BY JIMITOTA ONOYUME
LIFE in Egita and other communities in Egi Kingdom in Ogba Egbema Ndoni local government area of Rivers State has not been the same for the people since April 3 when gas erupted from the operations of an oil firm in the area.
The oil giant, in a statement, blamed the occurrence on what it termed technical incident on its Ibewa gas production site. According to the statement, “a gas producing well IBW16 was intersected during drilling operations of a new well OB127b, this resulted in gas flowing directly…”
Community sources said there were about twenty points where the gas erupted from in Egita community. When Sunday Vanguard visited the community, some persons, who described themselves as vigilantes, positioned themselves at the entrance leading to the spots.
They said they were recruited by the oil giant to restrict movement to the area. They, however, agreed that we could walk down to see the situation of things for ourselves but leave our phones and camera with them. In essence, we should only just go to feed our eyes.
When we later spoke with some community folks on the eruption, they said it had brought hunger and sickness.
They were also bitter that several weeks after the sad occurrence, the oil giant had not taken what they considered concrete steps to tackle the problem. “All they have done so far was to ask us not to go to our farms again for our own safety.
But how do we survive when we don’t farm?”, one of the villagers said, lamenting the agony brought about by the gas eruption in the area. Some other villagers took turns to speak.
Chizoba Amadi: “We are affected by the gas eruption. We cannot go to farm again, no food to eat. My children have malaria, fever from the problem. The oil firm has not done anything for us. We are hungry, no water to drink. “
Adije Elijah: “We don’t have any place to farm again. There is so much sickness all over, I am very sick now. The sickness was caused by the gas eruption. The company has not done anything. Government should come and take care of the problem. We need government to come to our aid. They should relocate us. We are all standing on top of water; I don’t know what to say”.
Chika Oma: “We have no place to plant. We are suffering without food. The gas is causing sickness all over.” Uzoma Elumelu: “We are suffering from everything, no food, we can’t plant anything. We can’t feed our children, we are hungry. We are suffering from everything. The gas is causing sickness here and there. We are begging them to bring money to feed us and cure us. We don’t have any land to plant.”
Uba Robinson: “It affected my family. All our farms we don’t have access to the place now. Owners of the land can’t access their land because the oil firm gave instruction that nobody should go there because of the gas eruption.
“People don’t go to farm again. Our water has problem. No food to eat. We have not seen anything now. The company has not done anything, they are just flying round talking to people they are not suppose to talk to that live in Port Harcourt. We have not seen anything till now.”
Chima Elumelu: “The place is not habitable again. When you get to the place, you will see openings everywhere.”
Meantime, the oil giant, on April 25, commissioned a two-week special mass free health care project for the communities in Egi Kingdom. An official said it was part of the effort by the firm “to support and strengthen health care delivery in the Egi communities during these challenging moments in our operations”.
He said it was the first time the oil giant would run its health programme for two consecutive weeks in the area.
The turnout of patients from the area was massive. Most of them said they became ill after the gas eruption. They said they had to turn up for the exercise to be properly examined so they could know what was wrong with them.
At a ceremony organised by the oil firm in Obite, one of the communities in Egi Kingdom, to commission the two weeks free health care programme, when the traditional ruler of Egi Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Eze Kingdom Elochukwu Elenwa, Eze Egi of Ogbaland, was asked to give a goodwill message, he declined, saying the kingdom was witnessing its worst moment in history, so it was not a time for goodwill speeches.
According to the monarch, the gas eruption had brought fear, panic and tension in the area. He said it was disturbing that about three weeks after the sad occurrence, the multinational oil firm was yet to come up with a solution.
He enjoined the firm to take urgent step to tackle the problem.
“Our meeting here has pointed out that Egi is in the midst of a dilemma, oil and gas blow out, which is very dangerous, is happening in Egi. I want to say that His Majesty Eze Kingdom can’t give any goodwill message in Ogba land today. Since I was born, I have never tried to deceive my people or say one thing and do another.
“Here I am standing now, I am afraid because the ground may quake. What is happening now has denied all Egis sleep; nobody should forget himself because of any eventuality. I tell you sincerely, I am not happy because I am afraid”, th monarch stated.
Which goodwill message can I give here today, that the ground I am standing is shaking? I don’t have any goodwill message. “Bringing medicine now is not the issue. What is the oil firm doing to stop the earth quaking? Since they saw it till date, what remedy have they done to stop my fear today or tomorrow?
“My only goodwill message is to plead with the oil firm to wake up to start designing something that will give us hope to exist. As we speak now, I don’t have hope to exist as long as my soil is leaking oil and gas.”
Meantime, the coordinator of Universal Medicare Foundation, Dr Humphrey Igwuachoa, a body in partnership with the oil multinational on the free medicare programme, said a total of one thousand seven hundred and thirty one patients had been treated for different ailments before the official flag-off of the free health programme.
In a related development, women of Egita said they had embarked on seven-day hunger strike to press the international community to shut down the office of the firm in France and the United States of America until the problem of gas eruption in the area was resolved.