By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
Experts make infertility, early menopause claims
Monarch cries for help
Govt aware of unusual births but yet to make conclusion —Rivers Commissioner for Health
WHEN the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP, Brigadier General Paul Boroh (retd,) in an interview with this reporter, July, in the heat of the bombing of oil pipelines by militants, disclosed that women were delivering deformed babies and turning barren in the region because of oil pollution, his submission looked incredible. But he was serious.
Meanwhile, he could not place his finger on the affected area. His position was that of a government official advancing reasons militants should stop bombing oil facilities because of the damage to the environment and health of the people.
Investigation on medical changes as a result of oil pollution hit a blank wall in Delta State. The situation was not too clear in Bayelsa although there was an unsubstantiated occurrence in one of the riverine communities in the state. However, Nigerian architect and environmental activist, Rev Nnimmo Bassey, indicated, when contacted, that he had heard about such development somewhere in Ogoniland, Rivers State, but did not have the details.
A Sunday Vanguard reporter in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, capital Davies Iheamnachor, who corroborated Bassey’s claim, said he suspected the development would be around Bodo City and environs in Gokana local government area, but was also not certain.
Thus began the journey to Bodo , where the Federal Government incidentally flagged off the much awaited clean-up of Ogoniland, on Thursday, September 15. Under normal circumstances, a journey from Port Harcourt to Bodo is 30 minutes, but the journey that day took more than two hours because of bad road.
Bodo, a predominant community in Ogoniland, whose ancestors allegedly migrated from Ghana, has about 35 villages with about 62,000 inhabitants. It harbors and admixture of Ibibio, Igbo and Hausa-speaking people and the life of the people revolves around fishing and farming.
The town looked very quiet and, with aluminum zinc roofing in almost all the houses, one could not immediately associate deficiencies with the people until they tell their stories. It is easy to know a visitor and the villagers know themselves. They fixed their eyes on this reporter and his local guide throughout his visit.
A resident, Mr. Cyril Nweke, who spoke dejectedly, said: “We thought our problem was over when the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, paid an out of court settlement of $55 million to the people for oil spillage that devastated their environment and means of livelihood in 2008. Some people rebuilt their houses, built new fish ponds and all that,” he said.
The United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, commissioned by the Federal Government in its report on Ogoniland, and released August, 2011, stated emphatically that the only source of drinking water for the people had been contaminated and they should no longer drink it, not even rain water or eat fish from the river.
“Everyone who has consumed water from contaminated sources should be requested to undertake a comprehensive medical examination by physicians knowledgeable about the possible adverse health effects of the hydrocarbons detected,” the report added.
“It is clear from UNEP’s field observations and scientific investigations that oil contamination in Ogoniland is widespread and severely impacting many components of the environment. The Ogoni people live with this pollution every minute of every day, 365 days a year.
“Since life expectancy in Nigeria is less than 50 years, it is a fair assumption that many members of the current Ogoniland community have lived with chronic oil pollution throughout their lives. Children born in Ogoniland soon sense oil pollution as the odour of hydrocarbons pervades the air day in, day out. Oil continues to spill from periodic pipeline fractures and the illegal practice of artisanal refining, contaminating creeks and soil, staining and killing vegetation and seeping metres deep into ground, polluting water tables.”
On public health monitoring, UNEP strongly recommended: “A public health registry should be established for the entire Ogoniland population in order to track health trends and take proactive action individually and/or collectively where impacts relating to long-term exposure to hydrocarbon pollution are evident. “
“UNEP observed some communities experiencing extraordinarily high exposures to petroleum. In addition to the recommended health registry, a cohort registry of these exposed individuals would allow for a better and more extensive study than was possible given UNEP’s scope of work.
“Such a cohort registry would list individuals who live in the highly exposed communities and provide the infrastructure to study the health status of cohort members. Ideally, a standardized health service system would be established for the cohort for the purpose of implementing the health status assessments.”
Social Action, a non-governmental organization based in Rivers State , in a publication, ‘Still Polluted’ in 2014, echoed the UNEP report, saying: “Of immediate concern, community members at NisisokenOgale are drinking water from wells that is contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen, at levels over 900 times above World Health Organization, WHO, guideline. The report states that this contamination warrants emergency action ahead of all other remediation effects.
Since the UNEP report recommending several measures to be taken by government, federal and state, oil companies and the people themselves, nothing concrete has been done, five years after, to address the problem, except for the setting up of Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, HYPREP, by former President Goodluck Jonathan administration, which cleaned up nothing and the most recent flag-off of Ogoni clean-up in Bodo by President Muhammadu government on June 2.
Latest findings by Sunday Vanguard indicated that the people of Bodo, Bomu, Kpe, B-Dere and K-Dere and other Ogoni communities in Gokana local government have been struck by bizarre afflictions ranging from stunted growth, abnormal deliveries, increased male infertility, early menopause in women to various skin rashes, which have caused medical changes in their lives because of government lackadaisical attitude to the health challenges pointed out by UNEP.
Investigation showed that the villagers, who traced the worrisome distortions to oil spillage, were gripped with fear of death, as life expectancy has reduced from 50 years to between 40 and 45 years, especially in Bodo community.
We‘ve observed some cases but no scientific study yet —Commissioner
The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Theophilus Odagme, when he spoke to Sunday Vanguard about three weeks ago in Port Harcourt, the state capital, said there had been deformities in babies born in Bodo and some other Ogoni communities in recent months.
But, he was quick to point out that until a study is conducted, the state Ministry of Health was not in a position to link the health challenges to exploitation of the environment by oil companies.
Odagme, nevertheless, revealed: “In one of the hospitals in Bori within the last eight months, they had three abnormal babies. One of the babies, born on August 27, 2016, had tiny head that is not compatible with life; the anomaly is called anencephaly.
“In April 2016, another baby was born with omphalocele. The abdominal wall is not well developed, so you see all the internal organs outside. We also had another one with a very big head, hydrophilic, in December 2015. So it is possible that we may be having more, so we need to do a study. The children died after birth.
“I have spoken with a number of doctors and midwives in the area, as well as specialists in a teaching hospital. We have now agreed that we need to do a study because there has been increase in the recent past reporting on the cases of children born with different form of anomalies in the area.
“But can we say it is as a result of the oil exploration and exploitation? We cannot say that. We need to establish that. There have been some observations in some quarters, not just only in Bodo. We would need to do a study that is sponsored, you can call it an audit that may be for about five years back, a retrospective review of congenital anomaly in children born in that area.
While Odagme is resolute in doing a health audit, the frequency of congenital anomalies in children born in the area and other weird sicknesses is escalating. To the women of Bodo, Bomu, Kpe, B-Dere and K-Dere communities suffering the pains and non-governmental organizations working on the health challenges, government is taking too much time to do the audit.
Doctor told me oil spill caused the problem – Mrs. Yaatabu
One of the affected women in Bodo, Mrs. Agnes Yaatabu, narrated her story: “I was four months pregnant when my baby flushed out. I was disturbed about the miscarriage; so I went to hospital. When I got there, the doctor conducted a test and told me that the cause was oil spill that has remained in our environment for a long time now.
“It is true that the spill is affecting our women. After that experience, I have not been pregnant again because I am afraid that if I get pregnant again, the baby will flush out because the doctor said the oil has damaged some cells in my body.
“I have not received good treatment ever since because I do not have money. I have two children before this thing started; many women in our community do not have monthly ovulation and menstruation again”.
My seven-year-old child still crawling – Mrs Friday
Another Bodo resident, Mrs. Baribeop Friday, said: “I have had miscarriage three times. When I started having this experience, the only child that survived for seven years now cannot stand on his feet. His legs are damaged and the doctor told me that the problem is because of the oil deposit in our community.
“Since the child was born, it has been miscarriages. It is more than seven years now since I started having this experience. I do not have money to go for treatment. We want government and oil companies to come and help women in this community.
Some of us are not seeing our monthly flow again. Some give birth to deformed children. The situation is pathetic. I want government to tell the oil companies that have done this damage to us to come to our rescue. They should bring a good health facility to us even as they clean up the environment because our lives are in danger.”
Eunice Goni, also from the village, said, “Since we started having oil spillage here, my sight has been affected. I cannot see well again. As I talk with you now, I have chest pain because they said the polluted environment has also affected my lungs.”
It was learnt that Goni also delivered a deformed baby, who died three days after birth. “The truth is that she is ashamed of sharing the experience with anybody,”one of the villagers told Sunday Vanguard.
Doctor said crude oil damaged our bodies- Janet, Berebon
A Bodo woman, Janet Baakem, claimed the polluted environment stopped her menstrual flow. Her words: “My period is not coming again. I was seeing it before but the thing stopped. I went to hospital because it was strange. After test, the doctor told me that something is wrong with my body system. He said that the problem is from crude oil spill. So, there is danger in our community”.
A fellow villagers, Mrs. Easter Barisi Berebon, said: “I am affected too. I have the same problem, which many women in this community are having. Recently, I lost a six month-old pregnancy. I am still not medically okay now. I went to doctor after the miscarriage who told me that crude oil has affected my body system.
“I prefer to be certified medically fit before I conceive again so that I may not give birth to a deformed baby.”
He was not born like this- Legidom Baridon
Mr. Legidom Baridon, step father of 30-year-old Tombari Baridon-Legidon, a cripple, said: “The cause of his health problem is related to oil in our river. He went to the river to bath. He came back and this problem started.”
Sunday Vanguard inquired about the hospital where Tombari was treated to confirm the victim’s health status. The step father standing. He said: “We have not gone to any hospital to confirm, but it is the water that he bathed in that caused this problem. The MTN gave him the wheel chair he is using now through our church.
“He has been like this for over 20 years. He is about 30 years now, he was not born like this; he was walking perfectly before this problem started. We do not have money to take him to hospital.”
18-year-old Mary Baduna also attributed her stunted growth to enemies of progress, while Martha Monday said: “I am 22 years old. The air we breath has spoilt everything. Everything we eat has been destroyed. I have not gone to hospital. I see oil in the water that we drink, but why I have not gone to hospital is because I do not have money.
“I want government to help me open business. Some foreigners have visited us. They said they will build hospital, give us pipe borne water and school, but we have not seen any of those things they promised.”
Paul Kaafor, who spoke for his deformed sister, Miss Bridule Kaafor, said: “The water is the cause of her stunted growth. Her sickness started one year after she was born.
“She was taken to hospital by some of our relatives and the doctor said the cause was oil pollution. We do not have money to take her to hospital again. We want government to give us money to cure the sickness.”
Rashes all over my body- Samuel Monday
A middle-aged man,Samuel Monday, who had inflammation all over his body, said: “Leedeh group are the people who came to help Ogoni land. We do not have clean water to drink because of the oil spill. When we put our bucket outside and it rains, the colour of the water is black.
“When we uproot cassava, we cannot use it. When we bathe with the water, our body will start itching. If I open my private part, you will see rashes, it is caused by the polluted water. I just bought drugs; the oil is really causing us different sicknesses. The water is contaminated and affecting people. My father died as a result of the polluted water.
“When he was sick, we took him to a hospital at Eekeh in 2012; the doctor checked his blood and said that the water he was drinking had blocked his heart and lungs with a dark thing. That was what killed my father.”
“I do not go to the river to bathe again and I do not fish there, but some people still do. Even periwinkle is no longer there. To get fish now, we go to other places far from here.”