• What I saw unimaginable – Otuaro, dep gov

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, Niger Delta 

Residents of riverine communities in Delta State have complained to the state government about the despoliation of their environment by security agents who burn seized crude oil; explode boats laden with products, contaminating the environment, endangering their health and means of livelihood in the process.

Delta communities
•Smoke from the burning of seized oil.

From Polobubo (Tsekelewu), along Benin River in Warri North Local Government Area of the state to Ugborodo , Okerenkoko (Escravos River) in Warri South-West Local Government Area, Ogulagha (Escravos River) and Burutu Local Government Area and others, the people, who also pointed fingers at oil bunkerers, were livid that government kept quiet while security agents degraded their environment, over the years.

They said that illegal bunkering activities have affected them very negatively with many anglers and farmers thrown out of business and large number suffering health complications.

Warri North chair runs to Okowa

Chairman of Warri North Local Government Area, Ambassador, had to run to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for intervention as riverine dwellers further lamented that soot was also affecting their houses.

Sources said the tales saddened the governor, particularly as fishes were not only found dead, bloated and rivers overflowing with oil, but also that the lives of people who survive on water were under threat.

Sunday Vanguard learned that Okowa had to ask his deputy, who is the Chairman of Delta State Advocacy Committee Against Oil Facilities Destruction, Deacon Kingsley Otuaro, to go on fact-finding.

Otuaro undertook an aerial inspection of Olero, Makaraba and Jones Creeks’ fields and interacted with the people to know what exactly the problems are.

Gbokoda protests degradation

At Gbokoda community, Chairman of Olero Oil Field Communities, Mr. Simeon Iluwa, said, “It is obvious that government is making partial efforts at stopping illegal bunkering activities in our area.

“Nevertheless, the approach of burning recovered stolen petroleum products by the military has caused more harm than good to the environment. Our environment has been degraded, polluted and devastated due to illegal bunkering and related activities resulting in negative impact of petroleum hydrocarbon toxicity on human health, including exposing the population, natural environment and other ecological receptors due to illegal bunkering and refining activities as well as multinational oil company activities.

“It is worthy of note that it is our usable waters and fishing occupation that have been wiped out by hydrocarbon or more pollution. Worse still, it leaves us with no alternative sources of livelihood. The surface and underground waters have been so polluted such that no drinkable water in our community anymore.

“Some of the health challenges and complications suffered due to petroleum hydrocarbons in our waters include but not limited to renal failure, skin rashes and irritations, respiratory system disorders and miscarriages in women, infertility, childhood/birth defects.

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“It may interest His Excellency to know that nothing has been done about the unprovoked attack of Itsekiri communities via Gbokoda, Ajamita, Tebu, Obaroro, Ebrohimi, Eghoro and others in which 80 innocent persons lost their lives and houses/property burnt down since March 2018.

“Our immediate demands are stoppage of physical burning of stolen and illegal petroleum products in our rivers; urgent provision of potable, drinkable source and supply of water; secondary and tertiary health facilities to address our health challenges; and alternative source of economic empowerment like industrial fishing, which is fish pond farming and use of trawlers, etc”.

Responding, Otuaro said, “We have come as a government to visit Gbokoda and adjoining communities, which are hosts to the Olero flow station, not for dancing and entertainment. Today’s visit is different because your sons and daughters made entreaties to government to come and see things for ourselves.”

“Petitions were written and our files were full. The complaints were troubling and people’s sources of income of negatively affected with abject hunger in the land. The fishing and farming occupation of the people are impacted by illegal bunkering activities that have despoiled the area amongst others. We feel strongly that for us to assess and confirm complaints, we had to do aerial overview. That is why we came by air courtesy of Chevron.

“We have on camera a lot of things upon which we can deal decisively deal with some of the issues as catalogued by your Chairman in his speech. I have not been to this community before now, but it is a notable community that I have long heard of.

“We would do something about your catalogue of requests. We may not be able to do all but we will interface and deepen discussions with leaders and know what to prioritize going into the next budgetary preparations”.

Placard-carrying villagers

At Okerenkoko, protesting villagers led by the Chair of the community, Hon Kinsley Oturubo, welcomed him with placards, bearing such inscriptions as, ‘Military should stop burning recovered crude oil and polluting our environment’, ‘Pollution has killed our fishes, we do not have work to do anymore’ and ‘We are dying because of pollution’.

Others were ‘Soot is damaging our homes,’ ‘Do security agents burn seized crude in other climes?, ‘Federal Government, burning is not the solution’, ‘Military, stop the burning of illegal crude oil barges’, ‘Our environment is no longer safe for healthy living’, ’Stop pollution of our environment’, ‘Our environment is our right’, ‘Federal Government, save our environment’, ‘We need freedom’ and ‘Government, intervene in our environment.’

Oturubo stated: “The issue on ground has to do with additional pollution by the military personnel in Niger Delta and I am calling on the military to look for further solution on how to curb the excesses of pollution in Niger Delta.

“The idea of burning crude oil boats, spilling undiluted refined products into the water is not a better idea. In order not to jeopardize their good works, security agents have to look for a proper site to dispose unrefined products so that they will spill over into the water.

“Indeed, there are a lot of riverbeds in this environment whereby those fishing cannot fish anymore because of the spills, so I am appealing to them to do the needful and I am saying that they should ensure that what they do conform with accepted international standard.

“Spills from crude oil vessels exploded by security agents into waters had polluted same such that fishing activity was no longer productive. The situation has caused untold hardship that can make a people go into extinction.”

Youth leader of the community, Simeon Bebenimibo, who also spoke, said, “We call on the Federal Government and security agencies to decide a better option of disposing seized crude, not burning them in the river.”

Speaking on the effect of spills from explosions of illegal oil vessels, 65-year-old Mrs. Ebiasuode Aramisi said: “The burning of the illegal oil vessels have greatly affected us by way of polluting the rivers beyond normal. We can no longer fish. We are hungry as our source livelihood is destroyed, please tell the Federal Government to save us”.

We must find a way out – Otuaro

Addressing the residents, Otuaro described as worrisome and objectionable the prevailing practice of security agents setting ablaze vessels and barges laden with crude oil seized from oil thieves and spilling unprocessed crude in the river.

He said, “We must find a solution to it, we cannot afford to continue this way. As you can see, the Committee has been at work since 2017, you could recall that there was a resurgence in militancy at the time, and we were able to engage stakeholders to ensure that peace was sustained. In addition, you can see so much has been done and so much undone.

“And we are enjoining the communities to exercise patience; government is seriously looking into the complaints for what is happening is worrisome and disgusting. The environment is so despoiled, we just have to think through, and there must be a solution.

“Lately, we have had so many complaints from stakeholders from the oil-producing environment to the effect that the environment is badly despoiled as much that their livelihood is being impacted. Many of them have lost their means of livelihood, which is fishing and farming and they are suffering.

“We had to carry out an aerial overview to see what the situation is like and courtesy Chevron Nigeria Limited, we have been able to go round the Olero oil operating field, Jones Creek and Makaraba fields and what we saw there is worrisome and disgusting.

“The destruction of facilities is bad, unacceptable and spilling of seized products on the environment does not in my own opinion conform to global best practices. When I say worrisome if you take an aerial view of this environment that is despoiled it is frightening. In fact, as the people complained, their livelihood, which are farming, and fishing have gone extinct. The economy is so hard and the people have been made paupers”.

‘What I saw’

Speaking to Sunday Vanguard after his visit to the communities, Otuaro said: “In my overfly, what I saw is just a fragment of what the communities complained off, it is terrible and unimaginable what is going on. The greenery is practically gone and you can see a flow station in a location and, 250 meters from it, a cooking farm is carrying on and soldiers have their checkpoints not far away.

“Obviously there is collusion with security agents, they burn and spill the crude if they refuse to cooperate and that is part of what the people are complaining about”.

Expectations

As Otuaro departed the creeks for Asaba, expectations of the people were that government should get the security agents and oil thieves to stop despoiling their environment. They said government should not come and tell them to exercise patience and sit back at Government House, Asaba, while rampaging security agents and oil bunkerers continue their shared enterprise.

VANGUARD

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