RIVERS— The indigenes of Ogoni land have once again decried the enormous sufferings of their people as a result of the effect of hazardous indiscriminate oil exploration in their communities by both the oil firms and the federal government. In a statement to mark this year’s United Nations World Environmental Day, the Ogoni indigenes bemoaned the total neglect of their region, even as they questioned the avowed commitment of the Nigerian government to the restoration and remediation of the polluted environment by the oil and gas activities in the region. In a bid to achieve a successful campaign against plastic pollution, oil spillage, gas flaring and black soothe blanketing the Niger Delta region, the Ogoni people who went down memory lane to describe how the British colonialists exploitated them, demanded the full implementation of the UN report on environment.
Part of the statement reads, “Ogoni territory lies on 404 square miles of the coastal plains terraces to the north-east of the Niger River Delta. An area inhabited by about a million people. Its population density ranks up to one of the highest in the world. “Before the arrival of the British colonialist in 1901, the Ogoni people were mainly inhabitants whose core occupation and economic mainstay was farming and fishing. In less than 13 years, the British had destroyed the fabric of Ogoni Society to which no treaty was signed. “Petroleum, the symbol of Ogoni agonies and pains, was discovered in Ogoni in 1958, and since then an estimated 100 billion US dollars worth of oil and gas has been carted away from Ogoni land. In return for this, the Ogoni people have received nothing but Environmental hazards.
“The exploitation has turned Ogoni into a wasteland: lands, streams and crooks are totally and continually polluted; the atmosphere has been poisoned, charged as it is with a hydrocarbon vapors, methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and soot emitted by gas which has been flared 24 hours a day for 33 years in very close proximity to human habitation. Acid rain, oil spillage and oil blow-outs have devastated the Ogoni territory. High-pressure oil pipelines crisscross the surface of Ogoni farmlands and villages dangerously.
“The results of such reckless and unchecked environmental pollution and degradation include the complete destruction of the ecosystem. Mangrove forests have fallen to the toxicity of oil and are being replaced by noxious neap palms; the rainforest has fallen to the axe of multinational oil companies, all wildlife is dead, marine life is gone, the farmland has been rendered infertile by acid rain and the once beautiful Ogoni countryside is no longer a source of fresh air and green vegetation. All one sees and feels around is death. Environmental degradation has been a lethal weapon in the war against the indigenous people of Ogoni Land.” The Federal Government had also in June 2016, flagged-off the clean up of the entire Ogoni creeks and mangroves ravaged by crude oil spills, which has made life unbearable for the local people.
However, the visit by Voice Of Democrat (VOD) which is a news wing of “Leading Democrats (LD)” to Ogoniland showed that the affected communities were still covered with black thick crude oil, which means no major cleanup has been carried out, thereby exposing the residents to grave danger. In 2008 and 2009, two incidents of massive oil spills from the Trans-Niger pipeline devastated the Bodo coastline destroying every living thing in the river. While the community was still dealing with the spill, another from the Trans-Niger pipeline at Koloma-Zommadom road rocked the community, this time beyond imagination.
Bodo and other neighbouring communities mangroves and farmlands were heavily polluted with crude oil spill, that destroyed opportunities, this has made fishing impossible and has ruined income that could have been generated from other aquatic resources. Though compensation has been paid to affected individuals ten years after the spill, the water still remains dark and slippery, the mangroves covered with black mud and the creeks which are now a mixture of crude and water, have now become the only source of seafood classified as dangerous to health. Responds from some individuals as Voice Of Democrat continued on its tour was a young man named Mopri. He said: “We have no choice. This is what we eat and sell. Despite the spill, we still fish and take our bath in this polluted water. If you say we should stop selling and eating from the water, do you have an alternative for us?”
“I wish the spill did not happen. I wish my fish ponds were not destroyed, and I wish we did not have to inhale the stench from the oil spill in the last 10 years,” 77 years old Elder Moses whose eyes were stained with tears lost his fish ponds to the spill in 2008 and life has become miserable for the old man whose house is just beside one of the pond that is already covered with thick dark crude oil. Indigenes of Bodo community had filed a lawsuit against Shell in a London High Court in March 2012 and received a £55 million out-of-court settlement and compensation from the company in 2015.
The community had achieved this uncommon feat, working with a pro-development non-governmental organisation, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) and a United Kingdom based law firm, Leigh Day. On the payment of the fund, It was agreed that £35 million will be Splitted between those impacted by the spill and will each receive £2,200 (about N600,000) and £20 million will go to the community for the execution of legacy programmes and projects.
The Voice of Democrat crew also visited the popular Bodo market which used to be a centre for fish business. The market was filled with different species of frozen imported fish. “If you want to go fishing or to pick periwinkles, which is the major occupation for women in the community, you have to paddle your canoe for hours through several rivers to where there is lesser spill to either pick periwinkles or fish.” This was the words of Madam Monica Kporuve Koroba, popularly known as Periwinkle Company due to her expertise in picking of periwinkle.
“Our men can paddle canoes for over five hours from the community to as far as Bonny Island waters just to catch fish and many of them had on several occasions came back with injuries sustained from attacks they received from people who saw them as intruders,” she said. Madam Koroba took the reporters on a tour on the polluted waters across the community, and there was no sign of fish or periwinkles throughout the one hour canoe ride. “This is what our men and women go through everyday since the oil spill happened,” she said. Bodo Community in Gokana Local Government area of Rivers State with a population of 69,000 people engages in fishing and farming. The mangrove forests and waterways that line Bodo Creeks were an integral component of the community’s traditional sources of livelihood. The Former Chairman of the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI), Inemo Samiama, refuted claims by the community, saying that Shell has actually started with the phase one of the clean-up exercise.
According to him, BMI is mediating between SPDC and the Bodo community to ensure effective cleanup of the entire oil spill site. Samiama said: “The BMI process started more than four and half years ago and our objective was to get Bodo community and SPDC around the table and dialogue on ways to carry out the cleanup of the polluted sites which has actually started contrary to what some people may have told you. “Shell appointed international contractors to carry out the cleanup work. The first step is to remove crude oil from the water surface before restoring landscapes that were damaged by the spill.
“I am pleased to say despite the challenges along the way, the cleanup exercise has started and it’s not over yet. We are almost done with the first phase of the cleanup and about to commence the second phase. “The clean-up is in three phases, the first phase is basically to remove crude oil from the surface of the water. The next phase is going to be the actually clean-up of the area and after that, the restoration phase.”
Speaking on the entire clean up of the Ogoniland, President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Legborsi Pyagbara, called on the concerned authorities to ensure quick clean up of the affected communities. He decried the high rate of recorded deaths in the whole of Ogoniland. “Ogoni people are dying everyday and they are still drinking from the polluted water because there is no alternative for them.
Pyagbara decried the delay in effective take-off of Ogoni clean-up flagged off by the Federal Government. He also expressed reservation over the delay in the provision of the emergency measures included in the report on Ogoniland by the United Nations.
Pyagbara raised alarm over the renewal of pipelines in Ogoniland, adding that the environmental impact assessment of the area should have been conducted before the resumption of any form of oil exploration in the area.
He said: “MOSOP has presented this case before the United Nations Human Rights Council last November 2017 and also initiated an online global campaign against the laying of the pipelines in Ogoniland. This has generated over 2,000 signatories of support from all over the world. MOSOP had also petitioned the National Assembly and the National Human Rights Commission to intervene in this matter.” “They have also tried to strike out Bodo’s legal right to clean up on the basis that the delay was the fault of community members.
“Despite the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study, which clearly stated that petroleum hydrocarbons can affect human health when they breathe air, bath, eat fish, drink water or touch soil or sediment that is contaminated with oil, children of Bodo still enjoy swimming and engage in the display of their acrobatic skills in the dirty water. The Voice Of Democrat’s reporter’s efforts to prevent some children swimming in the oily water fell on deaf ears, as the parents insisted that they should be left alone to have fun.
“Already, asthma, gastroenteritis, hepatotoxicity, liver failure, remain the common disease among the community people, Dr. D.A Silas of Bodo General Hospital told Voice Of Democrat crew.
“It is unfortunate that Shell is not even thinking about the health implications of further delay in the clean-up exercise, as it has been recorded that Shell allegies attempt to strike out Bodo’s legal right to clean-up, as there have been accusing fingers directed to the Bodo youths for stealing Shell clean up equipments. Although there had been claims that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) had claimed that it has started the clean up of Bodo oil spill sites, but the condition of living of the people, showed otherwise.”
The World Environmental Day, WED, as being established by UN General Assembly in Stockholm Conference of 1972 to be celebrated every 5th June of every year, is a united nations’ principal vehicle for encouraging world awareness action for the protection of our environment.
In essence, it is a flagship campaign for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues ranging from marine pollution, oil and gas spillage, human over-population, global warming, amongst others.