How Oil Spill Cost Lives and Livelihood in Nigeria

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KADUNA, Nigeria — Oil exploration has been ongoing in Nigeria for over 50 years, with Shell being active in the nation since 1937. Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) is the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria, from land and swamps in the Niger Delta to deep-water reserves some 120 kilometres off the cost. The company operates the oil and gas joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum corporation – NNPC (55%), SPDC (30%), Total’s subsidiary (10%) and Nigerian Agip Oil (5%). The company is also involved in gas sales and distribution.

The explorations have often caused life-threatening oil spills, which have become common sights in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria. Moreover, several communities have suffered the devastating effect of such spills.

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), which is the biggest player in the region has been the most heavily criticized. Its role came under international spotlight following the execution of the environmentalist, playwright turned minority rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 by the then military dictatorship. Environmentalists often accuse Shell of failing to meet its obligations to a number of local communities near to where they operate and promises to replace ageing pipes and swamp flow lines.

Shell has continuously denied this, claiming that about 95% of discharges over the past five years have been caused by sabotage and, moreover, that the oil giant does meet its commitments and continuously monitors equipment.

Between 2006 and 2010 the joint venture operated by SPDC generated a total revenue of about 31 billion to the Nigerian government – an average of 6.2 billion per annum. “In addition to generating revenue, Shell companies in Nigeria actively promote projects in the Niger Delta that support small businesses, agriculture, training, education, health care and capacity building,” explained the company. All these statistics and blessings, however, have come at a huge cost to the people of Nigeria and the Delta indigenous in particular – pollution.

Instead of living up to their social responsibility, many state that Shell prefers to pay off warlords and corrupt governments to continue drilling.

According to Amnesty International, oil companies have been exploiting Nigeria’s weak regulatory system for too long. They state that, “They do not adequately prevent environmental damage and they frequently fail to properly address the devastating impact that their bad practice has on people’s lives.”

A landmark United Nations study into the long-term environmental impact of oil production in Nigeria explains that oil spills have led to acute health risks for area residents and widespread environmental damage that may take as many as 30 years and 1 billion to clean up.

For instance, in October 2002, the Niger Delta town of Okpella in Edo State, suffered its second devastating oil spill in three years when a pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) ruptured and spilled refined crude oil into the surrounding area. The incident threw more than 20,000 inhabitants of the town into confusion. Local residents, moreover, responded slowly to the disaster in the face of belated official initiatives to prevent the spread of the spill.

The inhabitants of the area watched helplessly as refined crude oil seeped into the underground water supply and then into a stream which provides the only source of drinking water for the village. The oil spill also affected the farmlands of the community where crops were visibly withered due to the presence of toxic materials in the soil, a major blow to a population that depends on farming for its survival.

Has any intervention effort been done to address these menaces?

Amoma-Francis Monday, Leader and Coordinator of all the communities affected by the Shell Bonga Oil Spill in Niger Delta, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the 2011 oil spill had brought about different ailments and untold hardships resulting in increased deaths of people living in 800 communities along the coastal belt.

Monday further said that the situation prompted the group to draw the Federal Government’s attention to the affected communities.

“It was our letter that prompted the Federal Ministry of Environment, Health and the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency to send experts to verify our allegations,” he said.

The coordinator also said that the experts were able to administer 60,000 questionnaires to 80 out of the 800 communities along the coast of the Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers States to ascertain their challenges.

Fumilayo Oyeyipo, Deputy Director of the Environmental Health and Sanitation Department as well as the Federal Ministry of Environment, said that the soil and water samples collected would be taken to their laboratory for analysis.

In a remark, Pa Holden Majebi, the community head of Egboroke in Ogheye, Warri North Local Government Area in the Delta said that his wards had been living in penury since the oil spill and that the development had affected fishing, which was their major means of livelihood.

Anderson Uwawah, a former secretary of Ugborodo community in Escravos, Warri South-West Local Government Area, called for the provision of facilities such as schools, healthcare centers and potable water in the communities.

Jacob Ajuju, the Amanawei of Orobiri Community, Kou-Kingdom in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa, commended the Federal Government for its intervention and urged them to ensure that justice was done in the investigation.

But, has justice been done?

The Director General of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Peter Idabor, said the nation’s worsening life expectancy may be linked to oil spillage and degradation of the ecosystem by pollutants related to oil.

“Our life expectancy is coming down. Young men and women are dying in their primes today because of what they eat: polluted substances we collect through the food chains through our vegetables we eat, snails, fishes and all others,” he said.

The Director General further maintained that the problems caused by the oil spill was a result of oil company’s major lack of conscience as they continue to lead incessant cases of pollution of the environment around oil producing areas.

In 2013, some young environmental activists, pretending to be scientists, pulled off a creative and subversive prank on Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell, in Berlin to demand cleaner business practices in Nigeria and elsewhere.

The group, Peng! Collective, pretended to be scientists who had created a machine to reduce carbon dioxide only to turn around to expose Shell for the “evil” spills they cause in Nigeria. They also asked the oil company to stop drilling plans in the Arctic.

“They [Shell] consciously create socio-ecological damage and show no real commitment to changing this. It is about time this company started taking responsibility for its actions,” the group said.

Shell had called for a Science Slam event, where they hoped young scientist would present creative ideas on renewable energy. Instead what Shell got from the activists was a direct opposite of the public relations it intended as the group hijacked the show, messed up the venue – but cleaned it up later – and made a viral video of it.

Peng! Collectives, which appears to specialize in pranking big businesses it suspects of indulging in dirty deals, accused Shell of running the worldwide biggest producer of carbon dioxide and other chemicals which are damaging the world’s climate, and yet pretending to care with events like the hijacked science Slam.

Adama Dickson Salami

Sources: African Network for Environment and Economic Justice, IHRB, Nigerian Bulletin, Open Mind Foundation, Premium Times Nigeria, This Day Live
Photo: The Atlantic

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