Nigeria is the largest producer of crude oil in Africa and 50% of the extraction of this natural commodity occurs in the Niger Delta region. The discovery of crude oil in the region poses a threat to the poor in some communities in the Niger-Delta where massive oil facilities are located.
Residents of these communities bear the brunt of production wastes and other industrial pressures which manifest in climate change and other forms of degradation to the environment. This change results in greenhouse gases in the earth atmosphere and destruction of farmlands.
Niger Delta region is an on-going disaster and a chronic environmental flash point with no end in sight. Yet, there is little or no support for communities and individuals that are seriously affected by this blessing in disguise. Several health and economic challenges confront innocent dwellers who knew no other habitat than their home town.
Currently, hundreds of thousands of people who live in the Niger Delta are being exposed to oil contamination near their homes, farm lands, fishing ponds as well as their drinking water. The consequences of such exposure on their health are mostly unknown to them. With all the challenges associated with oil contamination in this region, and the continuous negligence by authorities, the people will keep hoping that succour will come their way soon.
Ace Nigerian photojournalist, Emmanuel Osodi took a trip to the region to document the living conditions of some residents in some communities where people are affected by environmental disasters that have caused them damages beyond what they can currently imagine.
On Monday 13, March, 2018, I set out on this special assignment. My mission was clear to me but my destinations were not so clear. All I knew clearly on my mind was that my assignment was about the prevalent consequences of unguarded oil explorations in the Niger Delta region.
My mind was also made up to know the stakeholders in the infamous national embarrassment, seeing that so much had been said and written about the activities of a few of the stakeholders - the oil companies, indigenous land owners, dare-devil agitators turned defenders of the oppressed natives and government opportunists - who had neither a stake in the land nor an investment in the Niger Delta matter. In all, my mission was clear but my journey very dicey.
Leaving Lagos for Bayelsa on that fateful day with expensive cameras, lighting equipment and other gadgets, I did not anticipate rain, but my four-day adventure across communities in Bayelsa state was marred by incessant rainfalls.
My tour guide simply identified himself as Akpotu, and was the reason my assignment did not turn out to become a nightmare. Why? I got a bucket load of threats from scary-looking youths who have become 'generally' accepted (at least in the region) as vanguards and defenders of the land. But I still wonder what the return of their crude activism and violence has brought to the land. They make money through bravado on innocent researchers and investigators. There is no proof that these crude faces could ever engage government in any resourceful dialogue. Yet, they eke income regularly somehow.
On my first day in Bayelsa State, I visited the office of the Environmental Rights Action, ERA/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, FoEN in Yenegoa, where I met the two major Environmental Rights Activists; Akpotu Ziworitin and Mr. Alagoa Morris.
They welcomed me to the state before I headed for my first assignment in a community called Imiringi. This brought me in contact with Mrs. Ekpel D'ck, who narrated how her building roof had been so badly affected by gas flare.
She said since the company arrived their community with massive oil facilities, they have not known peace. Gas flaring has continuously corrode their roof tops, affect the air they breathe and caused their plantations to be stunted as a result of acidic raindrops.
“It is only the capable residents who can fix their roof whenever it gets damaged by the acidic rain. We want the government to come to our aid and rescue us from this disaster that has been our lot for so long,” Mrs. D'ck explained.
I spent almost six hours in Imiringi taking photographs and interacting with the obviously unhappy community people even as the rain refused to subside.
On the second day of my assignment, I traveled almost a 75-kilometre journey - outside Yenegoa in the rain - with Mr. Akpotu to Kalaba community. In this community, we met a 63-year-old woman, Mrs. Betta Oruka, who narrated why she could no longer continue with her farming.
“Sometime in 2006, I was carrying fire on a dry coconut outer skin on my hand to burn my farmland. I did not know there was a gas leakage close to my farm. Before I could realize what was happening, the whole bush went up in flames.
"There was no way I could escape the fire, all my farming tools and my food for that day got burnt. I started to scream ‘oh my God help me I am dying’ as I was inside the fire, not knowing that the fire had spread all over the bush.
"The fire burnt every part of my body to the extent that I could no longer see again, I only found myself at the hospital after which my husband and other community members came to visit me.
"They called the oil company, and that same day, the management of the company and some government officials came to see me. They took my picture and videoed me on the hospital bed. If you had seen me on that very day, you would not have recognized me at all," she narrated.
According to her, this was as a result of a gas pipeline explosion which occurred when she was trying to burn grasses on her farmland. Unknown to her, a gas pipeline passed through her farmland. As soon as she lit the fire, the pipeline went up in flames which almost burnt her to death.
She explained further, that the oil company wrote down her name and the names of every member of her family.
Mrs. Oruka noted also, that: “The next day, my elder brother came to the hospital where I was and immediately called the oil company to come take me away from the hospital to a better one. They obliged on the third day, and took me to their own hospital where I spent one month and two weeks.”
Her husband, who spoke to me in sadness, stated that after the first treatment his wife received for her burnt body by Agip Oil Company, the company had not come to sympathize with the family.
“And you know that fire damaged her body badly. I have been suffering while taking care of my wife all alone and Agip did not remember to visit us again after their first visit," he lamented.
“I have to visit my farm to cultivate what I will sell to take care of my wife’s health. My wife was very healthy when I married her, but since the incident happened, her health has not been stable.
“If I had money, I would have sued them to court, but because I don’t, that is why we are suffering,” Mr. Oruka further stated.
On the third day of my assignment, I was in Ikarama, a community after Kalaba, where I met a man called Washinton Odoyibo.
He showed me the extent of devastation done to their soil and expressed bitterness at how Shell Oil Company (Nigeria) had victimized them.
According to him, Shell Nigeria has de-fertilized their farmlands through spillage of excess crude oil on their lands, which has resulted to their inability to farm on the land.
Odoyibo also narrated his near death experience in the hands of some security personnel deployed to their community.
“As you can see, this is not the real colour of our farming soil; but due to the crude produce, you can see the damage.
“This whole area is a swampy area where we fish to take care of our responsibilities, but today, fish can no longer settle here again because of the excess crude oil that settled on the land and water.
“Many times, the crude oil comes from their manifold and even with their equipment failure, they call it sabotage. And even if they caused it themselves, they still come to intimidate us and oppress us. Because they know we do not have anyone to speak for us, we the Ikarama indigenes especially.
“So I do not know why Shell is behaving to us like this to those of us from Ikarama especially," Odoyibo stressed further.
Mr. Washinton said that the oil spillage had stopped for more than five years, "but our land remain damaged."
‘’Our crops are not producing well, even when you dig the soil, you can still smell the odour of crude oil.
"There was a day I was going to the bush (farm), some Civil Defence officers came to beat me up... look at my body, they shot at me with a gun when I was going to my farm to help myself."
I made several efforts to speak with the General Manager Shell Nigeria, Mr. Osagie Okunbor, but to no avail. I resorted to speaking with some senior staff members at their 21/22 Marina Lagos office, who requested after several rebuff, that I send my questions to this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was letter referred to one Mr. Bamidele Odugbesan, who was regarded as the Media Relations Manager. And it was he who engaged me in an email interaction thus:
I’ve had to review your questions and below are our reactions. I’m adopting this approach as we have not been able to get you a face-to-face interview.
I need you to tell me in the short interview, the humanitarian services Shell has done for some of these communities that were affected during spills?
You need to be specific about the communities, the particular spill incident, and the basis for humanitarian services. We respond to every reported spill incident in our facility regardless of the cause. Our response includes containment and removal of spilled oil. Where the spill is as a result of equipment failure, we pay compensation to those impacted in line with industry regulations.
How many residents of the communities were assisted by Shell?
Residents of what communities? Please note that our social investment programmes running into millions of dollars are spread across the country and particularly in the Niger Delta. Such programmes include hundreds of scholarships from secondary to university levels within and outside Nigeria; health intervention programmes; sports sponsorship and promotion; provision of infrastructure and delivery of community-driven GMoU projects.
What exactly did Shell do for the residents who were affected by gas flaring and oil spills?
What communities are you referring to, and gas flare from which of our facilities? You mean the communities listed below? Please note that penalty for flares is regulated by government.
In a recent report dated 31 May, 2018, Shell claimed to have conveniently disbursed over N21 billion on community projects in Bayelsa state.
Special Report: How oil companies abandon victims of gas flaring via Legit.ng TV