Eleme community seek quick intervention over oil spill devastation

Etop Ekanem

29 December 2011, Sweetcrude, PORT HARCOURT – Ogale is an oil-rich community in Eleme, a major oil-producing Local Government Area of Rivers State. Ogale people are mainly farmers but oil spillage, due to pipeline vandalism, especially the one that occurred in 2009, and the attendant water pollution, has robbed them of their source of livelihood.

The situation in Ogale, according to members of the community, is so bad that right now, the effects of the pollution of their waters keep spreading. According to them, boreholes that provided potable water last year, are no longer safe for consumption while more and more lands are affected.

Apparently distraught by the development, the community recently took oil giant, Shell, to a Michigan Court in the United States of America for alleged pollution of its land and waters.

Ogale community leaders told Sweetcrude that the spills have so devastated their land that underground waters have been so polluted. According to them, the situation is so bad that you are not likely to get potable water from a borehole drilled up 170 feet beneath the earth. They lamented that neither the government nor the oil companies monitor the human impacts of oil pollution in the community.

But, the community elders are now absolving Shell of culpability in the pollution saga and laying the blame on another unnamed oil company operating in the community.

Having absolved Shell of all blames in the pollution, the elder now want case settled out of court. The community also wants the company responsible for the oil spills to take charge of the clean-up in Ogale, in particular and Eleme local government area in general.

It would be recalled that a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recent report on Ogoni released after it conducted a three-year environment assessment of the area to determine the degree of pollution from oil spill, stated that water under the soil in the area was contaminated with BTEX (Benzene agent), which is a major cause of cancer in humans.

This, according to the report, has made the water unfit for consumption. The report stated further that prolonged consumption of the water posed a great danger to the inhabitants of the community.

One of the community leaders in Eleme Kingdom, Elder Nwogu Emmanuel Nwogu who spoke on the recent spills, said: “It is not Shell that pollutes our community; the spillage occurred on a pipeline at Nsisioken in Eleme, a channel that transports refined products to other parts of the country operated by another reputable oil merchant that deals on refined oil whose sign post is prominently planted on the affected area in Nsisioken.

“We know the company that did it and if we have to go to court at all, that is if proper consultation is done, then we should take the proper party to court. What the CDC has done now is taking the wrong party to the court for an offence committed by another company.”

The collective appeal from the area is that the company responsible for the pollution along with government should act quickly to save lives presently being endangered by this Benzene agent in water.

Rivers govt moves to save residents

Meanwhile, the Rivers State government has swung into action to save residents of Ogale from further consumption of the cancerous water underneath its soil. The government is supplying potable water to the area in tankers on a daily basis.

The Rivers State Ministry of Water Resources supplies a minimum of 100,000 litres of water daily to the community. GP tanks are also positioned at strategic locations within the community to ensure easy access to the water.

But a couple of elders in the community are not satisfied with the temporary intervention and wants more government presence as well as that of the company responsible for the pollution.

“We are talking about the water that has been badly polluted; now what the state government is doing is to give us water in tankers. But I think that Ogale as it is today, has outgrown the level of being given water in tankers and even the sanitary condition of some of these tankers is questionable.

So right now, we are not getting the best from government even though it is claimed that the water is treated. Our people are still not sure of the source of the water they are drinking and the hygienic condition of the tankers they use in providing the water.

So government should drill industrial boreholes for us so that we can have good water to drink and not water brought in tanks”, said another community leader, Chief Mike Osarogomba. Osarogomba is the third in command in Alueken Community, one of the nine communities in Ogale clan.

He posited that government should give some level of consideration to the people who are directly affected by these pollutions by way of employment and provision of social amenities.

Osarogomba, who stated that it is difficult to find boreholes that have safe water declared: “when you talk of oil spill, Shell has its lines too but they are not located at Nsisioken, where the particular spill we are talking about occurred.”

“Shell is not responsible for the pollution, therefore the suit filed against Shell is uncalled for and does not enjoy the support of the community elders as the Ogale elders were not consulted before they embarked on the legal suit”, he said.

The community leader stressed that elders of the land were not happy with the company responsible for the agony the community is going through at the moment.

The paramount ruler of Adama Community in Ogale and former Chairman of the PDP, Eleme Local Government, Chief Lale Mba Obe, enjoined the company responsible for the spillage in Nsisioken as well the state and Federal Governments to do something urgently. He also called for a withdrawal of the suit against Shell.

“We know where Shell pipelines pass through and when such pipelines had spillages in the past, Shell took it as a responsibility to ensure that affected areas were cleaned up. So suing Shell is not a right decision because Shell does not operate in this area,” the Paramount ruler said.

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