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Nigeria: Oil Spill Sacks Ijaw Community


Oil Spill Sacks Ijaw Community, Pollutes Sacred Lake
* Scores of Women, Children Fall Ill

OKOROBA, one of the major oil bearing communities in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, has been sacked by a devastating oil spill which is already endangering the health of scores of women and children in the community .

The community hosts two oil multinationals: Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC] and Nigerian Agip Oil Company [N.A.O.C).

Okoroba has boundaries with Emaguo-Kugbo and Aggrisaba on its right and left respectively. The community can be accessed by river (or creeks). Fishing and farming are the major sources of livelihood for the community folks.

Following a distress call that the community was experiencing severe environmental pollution from oil spillage on November 29, 2008, an Environmental Rights Action (ERA) Field Monitor visited the community the following day. Mr. Gift Douglas, one of ERA’s volunteers and an indigene of Okoroba, was his guide.

As the ERA team approached Okoroba community they were assailed by the pungent smell of crude oil and they noticed crude oil slick floating on the river. The team met with the leadership of the community on arrival. Below are testimonies by some community leaders who spoke to ERA.

Chief Benjamin Puwaute Egberi is the Chairman of the Community Development Committee [C.D.C] had this to say “In fact right now we are still shocked and contemplating what to do next. We have not been able to reach government because the spill happened on a weekend. However, we have called to report the incident to the Public Affairs Department of Agip; in Brass. We shall send a letter to the State and Local Government on Monday.

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One of our farmers brought the news yesterday at about 9 am. She said crude oil was rushing into our community environment She said it was coming from the direction of the Brass/Oguda pipeline, owned by Agip. Soon after the news, we dispatched some youths to ascertain where the leak was coming from. They came back confirming it was from the Brass / Oguda pipeline, though not from our own part of the pipeline. It was from the side owned by Emaguo-Kugbo [our immediate neighbours].”

The last time Okoroba experienced an oil spillage was in 1994. That spillage was mainly on land and it occurred around the Aggrisaba / Okoroba boundary. He said this current spillage is worse because it has polluted their air, land and water.

On the impact of the current spill, Chief B.P. Egberi, a prominent community opinion leader, said “there is no way one can quantify the impact of this current spill for now. Our source of water for drinking, bathing and all other things that depend on water, as you can see, is seriously affected. You can see the taps in the community are all dry. For over one year now we have not drank from those taps in the community. It was the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority [NDBDA] that started the water project, but it was completed by S.P.D.C and managed by our community. Since the pump got burnt over a year ago, we have not taken water from the taps.”

On what he expects from Agip and the Government, Chief Egberi said, “first and foremost, we want Agip to take urgent steps to identify and clamp the leaking spot along their pipeline to save us further suffering. We could not sleep last night due to the fact that the air is seriously polluted. We had to send a town crier to go round the town calling on all, especially children, to stay away from the river and not to go near the river with fire or lamp. After that, we all had to be vigilant to ensure the order was carried out by all to avert a worse catastrophe. So, let the Government and Agip take immediate steps to stop the leakage first. That is of paramount importance to us. After that they should, as a matter of urgency, send us relief materials like drugs, drinking water and food. They should also compensate us adequately. Already a lady has been hospitalised as a result of drinking the polluted water from the river.”

Explaining what ''adequate compensation'' meant, the CDC chairman said: “We have several family ponds and community lakes that have been seriously impacted by the crude oil slick. When I talk about adequate compensation, I mean that all these and affected farmlands should be taken into consideration. For instance, we have a lake that is entered for fishing only once every 10 years. That lake too is now impacted. In such a situation, it is only proper that the community be compensated for the great loss.”

Also commenting, the Okoroba Women Leader, Mrs. Stella S. Douglas, said ''as a people whose livelihoods depend on the river and land, this oil spillage has adversely affected us. We are mainly fishing and farming folks. Apart from our crops such as cassava, plantain, cocoa yam, sugar cane etc, in the farms that have been affected, you can see that we can no longer fish in the river''.

Continuing, she added, ''even if one gets a fish from the trap or net now, it is not safe for human consumption due to the pollution. Also, we cannot drink from the river now; even bathing is a serious problem. A town crier went round the community last night telling us to avoid the river for now. The message was necessary especially for the children, so we do not experience death occasioned by the oil spill. Even the shallow wells we resorted to are all dry now due to the high demand. Some community members who have private bore holes are now assisting others to survive. This, as you will agree with me, is another problem for the women and children; going far to fetch water''.

Despite repeated warnings, some children are still swimming in the river and gulping some polluted water in the process Dozens of children in the community are said to be vomiting seriously, having swallowed some of the poisoned water.

As at last weekend, local sources told our correspondent that scores of community women were lying critically ill at healthcare centres for similar reasons. The most well known case is that of Madam Ayebatonye Omu.

The Okoroba women leader in her testimony had this to say, ''when I went to bail water from my canoe, the crude oil was all over my feet and it hurt. As for the irritating, pungent air, you do not need anyone to tell you as you are also feeling it. Many of our people who lived close to the waterside had to relocate inward [into the town] to spend the night with relations due to the foul air. I must confess that if this situation continues longer than this, we shall experience worse hardship.”

On what she wants the government and Agip to do, Mrs.Douglas said “I would like the government and Agip to stop the leakage first; to prevent it from coming into our community and to salvage our river, rivulets, land and air They should also send us relief materials and compensate our people for the damages we have suffered and may suffer for a long time following this spillage.”

For the community Youth Judicial Officer, Mr. Jackson Arobo, “it was a woman who went to the farm on November 29 morning that brought us this news about the oil spillage. In fact she even fainted while narrating her experience to us. This was due to the polluted air she inhaled as she rushed back to inform the community. Her name is Omiekuma Numo. As the news spread, the families that owned land around that area rushed into the bush to see what they could save from their farms and to prevent the oil spill from getting into our river''.

According to him, ''they actually tried to stop the flow of oil by heaping mud on its path; but due to the high volume and pressure their effort was rendered useless. The spill found its way into our river, rivulets and creeks; we are ready to take you to see some of them. Our only source of drinking water is now affected. None of us slept last night, we were very uncomfortable and felt unsafe to go to bed. We tried to trace the leaking spot within our territory but we discovered that the oil spill was coming from our neighbour’s territory, Emaguo-Kugbo.”

Mr. Gift Douglas, an opinion leader, says the polluted Okoroba sacred lake means a lot to the community. ''The crude oil slick is going to hit us even harder in the days to come in view of the high volume streaming into our creeks and river. I believe we are suffering the effect more than the community where the leakage is coming from, because of the gutters and rivulets facing our direction'', he said.

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of ERA, Nnimmo Bassey, in a telephone interview with our correspondent on Tuesday, December 9, 2008 said in view of the seriousness of the current situation at Okoroba, the environmental rights advocacy group is demanding that Agip takes immediate action to clamp the leaking spot on its pipeline, mobilises immediately to contain the flow of crude oil polluting the environment, and follow the foregoing steps with immediate clean-up; not burning.

Continuing, Bassey said, ''with the use of booms, Agip contains and controls the slick of crude spewed into the river, creeks, and rivulets in the environment, an assessment team comprising Okoroba indigenes, government and Agip be constituted to ascertain the level of pollution, damage and commensurate compensation, government and Agip should not only bear the cost of anyone hospitalised as a result of this incident, they should send relief materials to the people of Okoroba to take care of their immediate needs''


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