ERA Counsels Italian Big Oil on How to Treat Bayelsa Oil-bearing Communities

Akanimo Sampson

Akanimo Sampson

Foremost environmental rights advocacy group, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) wants Italian oil major, Agip, to always inform oil-bearing communities in Bayelsa State formally and carry them along each time it has reasons to access the pipeline in their environment.

This, according to ERA, is to avoid scenarios whereby innocent communities would be victimised should unidentified persons attack company workers while working in the environment.

This is sequel to an Incident which occurred on February 3 at Lasukugbene community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.

For Zion Kientei and Alagoa Morris, ERA’s Field Monitoring Officers: ‘’All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.’’ That is what Article 24, African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights says.

Lasukugbene is however, one of the communities settling on the bank of the Southern Ijaw
local government axis of River Nun, in Bayelsa. And two of the immediate neighbours of the community are Oyeregbene and Baberegbene.

The community is host to the Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC] and Shell Petroleum
Development Company [SPDC]; having manifolds, pipelines and few oil wells within the community environment.

When the officials of ERA visited this community on March 15, 2008 in connection with an
oil spill from NAOC’s facility which occurred [then] on February 23, 2008 it was also a tale of lamentations.

Testimonies obtained from community folks then include this comment from the Paramount
ruler, Chief Franel Christain Akenika ‘’Since Agip passed this pipe through our land in 1974, we have not actually benefitted from the company’’

Besides the continuing oil industry induced pollution from facilities of NAOC; it appears
nothing has changed as the same statement made by the community’s paramount ruler in 2008 has been re-echoed by other community folks presently.

Information about the current oil spill reached ERA on February 14, 2022. Its volunteer, Zion
Kientei visited Lasukugbene, from Yenagoa last February 16 in response to the same information received.

On his return to Yenagoa, Zion informed the environmental rights group, ‘’a lot of fishes and other aquatic lives lost at the spill impacted site [environment]. The spill at Lasukugbene is severe.’’

Apart from informing Agip about the incident on time and also reaching out to the state
Ministry of Environment via phone, community representatives also took the matter to ERA Niger Delta Resource Centre, Yenagoa; to register their complaint and plight to ERA Monday, March 7, 2022.

They also had a written Save Our Soul not addressed to any particular agency, which was also signed by the paramount ruler. Part of the letter read thus: ‘’Lasukugbene community is at the verge extinction due to the severe oil spillage which occurred on the Tebidaba/Brass Agip Trunk

And, even though the date the spill was discovered was indicated as 9th February, 2022 in the said letter; they told ERA that it was a mistake as the actual date was 3rd February, 2022.

According to Amos Ininimikiye, ‘’Agip should come and remove their pipeline from our environment as we cannot continue to have only the negative impacts from their presence in our environment. The community noticed this present oil oil spill on February 3, 2022 and duly informed the facility owner, Agip.

‘’But, instead of coming to the community formally with a view to locate the spill point in the swampy environment, Agip resorted to self-help by going about trying to locate the spill site with the military and, they couldn’t locate the exact spot. This has been their way, avoiding the
community and acting as if they own our environment.

‘’It was just two days ago (Saturday, March 5, 2022) that they were able to locate the actual spill point through the assistance of community folks. I also went with them to the site. They came with swamp buggie and, in the presence of the regulators and military; excavated the spot.

‘’And it was discovered that the exposed  section of the pipeline was leaking right from
under. There was another spill point not far from this excavated spot, but Agip refused to visit that spill point.’’

Continuing, Amos said ‘’even though a NOSDRA representative and State Ministry of Environment appears to be represented, there was no JIV, as no document was signed. However, everyone at the site, including Agip and the regulators agreed that the spill was an equipment failure incident.

‘’When they decided to refill the excavated spot, we disagreed with them no proper JIV has been done. But considering their pleading, we finally accepted; since they promised returning to the site for replacement of the section of the pipeline.’’

‘’Agip should remove their facilities in our environment; we are not benefiting in any way from these oil facilities apart from the negative impacts of oil spills. This Tebidaba/Brass pipeline was laid since 1974 and it has not be replaced by Agip since then.

‘’We don’t benefit even as mere clearing of the pipeline or surveillance contract; not to talk about scholarship for our children of amenities like water and light’’, he adds.

Also speaking, the community’s General Secretary, Valiant Jackson, says ‘’Agip, as our tenant, has not been treating us well. Even when we inform them about the incident of oil spill in the environment, instead of coming to the community formally; Agip often went about trying to access the site without recourse to the community.

‘’Besides, Agip always attribute the cause oil spills in our environment to sabotage. All these they do because the military is at their disposal; intimidating us. They even refused to visit another spill site not far from the excavated point last Saturday, along the same pipeline.

‘’Presently, as I speak, Lasukugbene is suffering from lack of drinking water due to the current oil spill. Being a fresh water environment, the Nun River and surrounding swamps serves as our sources of drinking especially as we are in dry season. It is serious. The Nun River and Swamps, including farmlands have been affected by the oil spill.

‘’Another impact of the current oil spill is the destruction of aquatic lives such as fishes and crabs; dying. As fishing and farming community, this will have great impact on our means of livelihood and; even health.

‘’Our people have been reduced to the level whereby instead sellers of fish; we now buy ice fish from the city to the community. Instead of drinking from our natural source of water [the Nun River], we now buy sachet water for drinking. Fishing gears [traps and nets] are affected by the oil spill. Even the air we breathe has been affected.’

’ If not for the presence of NOSDRA and Ministry of Environment, Agip workers sent for this work last Saturday would have returned to Brass or wherever they came from without identifying the ruptured spot on the company’s pipeline.

They claimed and insisted that there was nothing like a fresh oil spill, alleging that crude oil spreading in the environment was from an old spill; as against the position of the community. At the end, the exact spot was identified and excavated.

The exposed pipeline revealed rupture; as it was leaking right under the pipe, at 6’O Clock position. Everybody present saw it and all agreed, including Agip; that the leak was as a result of equipment failure.’’

ERA’s volunteer observed that the Agip workers on site displayed antagonistic disposition, even though the military who accompanied Agip to the site only observed what was happening keenly.

If not for the insistence of community representatives and supported by the regulators;

Agip would have left the environment without excavating the spill point. Apart from people from Lasukugbene, some persons from Baberegbene were also present at the site.

Presently, there is another oil spill site spewing crude oil in the environment; about 300 meters from the spot that was excavated on Saturday.  But, Agip workers resisted suggestions to also visit and work on that spot.

The excuse they gave was that they were asked to come for just one spot; the spot they
finally excavated and, hence they have to leave the other place for next time. Another reason they gave was that it hasn’t been long they did some repairs at the second place community folks were pointing at.

ERA’s volunteer and community folks still went to the second spill point with canoe and confirmed crude oil spewing just as the excavation work at the first and only excavated spot was ongoing; same Saturday.

Dead fishes and special crabs used as bait for snail and fish were observed in the impacted
swamps and river. And, apart from the swamps and pipeline, crude oil was spreading on the Nun River.

Although NOSDRA and Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment officials were also present at
the site on March 5, 2022 and the exercise may be described as Joint Investigation Visit [JIV], no document was presented to anyone for signing.

However, everyone present at the excavated spot saw and agreed that the pipe was leaking
from right under the pipe; at 6’O Clock point. Also, without repairing the ruptured spot that has been confirmed; Agip suggested that the excavated spot be refilled immediately with the mud from the same spot.

This was initially resisted by community representatives, but they later agreed after
much pressure from Agip.  This was very strange, covering a ruptured section of oil bearing pipeline without carrying out repairs. It is also viewed environmentally as criminal on the part of Agip not to visit and work on the second identified spill point just about 300 meters away.

As at the conclusion of this report on Wednesday, 9th March, 2022; there has been no confirmation from the community that Agip has returned to site; meaning crude oil is still spewing into the environment with the knowledge of Agip, NOSDRA and State Ministry of Environment.

It is important to also note that, during the community visit to ERA Niger Delta Resource Centre; ERA provided space/opportunity for them to speak to the press with a view to reaching the relevant stakeholders and, this was aired on Silverbird Rhythm 94.7 FM on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.


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