The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has described as “very disturbing”, media reports indicating that the Akwa Ibom State government ordered the Ibeno community people to accept relief materials provided by Exxonmobil for polluting their environment, against the will of the people.

According to the reports, Governor Godswill Akpabio had summoned the paramount ruler of Ibeno community, Effiong Archianga, and the local government chairman, Henry Nko, and ordered them to reverse a joint community decision to reject relief materials from the oil company, threatening that they would face his wrath if they turned down the offer.  

Reports also have it that the communities were required to sign a note saying that ExxonMobil gesture was humanitarian and not be any means indicative of guilt over the spill.

Ibeno community hosts facilities of Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN), a subsidiary of ExxonMobil. On November 9, 2012 a spill from the Qua Iboe Oil Fields operated by MPN affected the community waters and disrupted the fishing activity of the locals. The community had turned down relief materials from the oil firm following the company’s failure to tell the public the truth on actual volumes spilled, carry out comprehensive clean up, after which there will be commensurate compensation.

ExxonMobil had in a statement admitted its facility caused the spill which it put at some 200 barrels of crude oil, a figure disputed by the community folks. The oil firm’s downplaying of the spill volume and impact subsequently caused a stir at the National Assembly when one of its executives who appeared last week before the House of Representatives Committee on the Environment was confronted with testimonies from the host communities contradicting his report of minimal spillage. He allegedly had to apologize on live television for the firm’s shortcomings in handling the spill and misinforming the legislature.

Community leader in the Iwuokpom fishing settlement, Chief John Etim was quoted as saying members of the community were dismayed by the governor’s order to accept and distribute items against their wish.

In a statement issued in Lagos, ERA/FoEN described the development as “very shocking and worrisome,” frowning at the governor’s siding with polluters at the expense of the traumatised community folks that he was supposed to defend.

“We are appalled that the Akwa Ibom State government would further traumatise its own people who have not only lost their livelihoods due to the persistent spill of ExxonMobil but have been further humiliated by the company in its decision to narrow the lawful demands of the  people to miserly so-called relief packages”, said ERA/FoEN Executive Director, Nnimmo Bassey.

“What could be more vexing than for a company that has persistently violated the environment of the people to dodge responsibility of its own environmental atrocities only to further mock the people by sending such so-called relief items as packets of biscuits, pieces of wax cloth, and tins of milk. What contempt!”

Bassey pointed out that ERA/FoEN field monitors that visited Ibeno on November 15, 2012 documented impacts suffered by the community, including fisherfolks whose fishing nets became unusable due to their contact with crude oil as well as the impact of the spill on aquatic life which the people depended on for sustenance.

Aside the November 9 incident, four spills were recorded in Ibeno between December 2009 and June 21, 2010. Two major oil spills were also said to have occurred within the Qua Iboe Oil field on 13 and 24 August 2012 respectively.

ERA/FoEN Director, Programmes & Administration, Godwin Ojo said: “ERA/FoEN demands that if the alleged intimidation of the community to submission is confirmed, the State House of Assembly call the governor to order. Our demands are not limited to that. Mobil must immediately cleanup the polluted waters and the shoreline and environment in Ibeno. Anything short of these is unacceptable.”
 
 
Philip Jakpor
Head of Media
ERA/FoEN

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