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Six months after Bonga spill: Oil communities still grumbling (3)

By EMMA AMAIZE, Regional Editor, South-South
CHAIRMAN of Kou Cluster Development Board, CDB, comprising Agge, Agge Palm Bush, Amazor, Azamabiri, Ogbeintu and Oroibiri in Bayelsa State, Austin Igbapike Esq, who is also a lawyer, representing some of the affected communities spoke to Vanguard on the plight of the communities and management of the Bonga spill by Shell.

SPDC pulled the wool over minister’s eyes – Barrister Austin Igbapike, Counsel to affected communities  

DIVIDE and rule tactics:  The way SPDC managed the Bonga oil spill incident of December 20, 2011 indicates that we are yet to see a “new improved” SPDC, which is the current slogan of SPDC.  Implementation of the Gmou so far has been bedeviled by lip service and fleeting commitment to the unambiguous provisions by operators of the GmOu in SPDC’s Central Division.

The Bonga oil spill incident became a huge eye-opener to most of us on the commitment of SPDC to its GmOu and this has created a major hiatus between SPDC and the Kou CDB.

The management of Bonga oil spill incident was a rehash of SPDC’s legendary divide and rule antics. They dangled the carrot of community cleanup contracts to the community development committees of our communities and they all fell. SPDC bypassed the Kou CDB because we insisted on due process in the management of the Bonga oil spill.

Community interface

Oil spill in the river

It deliberately did not want to do community interface, contributing to environmental protection and spills management through the Kou CDB, which is a creation of SPDC’s own GmOu. Those in its Central Division heightened the antagonism between members of the Kou CDB and the community development committees. Infact the contract award processes for community contracts provided by the GmOu were jettisoned for obvious reasons to evade its liability for the oil spill.

Botched efforts to bury evidence: SPDC only hurriedly called a meeting of communities in Bayelsa and Delta to its western division on the December 23, 2011 when it discovered that its “robust” counter measure to contain, disperse and bury the evidence of the spill failed. The communities invited were those by their forecast and belief SPDC felt shall be in the frontline of the direct impact of the Bonga oil spill. I was in this meeting in my capacity as the chair of Kou CDB. This meeting was chaired by one Mr. Donald Overedjo, SPDC’s the Government and Community Relations Manager. He pleaded with the communities to give SPDC unconditional licence to contain and disperse the Bonga oil spill because, according to him, the magnitude of the pollution was frightening.

Misgivings: For me I wondered what “unconditional licence to contain and disperse the Bonga oil spill” meant. It meant the indiscriminate use of dispersants. My suspicion was heightened, especially when we started reading the relentless apologies of Mr. Mutiu Sumonu, SPDC’s country chair  on the SNEPCo website and the national dailies. It was later I knew that it was 40,000 barrels even by SPDC’s own estimate. I have never seen where SPDC would own up to a spill of such a magnitude without insinuating third party interference or arguing that the spilt crude was so negligible and not up to a table spoon full.

However, all communities were ready to cooperate to ensure that ecological disaster, arising from the spill, was reduced to the barest minimum, especially when about 40,000 barrels of oil was what is being talked about.

My suspicion was so high and my instincts told me that something was amiss. However, true to my suspicion, SPDC took advantage of the inexperience of the Minister for Environment, Hajia Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafa, and got her to say in one of the national newspapers  that ‘the country was lucky that the spill did not hit the coastline.’ This was after her overfly to the Bonga oil facility in company of the Director-General of NOSDRA, Mr. Peter Idabor, and the Deputy Director of NIMASA. SPDC completely changed gear after that statement and went back to its old game. That was really when the abracadabra began.

Bunkering vessel farce

SPDC denied that its 40,000 barrel spill ever hit the coastline and went further with a hypothesis that, in fact, if any spill hit the coastline of these communities, it must be that of an unnamed third party. Indeed, SPDC now said it noticed during its over flights that a nameless oil bunkering vessel was vomiting crude into the sea. SPDC even made Dr. Bukola Saraki its new convert. NIMASA dissented.

Let me say that it would be foolhardy for SPDC to claim that the oil spill did not pollute the Kou communities and all the towns, villages and fishing camps within the Ramos, Forcados and Dodo estuary. The Kou Communities and several other communities that are located at the Ramos estuary that opens up into the sea called the Bight of Benin are the closest to the Bonga Field location. In fact, from the last Kou Community called Azamabiri you can see the Bonga Field from the shore.

No JIVs till date: Sharp practices, blind bids to cut corners using community contractors and the desperation to ensure that this spill of gargantuan magnitude is under-played is even making the Bonga oil spill issue worse for SPDC. Joint investigation visits (JIVs) were carried not out to ascertain the source, cause, volume and extent of impact and even a damage assessment of the Bonga oil spill. The little confidence that SPDC has built through the GMoU has eroded.

The GMoU is a beautiful and a wonderful working document that can give real expression to SPDC’s hitherto epileptic corporate social responsibility or social investment strategy to its host communities if implemented to the letter. However, the way the Bonga oil spill was managed has damaged all of these.  The Bonga oil spill is not any act of vandalism by any community but SPDC’s own equipment failure and they should pay for this.


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