By Samuel Oyadongha
Yenagoaâ€”The people of Otuasega community in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa State have raised alarm over the continued use of soldiers as instrument of intimidation by three multinational companies in the course of carrying out mining and exploration activities in the area.
The community specifically condemned the continued flaring of gas by Shell, saying it has caused serious hazards to the natural environment and human lives, including the destruction of farmlands, aquatic life, pollution of the only source of water, premature aging as well as preventable diseases.
Crude oil was discovered in the area in 1972 with gas being flared since then.
The community warned that the wanton excavation of virgin lands by Daewoo and Saipem, without the knowledge of the natives, would no longer be tolerated, especially as concerned firms have refused to pay compensation, or engage the people in any meaningful dialogue.
The people lamented that the multinational firms prefer to use soldiers to threaten their leaders who demanded to know what was going on in their land.
Chairman, Community Development Committee (CDC) and Deputy Paramount Ruler 1 of Otuasega, Okpukpu Erukpe Telu and Chief Renami Joseph, disclosed this during a field trip to the community by the Environmental Rights Action (ERA)a Non Governmental Organisation, lamented that the activities of the company has continued to reduce the peopleâ€™s life expectancy.
According to the CDC chairman, no indigene of the community has been employed by Shell in its over 30 years of operation in the area.
He added that the firm had very strict rules on employment, stressing thatÂ â€œthey keep telling us we are not qualified, even when we have many graduates from this community.
â€œSince 1972, Shell has been flaring gas, but has not done anything to improve the life of the people in the course of oil production here.
â€œNo employment. The scorecard is zero, when you compare what the company is taking from our land and what is coming to us in return.â€
Lamenting the effects of the flare on the immediate environment, he said â€œwe that use to produce fish and sell to other people are now buying from outside. Our people die young; buildings suffer severe rust and leakages.
â€œWe can no longer drink rain water because of some dark particles found in it. Our environment can no longer yield. There is rising cases of stroke in this community. We are all pregnant with dieses because of this problem of gas flaring by Shell.â€
Also speaking, the Deputy Paramount Ruler 1 of Otuasega, Chief Joseph, lamented that the community has not been able to celebrate its annual fishing festival due to the pollution ofÂ Kolo Creek, adding â€œoil spill and other particles drove the fishes away.â€
The royal father, who said he was brutalised by the soldiers, noted that â€œSaipem cannot do any work without using soldiers, otherwise why would they bring soldiers who stationed Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) at their site of the virgin land it is excavating, if they had good relationship with the people?â€
In his remarks, Chairman, Legal Services of the Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Barrister Chima Williams, said the trip was essentially to bridge the gap between government and the people on the one hand and the communities and journalists on the other hand.
He noted that a major problem in the country was that policy makers detach themselves from the people, hence they donâ€™t feel their plight.
Williams, who led a delegation from other parts of the Niger Delta, said the body usually arranged field trips for policy makers and journalists to see things for themselves and to encourage companies to engage their host communities in dialogue and enlighten communities on how best to present demands to avert possible crisis situations.
The head of the ERA delegation stressed the need for multinational forms to endeavour to plough back to the communities which they operate in order to carry the people along and further strengthen their corporate social responsibility principles.