Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
It has been months since the mysterious appearance of dead fishes along the coast of communities in Niger Delta region spanning Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states. The National Oil Spill and Response Agency (NOSDRA) after its investigation declared that the incident had nothing to do with activities of oil companies in the area. It offered no succour to ease the pain of the people.
However, after waiting in vain for government, considering the fact that the occupation of fishing, the mainstay of the people has been affected, women drawn from over 40 crude oil producing communities in Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor and Brass local government areas of Bayelsa State on Friday, September 18, 2020, stormed the Yenagoa office of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), demanding N20billion as compensation for damages arising from the death of the thousands.
The protesting women held placards with inscriptions “NDDC our people are helplessly starving. Come and provide funds for our business”; “Empower us, we are devastated by the ecological disaster” and “Why NDDC robbing impoverished oil host communities that fought for establishment of NDDC.” They demanded that the commission immediately intervene in the issue of erosion and ocean surge pushing their communities into extinction.
One of the protesters, Mrs Sophia Ogunu, from Ekeni in Southern Ijaw LGA, said: “What we are protesting is that we are communities that come from Niger Delta including Southern Ijaw. Everybody knows how wealthy the Niger Delta region is yet we are protesting over neglect. We are women from Ekeremor, Southern-Ijaw and Brass local government areas protesting today. That goes to show how huge the problem is. Early this year, fishes in our water died without any known natural causes.
“Right now, we are dying because there is nothing for us to eat. We go to the river and find no fish, we do not catch any fish, nothing is coming out. Even in our bush where we farm, because of the activities of all these oil companies, we are not seeing any improvement in our farms. That is why we are here. We don’t even have money to do business in our communities. To eat or feed our families is a problem. That is why we are here for this protest.
“What we want the NDDC to do for us, they are representing us, it’s our oil that brought the establishment of NDDC so they must ensure we have improved livelihood. In the NDDC office, there is nobody representing our interest. Nobody has been employed from our communities, which is very bad. Yet, they are giving loans every year to people but nobody from our communities has been given such opportunities.
“Also we want them, right now if they want to continue to exist, to talk to the Federal Government because our oil is going into private pockets. It is our oil they are using in developing Nigeria. But if you go to our communities, you will cry. If you see the people that are producing oil, you will cry. Let the Federal Government come to our aid especially, the women, we have nothing to do.
“Some of us are graduates but yet we don’t even have job, we don’t have employment, we don’t have anything. This office if they are employing, at least few of us should be considered. But as we speak there is no employment from NDDC in our area, nobody is representing us. Let them employ those those qualified to be employed and let them give us money to do business. If they fail we are still coming back to lock up this office.
“After one month if they fail to do what we have come for, we will still come back in our numbers. Even though our transportation fare is very high, we will source for money to be here and die with them. From here to my community is more than N4000. But I will sell my wrapper to pay that fare but that time the trouble will not be easy for them. We are many but today we just selected few persons from each community to here but if they play with us we will surprise them.”
Inekinimi Alfred from Azagbene community in Ekeremor Local Government lamented that crude oil exploration activity in her community destroyed her farmland, her primary means of livelihood. She called on the interventionist agency to help provide an alternative means of livelihood for women in crude oil producing communities to ameliorate the adverse economic effects that come with environmental pillion and ecological disaster:
“The essence of this protest is that the Federal Government will send foreigners and they will come to our communities, drill our crude oil and the rest. They will pollute our rivers, kill all the fishes and even make the river water that we have been using for domestic proposes useless and leave us in poverty. If you plant, no crop will germinate because crude oil has polluted everywhere.
“Now this group of persons of foreigners, when they come, they will pay the Federal Government and the Federal Government in the process established what we now called NDDC to come and develop our communities but when they came, they refuse to develop our communities. They will go to places that do not even have crude oil and carry out projects and abandon us.
“Now if you get to my village, Azagbene, you will see crude oil flow stations. Almost 15 oil pipelines are there, gas pipeline are up to 20. But there is no sign of development. Yet you will see crude oil floating in our rivers, killing everything.
“We can no longer drink our water. Instead of NDDC to come to the communities and drill boreholes for our people to have water to drink, they will carry the money to another dimension we don’t even know. Today, we are here for our rights. As you can see, there are different faces here drawn from different communities, we are gathered here to demand for our rights.
“NDDC should go to our communities and do the right thing. They should develop our communities, construct roads, provide drinkable water for us and then give scholarships to our children to go to school and give our women empowerment.
“In our communities, there are so many women that are suffering. Even my chairman, he is trekking on the street. Even Okada, they did not buy for him.”
Principal manager, NDDC office, Yenagoa, Mr Diete Amiefamonyo, told the protesting women: “The commission is desirous to lift the people of the region out of poverty. We are in support of all the grievances you have expressed.
“But we want to plead that you put you grievances in writing. We will call you in a later date for us to meet and understand you better. It is only when we have a better understanding of your agitations that we can raise a memo to the headquarters for appropriate response and action.”