Nigeria: The Curse of Oil – 200 Riverside Delta Communities Cry Out

Shell Oil spill in Nigeria ruins fishing and livelihood for thousands of residents.

Shell Oil spill in Nigeria ruins fishing and livelihood for thousands of residents.

BY EMMA AMAIZE, originally published on AllAfrica.com

There are two traditional African sayings that “a man that lives near the river will not use spit to wash his hands” and “a man cannot be in the river and be looking for fish to eat.”

Both mean the same thing, which is that one cannot be suffering in the midst of plenty.

But since December 20, 2011 discharge of about 40, 000 barrels of crude oil into the Bight of Benin by Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, SNPECO, following a leak in its oil production facility, christened, Bonga offshore oil field, inhabitants of not less than 200 riverine communities, scattered in the Itsekiri and Ijaw ethnic groups in Warri South-West and Warri North Local Government Areas of Delta State complain that day after day, their search for fish to eat had been in vain.

Reason: Crude oil spill purported to be from Bonga has polluted the rivers, streams and ponds in the fishing communities, killing and chasing away fishes from their environments to the deep seas. Sometimes, fishermen stay days before they return to the village because of the distance of the sea from their homes. Though the Managing Director, SPDC/Chairman, Shell companies in Nigeria, Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu and Corporate Media Relations Manager, Mr. Tony Okonedo, insisted that the spill the communities were complaining about were third party spill and not from Bonga FPSO, the oil communities said the only crude oil spill they knew within the period was the one from the Bonga.

Itsekiri communities cry out

About 64 Itsekiri communities, including Ilesami 1 and 11, Otumara, Aje-Edede, Akpakpa-Eyitsede, Ajokorugbo, Oguwan, Egbe-Okuta, Ugogoro, Ogidigben, Ajudaibo, Okegbe, Oboro, Madangho, Ogheye-Uton, Ogheye-Idimigun Ajokoro, Ajibeku, Ajimaki, Ubala-tie and Orere are currently battling with the company for compensation over the spill.

In a letter to the managing director of SNEPCo, attorney for the communities, Stella Ozoma Esq. said: “Our clients asked us to inform you that your oil spillage at Bonga Field that occurred on December 20, 2011 flowed to their villages and fishing areas, and thereafter disturbed their fishing activities, stained their fishing materials, vegetations, killed aquatic lives. Some of the oil spillage, which your people dispersed with chemicals (referring to dispersal of the crude spill by Shell) caused turbidity within our clients fishing areas and also formed tire balls which were taken to our client’s shores by sea currents.”

The statement added that the affected communities earlier thought that the oil spillage was from a Chevron facility, but further investigation confirmed that the oil spillage was from SPDC Bonga oil field facility and the spill might be over 40,000 barrels. The solicitor added: “Consequently, we and our clients are proposing to meet with you on January 9, 2012 at 9.30am in your office. The purpose of the meeting is to, among other things, agree on a date and time when your team and ours will jointly enumerate the damage or injury caused to our clients’ trees, land, fishing materials and disturbance of fishing activities as a result of the effects of your said oil spillage at Bonga field.”

The letter was copied the Senate Committee on Environment, Delta State House of Assembly Committee on Environment, Federal Ministry of Environment, Delta State Ministry of Environment, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, Department of Petroleum Resources, oil Spill, Response and Claims and Legal Departments of SPDC.

Youth President of Ugbege Community, Mr. Fredrick Asin, who spoke on behalf Ugborodo and other coastal communities in Warri South West and North Local Government Areas said his people were suffering as a result of the negative impact of the oil spillage, adding that they would explore every avenue of dialogue for which Itsekiri people were known for. His words: “If they refuse to heed to this call for peaceful dialogue, we will carry out enumeration and assessment of damage and thereafter demand for compensation. And let me put it also that after all avenue for dialogue expire without fruitful result, disturbances will be inevitable.”

Ijaws petition NOSDRA: On their part, the affected Ijaw communities, through their monarch of Gbaramatu kingdom, HRM, Godwin Bebenimibo, Ogeh Gbaruan II, petitioned the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, over the December 20, 2011 spill, alleging that over 100 communities were affected by the spill from Bonga.

In a petition, signed by Chief Alfred Bubor, Chief J.G.B. Ari and Sir Clark Gbenewei on behalf of the monarch and the Gbaramatu Council of Chiefs, they alleged that the oil spill not only polluted their river, but grounded fishing, which is the primary occupation of the people. They stated: “We, the undersigned for ourselves and on behalf of HRM, Godwin K. Bebenimibo, Ogeh Gbaruan III, Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom and the good people of Gbaramatu Kingdom communities, wish to inform you that the recent SPDC Bonga oil spill has spread to over one hundred (100) communities in our kingdom.

“There is severe health hazard and no water/food for survival as their source of drinking water is also polluted and their source of food supply through their primary occupation (fishing) has been depleted. The people are helpless and frustrated and are aggrieved over the nonchalant attitude of the company in addressing the plight of the affected communities. In order to avoid any crisis situation, it is important that Shell is directed to make arrangement to supply food and relief materials including drugs to the affected communities…

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