The black gold, alias crude oil, the savior of the Nigerian economy has over the years, enriched the multinational oil companies and the government while further impoverishing the land owners. Oil is being drilled in large quantities from the region, money is made in quantum from the petroleum products, companies and government smile to the banks, the host communities get poorer even as their environment is polluted and degraded.
A trip round the Niger Delta region which is the oil producing area in Nigeria shows a part of the country richest in natural resources yet poorest in every other way. The marginalization is so acute that one is shocked into anger and disappointment. The confounding thing is that these multinational companies are rich enough to improve the lives of their hosts effortlessly, considering the amount of profit they make from the oil in the land. So why is it such an uphill task to give these people jobs, healthier environment, potable water, electricity, good roads, hospitals and other forms of amenities and compensation for their land being degraded?
Writing from my first experience in the region as a Youth corps member in 2009 in Bayelsa state, to my recent 2016 experience in Ogboinbiri community of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of same Bayelsa state, it was shocking to note that the situation, rather than improve seems to have worsened in this seven year interval.
Oil exploration has been going on in Ogboinbiri since 1986 with Agip being the dominant oil company operating in the community.
Taking a trip through this community, there are many striking factors that left me wondering what is wrong with the whole system. The poverty level is appalling to say the least. Farming and fishing used to be the major source of livelihood for these indigenes. But with the advent of oil exploration came the problem of pollution and degradation of the rivers and farmlands. They are forced to seek alternative means of survival. The aquatic life is non-existent, the soil infertility is at stake as a result of the oil spillages, gas flaring and other forms of pollution.
In the face of this prevailing situation, the oil companies hardly employ members of the host community. My chat with the Chairman of the Ogboinbiri Community Development Committee (CDC), Mr. Eseimokumo Ben-Okosughe, revealed that Nigerian Agip Oil Company has only three permanent staff of Ogboinbiri origin in their employ. While they have less than ten working as contract staff in Agip. They (Agip) recently agreed to employ four more contract staff from the community. These four have undergone the necessary tests and have been offered the employment. Yet, even as I write this, they are yet to resume duties at the Company, with the Company giving one excuse after another. The companies initially based their not employing natives on illiteracy, so the youths started going to school and began acquiring certificates. But are they getting the promised jobs? NO! Again, this baffles me. Could it be that none of these graduates are eligible? None is intelligent enough?
This takes us to the issue of education. Ogboinbiri community has one secondary school built years ago by Agip which is now dilapidated and no longer fit to function as a 21st Century secondary school. It has no library or laboratory whatsoever. How can it boast of those when it has no doors and windows? On the other hand, the scholarship scheme from Agip this year took care of twenty one secondary school students for the year, the highest figure so far as against the usual four or five students per anum.
In the whole of Ogboinbiri community, there is only one dilapidated and abandoned health center.
Since the inception of this present regime of the Community Development Committee, according to the Chairman, the Committee has been soliciting with the Nigerian Agip Oil Company to rehabilitate this health center. This effort is yet to bear any tangible fruit, it has been promises and promises and promises. After several futile attempts at getting the Company to renovate the health center, the Community resorted to locking up the Agip wellhead, but so far, the renovation of the health facility remains a mirage. I was informed that it is the traditional birth attendants that deliver babies and carry out other health related duties in the community when there is an a;ready existing health center waiting just to be renovated and refurbished.
In the case of a health emergency, the only option is to get to the state capital which takes about two hours using a speed boat. And I began to wonder if these people are living in the Stone Age or the jet age. I shudder to imagine what the pregnant women pass through during delivery.
The impacts of oil exploration on the environment seem to be the most disturbing problem facing the Niger Delta region. I remember the first time I came in contact with water body polluted by oil spill in 2009. It was at our NYSC orientation camp in Kaiama. We were shocked to discover films of oil atop the water we fetched in the buckets and upon enquiry; we were informed that the water was polluted by oil spill. The rivers in the Niger Delta are polluted by oil spills, and these rivers serve as the main source of water for the communities. They drink, cook, wash and bathe from same river which often times double as incinerators and toilets. These oil spills occur as often as four to five times yearly. The last one that occurred in Ogboinbiri in June 2016 is yet to be cleaned up by the oil company. The result is that flood washes the spills via the creeks and canals into the same river that the people consume.
The picture below depicts the typical Ogboinbiri community during rainy season. The inhabitants and visitors alike must paddle canoes to get from the road to their destinations, sometimes using makeshift wooden bridges to get inside their homes.
The floods are this bad due to the activities of the oil companies.
The gas flare, despite all the hullabaloo against it still goes on, in fact in Ogboinbiri, it occurs just across the community, about 120 meters away from the people.
As a result of the gas flaring, there is the problem of acidic rains, death, diseases and many other hazards. Recently, there have been increased cases of cancer, constant respiratory problems, high fever, convulsion, anemia (especially among children of 1-10 years), and etcetera. Yet the government and the multinational companies do not yet see the need to act. What will be the fate of these communities in the next ten to twenty years if nothing is done to salvage the environment?
There was an MOU signed by both the Community and the oil Company but it expired in 2012 and since then, according to Mr.Ben-Okosughe, there has been no new one. All efforts to get the Company to sign new one has been abortive. Thus, there has been no new project undertaken by Agip in Ogboinbiri since 2012. Yet oil exploration has been going. Too many promises and pledges all still in the pipeline, I just hope they will not all be pipe dreams.
I further questioned the C.D.C Chairman on the efforts of the Government to alleviate the Community’s suffering or to get the oil companies to do their own bit of Corporate Social Responsibility to the community. I was informed that the Government is well aware of their plight but chose to ignore it. The recent peace talk between the Federal Government and the Niger Delta Leaders would be a welcome development if only it would be backed by positive actions.
There has been too many avoidable agitations and crisis in the Niger Delta region for as long as we can remember. I have no doubt in my mind that this scenario will continue to play out unless the multinational oil companies and the Government do what is right by these people. It feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul if you ask me and no Peter will be happy to be marginalized so. The oil revenue accruing from the abundant natural resources in this region is being used to enrich and develop other regions and peoples. It feels just very unfair and inhuman. I mean, how difficult can it be to just give these oil producing communities basic amenities, employment, safer environment and better opportunities in compensation for lifting their oil and destroying their ecosystem? I AM BAFFLED!