Members of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Ecology went on fact-finding mission in Niger Delta. They wanted to have first-hand information about the environmental degradation in the region, after many petitions had been received from the people of the area complaining of the destructive effect oil exploration and exploitation was having in the environment and their survival.
Orient Petroleum Development Company and other oil companies went to Abuja regularly with projectors and screen to deceive the lawmakers, painting very glorious pictures of their activities in the Niger Delta. The region was badly polluted by their operations but that didn’t stop them from thinking they could lock truth up all nice and tidy.
The young sun, had, just risen from its bed beyond the horizon; when they embarked on the inspection. They were in a Shetland boat with inboard engine. The boat was preceded by a gunboat and equally followed by another to provide security for the lawmakers. Kidnapping had turned into a profitable business of the Niger Delta militants.
They saw some canoes navigating Niger Delta’s highly polluted creeks paddled by fisherfolks, with few catches from several hours of fishing effort.
The environmental devastation wrought was huge, as damaged pipelines spew oil frequently. The waters of bunkering sites visited by the committee were coated in a thick film of crude oil. One of them was Iko creek which snaked through thick mangrove swamps in the heart of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Dugout canoes with frustrated looking fisherfolks glided over the brackish waters.
At some spots, young children stood in the shallow water drawing in nets which had ensnared tiny silver fish. A dozen of men, who just arrived from fishing, were pulling their boat onshore, and women waded through the water to meet them, helping to bring in the morning’s catch, but were unhappy by the poor catches of their husbands.
“Fishing is everything to our people,” Lucky Dinne said as they traveled down the water together, “but there are fewer fish and they are getting smaller every year.” Lucky Dinne was the man nominated by the community to show the senators around.
Gliding down Iko creek, Lucky Dinne pointed out an abandoned drilling platform and rusting pieces of industrial machinery. They listened to the squawk of the river birds and laughter of children washing shrimps in wicker baskets. “The impact of pollution has been terrible and invades every aspect of life here. Crude oil has leaked into the creeks, and acid rain from gas-flaring has polluted our drinking water,” Lucky Dinne explained.
Here and there on the banks, people coated in oil waded through greasy mud in patches of landscape blackened and stripped of the thick vegetation that made Nigeria’s oil-producing areas so hard to police. And a difficult assignment for the JTF.
Little of this fragile wetland environment had been untainted by oil. Blackened mangroves that died slurping spilled crude from polluted waters blighted the landscape.
The sight of a woman, standing ankle deep in polluted swamp, sieving fermented cassava in the crude-oil-laden mangrove, moved the Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Senator Biodun Taiwo to tears.
Senator Biodun Taiwo beckoned on the woman, sieving fermented cassava to come ashore but she was afraid. The middle-aged woman, who never saw such well-grooved men and women, was afraid. She refused to come closer until Lucky Dinne spoke to her in her own native Andoni language. When she eventually came out, she narrated how the polluted water was the only source of water in the area; as a result she had to use the polluted water to ferment cassava, despite the health implications of eating cassava meal processed with the water. Also in the polluted mangrove, trying to eke out a living, were another woman and a young boy, trying to catch non-existing fish.
The committee next port of call was Egita community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Areas of Rivers State. Egita was where gas eruption had occurred. Residents of Egita community did not hide their displeasure over the pollution of their ancestral land from the visiting senators.
“There are no conscious efforts to make the environment safe, let alone, compensating those, who have been driven out of their ancestral land. Egita community is also angry that many years after exploration of oil and gas in the area, the oil company has refused to contribute to the development of the area,” Lucky Dinne complained.
Members of the committee were later taken to the gas eruption site, which was deserted. The area had been declared dangerous and ‘no-go zone’ by the oil company. Signboards were erected around the area with inscriptions like, ‘No smoking,’ ‘No GSM,’ ‘No motorbike,’ ‘No flame,’ ‘keep-off,’ these signs were strategically placed for all to see.
“The eruption had damaged crops, buildings and the air is polluted,” Lucky Dinne said.
The eruption was traumatic. He listed its effects as loss of aquatic organisms and wildlife, prevention and denial of farming activities, loss of vast land, measuring about 157 hectares, destruction of economic trees and cash crops, increase in death rate after the eruption and other health problems.
“Aging pipelines, cress-crossing the jungle landscape cannot cope with pressure of oil being pumped through them, with disastrous consequences on the communities. This area was known for catching fish in commercial quantity, but for the past 20 years, there had been hunger, and poverty, untold and unmitigated suffering resulting from the pollution,” Lucky Dinne lamented.
The visitors were overwhelmed by the sight of the polluted sites. No compensation had been paid and the environment wasn’t cleaned up by the multinational oil company.
“In other parts of the world, sabotage or no sabotage, once there was oil spillage the oil company cleaned up the environment and pay the community affected some compensation. What we see here is deception and negligence collaborated by our privileged people after collecting bribe,” Lucky Dinne complained.
“The roughly 20 million indigenes of Niger Delta are the unfortunate victims of the environmental devastation caused by decades of reckless exploitation. Much of the natural gas extracted in oil wells in the Niger Delta is immediately burnt or flared into the air at a rate of approximately 2.5 billion cubic feet per day. This is equivalent to forty percent of African natural gas consumption, and forms the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. The issue of climate change cannot be adequately tackled without first addressing the problems of the region,” Lucky Dinne revealed gruffly.
“The degradation in this region demand atonement, the people of Niger Delta need empowerment and urgent economic emancipation, and the environment must be kept sufficiently green for life to continue. We have seen things for ourselves. When we get to Abuja, we’ll make sure the situation in the Niger Delta changes for good,” Senator Biodun Taiwo promised.
The Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology, Senator Biodun Taiwo queried the Orient over the quality of its remediation done on oil spills sites in Niger Delta communities. He was annoyed that there were no remediation signs in the areas where Orient claimed it had cleaned up with the video the committee members had been shown in Abuja.