By Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
“The impact has been devastating. The environment damage has been tremendous and unique ecosystems have been destroyed.” That was an excerpt from the interim report of the Archbishop John Sentamu-led Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission, which investigated years of what former governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, described as environmental terrorism.
When the commission published its findings indicating that very few parts of Nigeria have suffered worse environmental degradation and oil pollution than the state, some expressed disbelief. Investigations reveal that there is hardly a month that oil spill does not occur with reverberating effects on the entire state.
This has made life difficult for the people who are predominantly into fishing and farming. To make matters worse the health hazards and its implication for the people are grave.
This is the dilemma the people of Koluama, Southern Ijaw Local Government and Sangana in Brass LG have found themselves. A suspected oil spill from the operations of oil companies in the area is making life unbearable for the people prompting them to call for help. They are seeking for relief from the ravaging effects of crude oil spill.
The youth president of Koluama, Mr. Emmanuel Kiwei Philip, said: “We are not happy, we are angry. There is no way a landlord will plead with a tenant to be living in his territory. It seems we the Koluama people are begging our tenants on how to live with them in our territory. And that will never be possible.
“The oil companies operating in Koluama are not friendly. We don’t know which of the oil companies is responsible for the recent oil spill. All the oil companies are denying that the spill does not belong to them.
“The people are feeling so bad about those we accommodate in our territory. We take them as brothers, but with their reaction to the recent oil spill, they don’t care about us and where they are operating.
“So many of our people are sick due to the oil spill, they are on their sick beds in their homes. Community folks cannot go out for fishing. Some fishing nets have been destroyed by the crude oil.
“Fishing is what the Koluama people are known for as means of livelihood. Due to the damaging impacts of the spill that occurred on January 16, 2021, our people cannot go out for their normal fishing till now.”
Secretary of Koluama Kingdom Oil and Gas Committee, Jonathan Amabebe, visited one of the oil fields in company of officials of Bayelsa State Government, Department of Petroluem Resources (DPR) and National Oil and Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to collect sample of the oil spill.
He said: “I don’t know how to describe how I feel, I feel like weeping. But even if I weep, the tears from my eyes won’t make a difference; until the Federal Government steps in particularly the Minister of Petroleum as these things are directly under his watch.”
In Sangana the situation was not different as the people are crying over loss of livelihood, which is fishing. Chairman of United Fishing Union of Sangana, Noel Ikonikumo, said: “This is affecting us seriously, as our fishing materials have been contaminated. If you get to the ocean, the moment you drop the net you see float crude oil from the net and that will send the smell to fishes around that place.
“All the fishes around will run away and you won’t get any catch. You go to the creek you cannot see periwinkle to pick, all of them are dead. Everywhere, all our fishing areas have been polluted, we are down now. We are suffering seriously and we need the government to intervene.
“Fishing is our occupation, we cannot just remain without going out to try. Our means of survival now is to get a high-powered engine to go deeper into the ocean where you get your catch. That is how we are surviving. Survival of the fittest is what is happening now.”
Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Bayelsa State, Mr. Timi Seimiebo, who visited the two communities with state and federal government officials said: “We came for inspection and collection of samples in connection with the oil spill. The entire coastline is condemned with crude oil.
“Dead fish and others [dead crabs] affected have been observed. We have seen it by ourselves there is no doubt about it. Thank God NOSDRA has taken the samples. They will go and carry out laboratory test and we will get the result and we will get back to the communities affected.
“What the people are saying is that these oil spills have affected them in terms of their health and means of livelihood. That is why they are demanding for health personnel to come and check them and to send relief materials. And they are correct.”
Environmental activists led by Mr. Morris Alagoa of the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) gave a damming verdict:
“The issue of mystery spill most often than not could exist only in marine environment. This spill once again exposed the oil companies operating in Nigeria as to how they play the oil politics; short-changing host communities and those impacted by their operations.
“The good thing is that there is the finger print technology. This presents another litmus test as to whether the Federal Government will allow this matter to be swept under the carpet. NOSDRA took samples on the shoreline and elsewhere in the community. A responsible government would take the bold step and follow this to logical conclusion.
“This, the Federal Government can do as a confidence building mechanism and in the interest of peace in the Niger Delta. This is more so, as Nigerian victims of the oil industry induced pollution are seeking justice outside the shore of the country. Rogue oil companies should be identified and punished.”