. Aiteo, natives disagree on issues, cause of leakage
. As environment rights group issue demands
Impacted communities and natives, mainly fisherfolks and farmers, whose livelihoods depend on the now infamous Santa Barbara River Southwest field, in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, are asking for hundreds of millions in damages for losses suffered from the oil spill that occurred in the area.
This is even as many more are yet to quantify how much they have lost from being rendered redundant and effects of the oil spill on their health and environment.
This comes as the Federal Government, yesterday, announced that the spill has been “brought under control,” several weeks that the industry regulators and Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production Company (AEEPCO), the operator, have battled to clamp the leak at a hydrocarbon wellhead in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 29 NNPC/Aiteo Joint Venture facility.
For instance, one of the natives, Worikuma Ivory Pegi, who claimed to be “the landlord of the OML 29 Well 1 immediate environment,” said he lost over N100 million from agri-produce yet to be harvested.
“Even if I come face to face with Aiteo and they ask me to make demands; I don’t think I will be able to evaluate what has been damaged there now; it is worth over N100 million. It so affected me that, in fact, I cannot evaluate the total damages.”
For Helen Nathaniel, who said she had been fishing in the river for over 21 years, “They (government and Aiteo) should compensate us to enable us make ends meet in terms of feeding and replacement of our fishing gears that have been affected by this crude oil.”
Pegi argued that it is not only about being compensated because, “We have been totally displaced due to the hazardous nature of the crude oil spewing in gaseous form; we cannot breathe. And, being so affected and denied of our source of income; we are now going through hunger; even as all our fishing gears have been destroyed.”
Agreeing, Ebiyaibo Alafa, Pereduomene Ibromi, Nathaniel Kenseimo, Izuo Nembewei, and many other fishing folks are demanding for replacement of their fishing gears due to the contamination of the ibinga or fishing net by the spilled crude
We have been totally displaced due to the hazardous nature of the crude oil spewing in gaseous form; we cannot breathe. And, being so affected and denied of our source of income; we are now going through hunger; even as all our fishing gears have been destroyed.
Aiteo, natives’ counter claims
While Aiteo reports that the well head leak spewing gas and crude oil into the Santa Barbara River started on November 5, the communities insist it began on November 1, instead.
But this is not the only disagreement on issues regarding the oil spill, as some of the natives, mainly settlers at Sunny-Kiri, one of the impacted communities in an interaction with the Environment Rights Action/ Friends of the Environment Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), cry out for urgent help to feed in order to survive.
Notwithstanding that some palliatives brought in by Aiteo were widely broadcast, the natives claim they received only a small portion of what was delivered.
Aiteo reportedly delivered some relief materials in respect of the incident, which includes: 50 bags of beans, 100 bags of garri, 200 bags of rice, 200 bunches of plantain, 200 cartons of chicken, 200 cartons of Indomie, 500 packs of 75cl lassie bottle water, 25 bags of salt, 25 cartons of palm oil and a host of others.
However, the natives said they received just one and half bag of rice only, despite being documented in a video and photographed amidst many items.
In defence, spokesman for Aiteo, Ndiana Mathew, insisted that the company has nothing to do with the politics of sharing the items, as officials only dealt directly with the traditional ruler, the Opu Nembe.
Besides, he argued that there are no real communities around the well head, which is located along the Nembe Creek Trunkline (NCT), and therefore “very far away from Nembe.”
He added that Aiteo has done and is doing everything in its power to control the leak, and has remained socially responsible since the incident was reported.
Again, Aiteo had told the Government that the well head leak was allegedly an act of sabotage, while the natives insist it was due to equipment failure, as a similar spill had occurred from the same well head two years ago on October 2, 2019.
The natives challenged Aiteo to prove its allegation considering that the facility had remained unmanned all these years and would have been prone to constant breaches.
But Aiteo also disagreed, insisting that apart from the NCT being “the most difficult to police,” the company as part of its social responsibility had “provided the Nigerian Navy with equipment worth several millions to patrol the area.”
Even if I come face to face with Aiteo and they ask me to make demands; I don’t think I will be able to evaluate what has been damaged there now; it is worth over N100 million. It so affected me that, in fact, I cannot evaluate the total damages.
Irrespective of the cause(s) of the latest oil spill, ERA/FoEN following its on-site visit to the spill area has made some demands to protect the wellbeing of the people and the environment.
The environment rights group among others demanded that:
- Aiteo should show proof of providing adequate security for its facilities; including OML 29 Well 1;
- The regulators should bridge the gaps by making sure Aiteo takes all necessary steps to stop the raging oil spill;
- Mr. President should, as a matter of urgency and concern for the environment and victims of this oil industry induced catastrophic incident, visit the environment of interest and show of commitment to the protection of lives and property; just as former President Shehu Shagari did during the Funiwa blowout off Koluama and Fishtown in 1980/81;
- A comprehensive clean up and remediation plans should be immediately drawn up; fashioned in line with the UNEP recommended clean up in Ogoni in the interest of environmental justice and in line with Article 24 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights; and,
- Adequate compensation should be paid to victims; for general and specific damages; taken into consideration real victims at the fishing settlements.