Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Water no get enemy, the inimitable Afrobeat maestro, Fela sang many decades ago. But Fela’s view is being disproved on a large scale in Ogbia Local Government Area, where crude oil is a bitter enemy of water. The enmity between crude oil and water has made the people of Otuasega, Imiringi Emeyal and Ibelebiri initially cry in silence.
Unable to bear the pains of being at the mercy of contaminated water due to the crude oil which has taken over the Kolo Creek, their main source of water. They are now crying out for help to whosoever can help them and save them from their present predicament.
According to investigations crude oil found its way into the Kolo Creek to contaminate the source of water for the area due to the activities of those engaged in illegal local refining of crude oil.
This has robbed the people to access to its source of water with very grave health implications. According a top member of the Community Development Committee in Otuasega who does not want his name in print because of fear of attack from illegal oil bunkerers disclosed that the kings of the various communities affected met recently to deliberate on the water situation. “The Royal Highnesses of all these communities discussed. The main subject of discussion was how to stop the activities causing the Kolo Creek to be so polluted. But our fear, to be truthful to you; the fear is that anybody within this area that champions the moves aimed at stopping the local refining which causing the pollution would be attacked be those boys” says the source.
From reports gathered and which has been confirmed by the source in the community since reporting activities of the illegal oil bunkerers would trigger a massive crisis which could endanger the lives of many in the affected communities, the resolution was that the leadership of the affected communities would negotiate with the illegal bunkerers to explore other means to stop crude oil from escaping into the Kolo Creek. According to it is only when the government which is more powerful is ready to move against them that the community would support such efforts “So the resolution was that we are going to approach the operators and owners of the crude oil refining camps to tell them not to allow the crude oil come down to the Kolo Creek. They should look for a way, either to dig a pit where the residue of their operations could be directed [contained] and later burnt off. That was the only option we arrived at” he added.
Also at Otuasega, two elder women, Angelina Ngeribo and Agnes Ibugom in separate interview with journalists and a team of environmentalists from Environmental Rights Action and Friends of the Earth(ERA/FoEN) led by Mr Morris Alagoa, Akpotu Monday Ziworitin and their community guides Ranami Afagha and Philip Godfrey Shalom bare their minds on their predicament. The duo attributed the problem to the illegal activities of oil bunkerers. According to them water hyacinth used to be the problem but now crude oil has taken over. “This crude oil on our water is affecting us in many ways. There is no way to bathe in the creek again. If you venture to go in and come out your body would be oily as if you rubbed pomade. We are suffering as a result of the current condition of the river. We are not telling lies. When you are paddling in your canoe, all your hands, your chest, clothes will all get soiled with crude oil; including your canoe” says Mrs Ngeribo.
“You are not even engaged in bunkering but it would seem as if you are one of those involved in the act. “Even our children are no longer going to take their bath in the Creek. Sometimes due to the oily condition of the paddle as we are pulling on the Creek, we stop at the bank of the creek and rub the paddle against leaves and grasses; but that too couldn’t help remove the oil. Sometimes you will slip and fall while walking” she lamented.
The health implication of the situation the people of the area have found themselves is grave. “We cannot use the water to even wash our clothes or bath anymore and it cause our people different kinds of sickness” says Mrs Anges collaborating Ngeribo. “Our people are experiencing cough, catarrh, malaria, etc and when some went to the hospital the doctor would say is malaria. But they are not responding to malaria treatment. So, the water is giving us sickness’’ Anges further disclosed.
For Janet Raphael Ogbel who is actually from Imringi but lives in Otuasega life has been not been fair to the people over the years as the as things taken for granted have now become difficult for them.
“And of a truth, when I first relocated to this community I used to take my bath in the river very well, especially in the day time when the weather is hot. But for some few years now, as you can see the water is bad due to crude oil coming from different community. And it has affected us so badly.” According to her “Fishes are dying, people can no longer pull their canoe to their farms. The crude oil will affect everything including your paddle and canoe. People cannot even bathe in the water. And in this community, for some time now we don’t have pipe borne water”
The situation is the same in Emeyal community. “I was born since 1953. Between my childhood and now we never experienced this kind of thing before. We have been using this river from year to year. We have suffered a lot. For that, we even cried to the government to look over this oil. But up till today there has been no action from government” says Apele Ogiasa a native of Emeyal. “We use this water for everything; using it for bathing, washing our clothes, plates and other things. This, we do daily. This pollution is due to the bunkering activities taking place at Ibelebiri. It is the bunkering that has polluted the water and we can no longer use it as before. It also kills our fish in the water’’ says Blessing Ekeziel in tandem with Ogiasa.
In Imiringi one of the guides, Afagha spoke about the condition the people of the community have been subjected to since the pollution of the Kolo Creek became noticeable. Hear him “I can categorically say that this is self-inflicted environmental pollution, because this is caused by our brothers and sisters across the Niger Delta and across Bayelsa who are now having a camp at the boundary between Bayelsa and Rivers States where they have a bunkering camp and refining crude oil.
The funny thing is that it is our brothers and sisters who are doing this. But if it was caused by an oil company, we would say they are polluting our environment and we could have mobilized to shut the company down. But in this case it is our sons and daughters who are doing it. Instead of managing their waste, they are sending it to the Creek.”
In a report authored by Morris and Ziworitin sighted by this reporter they observed that government and security agencies cannot claim they are not aware of the illegal bunkering activities going around Ogbia which has impacted negatively on the Kolo Creek. According to them the effect of crude oil on the Kolo Creek is too dangerous to ignore.
They have therefore made some demands this includes :” “The Bayelsa State Government should, as a matter of urgency, take steps to prevent further pollution of the Kolo Creek. It should be in the fore to ensure the protection of lives and property of all affected by the activities of those engaged in the environmentally unfriendly acts leading to the large scale pollution of Kolo Creek.”
The environmentalists also demanded that the Security agencies, especially the Department of State Services (DSS) JTF (Operation Delta Safe), the Nigeria Police and Civil Defence; should rise to the occasion. They noted that this is already indictment, considering how close those whose activities are responsible for the pollution operates in environment allegedly not far from the state capital.
According to since these security agencies are federal agencies; whether the polluting crude oil is flowing from communities in Rivers State shouldn’t be any excuse to ignore. They should work with community leaders for desired effectiveness.
They also urged oil industry regulatory agencies such as Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] and Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment should work in synergy and bring this destruction of Kolo Creek to a halt.
Furthermore they suggested that the success story of the Oil and Gas Task Force in Southern Ijaw should be explored. This they noted entails engaging locals with the requisite qualification to render security services and secure the areas concerned.
Moreso they task oil companies whose pipelines are so exposed and allowing free access to crude oil, in this instance, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) should shoulder part of the responsibility to protect their pipelines or facilities.
Lastly they appealed to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) should come to the assistance of affected communities with relief materials such as drugs and water.