He was expecting a report on the last oil spillage at Egbebiri and not happy that a contact has not called back to brief him on progress made on the cleanup. All that irritation would be shelved after he was informed of a fresh spillage in another area not far from the site of the penultimate. “There is always a spill happening every now and then, it is just about getting information in time about where exactly the place is,” Morris Alagoa said, as he dropped the call. He should know better, as the Project Officer Environmental Rights Action (ERA) in Bayelsa State.
It is a man-made fate, an environmental disaster that has befallen the Niger-Delta of Nigeria since the discovery of oil in 1956 at Oloibiri in Bayelsa, paradoxical of what has been an economic boom and mainstay of Nigeria since independence in 1960.
When people in urban cities are crying over scarcity of fuel, the region in a twist of fate has always had it around in unwanted places, albeit in its crude or loose forms. From areas like Rumuekpe to Eleme in Rivers, Brass to Ikarama in Bayelsa, Warri to Sapele in Delta, Qua Iboe in Akwa Ibom and other coastal towns where mine fields are situated in the region have all had their incessant tales of oil and gas spillage, either by corrosion or sabotage, many of which draw extreme sacrifices paid by residents.
The victims, though suppressed by the insensitivity of the Nigeria government to their plight, still carry with them that endless narration of grief and the painful marks serrated in their lives from the ordeals they faced as their country breathe out crude oil.
For instance, the family of Freeborn Roland at Ikarama in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa happily welcomed their male twins, Godday and Godpower March 2, 2013. That is just as jollier as it gets. The boys who have now become a sort of popular twins-at-ill, no thanks to the stench from the waterways opposite their home that infiltrated their respiratory systems after a major spill a month and two weeks after their birth. Freeborn was joyous at being a father of twins but pained by the company from whose pipe the spill came from. “I was so happy and very glad when I had my twins because it is the work of God but the bad side is about the Shell people, they have disciplined me in a fine way.”
The frail-looking boys have never been well for one day and Freeborn finds it hard to cope with the financial implication. “I am confused. I have been buying drugs for the twins from chemist shops and I do take them to the hospital sometimes. The ambassador of Netherland came to Ikarama and he visited us. He made a promise that they would not abandon the children with the situation of the environment then. They promised to help my family, but since then I haven’t seen anything. The oil company intimidated me with Joint Task Force because I complained about the pollution in my surrounding.” he lamented.
At the heights of concern and out of pity for the newborn, the family was sponsored on relocation far from the polluted area by one Father Kevin O’Hara who is the Executive Director of Shareholder Alliance for Corporate Accountability. Now the twins and their parents are back to their original home after the expiration of the rent fee as they could no longer fund the rent.
Some few kilometers away, 61-years-old widow and grandmother, Mrs. Grace Yerizima at Otodah has been struggling with high blood pressure for almost 4 years after waking up to a fright on the morning of July 5, 2010, to discover that her farmland has been razed. Similar chain of events-there was a spill, the crude oil and fire that followed, everything she planted; plantain, cassava and Cocoyam have been destroyed. Now her land is damaged, having suffered so much from oil spills, consequently, it has lost its lushness.
Mrs. Yerizima recounts her ordeal: “I felt sick; I developed hypertension because I suffered high blood pressure. I spent time at Federal Medical Centre in Yenagoa. I am yet to recover fully from the shock. Now am just on my own trying to squeeze a living.”
Like many other voiceless victims in Niger-Delta communities, Mrs. Yerizima wishes there could be something done about her case, but she remains in the dark about what to do. “I couldn’t make a make a formal complain because I don’t know who to meet and how to go about it. Many people would ask me, have you been compensated? I would say not yet. Sometimes I rely on alms from people to feed myself. Now I can’t even farm anymore because I have lost the muscles in my right hand.”
A disgruntled resident and former councilor at Ikarama Okordia, Domingo Ibator, stated: “Shell came into this area far back in 1959, Agip came in 1983/84, and their pipelines are criss-crossing. The government is not making any contribution to the lives of the people in the community who through their environment have been able to contribute to the national economy. The oil companies too, if not for vandalisation of their pipelines, the few communities wouldn’t have benefitted from their water project and power plant. The oil companies have marginalised the people for their own selfish interest.”
In neigbouring River State, Ebocha and Okwuzi areas precisely, are never ceasing pipe that spew gas day and night into the human-occupied environment in addition to the one being flared. The low level of literacy means residents are hesitant to nail the high percentage cases of eye defects, respiratory problems among children and premature deaths to toxic emissions by Agip’s gas flaring in the area. Even as they are cautious not to concretise medically unproven assumptions, natives are developing symptoms that point fingers to the likelihood of the effect of benzene and carbon emission in the environment.
For example, one-and-half-years-old Humble and 2-and-half-years-old Chigemezu Osanapa has fought a health battle since birth. Chigemezu struggle for months after his birth and seems to have fully adapted, but Humble on the other hand still not normal. He is always dizzy, drifts backward every time he tries to concentrate on something, slurry, and his skin has never been clear.
On Monday November 5, 2001, at Etekwuru-Egbema in Imo State, an explosive sound greeted Vincent Uchenna Obi as he was carrying cassava stem from his farm at Umudike. He narrates 13years after while still waiting for the house promised him by Shell as compensation for his burnt body. “As I was going, a woman stopped me that there is a spillage along the road that they don’t need anything like motorcycle or other automobile driving past by the road. I quickly went to carry my cassava stem on my head so that I will cross the pipeline area because I am crossing by the side not going straight along the pipeline, next thing I heard poooom!"
Obi is one of the two survivors among close to 40 people involved in the inferno; he also paid more through his family. His wife abandoned him on the hospital bed at the Federal Medical Centre in Owerri to marry another man. Although he remarried 2008, his body has never been the same. “Now I am an incapacitated farmer as I cannot hold the cutlass in the farm anymore because of the burnt tissues in my hand,” he said. More so till date, strange as it sounds, Obi said he gets the summit of unpleasant feelings in his body every November just around that date the incident happened.
Many of the affected people in the oil producing region live with the hope that one day they will be compensated, even as other influential people rip off billions of dollars in scam operations like the oil subsidy business that was protested against in January 2012. It has been speculated that Nigeria’s oil reserve will be exhausted in the next two decades, by then the region will no more be the toast of the economy thereby leaving the people and their future generations in abject poverty and polluted environment.
For now, Nigeria can continue to celebrate its centenary status after more than 50 years of over reliance on oil from communities whose lands pay the price of the fanfare.