… Our people dying by effect of pollution
About 11 communities in Ogoniland have cried out that oil spillage in the area has continued to damage their environment and expose them to cancerous diseases.
The communities are Ogali Eleme, Bodo City, Kpean, B-Dere, K-Dere, Gio, Bomu, Ebubu, Beta and Buan all in Rivers State.
Some of the residents who spoke to journalists during a facility visit by Environment Right Action said they have lost one or more relatives as a result of ailments suspected to have been triggered by the polluted environment.
This is coming two years after President Muhammadu Buhari flagged off the Ogoni cleanup exercise as recommended by the UNEP report.
To commence the exercise, the Federal Government established the Hydro Carbon Pollution and Remediation Agency, (HYPREP) to coordinate the cleanup programme.
But the affected communities are expressing worry that two years on, nothing has been done to effect the clean up and remediation of the affected areas.
The people’s outcry that they are dying of cancer seems to have given credence to a report released last year by Amnesty International on the death of people living near oil spill sites.
A new study carried out by Amnesty which links environmental pollution with newborn and child mortality rates in Niger Delta revealed that oil spill occurring within 10 kilometers of a residence doubled neo-natal mortality rate and impaired the health of children.
However, the Rivers State Government and medical experts said there is no scientific proof that oil spill is responsible for the deaths of newborn babies, adults as well as infertility in women in the oil impacted communities.
But, the inhabitants of Ogoni communities who are victims of the pollution, strongly hold the opinion that oil spillage has caused deaths of adults, newborn, loss of pregnancies as well as various kinds of diseases.
Some of the affected residents said cancer was fast spreading in their communities, adding that their kinsmen and women died every week as a result of sicknesses triggered by the polluted environment.
A 74-year-old indigene of K-Dere in Gokana Local Government Area, Saturday Deekor, said the UNEP cleanup exercise is yet to commence in his community after pollution has destroyed their means of livelihood mainly crop and fish farming.
“There is nothing like cleanup here, since I have been in my community. I was born in 1944 and Shell came to my community between 1957/58 and started with location 2 after this forest,” he said.
Deekor said: “My people are suffering from different kinds of diseases. My 20-year-old son died of sickness suspected to be triggered by oil pollution, his sickness started shortly after his visit to one of the polluted sites and he died some weeks after.”
According to him, their farm crops such as cassava, yam and cocoyam have been destroyed by the pollution.
Another resident of K-Dere, who is an environmental scientist, Nyimabari Kobah, said “Before I was born, oil pollution has been in my community but there was no awareness on access to medical facilities. My wife and father died of sickness suspected to be cancer and that was caused by polluted environment.”
He said many people died of cancer in the community, adding that there are no old people in the community any longer as a result of health challenges from pollution, and that children were also dying in their numbers.
According to him, “We bury 10 or more persons every weekend in Gokana Local Government Area and this has become a source of worry to our people. We want government to do something about this.”
Speaking, the Executive Director of Environment Rights Action, Dr Godwin Uyi Ojo, berated the Federal Government for not living up to its responsibility in ensuring healthy environment of its citizens.
Dr Ojo, who expressed disappointment over the delay in the cleanup of Ogoniland, said the government lacked the political will to embark on the exercise.
He said the impact of oil spill in communities of Ogoniland is heartbreaking and urged the president and other leaders to come and see the enormity of the hazards the people are facing.
He said: “This is a situation where people are sentenced to death daily. They are dying daily, their livelihood has been destroyed, their lands have been destroyed and there is no relief or whatsoever.
“We have seen so many spills in K-Dere and you see the vast areas that have been highly polluted and the multi-national oil company involved is not on site to conduct remediation and cleanup.
“The people are in penury; there is no compensation. We are using this medium to call on oil companies operating in the area to live up to their responsibility.
“The Nigerian government should take a stronger political will to address the situation in Ogoniland and that of the Niger Delta in general. We know that conflict started because of lack of dialogue, we know that the communities were sidelined and you may talk of illegal bunkering and illegal refinery now.”
While noting that the UNEP report recommended emergency relief measures to address the livelihood of the people, he said, “If the creeks and the rivers have been polluted, the fish catch is depleted, and farm lands are yielding very low productivity, it is expected that alternative means of income are provided to the people.”
“What we have here is a case of environmental racism where lowering standard is what is obtainable in their operations in Nigeria, which is different from the standard employed in Europe and elsewhere. So we really need to question our government,” he added.
Meanwhile, the coordinator of the Hydrocarbon and Pollution Remediation Agency (HYPREP), Dr Mavin Dekil, has said that about 100 companies shortlisted for Ogoni clean up are engaged in all the technical processes of the exercise.
He said the processes would help the contractors have a thorough understanding of the site and also get the best information needed to do a great job.