…Demand clean-up, compensation
Oil-ravaged communities in Bayelsa State have accused the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and another regulatory body, National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), of connivance with oil multinationals in the destruction of their environment.
Four communities that suffered devastating oil spills – Babragbene, Lasukugbene and Oyeregbene in Southern Ijaw and Mbikiba in Brass local government areas – made the accusation on Wednesday during a town hall meeting with members of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) at Oyeregbene community.
The commission, led by the Archbishop of York in the United Kingdom, Dr. John Sentamu, is on a fact-finding tour of oil spill and environmentally degraded communities in the state.
The communities, which demanded a clean-up of their land and waterways as well as payment of compensation by the oil multinationals operating in their area, said federal agencies – DPR and NOSDRA – were bias in favour of the international oil companies (IOCs) whenever spills occur.
They claimed that the Joint Investigation and Verification Reports were not always representative of the actual incidents of spills that destroy their source of livelihood.
President of the Ijaw Association of Oil and Gas Producing Communities, Comrade Yabrou Tou, who spoke on behalf of the aggrieved communities, bemoaned what he described as the total neglect of host communities by the oil multinationals despite series of appeals to them on the effect of the spills on their environment.
He shed tears as he narrated his ordeal of how he was dragged before a court in Abuja for reporting Chevron to the Nigeria Human Rights Commission for refusing to clean up a spill that occurred from its facility.
Comrade Tou said the incident, which occurred in 2015 at an oil rig, spilled its contents for six months non-stop.
“The oil firm refused to pay compensation after initially accepting responsibility for the damage to the environment, saying it occurred on their Right of Way (ROW).
“The spills reoccurred in 2018 with the company initially accepting responsibility but later reneged on its promise to pay compensation because, according to them, members of the communities tampered with their facilities at the spill sites.”
Also speaking on behalf of the four communities, Pastor Ofongo Alamene and a fisherwoman, Mrs. Flora Soridei, called on the multinational companies to live up to their corporate responsibility by providing social amenities like potable water, electricity, healthcare and payment of compensation.
Alamene said: “The multinational companies know that a divided house cannot stand. So they sponsor violence, which is working for them.
“They also know the level of ignorance of the communities. They get them to sign the wrong documents, which render the communities defenseless when they avoid repairing their pipelines that are long overdue. Some of the pipelines have stayed up to 40 years whereas their lifespan is 20 years.”
Pastor Alamene accused the oil majors of non-implementation of the terms of their General Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) signed with host communities.
“No medical or material supports are given to victims of oil spills while projects promised in the GMOUs are either haphazardly done or abandoned midway with flimsy excuses,” he said.
The community leaders reported that Shell removed Oyeregbene community from the list of beneficiaries of its GMOU because of claims of missing equipment.
They also said that Agip provided a six-classroom block in the community but abandoned the construction of a jetty and did a one-kilometre concrete road only half way.
The community leaders however expressed gratitude to Governor Seriake Dickson for setting up the commission to address their plight.
The Bayelsa State Commissioner for the Environment, Ebipatei Apaingolo, in his remarks, said the commission was established to examine the impact of oil exploration activities on host communities in the state.
According to him, the oil companies have been neglecting their responsibilities of cleaning up the environment and paying compensation to affected communities.
Other members of the commission on the tour included Prof. Michael Watts, Prof. Emeseh Engobo, Prof. Lucky Worika, Dr. Anna Zalik, Dr Catherine Nwajiaku-Dahou and Dr. Isaac Osuoka, pioneer spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and founder of Social Action, a Niger Delta-based CSO.