Friday, 31 March 2017

Untold Stories of Rivers State Communities where oil spills kill women, children, adults like fowls

---some smile, some cry although both in pains

By Okechukwu Onuegbu

Nigeria's Hydrocarbon's signpost at Goi

Crab killed at Goi pouring crude oil

Bodo creek contaminated by oil spill

Bodo creek destroyed by oil creek

R-L; Okechukwu Onuegbu of; Innocent, a Rivers State based journalist; Chief Pii of Bodo town; and Tito Uzomah of PIGD 

R-L; Okechukwu Onuegbu of; Innocent, a Rivers State based journalist; Chief Pii of Bodo town; and Tito Uzomah of PIGD; and Igwe Kingsley of NTA TVC Jos, Plateau State 

Contaminated Water borehole at Ogale community, Eleme LGA

Evironmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey while granting interview to AAMEI team to Ogale land

Goi people in the contaminated creek and land

There is no gainsaying the fact that the phrase “smiling in pain” best describe the lives of people from Goi, Bodo and Ogale communities in Ogoni land, Rivers State—South South Nigeria, where over 1 million voting population, children and women are living between the devil and the deep blue sea following the grievous impact of oil spills, oil flaring, and waste discharge which turned them into refugees, jobless, destitute and famished for over 10 years without government attention.  
Okechukwu Onuegbu, MD/CEO of while at Bodo creek
In these communities which lie in the hearts of Gokana and Eleme Council Areas, where about 95% of the giant of Africa’s crude oil wealth resurrects from, there are no water to quench thirsty, light to illumine, food to feed intestines, land to farm, rivers or creeks to fish, schools to seek for more knowledge, health centre to deliver the sick, and others since the activities of Shell Petroleum Company poisoned and contaminated both animate and inanimate objects in the land.

Kingley killing a crab caught from the crude contaminated land
Royal Dutch/Shell in collaboration with the British colonial government, found oil in commercial quantity in the Delta region in 1956, four years to Nigerian Independence. And from 1976 to 1991 there were reportedly 2,976 oil spills of about 2.1 million barrels of oil in Ogoniland, accounting for about 40% of the total oil spills of the Royal Dutch/Shell company worldwide, according to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who in 2011 assessed over 200 locations in Ogoniland, and recommended total clean up of the area for 25 to 30 years so as to rehabilitate the browbeaten.
Right to left, Ugochi Oluigbo, an award winning environmental journalist; Bunmi Obanawu, Editorial Director, Econigeria; and Tito Uzomah of PIGD

However, six years later, the project was yet to be implemented, even as the mortality rate and diseases multiply in these once fertile land, who in 1993 forced Shell to stop oil exploration through mass movement of the indigenous people best known as “Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP)”, and alleged human rights abused, mass militarization of the area, intimidation, harassment, killings and raping allegedly perpetrated by the company and its allies against the people, including military execution of International renowned Poet, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and 72 days (August 2008 to 2009) oil spillage that further made the land barren. 

Contaminated creek and people at Goi
It would also be recalled that the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources came and mounted several signposts at strategic locations in these affected land especially Goi, Ogale and Bodo, with boldly red coloured engraved inscriptions read “Prohibition! Contaminated Area, Please Keep off.” 
Land polluted by Oil spill at Goi

A team of African Art and Media for Earth Initiative (AAMEI), who toured round the three affected communities on March 28th, 2017 as part of its effort to empower its 12 Fellows on environmental journalism using traditional, new and social media otherwise referred to as ‘multimedia eco-journalism’ discovered that these people are still intact in the land; inhaling the environmental pollution, eating and drinking the hydrocarbon food and water having not been provided with an alternative.
The effects according to High Chief Eari Z. Dooh of Goi ancient kingdom whose father’s life and properties such as bakery, fish farm, market, commercial school, and others ended in the gas emission and court battles, is that, “We eat contaminated food. We drink contaminated water. We inhale contaminated air and expose ourselves to contaminated environment. Everything here is contamination upon contamination. Death is no more news to us. There is no single week we don’t bury about seven persons where the oil spillage sent us on refugee. 

“I have being leasing my father’s land to survive. We have neither school and nor health centre to run to. Our women and children are dying in hunger. I was expecting shell to pay us adequate compensation but they never did. I will keep voicing my pains to people since I don’t know when I may die. We bury at least 7 persons every week. 
One of water pond allegedly damaged by Shell
High Chief of Goi leading AAMEI round his departed father's bakery damaged by oil spillage
My father came to this land in 1977 and established poultry farm, market, commercial college, bakery, fish farm, and mangoes forest. He also had other investments which attracted him patronage from people within and outside Rivers State. As Shell encroached on his land, those firms were demolished. 

Part of the creek damaged by oil spill at Goi
“We were forced into exile with no definite location. My father instituted court cases against them but they used their wealth and connections to delay its outcome till he died and was buried in the bush in the exile. Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources came and vandalized our bakery house when our father refused to go. They told us that we must leave because the oil pollution has gone 30 fit deeper into the soil. But they never told us where to go or means of survival although they are aware that our polluted environment had being our hope. 

“Our plants, water, vegetations, Ko and Mago shells (shell logo and shell fish) are nowhere to be found. The plants you are seen, the land we are standing, the fruits and crabs we still harvest here are contaminated. But we have no choice than to pluck and eat them. We have no choice rather to farm and eat the yams, cassavas, fish and crayfish.  You need to see us while harvesting and eating these things. You will see oil gushing out of them yet we eat them happily although with gnashing teeth because we know we would surely sick and die thereafter. The life expectant of people from this area is 40 years.

“They are telling lies that the pollution was caused by third party. There are available records from research conducted by human rights group, environmental scientists and international organisations showing that they occurred as a result of Shell’s laxity and recklessness. They failed to replace old and damaged pipelines to new one. Our matter with them is still in the court. It has lasted for about 16 years before my father died. The issue is that some of our elders and leaders have been compromised. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki and others have visited here to find out things themselves but no action yet”.  

While the High Chief was speaking, flanked by some members of Goi Council of Elders including Chief Mene John, some children, youth and women were found hunting for crabs and crayfish, as well as drinking water in the contaminated land. 

AAMEI Fellows and organisers during the tour of Goi creek
“Yes! I will eat it. This is what we feed on every day. I won’t stop drinking this water because we have no other source of water. It’s true they told us to keep off but never told us where to go and what to eat. How could we afford to relocate to as far as Port Harcourt because everywhere in this Ogoni region is totally contaminated. I don’t go to school again. This is because it takes me some hours to locate one situated at far away neighbouring community which also faces the environmental challenges. I am sick as you can see through my eyes and tiny body” a teenager exclusively told this reporter, who was part of the AAMEI 12 trained Fellows at three days workshop held at Au-dela des Frontiers Hotel, 42 Tombia Extension, GRA Phase 2 (close to Mandela Car Wash, opposite ITEM Reloaded Port Harcourt, Rivers State). 

At Bodo, the crew visited the palace of HRH King John Bari-Iyiedum Bebor Berebon, Paramount Ruler of Bodo-City, (Gberedeela VIII of Bodo-City), Gokana LGA, where Chief Livinus Kiebel, the Chairman, Council of Chief of Bodo, who stood in for the paramount ruler, thanked the multimedia journalists led by Ugochi Oluigbo, Bunmi Obanawu and others for the visit, urging them to objectively explore and report their findings from the environment.

Chief Pii addressing the journalists
Chief Saint Emma Pii, a native of Bodo and Chairman, Host Community Network, who led the team round Bodo creek, implored the federal government of Nigeria to declare a state of emergency in the Niger Delta region, release relieve materials to the areas affected by oil spill, and quickly kick-start the clean-up as according to him, the spill which started from TMP Flow station and Manifold from neighbouring communities has disconnected them from the world.

Contaminated creek of Bodo land
“Bodo consists of 36 villages from its coastal and inland villages. It is about 8 miles long and 8 miles square. We share boundary with Bonny and Okirika communities. We are amphibians because we live in both water and land. That is why water cannot carry any of us. However, it is now difficult for us to farm or fish. I spent my life in this creek that is now contaminated. Those years our people farmed, fished and even slept in the bank. The creek or beech served as tourist attraction centres.

“But following the oil spillage which lasted for 72 days between the months of August 2008 to 2009, our children no longer go to school. Our people can’t cultivate or fish again. Here that used to be tourist attraction centre and our various homes became deathtraps. The hydrocarbon and environmental degradation robbed us of our heritage. Our monkeys, agama lizards, fish, crocodile, oil palm trees, plantations, firewood and others went extinct. 

“Most of our youths who could not adapt to the worrisome situation migrated to Bonny, other parts of Nigeria, Cameroon, and the world in search of greener pasture, while others are paddling their boats and canoes in search of water, firewood and food for their wives, mother, children and relatives at home. This is because they we can’t eat, drink and bathe from our own land any more. 

“I want the federal government to declare state of emergency in our environment and restructure our land. All the budget of this country and proceeds are from this town. But as you can see they are enjoying the oil money at Abuja and across the nation while we are dying of hunger, poverty, and terminal diseases resulting from the oil. The immediate past Minister of Environment, Amina Muhammad was here sometimes ago before she left the ministry. I have also attended several seminars where we were told of the need to construct a modular refinery and to conduct a baseline data… All I am saying is that the current Minister of Environment should continue from where Amina stopped because she promised us so many things. And we believed on her capability,” he said.

High Chief of Goi while granting interview to AAMEI fellow
When asked if they were part of the beneficiaries of the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s amnesty programme, another native of the town, who refused to mention his name for security purposes, said “For where! We only saw an office erected to that effect. However, it was only some renowned oil bunkers and militants were privileged to access the funds and trainings. My younger brother was among them. He owns so many magnificent buildings here and Abuja. Whenever he returns, thugs and military men escort him about. He abandoned us and never allowed us to draw closer to him. My mother is sick till date. My brother is one of those government always deals with.”   

At Ogale, Eleme Council Area, a community where most of the sighted burial posters of those who died between 40 to 50 years were captioned “Glorious Exist,” an indigene and ardent fellow of MOSOP struggles, said, “We have vowed not to allow the Shell to reopen any oil well in this Ogoni land even in years to come when my generation might have passed out. Here even the children of two years have learnt to protect their land till government executes the clean-up project.

A good Nigerian showing journalists his sewage water
“I spend N6000 on sewage water every week because our water is not drinkable. I have six of them here and each cost me N500 to refill. This is what I am into for ten years I dug this well water. The well water, although colouress, is not oduorless. That is why we don’t drink it. In fact, the first time one of my relatives tested it without my knowledge he ended at hospital in the city for treatment of water related diseases. 

“Then for cooking, my family buys water from water vendors who purchase the stock from distant neighbouring towns. For those who can’t afford it, they either go for sachet water or fetch from well not minding what it could lead them to. This is why I locked up my borehole water since ten years ago”.
His wife (name withheld) also narrated her ordeals in tears, stressing that she sometimes had to push wheelbarrow to fetch water at those neighbouring communities when the hawkers were not sighted.

Enumerating the environmental health challenges facing Goi, Bodo and Ogale of Ogoni land, Nnimmo Bassey, a world renowned environmentalist and President, HOMEF, averred that “The impact of oil spillage in our land is that the hydrocarbon has contaminated our environment, our people and land. The air we breathe in is not also safe. It results to cancer, skin infections, damages respiratory systems, to mention a few. Oil flaring is dangerous because if you run away from the water and others what of the air you breathe in every time?
“This is why we agitating for a review of the constitution to remove its military tones and fast tract passing and implementation of relevant laws and acts that would correct the ills Shell and other oil explores have done to Niger Delta. We want the government to implement the solid mineral act. 

This could be why, a researcher, Aster Van Kregten of Amnesty International, while presenting their findings from Ogoni land some years back says that “On 28 August and 7 December 2008, two major oil spills disrupted the lives of 69,000 people living in Bodo community of Ogoniland in Niger Delta. An estimation of 4,000 barrel of oil daily flooded the swamp of this community polluting the whole land. Shell’s failure to promptly stop and clean up oil spills in Bodo has devastated the lives of tens of thousands of people. Bodo is a disaster that should not have happened, yet it is one that due to Shell’s inactions continues to this day.”

An environmental challenged boy from Goi
In October 1990, MOSOP presented The Ogoni Bill of Rights to the government which it hoped would enable them to gain political and economic autonomy for the Ogoni people, leaving them in control of the natural resources of Ogoniland and protection against further land degradation.



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