•They use soldiers to threaten people when we complain —Community leader
•We reside in the creek but have no potable water to drink, villagers cry out
By Samuel Oyadongha and Emem Idio
IKARAMA– THE people of Ikarama and Kalaba, two oil communities in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, are pointing accusing fingers at multinational oil companies and unemployed youths, saying they collude to rupture oil pipelines and cause oil spillage to get money from government.
They also disclosed that oil firms use security agents to intimidate locals when they protest; while residents were battling with strange illnesses because crude oil has polluted the water they drink and fish they eat.
The villagers, who bared their minds to The Netherlands Amabassador to Nigeria, Mr. Robert Petri, on a fact-finding visit, weekend, said their most difficult challenge at the moment was lack of potable water. Second Secretary at the Embassy of the Netherlands, Chelsey Buurman, accompanied Petri.
Generally, their grievances touched on indiscriminate oil spills occasioned by equipment failure or third party instigation, dislocation of means of livelihood, unemployment, absence of sustainable means of environmental reclamation, pollution of rivers, lack of potable water, poor health and other social amenities.
They requested Ambassador Petri to help prevail on Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, and Nigeria Agip Oil Company, NAOC, to provide them with potable water, electricity and other basic amenities.
The Ambassador’s visit was facilitated by the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, which wanted him to hear directly from the villagers. Bayelsa State Project Officers of ERA/FoEN, Alagoa Morris and Monday Ziworitin conducted the team round the communities. The international headquarters of Shell is in The Netherlands.
Spill activated by oil workers – Lamie, Ikarama monarch
Paramount ruler of Ikarama community, Chief Harbertson Lamie, said: “For me, the number one problem in Ikarama is the fact that Shell has totally neglected this community. When there is problem and the leaders of the community want to tell them the way out of the problem, Shell would rather worsen the problem.
“But the most disturbing problem we have is oil spillage in Ikarama community. We have oil spillage problem and this problem is caused by Shell staff. Go and do your investigation, make your research; Shell is mostly the cause of oil spill in Ikarama community. So because the staff, the peripheral staff in particular; use the boys in the community (bad boys) to cause havoc.
“If you move to most of the places within the community now, we cannot breathe well; the odour is much. Like this house here (pointing), just take a stroll there and you see crude oil everywhere. So, Shell is the problem,” he said.
Chief Lamie hinted that both the oil firms and youths make money through pipeline vandalisation. His words: “They make their money through pipe breaking; Shell makes their money through pipe breaking. Shell will teach the youths how to break the pipes so that they, Shell, too will make money.
“Those people on top, the officers will make millions of naira. So, that is the problem we are facing.”
Govt agencies don’t bother to verify spill —Kolibo, Kalaba ruler
Paramount ruler of Kalaba community, Chief Francis Kolibo, who spoke at a town hall meeting, grumbled that since June 12 when an oil spill that occurred at Ikarama during the flood transferred crude oil to Kalaba environment, the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, Ministry of Environment and Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, despite a letter from the community, have not bothered to find out what happened, six months after.
“If you can cross over the Taylor Creek to see the impacted areas, you would see that most cassava farms in the area have been covered by crude oil. Crops harvested from the impacted environment get rotten. When we catch fish from the impacted swamp and eat, we perceive crude oil odour from the belly of the fish,” he said.
They intimidate us with military men —Oburo, CDC chair
Chairman, Community Development Committee, CDC, Kalaba community, Mr Samuel Oburo, whose community hosts both Shell and Agip, said: “ As a community, we are hosting Agip and Shell, but we do not have potable water. You would be surprised that Shell came to this environment before I was born.
“But since they have been operating in this environment, the relationship with our community has not been cordial and it is really affecting our development because if I say what you are doing is wrong, before you know it, they will bring military men to come and intimidate the people and walk away since you cannot fight them,” he said.
Our problem is lack of drinking water —Ogbolosingha, women leader
Women leader, Mrs. Gold Ogbolosingha, asserted: “One of our biggest problems now is how to get good drinking water. The only source of drinking water here is the Taylor Creek and it is not far from here. If you can walk down to the creek and see the water, you would be left to judge for yourself whether such water is good for human consumption.”
Agip gave us non-functioning water tank —Orukali
Immediate past paramount ruler of Kalaba community, Chief Roman Joe Orukali noted that Agip, however, sponsored a 2,000-capacity water tank, which is not functioning in the community.
“If we do not mention it, when you talk about it in their office, they will say they have done it. We requested for at least, 10,000-litre capacity water tank and to get water reticulated round the community but they disagreed, saying they will not reticulate the water. We have just one fetching point in the community. Apart from that water project that is not functioning, there is no project associated with Agip in this community,” he stated.
We’ll address concerns, Ambassador assures
In his separate responses in both communities, Ambassador Petri stated: “The things you have tabled are well noted and they are also understood. So what we would do, we would take the situation back to Abuja where we come from and we will share this experience, this information with Shell and with the government. That is what I can say right now.
“I like to thank you for your openness. I understand your problems and we will see what we can discuss about these problems back in Abuja. I am very happy that you were really saying what you wanted to say. And I have heard you, loud and clear.”
SPDC committed to Zero Leak, Zero harm – Odugbesan
Reacting, Media Relations Manager, SPDC, Mr Bamidele Odugbesan said: “We remain committed to our Goal Zero, which means Zero Leak and Zero Harm to people and environment. Our staff and contractors are bound by this high standard of environmental performance.
“Our social investment programmes are designed to benefit our host communities in particular and we implement diverse programmes in scholarships, development projects through the Global Memorandum of Understanding, GMoU, and other initiatives within the resources available,” he said.