Elders, women and youth leaders from various communities in Brass, Nembe and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas of Bayelsa State have bemoaned their neglect by oil companies operating in their areas.
The communities also lamented years of oil spillages that have destroyed their environment, aquatic life as well as air and water pollution just as they called on the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) to come to their rescue.
They made the claims during the ongoing stakeholders’ forum organised by the BSOEC across the eight local government areas of the state to acquaint the commission with the impact of oil and gas exploration activities on host communities.
At the interactive session in Twon Brass, headquarters of the Brass council, stakeholders reeled out tales of woes just as they expressed their disappointment with the oil companies in their communities.
The Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, who was represented by Percy Jerry Wemi- Kuomain, said it took several letters and pressure on the company before an oil multinational came to assess an oil spill.
“The area affected by that spill was 3,172 square metres. But it took (the oil company) more than nine months to award the clean-up contract despite several calls and letters to the company. In fact, (the oil company) is the Lord of the Manor here. Whatever it decides stands.
“It will surprise you that for a clean-up for 3,126 square metres that affected Okpoma and Fantuo communities, the (oil company) awarded a contract of N1,100,000. What manner of clean-up was that?”
An Odioma community chief, Walter Michael Omiedonya, also lamented the nature of spillage clean-up done by the company, which, according to him, was just on the surface when it ought to be at the river bed of the riverine community.
“As a result, we can no longer go for fishing or cast our nets for crabs, prawns and other sea food due to the negative effects of the spillages. We beg you to help us as we are suffering,” he said.
Woman leader of Sangana community, Flora Davies, described as totally false, reports that the oil companies employed some of its indigenes into key positions while the youth leader, Robinson Elkana, said their river had been polluted and that they had no source of drinking water.
The Brass communities, however, commended Governor Seriake Dickson for setting up the commission and appealed to the members to help them address the issues raised.
Chairman of the commission and the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, who was represented by Prof. Michael Watts, assured the people of Brass that the commission would compile a comprehensive report on the effect of the oil spillages on their communities.
At the interactive session in Oporoma, headquarters of the Southern Ijaw Council, the stakeholders noted that despite their huge contribution to the wealth of the nation, most of their communities lack good schools, health facilities, roads and other basic amenities.
The chairman of Oyeregbene Community Development Committee, Anthony Demotein, said oil exploration had brought them untold hardship.
“In Southern Ijaw, our parents trained us with money they got from farming and fishing. But today, all that is gone. Our crops are no longer growing and we are now battling to train our children,” he lamented.
Chief Ayawei Egbigbaboyefa from Koluama clan narrated the history of oil spills recorded in the area.
“Koluama is one of the worst hit with explosion and oil spill that were internationally recognised. On January 17, 1980, under a company called Texaco Overseas Nigeria Limited, Koluama community recorded an oil spill. But most notably was that of January 12, 2012, when a massive gas explosion occurred. The fire lasted for 49 days and till now nothing has been done to alleviate the plight of those affected by it,” he said.
Representatives of other clans and communities charged the commission to ensure that the oil companies operating in their areas provided succour, especially in the area of proper cleaning of the environment affected by the spill.
“Since 1976 that oil exploration started in Azuzuama, we have no hospitals, no good roads and no good source of water to drink. The most painful about our situation is that whenever a spill occurs, the oil companies accuse the communities of sabotage whereas most of their pipes and equipment are long overdue for change,” a representative lamented.
Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou, who represented the BSOEC chairman, expressed gratitude to the people of Southern Ijaw for expressing themselves and also for believing in the commission.
She called on them to provide written reports, related documents and proof of law suits to assist the commission’s ongoing research.
Another interactive session for the Nembe Council stakeholders was held at the Dr. Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre in Yenagoa.