Due to oil exploration and other human activities in the Niger Delta region, especially in Bayelsa State communities, there has been evidence of environmental dilapidation in the areas.
Farming and fishing, their main occupations, were affected adversely. As a result of this, Governor Seriake Dickson set up a commission of enquiry to gauge the level of impoverishment of the people.
MIKE ODIEGWU reports that the commission, in continuation of its investigations, recently held an interactive session with residents of Ogbia Local Government Area.
It has been tales of woes and anguish since the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) resumed its investigations on the deplorable living standard of people of the Niger Delta region.
The Chairman of the commission and Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu and his team of investigators have had a busy week listening in utter disbelief the pains and poverty caused by crude oil exploration and exploitation in the area. They heard the agonies of the people, whose environment had been destroyed by others’ insatiable quest for hydrocarbons.
The commission, which has been documenting the excesses of oil companies in Bayelsa State, earlier announced the new phase of its investigations. It was time for its members to interact with the chairmen of local government areas, councillors, community development leaders, traditional rulers, community leaders and other stakeholders of the areas.
The commission, according to a statement signed by its Secretary, Dr. Kathryn Dahou, seeks to unravel circumstances surrounding spates of oil spills and other activities of International Oil Companies (IOCs) through such interactions.
Therefore, the John Sentamu-led commission began the week by taking turns to interact with the stakeholders of each local government area. It first took its inquiries to Ogbia Local Government Area where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity.
Representatives of various stakeholders were present at the event. They wore long faces as they relived their ordeals in the hands of oil companies. They accused the companies of environmental terrorism and said they would have been better without oil.
The angry residents said farming and fishing were their major sources of livelihood before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity at Oloibiri Well 14 in Otuabagi community. They lamented that the discovery of oil destroyed aquatic lives and rendered the lands useless and uncultivated. Oil has become a curse to them instead of a blessing.
Chief Standfast Harold Onyingbo painted a gloomy picture of the local government area. He said children and adults were dying of water-borne diseases as a result of the pollution of their water source. He lamented that spills from various oil facilities contaminated their rivers and only source of drinking water.
Onyingbo said: “Yam, especially cocoyam, which is one of our major foods, has all gone into extinction because of the frequent spills on our farmlands.
“Our children can’t be healthy. We lose many of them. Our water is polluted. Our people go fishing throughout the whole night and come back with nothing because of oil spills.
“Our youths are jobless and now resort to militancy and other vices that are inimical to the society. Poverty has really bitten us. The night life we used to enjoy by gathering together for folktales has vanished out of fear that our own people will attack us.”
Also speaking, High Chief Dennis Ovoh Adogu from Oloibiri community accused the oil companies of using the monies that accrue from oil in their area to develop Abuja and other places of their choice while neglecting the community where oil was first found in the country.
Adogu noted that Federal Government’s presence was not felt at all despite the abundance of oil in the area. He said the people of Ogbia would soon rise and stage a protest against the government and all the oil companies operating in the area.
In his brief remark, the Chairman of Otuasega Community Development, Confidence Moses, alleged that the oil companies caused more harm to them than good, adding that the girls from their communities took into prostitution while their young boys engaged in oil theft and militancy for the reason that they poor.
He said: “We live in leaking roofs and mud houses. We even bathe in polluted river because we lack basic amenities such as bathroom. Our lands are no longer rich for farming because of oil exploration and spills.
“Our due privileges should be given to us, no employment in the companies even as cleaners or drivers. No opportunities for scholarships from the companies.”
In her remarks, the Woman Leader of Otuabadi Community, George Mitema Souye, said oil spill was taking place in one of the oil wells in her community. She said women were having miscarriages because of the negative impact of the spills.
She said: “As we speak, there’s oil spill going on in the Second Well. Most women in the affected communities have miscarriages because of the impact of the spills. Even young ladies are entering menopause because of the effects of oil spill.
“The only benefits we get from crude are the ones we use on the body of our children when they are sick because we believe that since there are no hospitals, the crude oil will help to cure measles.”
Responding, Sentamu said they were committed to their investigations to find solutions to the challenges of oil spills. He said the complaints were old problems that had refused to go away.
Sentamu, who was represented by the Chairman of the Expert Working Group, Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou (Commissioner), promised the people that the commission would incorporate their complaints in its report and follow up with serious advocacy.
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