Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
“Where this spill occurred is where we go often to set our fish traps and nets for our livelihood and from which we take care of our children’s education and feed the family. With this oil spill, it has affected aquatic life, killing all the fish in the swamp and river,” lamented Chief Uroupatei Igoli on the devastating oil spill that has wrecked aquatic life in Ikebiri community, Olodiama clan, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
Ikebiri kingdom, like other coastal communities where oil companies have their operations in the Niger Delta region, has been at the receiving end of oil spillage daily. According to reports by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), Ikebiri alone has been hit with three devastating oil spills. The first was in 2010, the second in 2015 and the most recent one in 2020. It also said in between these years the community was not spared as other oil spills occurred to further despoil the ecology of Ikebiri.
From records provided by ERA/FoEN, Ikebiri was the first community in Bayelsa State to drag the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) to court over oil spillage in 2010, though the matter was later withdrawn at the instance of Agip for out-of-court settlement.
The handling of the current oil spill has been unsatisfactory to the people, especially as the implication of the spill is dire for the people.
“We are suffering from related illnesses. Our fishing gear such as nets and traps have been damaged, made useless by the spill. And since we depend on the river for drinking, that is also posing serious health challenge to most persons in the community. Our farms and farmlands are also affected by the spill, including cocoyam and plantain farms.
“The government and Agip should come to our assistance by supplying relief materials and clean up the spill-impacted environment. That is what I am saying, especially we, the women are really suffering. The crude oil spill is threatening our lives. We are getting sick and denied our means of livelihood,” Igoli said.
Mrs. Seimieghe Matthew, the women leader of Ikebiri, corroborated Igoli’s concerns as it affects the livelihoods of women who are mostly into farming and fishing.
“Since the incident happened, I have received several complaints from the womenfolk in the community. Just as they are bitter about the negative impacts of the oil spill, they are also querying me as to why I am not doing anything about their plight as their leader. My response to them was that I am also disturbed and trying to do something about it, because the impacted environment has been a major area where we go fishing. It is the same environment we set our fish nets, hooks and other traps and farm too to make a living, including training our children in school,” she said.
Matthew stated that the women were running out of patience and could take unpleasant actions whenever the team for clean-up comes, as the women were bitter that they have been abandoned without any compensation for so long.
Mrs. Inuaba Bruce, speaking in the same vein, said some of them that could not endure picked dead fish to eat, which made them sick: “This spill wants to kill us. It has killed all the fish in the river too. Some who saw the dead fish and picked them and cook to eat are all sick in the community.
“Our fishing nets have all been affected; with no more fish too to catch. This is what we are contending with. A lot of people are now sick in their houses” she stated.
Dieye Festus, a farmer speaking to a group of field monitors from ERA/FoEN, explained that Ikebiri as a community has a bush named Boloukubu, where they carry out their farming and fishing activities said the resultant health challenges faced by many in the community can be traced to the oil spill.
“As we speak today, Ikebiri kingdom is facing health challenges as most people are sick. We don’t have money to buy medicine and, there is no food’’ she added Chief Abraham King, the chairman of the council of chiefs, called on Agip and the Bayelsa State government to come and help the people in this time of distress.
He stated that, “most community folks that lost their means of livelihood are going hungry right now; as there are no alternatives”
The monarch said further “Those staying in the community are now helpless. And so, what we would like to say in the present situation is that, since it is Agips oil bearing pipeline that ruptured on its own and has become life threatening to our people; the government and Agip should jointly come in to assist the people of Ikebiri. In this regard, inasmuch as food is required also to ameliorate our plight, enough drugs should be sent to the community since we already have a health facility, to take care of our current health challenges.
“If food items are to be sent to us, it shouldn’t be through middle men; bring the items directly and offload for us in the community. We also need money to support ourselves; to buy whatever we like for ourselves. Fishing nets, fish ponds and all what we were using to go about our traditional [fishing] occupation has been destroyed by the oil spill. Right now we are going through pain and suffering. The government and Agip should hear and come to our aid. That is what I have to say.’’
The paramount ruler of Ikebiri, HRH, Francis Ododo echoed the concerns already highlighted by his people. He commended a team of environmentalists from ERA/FoEN led by Mr Alagoa Morris for been at the fore front of fighting for the community in the areas of compensation from Agip.
The monarch however raised eyebrows over the continued neglect of the people by Agip to ameliorate the sufferings of the people.
“There is a major spill that has affected the livelihood of my people. Economic trees have been damaged and aquatic lives are affected heavily too; including farms.
“One thing that I want to really talk about is negligence on the part of Agip. You know when a serious spill has occurred, knowing full well that the economic life of the people have been affected seriously , without being told Agip; by this time suppose to have provided relief materials , especially drinking water.
“We don’t have any other source of water. That is the only source of water we have for now. Though Agip has made some effort to give us water but the water work has not been finalized. So we still depend on the river water” he submitted.