Oil spill: Ondo communities lament losses as farmlands, rivers get polluted
Residents of Awoye, Mese, Gbagira, Akintola, Jero, Odofado, Oroto, Molutehin, Ikorigho, Ilowo, Aiyetoro, Obenla, Okupi, Ogundeje, among others, in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State have not stopped counting their losses following an oil spill which not only polluted their water bodies but also contaminated their farmlands, thereby rendering them hopeless as their means of livelihoods have been affected. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI reports the lamentation of the residents and ongoing government efforts to ameliorate their plight.
That cold morning, Samuel Oriade set out to the river as usual for his fishing business, only to discover that the whole river and adjoining lands in the community had been polluted by what appeared to be an oil spill later discovered to have been caused by an alleged equipment failure in a facility of an oil company in the coastal area of Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.
The incident which occurred on the 12th day of April, 2020 affected many communities in the oil-rich Ilaje coastal community which include Awoye, Mese, Gbagira, Akintola, Jero, Odofado, Oroto, Molutehin, Ikorigho, Ilowo, Aiyetoro, Obenla, Okupi, Ogundeje among others, impacting negatively on farmlands and aquatic life.
Both fishing and farming activities have been on standstill in the area since then, as farmers are unable to visit their farms while those engaging in fishing businesses have been forced to stay off the rivers. Apparently the water bodies in these communities have been rid of their economic value considering the spill. Aside from this, the rivers hitherto served the communities as their source of potable water but have now been rendered unusable.
Speaking on their ordeal, Oriade explained that the residents of the coastal area had been experiencing some minor pollution earlier, but said they woke up to discover a more disturbing havoc wreaked on the communities on the 12th of April, with the oil spill destroying the whole water bodies in the communities.
In an interaction with Nigerian Tribune, he said, “What we first noticed was that the fish were dying. This came to us as a surprise but we were greeted with the oil spill in the morning, flooding everywhere, both lands and rivers.
“We also noticed that all our nets had been affected by the spill and this destroyed our business. Sadly, we have been off the rivers since the incident happened. Many people have been rendered jobless. My wooden boat was badly damaged; we cannot go to sea again.”
He explained that many of his employees have been asked to go home. He added that “our main business here is fishing. I have three boats on the sea with 15 men who are paid N10, 000 per day from each of the fishing outings. Our income on daily basis is in thousands of naira. Unfortunately, since the oil spill, we have been forced to vacate the rivers because there is no way I would be able to pay these men any longer.”
Oriade who threatened to sue the oil company and the state government if no compensation is paid said apart from destroying their farms and water bodies, “the lives of our people are in danger; they are exposed to dangerous chemicals that can be injurious to their health.”
He recalled that the people of the coastal area experienced a similar situation last year when the Ojumole Oil Well was on fire for over a month, rendering some communities helpless. He noted that no compensation has been paid to all the affected communities.
Another resident, who simply identified himself as Abooluwa James, told Nigerian Tribune that “Since the spillage started, our farms and water have been polluted. We can’t farm, we can’t fish; it is clear at this point that the government should intervene. We are helpless; these are our means of livelihood.”
He decried the various instances where lives were lost through water-borne diseases on different occasions due to oil spillage on their rivers which, for long, has remained their only source of potable water.
He further stated that though they live on water, it had always been difficult to have access to good or potable water to drink and so, the water bodies around them which have been their only source have been destroyed, while their lands got destroyed by the frequent spills on their farmlands.
“My farm was also affected. These are the problems we are facing as a result of that oil spill in this area and, we have variously informed the state government and the company involved but nothing has been done. Our means of livelihood has been seriously affected due to the spill. We are demanding that the oil company should cleanup the affected environment and adequately compensate the community,” he said.
He commended a prominent traditional ruler in the area, the Olugbo of Ugbo Kingdom, Oba Obateru Akinruntan, who also doubles as the chairman of the state council of traditional rulers, for sending his delegates to access the level of damage in the area and expressed optimism that the traditional ruler would help the affected communities in taking their plight to the state government.
While speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, a community leader from Ikoriwo, Chief Owolemi Ayeren, said the people of the community woke up to see the oil spill in the area. He disclosed that “this is not the first time we have been forced to experience such. We always record losses when such happens because such spillage affects the economy of our people.”
He disclosed that the oil well belongs to the Ondo State government, but is being run by a private company.
According to him, the company never visit the communities affected by the spill but said that a state government delegation visited the place to assess the level of damage and destruction in the area.
“The spill has killed many of the edible fishes in the coast. Whenever there is a spill, it takes several months for fishing business to pick up again. This usually renders our people helpless because this is the only source of livelihood for our people. Nobody will be able to go for fishing for a long time now. We cannot take our animals to the river again and no potable water around here; the water has been contaminated,” Ayeren lamented.
He disclosed that some government delegation visited the communities affected by the spill but said he never met them. He lamented that the oil company was yet to make any move to bring succor to the people in order to reduce their suffering which has been worsened by the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The government should not just come and examine the extent of damage; it should come and pay for the damages. The devastation is massive. The company and the government should sit down and see what they can do to alleviate our suffering. They know this period is a very critical one, going by the prevailing issues concerning coronavirus and the stay-at-home decision taken by the government. No relief materials have been sent to us to at least ameliorate the plight of the various families as their source of livelihood has been damaged by this unfortunate spill.”
Residents have called for a proper clean-up and remediation of their land and adequate compensation for the losses and hardship occasioned by the spill, saying their means of livelihood has been destroyed.
They appealed to the state government to come to their aid and to also compel the oil company to be alive to its responsibility.
The Commissioner for Environment, Mr Funso Esan, who visited the affected communities said the state government would look into the plight of the people of the area, just as he sought the understanding of the communities.
He warned the residents of the communities against eating dead fishes from the polluted water bodies in the area while he assured that the state government would not leave the people to their fate.
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