The Pains Of A Comunity
With vibration that shook his house to its foundation, Chief Uchendu Amadi, a member of the council of chiefs in Aluu community thought that his community had recorded the first earthquake in Nigeria, when a deafening explosion woke him up from sleep on that fateful might.
The vibration, which left the old man confused and bewildered, was so much that virtually all the items in his two room apartment scattered. Scampering to escape the possible effects of the vibration, the old man saw a large cloud of fire standing in the middle of the river, about a nautical mile from the community. It was then he discovered that the source of the explosion was from the facility of the oil firm - Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, which his community had been playing a good host to in the past four and a half decades.
Aluu, a fishing settlement, is one of the host communities of Shell, one of the multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region of the country. But the company recently threw its host community into panic following a technical fault that led to the explosion of its gas well head. The gushing gas ignited fire that spread to the company’s rig at its Ohimini oil field. The rig was operated in the area by a drilling company. The oil firm faced the Herculean task of first rescuing its workers on the field before thinking of the host community.
Newsworld checks indicate that all efforts by the company to put out the fire proved abortive, as the explosion continued to increase with its attendant consequences of polluting the environment with dangerous emissions.
The development has pitched the company against inhabitants of the community, who have continued to raise alarm over possible danger to their health and means of livelihood. Owing to the toxic fluid spreading from the burning site, fishes are dying in great numbers in the ocean. “Fish is part of our source of protein. Apart from the dead fishes, we are even scared of eating those that may be caught alive because of the pollutants in the environment,” Amadi stressed.
The problem of the community is compounded by lack of health facilities that can attend to their health needs in case of possible outbreak of epidemic as a result of the explosion. The distance between the community and the state capital, where there is a general hospital, cannot be covered in less than two hours.
“In case of serious medical attention, this is also our concern, because we don’t have any health facility around,” he said.
Despite discovering oil in the area in 1963 and the arrival of SPDC in the community in 1967, the community has nothing tangible to show for its contribution to the sustenance of the nation’s economy by cooperating with Shell to operate in their community. The explosives used by the company was said to have dislocated the ancient community, forcing the inhabitants to relocate to its present settlement.
The community is grossly neglected and now, even their means of livelihood and health of the people are threatened. It is also believed that a similar thing happened in 1980, when there was a major oil spill in the area just about some metres from the site that was on fire currently.
Reacting to the development, the chairman of Aluu Development Union, ADU, Chief Samson Eche accused the federal government and Shell Petroleum Development Company of gross insensitivity to the plight of community. He complained over the failure of the company to provide a conducive environment for its host community.
“The federal government and Shell are saying that the explosion occurred offshore and this is a mark of indifference to the environmental hazard and suffering of people of Aluu community,” he said.
Also in the same vein, the chief whip of Ikwerre local government area of the state, Honourable Chibundu Ogundu observed that the affected inhabitants have started complaining of breathing problems and other associated skin diseases.
Ogundu, who is also an environmentalist, decried the negative impact of heavy gas leakage in the community, explaining that gas flaring releases large amount of methane, which has high global warming potential.
The lawmaker, who represents Mbodo/ Aluu ward five in the council, asked the government to send relief materials and medical personnel including drugs to bail out the affected inhabitants of the community without delay. He expressed concern that while gas flaring in developed countries had been minimised, it had grown proportionally with oil production in the country, adding that Nigeria accounted for about 50 percent of all industrial emission and 30 percent of the total carbon monoxide emissions.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Right Action, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, has corroborated the impact of the burning gas on the community in particular and environment at large. The representative of the NGO, Mr. Alogoa Morris, during a visit to the site, reported that the incident had devastated the environment.
In his report he said, “The environment has suffered some kind of pollution. There was sheen on the surface of the water. This sheen later changed to a very strange, thick colour that looked like a carpet or maps drawn on the surface of the water. The colour became like thick brown, with dead fish floating and some throes of death; struggling to stay alive.”
The NGO in it recommendations asked Shell to move to the site immediately and allay the fears of the inhabitants of the community; as well as take immediate steps to contain the spread of the pollutions.
The Rivers State government has summoned SPDC to a stakeholders’ meeting due to the damage the inferno has inflicted on the people. The state governor, Honourable Rotimi Amaechi chided the company for not handling the matter properly. He has constituted a committee to provide relief materials and medical items to the affected community.
The governor has also established a technical committee consisting of professionals in the state ministry of environment, mandating it to assess the damage done by the explosion and make appropriate recommendations.
Also, the Senate has asked the management of Shell to begin the payment of compensation to the affected community, as well as set out plans to put in place available alternative source of livelihood for the inhabitants of the affected community.
However, it is believed that the management of Shell Petroleum Development Company has acknowledged the fact that the explosion had done a lot of damage to the community, confirming that arrangement has been made to send relief materials to the affected inhabitants.
According to a spokesman of the company, who pleaded for anonymity, “Shell cannot run away from paying compensation to victims as soon as the process of assessment and recommendation is concluded.”
The spokesman further said that the company alone would not be able to determine the nature and the value of compensation to the community, adding that other agencies would need to be involved to investigate the level and impact of the damage before the value of compensation could be calculated.