For thousands of rural dwellers of Goi – an agrarian and fishing community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, the discovery of oil in the area has brought much anguish and danger to the community.
The community’s beautiful mangrove forest and arable land which hitherto produced all species of crops have been destroyed by devastating oil spillage which occurred between 2004 and 2008. The oil pollution also affected aquatic lives.
In October 2004, a major oil spill occurred in the Trans-Niger pipeline which runs through Ogoniland to Bonny Export Terminal. The oil spill ignited fire. The oil and fire destroyed the mangrove forest in the tidal region of the village of Goi.
Shell Petroleum Development Company SPDC, the major oil company exploring oil in the area, battled unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire which left on its trail a devastating impact on the community’s natural endowment. About 15 hectares of mangrove forest were devastated, 20 canoes destroyed, all the fishes killed and hundreds of economic trees such as palm trees, mango trees, coconut palm, avocado went up in flames.
The affected community was left in ruin till July 2007, 33 months after, when Shell began the cleanup of its fishpond built in the affected areas.
Between August and September 2008, another devastating spillage occurred from a new oil leak in the Trans-Niger pipeline. The incident destroyed what was left of the community’s arable lands and vegetations, a situation that made them desert the area. The incident left community inhabitable. There are no fishes left in the creeks or in the fishponds just as agriculture and crop cultivation is no longer possible. The residents wallow in abject poverty.
The evidence of poverty in the deserted community was very glaring when Daily Trust Saturday visited. The road leading to the community is in a terrible shape, just as it lacks basic amenities such as pipe borne water, health centres, primary and secondary schools. The community’s stream is polluted and the locals are exposed to benzene contaminated water. The only town hall in the community is left in ruins with caving in walls and corrosive roofing zinc.
Chief Fugbara Emmanuel, a community leader in Goi, said the devastating oil pollution in the community has lingered for a very long time with help coming from nowhere. “We have been in this problem for a very long time. The hardship caused by the pollution is better imagined. Our source of drinking water has been destroyed. Our streams has been polluted and contaminated. HYPREP has also failed to come to our aid as they have refused to provide palliative measures such as water and medication to alleviate our suffering as recommended by UNEP.
“The Federal Government has not done anything to help us. We are helpless. The rate of deaths in our community is alarming and this is not unconnected with the contaminated environment we found ourselves. Every weekend we bury people. We are dying on a daily basis; please we need immediate remediation,” he said.
Another community leader in Goi, Chief Joseph Lemagini, said the community lacks social amenities despite the fact that it was the first community discovered in Gokana Local Government Area. He decried the absence of secondary school, pipe borne water as well as medical centres to take care of their health challenges.
“Goi community is the first village in Gokana but among the villages in the local government area, we are the least. There is no development in Goi. We don’t have secondary school, we don’t have hospital despite our contribution in growing the Nigerian economy as an oil producing community,” he lamented.
John Baribodo, a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police, said they eat and drink from contaminated environment. “Our water has been polluted. We don’t have clean water anymore. All our mangrove forests have been destroyed. When Saraki was the Senate Committee Chairman on Environment, he visited our community with other committee members on oversight function but to his amazement he saw our women processing cassava that was contaminated with oil.
“He offered them money and asked them to throw away the cassava. They refused and insisted that the contaminated cassava is the only food item they can latch on. That is the level of poverty we are facing as a result of the polluted environment we found ourselves,” he stated.
In 2011, the community was visited by an investigative team that comprised of the United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP. After accessing the impact of environmental damage, the residents were advised to vacate the area to enable the agency carry out remediation of the affected areas.
The residents of the community complied and relocated to neighbouring communities such as Bodo, Kpor and Nmogo but eight years after they vacated their ancestral homes nothing has been done to remediate and decontaminate their polluted environment.
The paramount ruler of the community, Chief Eric Gooli, said HYPREP did not capture the community during its environmental impact assessment.
Chief Gooli, one of the arrow heads in Goi’s litigation against Shell at The Haque, Netherland, said “the impact of pollution in my community is very detrimental to my people and even the neighbouring communities. The pollution destroyed our forest. Our people used to go to the mangrove forest to pick periwinkles and other sea food but today there is no mangrove forest here, no periwinkles, and no shell fishes. The fishes we have are contaminated.
“There is no source of livelihood because we are living in a contaminated environment. The environment that is supposed to sustain the people is no longer feasible. When our people process cassava, what they take home is crude and this is contributing to health hazards for the people and environment.”
He said the people have lots of health challenges such as eye problem, skin diseases, and cancer while the women that are exposed to the contaminated sites have suffered miscarriages.
Amnesty International reported last year that children born within the contaminated environment of Niger Delta are exposed to death. Although there are no verifiable medical proofs to back up the claim but the people of Goi believe that the frequent death that occurred in the community is as a result of their exposure to the polluted environment.
“We are exposed to cancer because of the nature of the environment. All the food we eat, the water we drink is cancerous because they are exposed to the contaminated environment. The death rate in our community is on the increase and the causes of this death are not far from the polluted environment,” he said.
The environmental pollution of Goi community is far from being remediated. Our reporter learnt that the community was not properly captured during the environmental impact assessment carried out by HYPREP.
Chief Eric Gooli alleged that the community was tactically excluded from the environmental impact assessment by HYPREP because of its litigation with Shell at The Hague.
“During UNEP’s assessment, because of the litigation we had with Shell at the International Court of Justice, they tactically avoided Goi so that the report will not be used as evidence against Shell at The Hague. If you look at the environmental impact assessment document, after Goi you will find Bodo city.
“However, from the appendage, you will see that people from Goi were represented in the UNEP matter but Goi’s polluted sites were not captured so that it will not help the process of litigation against Shell. If you look at the opposite side of the entrance of the waterside – from where Trans Niger Delta pipeline carries crude oil products to where the export terminal transverses, it is our community land.
“That place was not captured properly by HYPREP neither was it properly captured by UNEP. We hosted the Trans Niger Pipeline and by right if there is anything that is going to take place they should consult the Goi leadership and the owners of the land,” he said.
The Minister of Environment recently flagged off the cleanup exercise in some polluted communities of Ogoni land. During the flag off exercise, some contractors were handed over some sites for the cleanup but Goi was not among the areas designated for the cleanup. HYPREP Coordinator during the handing over of sites to contractors at K-Dare said all the communities affected by the pollution will be cleaned up.
In 2012, four villagers of Ban-Goi took Shell to court at The Hague over pollution of their area with the intention of opening doors for payment of compensation. The fishermen and farmers from the area in collaboration with an environmental organization, ‘The Friends of Earth’ had accused Shell of polluting land and water around their homes. But Shell said the pollution was caused by sabotage. The villagers filed their suit in a civil court at The Hague where Shell headquarters is located. The villagers, including the Paramount Ruler of the Community, HRH Eric Dooli, appeared in court with a list of unspecified damages and argued that Shell and other corporations were responsible for the pollution from three major oil spillages that occurred in the area between 2004 and 2008.
“My community is a ghost land as a result of the devastation. We had good vegetation. Today, people have respiratory problems and are getting sick. Shell is aware of the whole devastation. I want them to pay compensation to clean up the pollution so we can grow our crops and fish again,” Gooli reportedly told Reuters at The Hague.
Shell denied that the pollution was caused by equipment failure but the activities of oil thieves who broke into the pipelines to steal the oil.
The United Nations said in a report that the government and multinational oil companies were responsible for 50 years of oil pollution that has devastated Ogoni land.
The residents of the community are at the receiving end of the environmental degradation in Goi. They want their environment cleaned up so that they can return home and continue to live their normal lives but help seems to have eluded them.
Chief Dooli said that he has not seen any sincerity in what the Federal Government is doing about the UNEP report. He wants the Federal Government to remedy their environment and pay compensation to the community.