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Again, pollution in the Niger Delta

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Oil spill. PHOTO: aljazeera.com

Apprehension being generated in parts of Delta State over recent oil spill indicates lack of sufficient government presence and representation of people in the area. Otherwise, government, as protector of the people’s welfare, should have been the body sounding alarm and taking charge of the situation rather than wait for fear to spread across the vicinity while the oil companies responsible for the disaster carry on business as usual.

The people’s reaction is natural, considering that their main occupation and means of subsistence, fishing, is seriously threatened by the spill. This is beside the fact that spill’s extent was indeterminable immediately. Many parts of the state and indeed of the Niger Delta are still bearing the brunt of deprivation and uncertainties surrounding their communities following oil spill incidents.

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The affected communities, which the oil blowout has reportedly devastated, include Benikrukru, Kokodiagbene, Oporoza, Azama, Inikorogha and Kurutie and the leak was reportedly spreading to more communities in the area. Thousands of fishermen in the communities, their families and trading partners from different parts of the state and beyond have been stranded as a result of the spill. Some people have been falling sick due to pollution of bodies of rivers, which are the main sources of water supply to the people.

The spill occurred on the night of February 18 at the Abiteye flow station pipeline belonging to Chevron Nigeria Limited. But the American oil giant has, curiously, not admitted responsibility for the oil spill. The reaction of the youths of Gbaramatu Kingdom in calling on Chevron to rise up to its responsibility in the aftermath of the oil spill is understandable. It shows the level of frustration among the people, as over the years, there has been lamentation over the plight of many fishermen and peasant farmers in the oil-rich Niger Delta who have deserted their long-established fishing and farming occupations due to non-stop pollution of their environment.

The destruction of the once fertile Niger Delta and the negative impacts of oil exploitation on people’s livelihood system are at the root of restiveness in the region. Added to this is the failure of the Federal Government to adequately address the plight of the ravaged communities, while state government officials are equally guilty of corruption and maladministration. The inaction has persisted for decades and given rise to militancy and vandalism of oil pipelines.

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Different communities in the region have over the years expressed anger and resentment over the degradation of their ecosystem. Many court cases have been instituted against the oil companies in an effort to seek redress. Not long ago, the Supreme Court gave a verdict against a major oil company for oil spills it caused in four Niger Delta communities of Obotobo, Sokebolo, Ofogbene (Enzon Brutu) and Ekeremor Zion (Ezon Ase) in which the company was ordered to pay more than N30.2 million as compensation.

The critical state of the oil communities is well known and has been the root of armed agitations. The injustice has drawn international attention. Decades of oil prospecting and exploitation have blighted the communities leaving the inhabitants in pitiable condition with their livelihood systems devastated. Oil pollution and gas flaring have degraded both land and water surfaces, thereby rendering fishing and farming impracticable. The people are left in penury.

Though the Buhari administration had launched the Ogoniland cleanup programme, as prescribed in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, action is at snail speed, even, as the project represents a tip of the iceberg, given the magnitude of degradation and devastation in the entire region. The reclamation of Ogoni alone is billed to take 30 years. That, in essence, leaves the other communities in a hopeless state.

What that means is that for that length of time, means of livelihood is not assured, the health implications are enormous and foreign fishing trawlers are compounding the problem by fishing illegally in the region without permission. These call for direct government intervention as well as action to prevail on the oil companies concerned to do the needful. It is strange that with the quantum of pollution in the Niger Delta, there has been no effective national response to tackle the problem. The people are left to bear the brunt of a degraded environment.

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Nigeria ought to take a cue from the national response given to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill in New Orleans. Shortly after the disaster, more than 1,000 scientists and public officials gathered in New Orleans to review the scientific information on the short and long-term effects of the spill and its effects on the natural systems in the Gulf and on the people who live and work there. The gathering explored new fishing areas and new investment to ensure that neither the people nor the natural environment suffered as a result of the spill.

Such intervention ought to be part of the peace making process in the Niger Delta. Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari has not visited the region to identify with the people. His visit alone will send a strong message of comfort to the people.

The state governments in the Niger Delta should also take the lead in the effort to rehabilitate the people and restore their environment. They should stop waiting on the Federal Government to initiate every action. Rather they should explore their extra resources through derivation, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta to embark on measures to lift the people and make oil companies accountable for their deeds.

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