•Over 6 million fishers threatened — Nnimmo Bassey, environmentalist
•Stakeholders demand onshore contamination clean-up before IOCs go offshore
•Oil firm workers sidetrack compensation for oil leaks — Mrs. Talani, angler
By Samuel Oyadongha
Indigenous fishing folks in Niger-Delta, weekend, lamented they could no longer ply their trade, following the colossal pollution of water bodies in the oil region by International Oil Companies, IOCs.
They also said that they have been rendered wretched by the IOCs currently detaching and gearing up to move offshore after destroying their means of livelihood, just as it has been revealed that the oil industry employing few thousands of Nigerians is seriously endangering the livelihood of over six million home-grown fishermen in the Niger-Delta.
The fishermen, who converged with environmental crusaders on the rustic settlement of Agbia, Gbarian clan, Yenagoa Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, for a one-day oilfield/fishnet dialogue with the theme: Building Community Resilence against Fossils Extraction, organised by Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, called on the IOCs to clean up the pollution onshore before going offshore.
They noted with concern that after the widespread ecocide inflicted on the rivers, creeks and rivulets of the Delta with remediating same, the oil companies were divesting and moving their activities offshore.
How problem cropped up / Mrs. Talani
A disturbed participant at the event, Mrs. Alas Talani, who is in her 70s, recalled with nostalgia that she started fishing at the Taylor Creeks as a young girl before she married a fisherman and they had bountiful catches.
“Looking back at my younger years before the oil pipelines were laid, it was very rewarding because all you needed to do was throw your net and tie it across and in a few hours, you have a full net, but when they crossed the pipes and oil began to pour into the waters, the catch dwindled.
“And when the oil companies even pay compensation for oil spills, the people they send to pay the money divert it and the money never gets to the impacted fishermen. As the oil leaks continued, the fishing here at Taylor Creeks produced very little catch so we moved to the sea.
“I trained all my children from the proceeds of fishing those good old days but these days, the nets remain for days with little or no catch.”
Oil firms made fishers unproductive
— Chief Odoyibo
Also, Chief Washington Odoyibo, a community leader and fisherman, who operates at Ikarama axis of the Taylor Creek in Yenagoa, condemned the unsustainable environmental practices of IOCs in the area.
He said that frequent oil spills had rendered the predominantly fishing people of the area unproductive, adding that the pollution from oil exploration and production did not spare their farmlands.
Six million fishers under threat —Bassey, environmentalist
Speaking at the event, renowned environmentalist, Dr. Nnimmo Bassey urged oil firms operating in the region to ensure all polluted onshore sites were cleaned up before divesting and moving their activities to offshore oilfields.
Bassey, pioneer Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), bemoaned the predicament of the hitherto clean and natural environment in the Niger-Delta region before the discovery of oil, some 60 years ago, without remediation, adding that the gradual shift by oil firms offshore, posed greater danger to the fishing vocation of Niger-Delta people.
Noting the rich biodiversity of Niger-Delta with freshwater and marine ecosystems like rivers, lakes, streams and creeks, Bassey observed that whereas more than six million people engaged in fishing have their jobs threatened by the oil industry, which employs only few thousands of Nigerians, it was in national interest to protect the artisanal fishing industry.
He, however, regretted that the fresh water bodies which supported the fishing occupation of the region have been lost to decades of oil pollution, urging the people to say “no to a Niger- Delta without fish.”
Disaster in the making
Bassey noted that it was worrisome that Shell, which discovered oil in commercial quantities in the 1950s in Bayelsa, recently announced further plans to divest from its onshore assets and move its operations offshore.
“The head of Shell Oil Company was recently quoted as saying that the Niger-Delta no longer suits their business model. On this account, he said they were moving from onshore to the deep waters offshore.
They are going offshore in order to avoid responsibility for their continued environmental misbehaviour in our communities. They are heading offshore after committing ecocide onshore.
“They are shifting offshore after sucking the land dry and trashing whatever they came across. Above all, the hopes of our fishers remain in the fish that pollution has driven offshore and now the polluters are threatening to take their business there. If transnational oil companies replicate their prodigious pollution offshore, the fishermen, the peoples and communities of the Niger-Delta will be totally stranded on both land and sea.
“That is the definition of disaster. Besides shifting pollution offshore, our fishers will face the hazards of security forces cordoning off oil installations and at the same time be confronted by the largely unchecked activities of sea pirates,” Bassey said.
Govt should lead restoration efforts
— Morris, ERA
In his contribution, Head of ERA, Niger-Delta Resource Centre, Yenagoa, Comrade Alagoa Morris, stated that there was need for gradual restoring of nature in our domain, adding that we all need to stop most of the pollution we do even as individuals, organisations and then to the government.
He further emphasized that government needs to take the lead with policies and then sensitize its citizenry at all levels.
He frowned at the manner of creating beautiful themes for programmes and thereafter no corresponding action to implement all that was said during the events.