Residents of 15 communities in Nembe coastal area of Bayelsa state have cried out that they were finding it difficult to breathe and were dying of hunger following a major oil spill at the Aiteo’s OML29 Well 1 that spewed enormous crude into the environment.
The oil well blowout in the Nembe creek of Bayelsa which was said to have occurred on November 5 according to oil firm but which the locals claimed was noticed on November 1 has impacted about forty fishing settlements in the creek and gradually spreading to other communities in Bayelsa and the Kalabari axis of Rivers State, killing fishes and other aquatic lives.
Residents of the communities within the vicinity have now been forced to flee their homes
Although Aiteo has activated an extensive spillage containment response as witnessed in the area as well as distributing relief materials to the affected communities, however the traumatized people said they are dying of hunger following the destruction of their means of livelihood.
The worse impacted settlement, it was learned include Worikuma-kiri, Arrrow-kiri, Adamata kiri, Sunny-kiri I & II, Sand Sand village and other fishing settlements whose inhabitants have been denied right to carry on with their trade.
Cessation of livelihood
The disturbed natives lamented that their fishing trade which is their main source of livelihood has been truncated due to the pollution of the rivers, creeks and rivulets adding that their socio-economic condition had worsened and access to drinking water polluted since the spill occurred.
Lamenting the adverse effects of the spillage, landlord to OML 29 Well 1 immediate environment, Workuma Pegi (elect) an indigene of the area, said “The incident happened on November 1. It so affected me that, in fact I cannot evaluate the total damage there. In fact, none of the inhabitants stays there anymore. We have been totally displaced due to the hazardous nature of the crude oil spewing in gaseous form. We cannot breathe. And, being so affected and denied of our source of income, we are now going through hunger; even as all our fishing gears have been destroyed. I don’t think I will be able to evaluate what has been damaged there now.
“For instance, the Agric Palms and coconut trees, those are everlasting things. The matured coconut tree produces for about 150 years and my harvest there, when I used to harvest; I know what I get. So that kind of thing you know what it means; it really affected me, including other crops that I cannot mention. The spill affected almost above 50 fishing settlements. Now, we are demanding, if the oil giant does not come, the government should come to our aid and do something meaningful.’’
Another resident who spoke anonymously said “This creek is our major source of drinking, but since this incident occurred we cannot use this water again. The oil well blowout has affected most of our activities here. Fishing which is our major occupation has been halted. Our children now have cough, some have eye problems and different kinds of illness. When it first happened, we cannot breathe well because of the gas as it saturated the air. The government should give us relief materials and send medical team,” he said.
Declare area national disaster
A pained President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) Prof Benjamin Okaba who berated the oil firm’s handling of the spill reiterated the need to hold oil companies accountable for human rights violation and environment justice lamenting the level of destruction on the environment and aquatic lives which the very existence of the people revolves around.
Also, Chief Nengi James, second National Vice President of the INC an indigene of Nembe kingdom stated that the ecosystem had been altered as a result of the incident and called on the government to declare it a National Disaster.
Renowned environmentalist and Bayelsa Office Head of Environmental Rights Action, Comrade Alagoa Morris noted with regret that for over 60 years the Federal Government exploited oil and gas in the Niger Delta extensive pollution of the air and water has been the lot of the people coupled with the attendant health hazards. He called on the relevant authorities to come to the aid of the people and ensure the speedy containment of the spill and its spread.
Niger Delta groans under environmental exploitation
The oil well blowout in the Nembe creek of Bayelsa State has again brought to the fore the dilemma and anguish faced by people in oil producing communities in the troubled Niger Delta region and the struggle for environmental justice.
Though the cause of the ruptured well head is yet to be ascertained as the JIV is yet to be conducted, experts however hinted that several thousand barrels of crude had been discharged into the environment, adversely impacting the creek, swamps, and farmlands destroying the livelihood of the locals.
All around the creeks and mangrove swamp tells the tale of oil industry induced pollution, as the other vegetation bear the signs clearly, including fishing nets and traps.
This development, Saturday Vanguard findings reveal, has put a cessation to the locals’ source of income, a similar scenario that threw up the likes of the slain environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa and the Ogoni eight who were fighting for environmental justice, clean up, compensation and remediation of Ogoniland from oil companies.
Regrettably, more than two decades since the killing of the Ogoni Nine, the Niger Delta environment still groaned under severe environmental exploitation and poverty remained widespread with little or no change in the welfare and livelihoods of the people.
As at the time of filing the report, spill from Santa Barbara Well 1 in OML 29 was said to have spread to Odioama on the Atlantic coast of Brass in Brass LGA.
The Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission led by the immediate past Archbishop of York, Archbishop (Dr) John Sentamu, according to a concerned native, has a moral and public obligation to the people of Bayelsa State, not a choice any more, to not only speak up but to act now on both this totally avoidable catastrophe and the present status of the assignment it started in earnest almost three years ago.