to catch now, it would be very dangerous for us to venture into that area now since the boats we use to fish use fuel. Moving them close to such fire could also make them go up in flames,” he stated.
Mr. Happy Egbayelo, another fisherman is in the same boat with Ehuwa. There had been no business for him and his colleagues; since the Ororo fire incident, and the development had begun to take its toll on both his immediate and extended families.
“For instance, many of us find it extremely difficult to even eat, now. Our source of livelihood has been disrupted by the unfortunate incident. Even when we try to fish around, the number of fishes we get now is extremely low, compared with what we used to get when these oil companies had not commenced their activities in our area,” he stated.
Apart from Ehuwa, Egbayelo and others that are still hurt from this incident; the cooperative societies in the area also groan.. For instance, the over 500 fishing and multi-purpose cooperatives, set up to enhance businesses in the area have gone under.
Checks among the farmers in the area by Nigerian Tribune revealed that the cooperative societies could not do any business in the past few months; since they thrive on lending and prompt repayment model. A lot of farmers in the area no longer have the capacity to either take loan facility or ensure prompt payments.
“In fact, some of them who had taken some loan facilities prior to the Ororo spillage and fire incident, finding it very difficult to pay back now, simply because they are presently out of job,” Aiyedatiwa stated.
Aiyedatiwa believes the only way the communities could be put on growth path once again is for the people, especially farmers, whose sources of livelihoods had been impacted to be adequately compensated.
According to him, Abereke Communities Association, of which he is the secretary, had been mandated by the community leaders to help the communities to seek redress.
He explained that it took the communities some time before their plight was known to the whole world because of the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic that disrupted many activities in the outgone year.
Aiyedatiwa explained that one of the steps taken by the association was to make their plight known to the federal lawmakers, through a petition, highlighting the ‘unimaginable damage’ done to the communities’ fishing ponds, fishing implements, farmland, drinking water, economic trees and shrine.
“We had earlier written a letter and submitted it by hand in Ikeja, the headquarters of Guarantee Petroleum, but we have no response. Unfortunately, they don’t have representatives here, nobody to talk to.
“Our demands are simple. We are asking for a N15billion compensation; since the damage is massive, and our economic activities are presently at a standstill, due to no fault of ours,” he argued.
He added that the communities had to resort to the national assembly since efforts to make the oil company see reason, and heed the people’s requests did not yield any fruits.
Efforts by Nigerian Tribune to speak with Guarantee Petroleum, through its Corporate Communications Department, on the incident, yielded little results.
For instance, a male voice, who picked the correspondent’s call, but refused to disclose his name, claimed ignorance of the incident. He would later refer the correspondent to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).
Efforts at convincing him that the department is a regulator and not, an operator, were simply rebuffed.
“Kindly talk to the DPR, I don’t know what you are talking about,” he insisted.
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