Oil spills paralyse economic, aquatic life in Delta State

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Sola Adebayo

For the residents of Ogbe-Ijoh community, headquarters of Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, especially those who have lost their loved ones due to strange illnesses arising from oil exploration and exploitation, life will never be the same.

A number of the residents are apprehensive that the death toll may increase following the upsurge in the number of those battling with such sicknesses.

Many peasant families, particularly those involved in farming and fishing, are being confronted with starvation due to the pollution of their farmlands and waterways by oil spills.

Reports from the community indicate that some of the residents have been moving out of the community in search of greener pastures elsewhere as oil spills have made life unbearable for them.

It is not only the people of Ogbe-Ijoh that are feeling the brunt of oil spills in the state. Just recently, eight host communities to the Abura Oil Field operated by the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, in Udu and Ughelli-South Local Government Areas have threatened to sack the oil firm from the area, due to alleged negative impact of oil spills from the company‘s operations on the environment.

Leaders of Emadadja, Ubogo, Ogbe-Udu, Okolor, Ekrota, Ukperheren, Obubu and Ugbusi communities said their socio-economic well-being had been truncated by the operations of the NNPC subsidiary.

They said, “Following multiple oil spillage in the Abura oil fields due to the failure of facilities of NPDC in of Emadadja, Ubogo, Ogbe-Udu, Okolor, Ekrota,Ukperheren, Obubu and Ugbusi communities, all in Udu and Ughelli South Local Government Areas of Delta State, as host communities and subsequent unheeded complaints from the host communities, we the leaders of the host communities are constrained to issue a 14-day ultimatum to NPDC to vacate our land.”

Similarly, Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan painted a gloomy picture of the effects of oil spills on the environment and people of the Niger Delta at two fora in Warri and Asaba recently.

First was in Warri where he addressed a gathering of the repentant militant leaders in the Niger Delta. The second was an end of the year press conference in Asaba, where he admitted that all living things in the rivers of the Niger Delta had been killed by oil spills.

Uduaghan took the audience on memory lane when he said that it was the usual practice before the advent of oil in the Niger Delta for the inhabitants of the coastal communities in the region to put the ingredients of a local soup delicacy known as Banga on the fire while they sauntered into nearby rivers for fish, an essential component of the soup.

The governor in an emotion-laden voice said fish was no longer within the reach of the people of the riverside areas of the region as the waters had been massively polluted by oil spills.

He said, “As at today, there is still the flaring of gas; as at today you cannot come to fish in the river and catch fish. As at today, oil has taken over our river, it has taken over our soil. So as at today, there is pollution of air, pollution of water and pollution of soil.

“Even with nets, you can‘t catch fish, all living things in the water are dead due to pollution from oil spills. Gone are the days when fishing was the traditional occupation of our people. Nobody can fish again as oil spills have killed all the fish in the waters. Our people are now idle.

“Gone are those days when our people would put Banga soup on the fire and walk few metres into a nearby river to collect fish. It was possible to dip your hands in the river and catch fish but even with nets they could not catch fish from the waters these days.

“As at today, fish is no longer within their reach and they now come to the city to buy fish to cook Banga soup in our coastal communities. It is as bad.”

Uduaghan was not just raising a false alarm. A resident of Ogulagha community, Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State, Mr. Kingsely Penawoe, corroborated the claim of the governor.

Penawoe left the community for Warri when his investments in fishing business were ruined by oil spills.

The fishing nets and other accessories of the business which he acquired with loans from a cooperative society were destroyed by oil spills overnight.

The 32-year-old Penawoe said, ”When it became impossible for me to secure a job in any of the oil companies operating in our areas, I decided to engage in fishing and I approached a cooperative society for loans. I eventually secured the loans and purchased fishing nets and other items required for my fishing business.

“I started the business with enthusiasm that I will soon say bye, bye to poverty but that was not to be. My investment in the business was ruined by oil spills from the operation of oil multinational in our area less than 24 hours after I started the business. I could not even access the fishing nets as they were all destroyed by the spills.

“That was the end of my fishing business. I am highly indebted now and I have to run to the city in search of job to enable me pay back the loans from the cooperative society and start a new life. But there is no job for me and I am in a dilemma.”

It was learnt that many fishermen with different tales of woes have left the riverside communities in search of solace in Warri, Port Harcourt and other cities of the Niger Delta.

Besides, acute shortage of potable water has become an endemic problem in the coastal axis of the Niger Delta due to pollution of the waters.

Sometime in 1994, a former military administrator of Delta State, Brig.-Gen. Bassey Asuquo (rtd.), visited Burutu, the headquarters of Burutu Local Government Council. To access the riverside Ijaw community, Asuquo and members of the state executive council set out on the 45-minute journey by speed boats from the jetty of the NNS Delta, Warri Naval Base.

Asuquo, who was hitherto in high spirits as the various cultural groups entertained him, suddenly changed his countenance as the spokesman of the community presented an address.

To the chagrin of the military officer, the first request of the community was a plea for the provision of potable water by the state government. Their spokesman lamented that the water in the community was ”salty and acidic and unsuitable for drinking.”

He added that the waters had been polluted due to oil spills arising from exploitation and exploration by the oil majors operating in the area.

The highly embarrassed former military administrator, said, “There is water everywhere but yet there was none to drink.”

He said it was an irony that he came to the community by water and yet there was no water for the people to use.

This development is not peculiar to Burutu. The same situation is obtainable at other coastal communities in the region. It is no news that some inhabitants of the coastal communities who can not afford the luxury of a borehole end up drinking polluted water.

Soil pollution has also made the practice of agriculture difficult, if not impossible in the state . It is on record that farmlands and other economic activities of the people of the region have been affected by the menace.

The people of the region also strongly believe that the air is polluted by oil spills and other activities of the oil prospecting and servicing companies, a development, they argued, often leads to epidemics of air borne diseases.

The menace has been traced largely to equipment failure and sabotage by vandals and illegal oil bunkerers.

It was gathered that the managements of the oil majors and that of the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, had not evolved a strategy for periodical replacement of their ageing pipelines.

Findings showed that old and worn out flow lines easily give way, leading to oil spills.

Willful damage of oil pipelines by vandals and oil thieves is also a major cause of oil spills in the state. Vandals and oil thieves deliberately sabotage oil flow lines in total disregard for the environment and well-being of the people. This was regular during the peak of militancy in the region.

However, all hands are on deck by stakeholders from within and outside the region to put an end to the menace.

Already, the Federal Government has set up a Presidential Sub-Committee on Environmental Remediation to handle the challenges of environmental renewal and regeneration in the Niger Delta in the aftermath of the crisis in the region.

The committee headed by the Minister of Environment, Mr. John Odey, is one of the five new panels raised by the Federal Government to tackle the post-amnesty initiatives of President Umaru Yar‘Adua in the region.

Uduaghan also said that he had commenced discussions with the managements of the oil firms in order to ensure environmental friendliness in their operations in the state.

He governor said since the issue of environment was one of the problems which led to the Niger Delta crisis, the ongoing war against oil thieves by security agencies would be sustained along with pressures on the oil multinationals to guarantee that their operation conformed with international standards.


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