Checking Indiscriminate Oil Exploitation In N’Delta

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Before the discovery of oil in commercial quantity in Oloibiri community, Bayelsa State in the late 50s by the Royal Dutch Company, Shell, the people lived a life of contentment, depending on the treasures of their natural environment which earned them their daily means of livelihood.
Today, the community remain scarred with the brunts of oil exploration, bereft of basic amenities and perhaps remembered only for its pioneering role as the area where oil was first struck in commercial quantity in Nigeria. Oloibiri community, no doubt, portrays the dismal catastrophe of unguarded and incautious exploitation of natures energy reserve.
Oloibiri among several other affected communities in the Niger Delta has become case studies of oil pollution and environmental degradation among scholars.
A visit to some communities in Ogoni, Rivers State, such as Bodo, also reveals the sorry state of oil bearing communities. The adjoining creeks and mangrove habitation in the area are now extinct and the once thriving rural economy and communal living is displaced.
No thanks to reckless oil exploration activities which have brought colossal damage to the natural environment, depriving the people of their natural means of livelihood. The effects of these reckless conservation of natural energies are not farfetched.
Apart from the physical damage to the natural environment and pollution of the atmosphere, the people are forced out of their natural abode, to migrate into unaccustomed areas in search of livelihood that are mostly not found.
A former inhabitant of Kozo community, a coastal habitation in Bodo, Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, Mr Peter Ledisi, who now lives in Bodo town, told The Tide that he was born in Kozo community and grew up in the area until the sad experience of oil pollution displaced his family.
Ledisi, who is 35 years old, said his parents took care of him and his siblings through the proceeds of fishing, but today he noted life has become so difficult for the family as their means of livelihood is destroyed.
“That place you see (Kozo community) used to be our home for the past decades, we grew up there and pursued life with happiness, we were contented with what nature provided for us through fishing, every growing child enjoying living there because it provided fun for us and filled our desire and passion for game and we also made money from it. Today, we are displaced out of our home by oil pollution, life is now a misery for us,” he lamented.
Another displaced inhabitant of the community, Miss Tornubari Sakpugi, also narrated her ordeal following the devastation of their natural settlement by oil pollution.
Sakpugi, a fish dealer, said her business has collapsed, as her customers can no longer go on their fishing expeditions due to pollutions of the rivers.
“I used to buy fish in higher quantity from fishermen who sojourn to the deep sea for a catch. The business helped me a lot and I was able to provide for my needs, but today things are very hard for me. It is a terrible experience to move out of a place where you earn your daily living to a place where survival is not certain as there is no alternative means of livelihood.
“We want the polluted rivers to be cleaned, so that we can return home. They are talking about UNEP report, but no action is foreseen. We are suffering; the government should do something to help us”.
At Kozo community, she said there was no visibly sign of life, but desolation. The sprawling creeks where the fishermen launched their daily expeditions were laden with thick layers of crude oil. The mangrove reserves that harboured sea food was completely burnt off, one would hardly believe that the settlement once hosted over four thousand inhabitants. Fishermen at some major water-fronts in Port Harcourt also have similar stories to tell.
Iyalla, a fisherman who resides at Ibadan water front in Port Harcourt told The Tide during a visit to the area, that fishing business is no longer lucrative compared to the past. Asked the reason for the sharp decline in the business, he said the rivers have been contaminated with spilled crude oil from bunkering activities.
According to him, years back, fishermen did not have to go to the deep sea before they were rewarded with good catch. But today, he said they have to paddle and wander up the sea amidst wreckages of boats and badges and sometimes return home with little or no catch.
He explained that illegal refining of crude oil and vandalisation of oil pipeline smear the rivers with wasted crude and floating dead sea creatures.
Experts have also identified the reckless exploration of energy resources as the major threats to the natural environment, especially aquatic life.
A Chemical Engineer, Dr Ujile Owajiogak, who spoke with The Tide in an interview in Port Harcourt, said the burning of our natural reserves especially through the “cooking of crude oil” puts the life of the present generation and that of posterity at risk.
The Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Rivers State University, disclosed that it takes over 50 years for a polluted site to regain its lost reserves. Using the experience of the civil war as example, the university teacher said, the bombing of oil facilities in the Niger Delta during the war left in its wake devastating effect on the creeks and coastal channels of the region.
He pointed out that after close to 50 years of the war, nothing has grown in the impacted sites and the flourishing mangrove forest is replaced with nypa palm that has no economic value.
“The indulgence of criminal elements in the cooking of crude oil is very destructive to our ecosystem and has health implication. Research has shown that illegal bunkering will increase cancer in the Niger Delta region. What is the sense in taking a few component of the products and wasting the rest on aquatic life? Our environment was preserved and bequeathed to us by our forebears, but today, we are destroying it. The oil, companies are not helping matters, as they flare gas and cause damage to the natural environment. There are serious health challenges in the region as the people are now endangered species, this is pathetic,” he declared.
In the view of an Environmental Sociologist, Dr Steve Wodu, human insensitivity to the protection of his natural environment has worsened problems of environmental degradation. To him, some of man’s action are tempered on crass ignorance or “deliberate obstinacy,” billed to ruin existence.
“Otherwise what would be the rationale behind indiscriminate burning of natural energy reserves or bad sanitation habits such as littering of wastes and lack of care of the natural surrounding,” he asked rhetorically.
Wodu posited that a new era of posterity can only blossom if we begin to treat our environment with some sanctity with which we treat our life.
Also commenting on the need to check indiscriminate exploitation of nature’s reserve, the Director Institute of Conflict and Gender Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Prof Fidelis Allen, said a blighted environment portrays the nakedness of our civilisation and turns man’s dream into despair.
Allen, who is also an environmental crusader called for a more holistic approach towards the restoration and preservation of the natural environment.
According to him, only through such holistic approach and sound environmental awareness campaign can the ethical violation of environmental rights be curtailed and sustainable environmental growth sustained.
He called on the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region to always imbibe the tenets of international best practices in their operations and ensure that the natural environment is protected against gas flaring and oil spillages.
He described the Ogoni clean-up exercise as critical to the eventual remediation of other impacted sites in the Niger Delta communities and called on all affected stakeholders to expedite action to make the clean-up exercise a success.
Realising the importance of the natural environment, the American Novelist, Henry Beston warned: “Do not do dishonour to the earth lest you dishonour the spirit of man”. The implication of Beston’s warning is that by destroying his natural environment through unguarded conservation of its resources, man sets to consume himself in an inescapable catastrophe, the possibilities of which are too obvious to be ignored.
However, the production and consumption of energy is today a major indicator of modernisation process. Our modern civilisation is fuelled by the energy sector, particularly oil and gas and thus involves exploratory activities with attendant pollution problems and significant local and global implication. It is therefore suicidal to see that the very natural ingredients that nourish our lives are washed away in the name of technology or economic drive. It is left for us to heed to Beston’s warning or perish.