By Samuel Oyadongha
OTUABAGI—BOTH Government and International Oil Companies, IOCs, have abandoned Otuabagi, a rustic agrarian settlement in Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, which provided 18 of the 21 Oil Wells used to launch Nigeria into the league of crude oil exporting countries in 1958.
When NDV visited the community, villagers bitterly complained that government and multinational oil companies dumped the community after exploiting their oil. The town looked desolate, no electricity, potable water and good roads.
Otuabagi does not readily come to mind as Oloibiri, the legendary oil community in the same council area. However, out of the 21 oil wells widely known as “Oloibiri oilfield,” drilled by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, through which Nigeria exported its first crude, 18 were located in Otuabagi, including the famous Oil Well 1 bored at a depth of 12,008 ft.
Corked oil wells dripping
The Anglo-Dutch oil giant corked and later abandoned Olobiri oilfield in the 70s on grounds that the oil wells had dried out.
More than three decades after, the natives, predominantly loggers, wood carvers, anglers and farmers are bemoaning the desecration of their land and neglect by government.
In recent time, crude oil leaking from the supposedly capped and dried up oil wells has continuously been polluting the environment, streams and crops, while vulnerable villagers are withstanding the worst of a nation that plundered the community’s wealth and left them high and dry.
When NDV visited the community, residents bitterly complained that they were experiencing spills from two of the abandoned oil wells, affecting negatively their environment and means of livelihood, a development corroborated by the Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, ERA/FoEN, which documented such incidents in 2007.
Villagers lament underdevelopment
A villager, Enato, screamed: “If you are told that this community is where oil was first struck in the whole of West Africa, you will not believe it. In terms of development or infrastructure, we have nothing. We are suffering here. The young men are suffering and jobless. If we have our way, we would want an instant or magical development because we have been suffering for so long.
“It is a sad commentary that this community from which crude was first discovered in commercial quantity and launched the nation on the fast lane of development, could be left in the lurch by the Nigerian state.
“The occupations of the people are basically fishing, farming, logging and palm wine tapping. However, most of the people engaged in these means of livelihood have abandoned their occupation due to years of despoliation occasioned by the activities of the oil multinationals.
“It is sad to point out that the expectations of the people are dashed. Crude oil, which should have been a blessing, is now seen as a curse,” he added.
Capped wells spilling oil, causing more damage— Kopuamabhor, others
An indigene of the area, Offor Kopuamabhor, who spoke to ERA/FoEN team, led by Comrade Alagoa Morris, recently, said: “I am from Otuabagi, we are here at the site of Oil well 2, which has been spewing crude oil over the years and as you can see with your own eyes, crude oil is visible here.
“The immediate environment was even set on fire to reduce the crude oil spreading in the environment. That was almost a year ago. We are concerned because the crude oil is affecting farm crops and that is why we want government to intervene to ensure a lasting solution to this recurring spill matter. Besides cleanup, they should compensate the families and community,” he said.
One-time youth leader of the community, Orugbo Ogis, asserted: “It is quite unfortunate that things like this are happening (pointing at the crude oil surrounded oil well) here in my community. As you can see, crude oil has polluted our environment.
“Despite the fact that much of the crude oil in the environment was burnt; once it rains and the water level rises here, crude oil within the oil well encasement would flow into the streams and other bodies of water in the environment with farms and farmlands affected.
SOS to FG, Bayelsa govt
“This is not good; I am begging Bayelsa State Government to look into this matter because it is worrisome. Our people have been suffering in silence as it affects farm and farmlands from time to time. We are also calling on the Federal Government and the NNPC to visit these oil wells. They should come and see things for themselves, our people are suffering from the spills.
He said: “There was a time crude oil from these wells fed the nation, but you can see how deserted and forested the environment is. There is no development for our community from crude oil. Crude oil has been coming out from the oil wells every year and yet they tagged them dry wells.
“I actually do not know, who set fire here, but I know it must be due to the crude oil in the environment.”
Renowned environmentalist, Comrade Morris, in his field report, noted that though Otuabagi community leaders informed ERA/FoEN that there were other oil wells drilled within the community environment and capped as “Green Pegs” waiting to be exploited, “it is general knowledge that Shell has stopped operation in the Oloibiri oilfield for decades now.”
He said: “What is left as relics are wellheads and the helipad in the environment as the pipelines that transported crude oil to the Kugbo Loading Bay are no more. Most sadly, there is nothing linked to the environment as the place of first discovery of oil in commercial quantity in terms of benefits to the community.
“The only presence of federal and state governments are non-functional water project by the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, a cottage hospital that is staffed, but lack beddings, has power issues and leaking roofs, including the theater for surgery with seriously cracked walls on the buildings,” the ecologist added.