The pathetic story of oil spills in the Niger Delta region is a sad tale of neglect and lack of commitment on the part of the critical stakeholders, especially the oil companies, to do the needful. Correspondent, ALICE ONUKWUGHA, writes on the sorry state of Goi community in Ogoni land, South-South, Nigeria.
Communities in the Niger Delta have suffered and are still suffering environmental devastation and degradation due to oil exploration and exploitation activities of oil multinationals. To many, oil is rather a curse than a blessing to the Niger Deltans, who rather than live a life of luxury on benefits arising from their God-given natural resources, have continued to suffer neglect and abject poverty since oil exploitation and exploration commenced in the 50’s.
As I alighted from the bus and boarded an okada, after about 15 minutes ride we arrived a track road and suddenly the okada rider stopped and said, “What are you looking for in that community, because there is nobody there, only a town hall”.
With fear but curiosity I told the bike guy, take me there I want see things for myself. About three minutes ride from the road we saw the town hall, newly renovated and I asked, will this road lead us to the river? And he answered yes, then I said take me there.
Close to the river, stood a dilapidated building, the only building standing in the community and a Federal Ministry of Petroleum prohibition sign post beside it.
As we walked to the river, it was full tide and a man in the middle of the creek setting his fish trap, while another man in his 60’s alongside his wife just arrived from cutting firewood.
When I greeted and stated my mission the old man told me, “go to Bodo community, there you will find someone you can talk to, I am not in position to speak to you.”
After days of making contacts, I was finally introduced to the regent of the Goi Community, Chief Eric Bariza Dooh.
Goi is the traditional settlement of the Gokana people founded by King Gbere Sakoo. King Sakoo later moved to Giogookoo which is the current seat of power of the Gokana Kingdom of Rivers State, leaving the rulership to his son, late King Kobani.
Goi, a predominantly farming and fishing community, a once business centre of the Gokana people lies in waste today as there is no life for the ancient seat.
Communities in Gokana local government area, just like other communities of the Niger Delta, have experienced various oil spills due to either sabotage or pipeline breakage of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC. In 1995, 10 Ogoni prominent sons, including Kenule Saro Wiwa, John Kpuinen, Chief Edward Kobani, Chief Albert Badey, Chief S. N. Orage, Dr Barinem Kiobel, Chief T. B. Orage, were murdered by then late military junta, General Sani Abacha over the struggle for the liberation of the Ogoni people in particular and the Niger Delta as a whole.
This situation has pitched the Ogoni people against the oil giants Shell over the years as the Ogonis are in various courts both internationally and locally seeking for remediation and compensation.
However, Goi community seems to be the worst hit. From migration to devastation arising from oil spills, the community has been abandoned by its inhabitants and has become either refugees or tenants in other communities such as Bodo, Bomu, Mogho, Kpor, among others, in their local government.
According to Chief Dooh, the community experienced a crisis, which led to the breakaway of the Kobani family, who are now part of Bodo community. However, the community was still alive until the oil spills from SPDC pipelines in 2003 and 2004.
Chief Dooh, who conducted this reporter round the community, lamented the effects of the oil spills both to the community and to his family. The only dilapidated building standing in the community was a commercial school, behind it lay in waste a bakery and poultry farm, established by his late father, Deacon Bariza Teete Dooh due to oil spills.
According to him, a plot of land in Gokana sells for between N900, 000 and N1milion. Those who can afford this price are able to build houses for themselves in the communities where they are all scattered but the poor are made to live as refugees or tenants in their homeland.
“Goi is the traditional settlement of the Gokana people founded by King Gbere Sakoo. King Sakoo later moved to Giokoo which is the current seat of power of the Gokana Kingdom of Rivers State, and left it for King Kobani.
“There was a problem in Goi community some time which made the Kobani family to move to Bodo but that did not lead to the disintegration of the community. You can see some old buildings that have fallen and people’s graves.
“The community was abandoned after the oil spill that devastated the community, destroying everything. You can see that crops can no longer grow here and there is no fish. How do people survive; and that is why today we are refugees and tenants in our own land. Our people are scattered in other communities of Bomu, Bodo, Kpor, Mogho.
“In 1977, my father, late Deacon Bariza Teete Dooh established his own private business here in Goi. He established solid mineral excavating business, people dug sand and gravel from the creek, he paid his workers for their job and it was source of building materials for the Gokana people. Then he later built poultry farms, he built fishponds, he built bakery, he opened a commercial college; all were in this community and it accommodated more than 100 staff.
“Because of the geographical nature of this environment, Goi situates in-between Bomu oil field, which is the Kigbarade axis where Shell flow station is, and the Bodo West axis which is towards the foot of the Atlantic Ocean.
“There had been series of spills from these two flow stations. When there is pollution, Goi serves as a basin for all the debris of the crude. All the remnants settle here because the nature of the creek is such that once crude enters it is difficult to pull out of the environment.
“As a result the entire ecosystem has been destroyed, devastated. You can see that you cannot find any mangrove forest. You can see some storms on the surface of the soil now; there have been some kind of shabby cleanup exercise by Shell in this place yet you can see spills on the surface of the mud because the job they did was not a perfect job. To fulfil all righteousness we allowed them to do it and let people that will come and see judge whether it is a perfect job and that is why you see it this way.
“All these investments were functioning and here was my father’s investment paradise, we enjoyed life, my father took care of his family and extended families. All of a sudden in 2003/2004 there was a devastating spill from the TNP at Mogho behind Gitto campsite that spilled and it followed this creek as you can see now and ran into our investment.
“The whole of this place was covered with thick crude oil and all of a sudden we noticed fire, everywhere burning and it consumed the entire mangrove and the raffia palms. Nothing, no crab, no fish, no mudskipper, no crayfish; nothing was left in this environment.
“We tried to reach Shell to tell them that is what is noticed, Shell started to play pranks and tricks over their inability to take care of their facilities. As a result of that the whole investment collapsed. The bakery was no longer functioning because the source of water has been polluted. The source of energy (fire) which is also the mangrove, the people digging the solid mineral from the creek could not dive inside the water because of the nature of the water. Part of the poultry was consumed by fire, we expected that Shell would consider that here is a private investment owned by an individual and pay compensation so that we can reactivate what has been destroyed but did not see anything of that nature.
“As a result I took the matter to court through the effort and assistance of some NGOs. We have been battling it in Europe at Hague until it was established that actually, Shell was responsible for the pollution, but Shell on their own part was arguing that it was a result of third party interference to their facility.
“But on my part I am saying that Shell is responsible to take care of their investment, there are surveillance contractors on their pipeline, what are you doing with them, have you been able to confront them and find out what really happened to their pipeline? Where were they, how manage that their pipelines were sabotaged? But Shell could not.
“Their pipeline is over 50 years old, long overdue for change and they refused to change it. Instead of accepting their responsibility and paying compensation for what has been devastated in this environment, they use administrative tricks to deprive the people of their entitlement.
“As a result of the pollution, people that were living here could no longer live here because the people can no longer fish. Our people are predominantly fishermen and farmers, our land can no longer yield anything again, people decided to go out and look for a place where they can farm and sustain themselves and their families.
“My father died as a result of struggling to get his compensation from Shell. After the 2009 pollution when UNEP came here to see things for themselves and conducted critical investigation about the extent of pollution within this environment they found out that the whole place is contaminated to an extent that people can no longer live here. Not quite long HYPREP came into existence as an agency of federal government. When they came and saw the environment they mounted a bill board that everybody should vacate if you don’t vacate you are on your own.
“That led to the complete vacation of this environment. The people you see that come here to fish are those that are helpless. Despite that the fish here are contaminated, they still come here, fish and feed on it that is why I always say that our people drink contaminated water, eat contaminated food, eat contaminated fishes, ferment cassava in contaminated environment and inhale contaminated air. Yet the federal government does not have a rethink that Ogoni as a whole produces some percentage of what is sustaining the national economy.
“Ministry of Petroleum has not done anything, the only thing ministry of petroleum did here was to mount billboards across the whole Ogoni land telling people to vacate. What have they really done? They said they brought water, what kind of water are they bringing when United Nations confirmed that the underground water table has been contaminated beyond WHO specification and you are sinking borehole for the people to drink water from the borehole?
“You did not even provide an alternative means of treating the water before they will drink. Is it not causing more harm to the people? Look at our people, they die every day more than the Ebola virus and look at what happened in the West. Just a symptom of Ebola federal government voted N1.9 billion to contain the disease, but the people here who what is underneath their soil sustains the national economy has not seen any sign of federal government sympathy to relieve them of their problem.
“That is why I am against the federal government because it is a failure on the part of government. Even if you want to inject something through the ministry of petroleum resources into this area why not come and monitor whether they have actually delivered what was asked to give to the people. These are critical issues. I have been saying this from the state, national and international level.
“This is my community, my inheritance but now I am a refugee in Bodo. Now, Shell is having the General Memorandum of Understanding, GMoU on the TNP pipeline that crosses to the Ibom export terminal it passes on my land. I am the current regent of this community because the paramount ruler just died and by virtue of my stool as the deputy paramount ruler as he died, the stool is transferred to me. It is my duty to project what is happening in this area for the whole world to know”, he stated.
Chief Dooh informed that elders of the community meet once every month to chart a way forward for the community and that they have already started encouraging their people to return home and start life again instead of perpetually remaining tenants and refugees in other communities. But how soon this dream will materialize no one can tell.
In August 8, this year a delegation of officials of the federal government, for the first time since August 2011, when the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, released its report on the environmental assessment of Ogoni land in Rivers State, visited the area.
The UNEP report revealed that Ogoniland, comprising four local government areas, of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme might require the world’s biggest-ever clean-up, which the federal government needs to contribute $1 billion.
The delegation, led by the permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Petroleum, Mr Danladi Kifasi, met with leaders of Ogoni ethnic nationality at the Peace and Freedom Centre, Bori.
Speaking during the consultative meeting, Kifasi admitted that the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restorations Project, HYPREP, which was established in 2012 to handle the implementation of the UNEP report in Ogoni land and other parts of the Niger Delta, failed to live up to the objectives of setting it up.
HYPREP, headed by Joy Nunieh-Okunnu, was established as a special unit under the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources to restore all communities impacted by hydrocarbon contamination in Nigeria and any or all matters that the federal government may, from time to time, assign to the project.
The permanent secretary said, “After thorough consideration of the recommendations of the UNEP report, the Presidential Implementation Committee’s report, the Petroleum Industry’s Action Plan, President Jonathan based on the provisions of the Petroleum Act CAP 350 LFN 2004, approved the establishment of the Hydro-Carbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, on 20th July, 2012.
“Whilst HYPREP has implemented some of the transitional phase objectives as recommended in the report, government recognises and is mindful that the programme has not achieved its full objectives as envisioned by this administration.”