BY ‘TIMI ALAIBE
Nembe, an otherwise quiet, beautiful kingdom in Bayelsa State, populated by a peaceful, enterprising people, has been in the news these past weeks, for the wrong reason. Dozens of already neglected communities and the people are soaked in crude oil—the same oil that has made such communities in Europe and America economic hotspots and development centres of the world. It begs the question: why do bad things happen to good people?
Suddenly, the oil that is supposed to help develop the communities and decorate them with skyscrapers, has become the reason for generational afflictions. Nigeria’s Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, captured it unquestionably well last week, when she was quoted as describing the oil spill on the communities as massive and an equivalent of the atomic bomb that wasted Hiroshima—the Japanese city, during the Second World War.
No description could have been more appropriate than when she said: “What I saw in terms of pollution… The devastation of the Niger Delta is massive. As we are cleaning up, what we are cleaning up is minute compared to the devastation going on.”
Other official reports revealed that as at Tuesday last week, over 5, 000 barrels of emulsified crude oil had been recovered from the waters and held in a recovery barge. That figure must have more than doubled by now. The people of Nembe do not deserve this avoidable environmental affliction. The question is: when will this leakage be put under control?
There is no doubt that this oil spill has the capacity to result in health hazards that would eventually lead to loss of lives. Let me repeat that the good people of Bayelsa State, the oil-bearing centre of Nigeria, do not in any way deserve this catastrophe.
Irrespective of numerous reasons cited by industry experts for the spill, the affected communities are dead economically and socially. The land has turned infertile. Nothing can grow there any longer. The rivers are polluted forever. Our fishermen are out of work. Our hard-working farmers have been rendered jobless. In the absence of clean, pipe-borne water for the people, a commodity that is taken for granted in other climes, today, with this oil spill, not even the river water is worth any domestic use any longer.
In other words, the peoples’ sources of livelihood have been completely destroyed; even their lives are in danger. This is no exaggeration. We have seen it happen repeatedly all over the Niger Delta. For the oil exploring and exploiting companies, it’s business as usual. Soon, the noise will end. Attention would be diverted to other pressing state matters. The people would be left to suffer and die in silence.
The director general and chief executive officer of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Idris Musa, has confirmed that “Government is aware that the rivers and streams where oil is flowing into will likely affect the lives of the living creatures in the rivers and streams, including the trees, and the rivers are sources of livelihood for the community.”
Now that these rivers and streams have been polluted, the big question is: where and what would the people turn to? Again, the trees and farmlands have been destroyed and nothing can grow again eternally, so, what happens to our people? Are they going to be relocated? With certain health hazards unconsciously unleashed on these people, what are the options before them? These questions need answers, now!
However, the difference this time is that for the first time, a government minister, Ikeazor, has spoken strongly in support of the need to protect the oil-bearing communities. In her words, this goes beyond oil companies giving palliatives to the communities. It requires putting measures in place to prevent such accidents from happening at all. She has called for stiffer penalties for those responsible for these acts of sabotage.
To my fellow citizens of Nembe, words are not enough to describe your agony and hopelessness. Be assured that you are not alone. My appeal to you is that in spite of this, please stay calm as we join hands with the appropriate authorities to seek the way out of this mess.
No blame game can reverse what has happened. No act of violence can bring back what we have lost. We all share in your pain. This is no time for dirty political grandstanding. This situation needs a practical solution. The people in charge of policy must rise and act now. God bless Bayelsa people.
Alaibe is a politician and businessman, writes from Lagos