By Styvn Obodoekwe
Until the recent discovery that they have been deceived by Shell Development Petroleum Company, SPDC, which made them believe spill sites in their community have been properly cleaned and remediated, the people of Ikarama Community have been wondering why crops planted on their lands often die off.
Crops do not thrive. Cassava stems planted die and are replaced again. Those that manage to reach harvesting period hardly yield anything unlike in the past lament some members of Ikarama Community in Okordia clan, Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.
Although they are aware that oil pollution destroys the fertility of affected lands rendering them unproductive and unfit for farming, they also know that when a spill site is properly cleaned and remediated, the soil fertility is restored.
Ikarama Community is host to two major oil multinationals, Shell and
Nigeria Agip Oil Company, NAOC. Both companies have been exposed to be reckless in their operations, causing havoc to the environment of their host communities. Ikarama is said to have the highest frequency of oil spillage in Bayelsa State.
However, majority of the oil spills had occurred from facilities of Shell; especially from Adibawa/Okodia delivery line, Okodia/Rumuekpe pipeline and Okordia manifold. Also, most of the oil spills have occurred within the immediate community environment; close to residential buildings, farms and farmlands, according to reports by Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, ERA/FOE.
Over 1000 oil spills are said to have occurred in Ikarama from Shell facilities since 2011. The spills were caused by equipment failures/operational errors as well as third party interference or sabotage. Community stakeholders often insist that most of the sabotage spills were instigated by Shell employees and contractors. The spillages have put the multinational oil company in conflict with its host communities.
The latest oil spill by Shell facility was witnessed in April 2021. It occurred from the Okordia-Rumuekpe trunk-line belonging to Shell on April 7, 2021. Report of Joint Investigation Visit, JIV, carried out in response to the spillage indicates that the spill was an operational mishap traced to equipment failure which impacted nearby palm trees and fish ponds. The report subsequently recommended a remediation of the site
Clean up of oil spillages are often delayed when they occurred, thereby allowing oil to percolate and seep into the ground, according to Comrade MORIS ALAGOA of ERA/FOE, who has been traversing the Niger Delta region monitoring and documenting oil pollutions and their impacts on the environment. For sites that were purportedly cleaned by Shell, it has been found out that what Shell has been doing in Ikarama in the guise of clean up was a cover up of the spills.
They simply turned the affected soil upside down, hiding the oil spills under the soil. Unfortunately, community folks who mostly depend on farming for survival, though clean up and remediation of their farmlands have been properly done. They therefore resumed farming on their lands.
Recently, community folks discovered that they have been wasting their energies and resources cultivating on lands that have not been properly remediated.
Crude oil was found in the ground by a community member, Benjamin Warder while digging the ground to collect mud to fill up a hole near his business centre. He immediately alerted ERA/FOE of the development.
Warder, who, is the immediate past youth president of the community, told Comrade Moris Alagoa on Saturday, August 14, 2021 that,“While trying to get mud for filling close to my business centre along the SPDC manifold road at Ikarama, I was amazed to see crude [oil] surfacing at this level. This goes a long way to tell that the entire land can’t be used anymore for farming activities.”
He further disclosed that when he brought a machine to excavate a portion he wanted to build a fishpond, they saw a lot of crude oil gushing out from the ground. That discouraged him from continuing with the fishpond for fear that any fish put there would not survive.
On a visit to the area, it was discovered that any part of the purportedly remediated spill sites still have oil settling about one meter below the ground.
In her testimony, former women leader of the community, Chief [Mrs] Ayibakuro Warder said, ”Our crops don’t do well again, particularly the cassava tubers. Sometimes when we plant it looks as if it is dying off. We change it again with other stems. Plantain too, sometimes the newly planted ones would die and we have to replace them. Tuber plants like cassava and yam no longer yield like times past; yam are getting rotten.
“So, we feel this could be as a result of crude oil in the environment; oil spill impacted sites not properly cleaned up and remediated. We have not been experiencing this before now. The new experience we are having is that the crops are no longer doing well. Sometimes, in some areas of our farmlands, as we cultivate to plant we see crude oil. “That is what we are contending with and, as fisher folks and farmers; this is a threat to our means of livelihood and health.”
Another community member, Dominion Ibator, whose immediate residential environment has been impacted by oil spills several times, lamented thus,”Anything we plant in this ground is no longer doing well, whether plantain, banana, cassava, etc. Also, we are not seeing some of the crops that we used to have around; for the past 20 years we are not seeing them again.
“The three-leaf yam, the white yam, we have not been seeing them again. We are not even seeing the real water yam anymore because of the crude oil; the ones we have here now are imitation, they don’t have good taste.
“Cassava is not doing fine, same with plantain; due to this crude oil. There is one thing we have noticed here about crude oil, anywhere there is spill; hardly before the crude oil will finish there. It will remain there for years. We always perceive the smell.”
Following the discovery, ERA has called on the Federal and Bayelsa State governments to take urgent steps to commence scientific investigation (environmental audit) on all oil spill sites in Ikarama and beyond (including a comprehensive health examination of the people) to ascertain the true situation of the environment. The oil companies responsible for the facilities should be part of this environmental audit exercise.
The environmental rights organization further demanded that Shell should prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is not culpable in this environmental crime against the people of Ikarama community
It also called on the media and other stakeholders including the civil society and legal practitioners to take interest in the matter and play roles expected of them in defense of the victims and pursuant to environmental justice.