Oil: A curse to Owners, Blessings to Reapers

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Mineral resources are blessings God gave man to better his lots. However, in most countries like Nigeria, those who fall victim are those who, at their back-yard, are found these natural resources. Oil brings billions of cash to the Federal Government, but for the host communities, it won’t be wrong when they think this is a  curse because of resultant challenges from the same oil.

Host communities of mineral resources in the country have again lamented unending nightmares in their communities for hosting the nation’s wealth under their soil.

Volunteers environment monitors from host communities met recently in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital under the aegis of Host Communities Network of Nigeria (HOCON). The participants shared pathetic experiences from their communities.

The meeting, which was held with support from the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF) and Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), was tagged “Connected together.”

The objective of the group is to mobilise members of host communities of any kind of resource extraction for environmental justice campaigns and to expose cases of environmental degradation that are either not reported or under reported.

“HoCON believes that environmental degradation anywhere is environmental degradation everywhere,” said the Acting Executive Director ERA/FoEN, Chima Williams, a lawyer who chaired the workshop.

Other jobs of the members of the group include ensuring prompt report of any mineral resources induced environmental issues such as oil spill to the group for immediate escalation to the key players for prompt action.

Participants at the meeting lamented difficulties, hardship, impoverishment, hunger, sickness and preventable deaths in their communities.

It was attended by delegates from 10 states of the federation, including Ebonyi, Plateau and Kogi.

The representative of Eleme community of Rivers State, Dr. Patience Osarojiji, lamented serious cases of diseases, skin rashes, as well as infertility and low sperm counts for their men, due to the use and consumption of water from oil spill contaminated rivers.

He also complained about hunger, hardship and insecurity orchestrated by lack of yield of farm crops because of soil contamination, and activities of herdsmen who invade and uproot their crops with their cows, and even attack farmers in the forests, thereby scaring people away from their farms.

Dr. Osarojiji said: “Water in Ogoniland may look bright but you can’t take it near the nose; you can’t use the water to cook, bath or even wash.

“All the bath tops and toilet seats have turned brown as the result of pollution. We have been enduring these things, there are a lot of diseases, sicknesses infertility, cancer, low sperm count cases traceable to environmental pollution are common in Ogoniland.”

She equally claimed that stench from soils excavated from polluted sites said to have been cleaned up, which were not properly disposed, was chasing residents close to the dump sites out of their homes, especially in the raining season.

“The wastes that were generated from the cleanup that were carried out in Alode community, because the UNEP recommended facility for the dumping of the polluted soil was not built, the contaminated soil that was excavated were not properly disposed, now that the rains are beginning to fall, the odour from there is chasing the community members away, the people there cannot breathe, that is how bad it is now.”

A participant from Akwa Ibom State reported unstoppable gas flaring, environmental degradation, lack of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report before setting up companies in the area.

“Because most companies are so saturated with the way they are having resistance in Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Edo, others, they are now trickishly running down to Akwa Ibom State to set up their operational base so they can also exploit the environment.

“Like a fertiliser company that came, it had no proactive audience with the host communities, no EIA reports; so, how is the community supposed to know what benefits that are there for them to gain from the operations?” he queried.

A participant from Aggah community in Egbema, Omoku, Evarestus Nicholas, said consistent gas flaring in the area has promoted the descent of acid rains in the area and denied residents the previlege of catching bush meats like other villages. He added that the beautiful sights of insects like butterfly and the their contributions to food chain among others have all disappeared from Aggah communities.

“Because of the consistent gas flaring, there is brightness round the clock in Aggah community, bush meats, butterflies, other imsects can no longer differentiate between day and night, they all migrated out of the communities; today, you cannot find any bush meat in Aggah forests, neither can one pick snail, nor see butterflies flying and petching around our environment, we have lost the beautiful sight and fragrance insects spread, convey from one flower and shrub to the other, that makes production of sweet and juicy fruits possible and freshens the atmosphere,” he said.

The stories are not different from the other oil host communities in Imo, Abia, Bayelsa and Edo states. According to their testimonies, some of the communities have between six and eight gas flaring sights in their environments.

READ ALSO: FAAC: N175bn non-mineral revenue unaccounted for, says Auditor-General

A participant from Gelegele community of Edo State, Prince Barbs Pawuru, said: “Apart from the already enumerated issues,

my community also suffers climate change induced flooding due to mineral resources exploration activities, and deforestation, which is being promoted by the state government.”

Preye Joseph Okoko from Obunagha Community in Gbarain clan , Bayelsa State, said: “There are not less than six gas flaring sites in the community alone, just as the participant from Ugwuta oil-producing community of Imo State, Uche also reported about his community.”

Mr. Abdulkareen Tijani, whose community hosts coal mining sites in Kogi State, said: “Environmental degradation somewhere is environmental degradation everywhere. If people are doing illegal bunkering in the Niger Delta region, there is also the problem of illegal mining in my place.

If people are dying following activities of oil exploration companies in the region, people are also dying because of the activities of coal mining companies and their workers in Kogi State, also the way Niger Delta youths try to resist the excesses of multinationals in their environments, so our youths do in the places solid minerals are being mined in my place, above all, the consequences are the same…

“The activities of coal mining has impacted the people of Kogi State…, there was a time youths of the mining communities went and shut down the mining companies, insisting that until they sit down with the companies to discuss on the issues of community rights and the EIA, nobody will be allowed to go in or come out of the company.

“Again just like it is in the Niger Delta region, because of the recklessness of most of the mining company drivers, fatal accidents occur in the communities often, and the moment it died, the driver will flee abandoning the truck, youths will descend on the vehicle and set it on fire, this is normal in the places.

“Last year alone, no fewer than 18 trucks were burnt down and obviously more than 18 persons were killed by the drivers.”

He praised ERA/FoEN for the efforts to resuscitate HoCoN and the theme of the meeting, stressing that with team work, host communities of natural mineral resources in the country would able to have succour, safe and healthy environments.

Participants agreed that: “There is a huge discrepancy between the volume of gas flare reported by Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Gas Flare tracker which is domiciled with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).”

This, they observed, results in huge economic loss for the nation and continues to impoverish members of the host communities. So, they recommended a comprehensive environmental audit of the Nigerian environment.

The group also recommended that the Federal Government should pay Ogoni nation an ecological debt for decades of pollution, neglect of their polluted environment, displacement of her people and denying them justice, while kicking against new oil well drilling.

“Nigerian government to immediately halt the drift to full blown tyranny occasioned by the growing cases of suppression of the rights of the people of Nigeria, and that all cases of extraction should accompany EIA Report,” the group said.

They also noted the need for a bill by states to revoke the licenses of IOCs that pollute the environment without adequate compensation to communities.

The event was equally used to constitute new executives for the group: Comrade Che Ibegwura (Rivers State) – National Patron; Prince Barbs Preye Pawuru (Edo State) – President; Chief Mrs. Ayibakoro Warder (Bayelsa) – Vice President; Hon. Godwin King (Akwa Ibom) – Secretary General; Shombot Nyam (Plateau State) – P.R.O; Jonah Gbemre (Delta State) – Financial Secretary and Dr. Kelechi Okezie (Ebonyi State) – Treasurer.

Participants commended the contributions of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and appealed for continuous assistance to enable the group stand and serve the purpose of her formation.

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