there is agony in Sangana, Akassa Kingdom, Brass Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, over an oil spill that occurred three months ago, which is yet to be attended to, causing suffering for residents.
Akassa Kingdom, which occupies the southern tip of Nigeria, where the River Nun meets the Atlantic Ocean, is home to 18 autonomous communities, including Sangana.
Findings indicated that three species of croaker fish family were badly affected, while silver catfish and tilapia were also involved.
According to investigations, the oil spill from a facility suspected to belong to Conoil has done immeasurable damage to flora and fauna of Akassa Kingdom. The communities in the area yet to recover from the mystery dead fish along its coastline in early 2020 are sad that another environmental disaster has hit them.
Lamentations from the people of the area have clearly indicated that they are not only worried about the source of their livelihood, fishing, which has been badly affected, they are also apprehensive over the health implications of the oil spill.
Having waited for the intervention of government, regulatory agencies and the affected company to act, the United Fishing Union (UFU) wrote a save-our-soul letter to foremost environmental advocacy group, Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) to come to the aid of the people.
Chairman of the union, Ikonikumo Noel, stated that: “There has been a spillage in Conoil facility for over three months ago and they don’t care to even stop it. The spillage is continuing up till now as we are talking. Fishes are dying in Sangana coastline seriously. But the company doesn’t pay any attention. We have written to the relevant agencies but, still, they don’t care to stop it. We are fighting for our union, but they don’t want to pay attention to us.”
Noel, who expressed disappointment over the way the issue of the spillage has been treated, said the health implications of the environmental disaster were grave because of the number of people that swam at the Sangana beach during the Yuletide. He explained that fishing, the major occupation of the people, has suffered tremendously because of fish could only be caught now if one went farther into the ocean, which was practically impossible for most of the fishermen.
Said Noel: “It is because of this that fisherfolk no longer catch fish, unless you drive deep into the ocean. If you don’t have a high-powered engine, you cannot go there. And even the periwinkle and the different marine life that we were managing to feed ourselves are no longer available due to this oil spill. We are suffering. So, we need government to intervene; even the company, let them come and compensate the fisherfolk so that we will have avenue to feed ourselves and secure our children. This is just what is happening here.”
Noel’s lamentations were re-echoed by a former chairman of the Community Development Committee, Benjamin Ayibakuro, who said all available evidence pointed to the fact that the spill occurred at sea.
Said he: “I saw fish dying at the shore and I asked, what is this? What is happening? I never knew it had started again. It spilled for over one month. For over one month, and nobody talked. The incident happened in the sea, in the Atlantic, and the waves bring the crude oil to the shore. Report has been given to NOSDRA and Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment; maybe even the Ministry of Mineral Resources, agencies that ought to take up the matter. Yet we are not seeing anything.’’
Telimonye Matthew Moses, president of Akassa Youth Leaders Forum, said evidence has been gathered by the people to demonstrate that relevant authorities did nothing to help the people.
He said: “They have not done anything; those dead fishes are still there. They have not done anything. We have videos taken at the wellhead site and our fisherfolk going to sea still inform us that the crude oil is still floating and affecting their fishing activities till now. They complain that when they withdraw their fishing nets from the depth of the sea, the nets comes out soiled with crude oil.”
A fisherman, Kingsley Awari, expressed sadness that the situation had become unbearable, as the people were starving.
His words: “This is the source of our suffering, causing fishes to be scarce in the ocean. Hunger is killing us, we are hungry. The fishes are being killed and washed ashore. This is the kind of suffering Conoil has put us into. We are suffering; we are really suffering. What kind of suffering is it that has come to kill Sangana people?’’
Moses pleaded with government and other relevant authorities to come to the aid of the people.
He said: “No investigation has been carried out nor has any agency like NOSDRA come to find out what is happening and to hold culprits accountable. Fishing communities are suffering from oil devastation and damage as they call on relevant interventionists to be proactive and act fast to end this threat. It is no doubt affecting conservation of marine ecosystems. The beach is a major nesting ground for green, Olive Riley and leatherback turtles.’’
The team from ERA/FoEN that visited the area for an assessment stated that there was every need to review the operations of offshore exploration and exploitation because of the controversy that usually trails oil spillage.
The team, led by Mr. Morris Alagoa, therefore, demanded that Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment should take immediate steps to visit impacted communities, especially the spill point, and ensure that Conoil takes responsibility.
It also advocated that Conoil should be fined according to the NOSDRA Act, if the company does not report the incident within the stipulated time of 24 hours. It also requested a joint investigation visit (JIV), adding that Conoil must do the needful in terms of cleanup, relief materials and compensation to victims of the company’s operations.
The report stated further: “Community stakeholders should endeavour to include environmental/human rights advocacy groups like the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria [ERA/FoEN] as first line of those to contact whenever there are related incidents or issues. This is with a view to ensure that such important matters are not unnecessarily delayed, ignored or swept under the carpet by the same public agencies who ought to raise the red flag.”