Egbema: The river people who are still looking for water to drink

AN Igbo proverb says one cannot live on the bank of River Niger and wash his hands with spittle. Another equally popular line from a poem by Samuel T. Coleridge, “Rhyme of the ancient mariner” says: “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”

This seems to the fate of people living in the riverine areas of the country as they are surrounded by rivers and bodies of water but they don’t have clean water to drink.

“If they can lay crude oil pipes from our communities in the Niger Delta to the Northern part of the country, how come they cannot lay pipes to give us potable water to drink and cook?” was the pertinent question the Agadagba of Egbema kingdom, HRM, Sir Gold Oro Tiemo, Bini Pere II, directed at governments at the federal, state and local government levels to reinforce the feeling of neglect and perceived double standard of government to the plight of riverine communities in the Niger Delta, who have been abandoned to their fate for a long time to suffer from water-borne diseases due to lack of potable water.

The cry by the elderly Agadagba of Egbema kingdom further underscored the narrative of the impoverishment of the Niger Delta, often referred to as the hen that lays the golden egg, by successive governments in power both at the federal and state levels.

It appears, amid all other provided or yet-to-be-provided social amenities, that the non-availability of potable water and electricity daily troubles the people the most. The oft-repeated cry of abandonment was re-echoed on a day a cottage hospital in Egbema was being inaugurated and handed over to the Delta State government. It was a project built by the Egbema and Gbaramatu Communities Development Foundation (EGCDF) and partly funded by NNPC/Chevron Joint Ventures.

Sunday Tribune was part of the crew to the important event. The crew comprises officials of the Delta State government, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Warri North Local Government Area and Chevron Nigeria Ltd (CNL). The trip to the two-day event, held between February 12 and 13, was through the three basic means of transportation: by air, through a Bell 412 Calverton chopper, by water (via a well-secured speed boat) and by land, through a Hiace bus.

Just a few feet before the chopper landed on the suspended steel helipad at Opuekeba Flow Station in Warri North Local Government Area of the state run by CNL, this reporter’s eye caught the presence of two massive wooden boats sluggishly navigating on the river away from the flow station. The boats were laden with various sizes of plastic kegs filled with water drawn from the flow station and were being paddled laboriously by folks towards their abodes in the creeks. The consignment could easily be mistaken for illegally-refined crude oil products that hardly escape the prying eyes of operatives of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) in the creeks.

Sunday Tribune gathered that in spite of living on the rivers, folks in Ijaw communities such as Opuama, Polobubor/Tsekelewu, Ogbinbiri, Ogbudugbudu, Ofunama, Abere, Gbeoba, Gboukangan and Ajakurama communities in Egbema Kingdom in Warri North LG could hardly get good water to drink. They suffer greatly to source for potable water for domestic use, as their only source of such, as of today, is courtesy the river-accessible Flow Station which is kilometers away from the communities.

For the record, the Egbema kingdom is host to Chevron Nigeria Ltd in Opuekeba, Olero Fields and Offshore flow stations; NPDC/Elcrest Joint Venture, operators of Opuama Flow Station (OML 40), Tsekelewu/Polobubor Marginal Field with about 15 oil wells to be operated by Sahara Energy Ltd; and Tsekelewu/Polobubor Marginal Field OML 130 concession to be operated by Conoil Nigeria Ltd.

On enquiry, at Tsekelewu/Polobubor group of coastal communities in Egbema Kingdom, besides the issue of unavailability of potable water, the waterways need to be dredged, as the river which used to be as deep as 30 meters has been silted to less than a meter in depth during the dry season. There is also a need for the construction of internal road network, and a major road from Opuama to Polobubor, and from Polobubor to Ogbudugbudu to replace degraded water transport system, reclamation of New Polobubor and the installation of 1000KVA generating plant said to have been supplied by DESOPADEC, but lying idle and rusting away.

EgbemaFurther investigation revealed that although some blocks of classrooms have been approved for construction by the state government at St. Kabe Secondary School and Kabe Primary School, the playground of Tsekelewu Secondary School needs some urgent sand filling to encourage grassroots sporting activities among children and youths in the communities.

Fishing activities, which used to be the main source of livelihood of the folks, have virtually halted in the communities, with many taking to illegal activities to survive. According to the National President of Polobubor/Tsekelewu National Council, Mr Ebilate Mac-Yoroki, oil exploration and exploitation in the kingdom have brought about serious ecological and environmental degradation such that fresh water has been replaced with salt water from the Atlantic Ocean and many economic trees and vegetation which provided folks with lucrative means of survival have been destroyed.

Speaking at the recent handing over ceremony of the cottage hospital to the state government at Polobubor, chairman of EGCDF, Comrade Jude Ukori, who praised Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for some appreciable dividends of democracy in the kingdom, however, passionately hinted on the potable water problem narrative in the kingdom.

“We are optimistic that you will not stop at this, but that you will execute the much needed water schemes, electricity supply, quality education (dearth of teaching staff), land reclamation, canalisation, as well as road construction and rehabilitation in our various communities,” Ukori enumerated.

The claim by past governments in Delta State has always been that riverine communities have terrains that are very difficult to access and this has made it hard to provide them with social amenities like roads, for the people. As a result, people in such areas have continued to suffer neglect.

But the Agadagba of Egbema kingdom, would have none of such excuses. According to him, it is a misconception that the terrains are difficult to access and that such notions must stop.

“The fact that we dwell in the riverine communities should not be used as an excuse to deny us the good things of life; after all, we are the goose that lays the golden egg; we contribute immensely to the oil wealth of Nigeria,” he stated.

According to him, NNPC/Chevron JV should increase the funding of EGCDF so that the foundation can specifically embark on the provision of potable water and electricity to, at least, all major communities in the kingdom in order to halt cases of water-borne diseases as well as give them a sense of belonging in the state and country.

His Majesty, Sir Tiemo, frowned on a situation where the Federal Government is able to lay crude oil pipes from the Niger-Delta to the North, but finds it difficult to lay water pipes for folks of the region to enjoy potable water. He said it was the right of all Niger Deltans, particularly his kingdom, to smile every day since they deservedly have crude oil in their backyard.

“We need our people in the Niger Delta to be smiling every day. They deserve it. Oil multinationals and the government should keep making our people smile. The oil is in our land. You are to enjoy what is close to you. The oil is close to us, but very far,” the traditional ruler enthused.

Chief of Staff to Governor Okowa, Honorable Tam Brisbi, who represented the state government at the event, while reacting to the plight of the people of Egbema Kingdom, said the governor has touched virtually every part of the state, in the area of development, but would not hesitate to look into the needs of the community, especially the issues of potable water, electricity and road.