By Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The people of Ikarama in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State are going green with envy over news coming from California, United States of America concerning the recent oil spill incident off the coast of Huntington Beach on October 3. The way the news media in America reported the disaster couple with the immediate investigation by the Justice Department , would make the long-suffering people of Ikarama agonise about their fate in the country that they are in.
California Attorney- General, Rob Bonta who disclosed that the officials in his office are working to determine the cause of the spill lamented his adverse effects.
“The oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach is environmental disaster with far reaching consequences for our fish and wildlife, for our communities and for our economy,” Bonta said.
That is just one incident compared to Ikarama community which is one of the most impacted communities in terms of oil spills in the Niger Delta region. Its ecosystem has been disrupted; flora and fauna have been laid to waste. Oil companies, governments and relevant regulatory authorities have abandoned the people of Ikarama to their fate. The people watch as their source of livelihood ebb before their very eyes.
Weeks after the latest oil spill in the community and proof of improper clean even after the visit of a Joint team from Shell Petroluem Development Company (SPDC) and National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the people are still waiting for justice and the course of action to ameliorate the pains of the losses they have suffered.
Investigations revealed that during the Joint visit by SPDC, NOSDRA and representatives of Ikarama, an invitation was extended to the foremost environmental organisation, Environmental Rights Action and Friends of The Earth(ERA/ FoEN) which first brought the colossal injustice against the Ikarama people to limelight. However it is the same old song of plenty motions no action for the people of Ikarama.
Chief Gospel Okah Ayibatonte, the paramount ruler of Ikarama community commended ERA/FoEN for bringing the pains of the Ikarama to limelight.
“I think ERA/FoEN has done the right thing. And, the issue now is how to hold Shell accountable; to ensure that they return to that site where crude oil has been found in the ground to carry out proper remediation for us. But not only there, we have other sites within the community environment like that. One is very close to the community too, along the Adibawa/Okordia delivery line. Another site is around our back road; also very close to living houses. So, if the samples could be taken from all such sites; it will do more good. We can then prove to Shell that any remediation that they are doing; they don’t do it properly. And that is now affecting the indigenes of this community,” he said.
He further disclosed that as a result of the oil spill and improper clean-up, the people are suffering health issues.
“We are experiencing so many illnesses. Cough, some people will be scratching their body, rashes all over the body. And even the water, since we don’t get pipe borne water every day, sometimes we manage with the water from the river or rain water. So when we fetch the rain water, we do observe samples of hydrocarbon. Sometimes through evaporation, crude oil goes into the atmosphere and rain brings down those particles. So we are suffering in different ways.
“Health wise, if you go round the community you can see some children with rashes and unnecessary cough. Then coming to farming challenges, you cannot really see big bunch of plantain around this our community anymore. Cassava and plantain are the major crops we cultivate in this environment. Plantain bunches are now very tiny; very small. In those days, when you carry some bunches of plantain would look for somebody to assist you. But now even if you join ten bunches together, you won’t have any reason to be happy. Cassava tubers are also very tiny these days; very small because of the effect on the soil.
“Coming to fishing area, we go to Zarama market to buy fish, I was supposed to have fish here and not to go and buy. In those days if you set hook around this our environment and you go and check in the morning; you will return with enough fish. But presently, even if you set 100 hooks, if you are not lucky you won’t even catch one fish; because the swamps and river have been polluted and fishes dying and the crude oil can even cause them to relocate from the environment. So, we have a very big problem.’’
He further said that there are indications that the effects of the oil spill could have led to cancerous growth in some people in the community.
“Well, somebody died from that sickness (cancer) and every person knows about it in this community; a man named Messiah Orufa. Another girl is also suffering from cancer. She has been living in the community since; right from childhood. And it has been proven medically that she is suffering from cancer. So, Shell should come and do proper remediation concerning this environment. No place should be left out,” the monarch added.
ERA/FOEN through its programme officer, Mr Morris Alagoa insists that the dire situation the people of Ikarama have found themselves cannot be over emphasized especially “terms of fecundity of farmland, fishing environment and health implications”
It has therefore demanded that NOSDRA should take this matter to logical conclusion by ensuring a comprehensive environmental audit of spill sites in Ikarama.
Alagoa who called on Shell to investigate allegations of some of its staff being involved in sponsoring third party oil spills to ensure the matter is curbed once and for all.
“At the end of the proposed comprehensive environmental audit, Shell should embark on a proper cleanup and remediation exercise in Ikarama environment within a given time frame. Adequate compensation should be paid to the people of Ikarama for losses incurred in health and livelihood,” he added.