October 17, 2012
Members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology visited the Rivers State to assess the issue of environmental pollution and devastation in oil producing communities
Below is an article published by allafrica:
Recently, members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology were in Rivers State as part of their oversight functions to verify complaints relating to issues of environmental pollution and devastation in oil producing communities in the state.
The committee, made up of the chairman and the senator representing Kwara Central senatorial district in the National Assembly, Senator Bukola Saraki and other members: Senator Oluwaje Kunlere, from Ondo-South and Senator Sadiq Yar'Adua, from Katsina -Central, visited six communities in the state. The communities include: Egita in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area, Edagberi-Betterland in Ahoada-West local government area and Ebubu-Eleme in Eleme local government as well as Kegbara-Dere, Goi, and Bodo, all in Gokana local government area of the state.
At Egita community which was their first port of call, members of the committee visited the palace of the traditional ruler of the community, Chief Israel Oranwa - where the committee chairman, Saraki, declared that "we are here to see for ourselves, the level of oil spills occurring in the Niger Delta region. We have heard second hand and third hand information about these things but we are here to see for ourselves."
Members of the committee, guided by the people of the community, later visited the site of an eruption from a gas facility operated by Total Exploration and Production Nigeria (TEPNG) which occurred in the community on April 2, 2012. They were however welcomed back into the community after the visit to the gas eruption site by youths who were carrying placards with different inscriptions: "Our crops and economic trees are dead". "Our aquatic life and wild games are no longer on the environment", "Egita community lacks government projects since the inception of democracy till now". "Please, we need some projects", among others.
Speaking at the Egita community hall, Saraki sympathised with the people of the community for the pains they have been passing through as a result of recent eruptions from a gas pipeline belonging to Total and expressed regrets that the multi-national has not done anything to assist the people of the community. He commended them for being law abiding and assured that the Senate would do all it can to ameliorate the suffering of the people.
According to Mr. Ben Ugochukwu, Chairman of Egita Community Development Committee (CDC), before the gas eruption, TEPNG did not recognise the community as one of the oil and gas producing communities in the area, thereby denying them certain basic amenities being enjoyed by other communities as part of the company's corporate social responsibilities. Ugochukwu told members of the senate committee that the gas eruption, which took over three months before it was successfully stopped by experts from TEPNG, threw the community into confusion for fear of what would be the after effect of the eruption. The eruption, the CDC chairman said, led to the loss of aquatic organisms and wild life, pollution of their drinking water and air, total loss of their vast farmland measuring about 157 hectares, and above all, increased number of deaths and general health problems in the community.
The Egita community requested the building of a specialist healthcare facility for them by TEPNG, provision of relief materials for them since they were barred from going into their farm lands as a result of the gas eruption as well as the payment of compensation to them for the loss of their farm lands, economic trees and cash crops. However, flood - as a result of overflow of water from the Orashi river did not allow members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology to have access to most of the oil spill sites in Edagberi-Betterland community, an area that has experienced no fewer than 14 oil spill incidents from the facilities of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) since April 2007.
According to Chief Kingsley Abraham, secretary of the CDC, the major cause of the spills, most of which were never reported to the appropriate authorities, was traceable to the aging pipelines that tranverse the jungle of the community, which could not cope with the pressure of oil being pumped through them, thereby causing disastrous consequences for the community.
Abraham said; "we were known for catching fishes for consumption and for sale, but for the past 20 years, hunger, and poverty took over, resulting in untold and unmitigated hunger in our community."
To Saraki, from what they saw at Edagberi-Betterland, the oil spill were not caused by the people of the community, but due to technical failures on the side of the multi-national firm operating in the area. "These oil spills were not caused by members of the community, they occurred as a result of technical failures from the oil companies. After our findings, if it is established that oil companies are responsible for the gas eruptions and oil spills in the communities in the Niger Delta, we will ensure that they are summoned by the Senate to pay the adequate compensation for them", Senator Saraki said.
With visits to oil spill site at Ebubu-Eleme and the Bomu manifold at Kegbara-Dere, which was gutted by fire in 2009, as well as the total destruction of mangroves in Goi and Bodo, occasioned by the activities of multi-national oil companies, members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology were shocked at the level of devastation in Ogoniland. Conducting members of the committee round the damaged Bomu Manifold, spokesman of the Kegbara-Dere community, Mr. Bari-ara Kpalap, said the level of contamination in the area was so bad that it has already affected the ground water.
Kpalap said, "The contamination of the environment is so bad that it has already affected the ground water. The whole of the mangrove forest no longer exists. There are no fishes in our rivers again. We are asking Shell to clean-up the environment properly so that we can begin to use the land since we are predominantly farmers."
The senators were moved at Goi when they saw women and children washing and swimming in a river that had been contaminated by crude oil that spilled into it. This prompted the committee chairman, Saraki to beckon on the locals to come out to enable him confirm if that was really spilled crude oil. Speaking at a town hall meeting in Bori, the traditional headquarters of Ogoniland, Saraki did not hide his feelings about what they saw when he decried the high level of environmental degradation caused by decades of oil spills in areas due to the activities of multi-national oil firms operating in Ogoni.
He said: "When we got to the Goi spill site, a young boy of about six was having his bath in what I call crude oil. Very close to where the young boy was, a middle aged woman was trying to harvest cassava. She was harvesting the cassava that she will eat but I don't call that cassava, I call it crude oil, in Nigeria of today".
The chairman assured that the National Assembly would do its best to ensure that the polluted environments in communities in Ogoni and Rivers State in general were returned to their natural state. "We have received many reports and visits by different people who tell us this is what is happening in Ogoniland. So we decided to come on our own to Ogoniland. We have heard the side of the oil companies also but before you make a judgement, we need to come here by ourselves, at least to see and be able to understand and hear from you and know what your decision is", he stated.
"I don't know if I have the mandate but I believe that as a senator, a former governor, and somebody who use to assist the people, I think I have the moral obligation on behalf of the Senate to take up this issue in the Senate so that all of us will be happy at the end of the day.
"I believe that today is the beginning of a new chapter. I say that with all honesty. I know that those who know me know that when I take up an issue, I fear nobody. Today is the beginning of a new thing to happen in Ogoniland. It is not because of anything but what I saw surpasses what I have heard. This is no longer your battle; go and sleep; and by the grace of God, we will fight for you."
Although most Ogoni people who spoke at the town hall meeting in Bori were sceptical about the ability of the Senate committee to do anything better than what several local and international organisations had promised to do to ameliorate their plight without fulfilling them but, Saraki, in attempt to prove that the committee was not there for a jamboree, repeated their resolve to work when they paid a courtesy visit to Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi at government house, Port Harcourt, where he stressed the need for the speedy passage of NOSDRA Amendment Bill 2012, before the National Assembly to address problems of compensation.
Hear him: "We need the NOSDRA Amendment Bill 2012, to be considered for speedy passage, because, right now, no penalty for oil companies operating in oil producing communities. What the companies do is just to clean up the environment without any compensation or remediation to the people; we will do our best to change things that would better the life of our people."
Governor Amaechi thanked members of the committee for their concern and commitment to find lasting solution to the environmental challenges suffered by the people of the Niger Delta region, saying if adequate measures were put in place it would address the problems being suffered by oil producing communities in the region.
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