Posted by Henry Omoregie | 1 April 2019 | 1,152 times
Bayelsa State Governor, Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 empanelled a high-powered commission of inquiry on environmental degradation in the state. It is composed of distinguished technocrats from the academia and renowned global environmentalists chaired by Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. Sentamu is also a member of Britain’s House of Lords.
The inauguration was attended by members of the state Traditional Rulers Council led by King Alfred Diete Spiff, the first military governor of the old Rivers State and the current Amanyanabo of Twon-Brass. Other attendees were members of the press and leaders of communities that had suffered age-long degrading effects of crude oil exploration activities in Bayelsa.
Immediately after the formal swearing in of members of the commission, the team swung into action. It went on a road trip to Egbebiri community in Yenagoa Local Government Area. Representatives and youth leaders of the community took members of the commission, including journalists, on a tour of polluted streams, rivers and farmlands where spills were recorded due to obvious equipment failures as seen of the ‘Christmas Tree’ leakages. The facility is operated by Agip Oil Company, a subsidiary of the ENI Group, which had been operating in the area for over four decades. The spokespersons for the community expressed concern over the devastation of their means of livelihood and inhuman neglect of the people due to lack of proper containment of crude oil spills and the attendant reduction of agricultural and economic activities by the locals, resulting in reduced life expectancy.
Next on the itinerary was Ikarama community, also in Yenagoa Local Government Area. The entourage saw, first hand, contaminated soils and polluted farmlands due to equipment failure as earlier observed in Egbebiri. The youth leader also expressed concern about the lackadaisical attitude of the facility owners, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC). He explained to the commission that the youths were employed on part-time basis as look-out personnel for oil spills, which were reported to the facility owners who always promised to remediate the polluted soils but to no avail. According to the youth leader, the only significant action by SPDC was the temporary shutting off of the production facility.
On Thursday, March 28, the commission members, with journalists in tow, embarked on a four-hour round trip by boat to Azuzuama community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area for another round of first-hand experience with leaders and members of the community, including women and elderly men. As the entourage approached the community after snaking through several rivers and streams, they saw rivers and mangrove stilts blackened by crude seeping off oil facilities. Placard-carrying Azuzuama community folks arrived at a town hall meeting to express their grievances about the devastating effects of oil exploration in their locality. Some of the inscriptions read: “Our common sicknesses are Cancer, Kidney and Difficult Child-Bearing”, “Crude Oil is a Curse Rather than Blessing”, “Decades of Oil Spillage, No Proper Clean up”.
On Friday, March 29 at 9am, the evidence sessions of the commission of inquiry commenced with members of other communities showcasing their grievances with proof of environmental degradation.
His Royal Highness King Bubaraye Dakolo, the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, while responding to questions from journalists about youth involvement in vandalism of pipelines and facilities noted some highly placed personnel with the technical know-how in the oil companies are complicit in the sabotage of crude oil facilities for pecuniary gains.
“I can tell you that no oil firm can accuse the youths of the Niger Delta before me . . . because they (the oil firms) are the cause of the violence we are experiencing in the Niger Delta. Prior to oil exploitation and exploration, the Niger Delta man lived in a pristine environment with tranquility. Every Niger Deltan used to travel everywhere (on water) for business. As farmers and fishermen, we took our produce far and wide. From my community (Ekpetiama), you can get to anywhere. You can get to Cameroon or even Miami if you had the right boat. You can get to Ghana by boat. I have gone to Lagos by boat from my village before in the 60s and early ’70s.
“So the violence here was created by the oil industry. They bring in drugs and lure youths into criminality. They prevent the youths from going to school. They make sure there is no education. So if you are not educated, you are not having a farm to farm on, the fishes in the river are all killed and destroyed and no more, what is the alternative?
“They offer you money and drugs (psychotropic substances). There is no factory in the Niger Delta that produces Tramadol or cocaine. There is even no arms factory in the Niger Delta. All these are brought in by the oil industry. And so, the so-called violence of youths of the Niger Delta is a deliberate orchestration by the oil industries for them to make more money for themselves. It might not be the oil industry as an institution in some cases, but highly-placed individuals in the oil industry who are disgruntled in a way, who feel that they should make more money, arrange for all of these.
“You might want to ask: the oil theft that is talked about in the Niger Delta, who does it profit? Do you drink the crude oil? The answer is no.
“Time and time again, ocean liners, ships that have the capacity of picking up at once the entire crude oil that comes from Nigeria will berth at the Gulf of Guinea. They will anchor there and wait. They sponsor young men to go and bring crude from everywhere around. Sometimes the oil workers will open the valves and release crude to the barges in the night… and these barges will bring these crude to these big ocean liners at the Gulf of Guinea. Ocean liners are not tiny drops; they are not canoes. They are boats that are so large that an entire kingdom can get into them. And then they collect sufficient crude that they take to Europe and America to sell. So, who is profiting? Is it the man that is sent to go and do some menial, dangerous job? Or it is the main man that sponsors all of these? You and I do not have the expertise to burst the pipes. For you to burst pipe, you must have the expertise. And where do you get expertise of that type if not in the oil industry? So, the sabotage that they accuse us of, is caused by the oil industry. They are the experts.”
•Henry Omoregie is an Environmental Activist is based in Port Harcourt.
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