Apparently aware of the influence Petri wields as Dutch Ambassador, she appealed to him to salvage the situation in which the people have found themselves.
Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
It was like a life time opportunity and the people of Ikarama and Kalaba communities in Okordia clan, Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, made good use of it to tell their visitors from the Dutch Embassy in Nigeria their plight in the hands of oil companies operating in the neighbourhood.
Ambassador Robert Petri and Chelsey Buurman (Second Secretary at the Embassy of the Netherlands) have decided to visit some oil communities to get first hand report from the people who bear the brunt of the despoiling of the environment through oil exploration.
The paramount ruler of Kalaba community, Chief Francis Kolibo expressed happiness of the people in his opening remarkes.
“This is the first time we are receiving somebody like you in this community,” he said as he went ahead to highlight the many problems bedeviling the people ranging from oil spills to loss of farm products and the threat to their livelihood. He explained that an oil spill that occurred in neighbouring Ikarama community in June 2018 was brought to the Kalaba community due to the flood disaster and even after the Ministry of Environment were duly informed nothing concrete had been done.
Kolibo who lamented the adverse effects of oil spill on farming noted that survival of the people was under serious threat.
“When we catch fish from the impacted swamp and eat, we perceive crude oil from the belle of the fish. That is the problem. Shell has not provided water for us. If you take a look at the water flowing in the Taylor Creek, the water is undrinkable. But there is nothing we can do; we just drink from it as there is no alternative source. So, those are some of our problems,” Kolibo said.
Aside Shell, they also fingered the Nigerian Agip Oil Company(NAOC) in their woes. Chairman of the Development Committee (CDC), Samuel Oburo, who aligned himself with the monarch said daily lives of the people have been greatly disrupted.
“Since we started experiencing crude oil in our environment, we found it difficult to get good yield from the soil. Most of our local fish ponds, which we often harvest to get little cash to take care of the education of our children, have been blighted by crude oil. Agip came to our environment when I was three years old. Our environment has had several oil spill incidents but Agip is yet to remediate even one of those impacted sites. Even if remediation is done, we believe the land cannot be as it originally was. Our environment has lost fecundity. Without environment none of us can live. We don’t have good drinking water. These spills have in one way or the other affected our only source of drinking. If you drink from the creek, I don’t think you would be able to return home in good health. But we survive from drinking that same water.” Oburo was not done as he further explained that the health of the people have also deteriorated with strange aliments afflicting them.
“We have been experiencing strange ailments. For example, someone would give birth to a child with one eye. In those days, we never experienced children born deformed right from the womb. Skin problems like rashes are rampant. These could be traced to environmental pollution. And the oil companies are not responding positively to our plight. As a community, we are hosting Agip and Shell, but we don’t have good drinking water; you would be surprised. Shell came to this environment before I was born. But since they have been operating in this environment, the relationship with our community has not been cordial. And it is really affecting our development.”
Oburo claimed that the people “are suffering” but express optimism that Petri’s visit “would make a change as regards our situation, concerning relationship and provision of social amenities by the multinational corporations operating in this environment.”
The continued adverse effect of several years of oil exploration is not lost on those that lived their early years in the community.
“I grew up to know my people as farmers and fishermen. This was the case with all communities along the Taylor Creek. And food wasn’t any problem to us,” said Mrs Gold Ogbolosingha, woman leader of the community.
That was then as the situation has worsened over time with devastating consequences.
“But now crude oil has spoiled the whole environment; even the quality of air we breath is no longer good. The water and soil have all been affected and lost productivity,” she added.
Mrs. Ogbolosingha re-echoed the concerns of lack of drinking water and its health implications.
“The water is not good but there is nothing we can do; we keep drinking it. As a result of drinking polluted water, we have recorded some deaths.”
Apparently aware of the influence Petri wields as the Dutch Ambassador, she appealed to him to salvage the situation in which the people have found themselves.
“I am appealing to you even though I know you don’t owe us any responsibility, but as a human being, anyhow you think you can turn around our situation, please do it for us. If you can facilitate the process that can get us clean drinking water, the entire community and the almighty God that created me and you would be very happy and we will also appreciate you.”
The situation in Ikarama community is not different from that of Kalaba.
“The most disturbing problem we have is oil spillage in Ikarama community,” said Chief Harbertson Lamie, paramount ruler of Ikarama.
The oil spillage has multiplier effect as the people “inhale the crude oil polluted air and this cause so much health problems to us,” Mrs. Ovie Sharach said.
To make matters worse for the people, there is no medical facility to take care of the health needs of the people. This prompted John Joel to appeal to Petri for help.
“As we inhale the fumes from the crude oil in the environment we know it damage our body system. And there is no functional health facility within the environment. But thank God we have health facility built by Agip within the community though it is not functioning. So, we want to use this medium to call on the ambassador to please help us and speak to your company, SPDC. Let them come to our aid and make sure the health centre is working so that we can have easier access to health services and become safe. Our lives are not safe right now because we have to rush out of the community for every health challenge.”
Obviously impressed with the frank views expressed by the people, Petri, who said he visited to “see with my own eyes the situation in this community” commended the people for making “clear what the issues are.”
Buurman also commended the people for the “willingness to continue dialogue even though you had so many obstacles and you are still willing to be peaceful.”