From Joe Obukata Ogbodu, Warri
Life has not be the same for the residents of Eastern Obolo and other riverine communities along the Atlantic coast in the bight of Bonny, in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, as their sole source of livelihood was contaminated, thus rendering many of the locals who are mainly fisher men jobless.
The development became public knowledge recently when hundreds of the fisher men and locals protested about water pollution and other environmental hazardous waste products that were allegedly released in their fishing area by the owners of the FPSO Armada Perkassa (Princess Aweni) in the Okoro-Setu field.
Early in 2020, SHELF Drilling Nigeria was hired by AMNI Petroleum Development Company, the owner of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 112, Okoro Field, in Eastern Obolo local government, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, to complete drilling work on the firm’s behalf.
According to reports, SHELF Drilling released its hazardous drilling chemicals into local fishing waters after conducting drilling operations on its drilling rig. The chemicals were allegedly poured from sack bags from the Princess Aweni platform into the river, the people claimed.
But the company had since denied this dastardly act.
The denial did not go down well with the locals who vehemently insisted and told the company that they have a recorded video of the discharge.
Apparently worried that the secret act was put under record, local sources claimed that the company requested that the video be sent to them, to enable them study it before coming up with a position.
But the community declined releasing the video expressing distrust for the company on what may happen if the video is released to them.
Fast forward to 2023, about three years after the incident, the community is demanding justice through a peaceful protest for justice against the SHELF Drilling criminal act and negligence of the government of Nigeria and its regulatory agencies in Eastern Obolo territorial waters.
In a recent peaceful protest at it water front, the community called on the Government of Akwa Ibom State, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the international community to compel SHELF Drilling and AMNI Petroleum Development Company to do the needful, owned up and take responsibility to clean up the environment and pay compensation to the community for loss of livelihood and the damage done to her marine ecosystem.
Mr Gabriel Ezekiel Gabriel, President Eastern Obolo Interest group, who spoke to our correspondent, decried the long silence of the company over the matter since the complaint was launched.
He said the community is against any attempt to carry on a new Drilling operation until proper investigation and assessment is carried out to determine the extent of damage done to the community, and proper cleanup is done.
Gabriel claimed that as a coastline community, the economic mainstay of the people of Eastern Obolo is fishing, and that the livelihood of the entire community and other neighboring communities in the region have been destroyed by the activities of SHELF Drilling.
He therefore called on the company to engage the community in a meaningful negotiation for compensation to the fisher folks whose means of survival had been hampered.
According to him, the community was ready to take up the campaign to the international levels but the paramount ruler HRM Uboon Harry J. Etetor, Ilile IX, Paramount Ruler, Eastern Obolo LGA, opted for diplomacy, proposing alternative dispute resolution instead of confrontation. He, however, regretted the nonchalant attitude of the company in the matter.
Kallop Humanitarian and Environmental Centre, a nongovernmental organisation in the state, confirmed in a statement the responsiveness of SHELF Drilling in the disposal of drilling mud and other harmful chemicals after drilling.
Gabriel said that the activities of the company were also reported to Chief Nte Ukoirem, village head of Edonwik village and chairman, Eastern Obolo/AMNI Petroleum Development Community Relations Committee, and he invited the company for a dialogue as a means to resolving the matter, but SHELF Drilling, blatantly refused to honour the invitation.
Mr. Gabriel said his community had tried every available means to engage the company in order to resolve the matter amicably, but lamented that the company had consistently denied and refused to engage with the community.
“We didn’t do any formal letter to them but we reported to the paramount ruler who is the custodian of the people. We also reported to the chairman of Eastern Obolo. The company was insisting we send them the video recording but we said no, they should come over. How can we send the evidence that we have to them. So we didn’t write to them since they refused to come down to see for themselves”.
He said the company’s unprofessional waste disposal has disrupted fishing activities in the area and called on the company to come and meet with the community for proper negotiation and settlement before any expansion work.
“We’re main fisher men and since the discharge our people have been finding it difficult to get good fish to take care of their families. So there is serious tension, the fisher men are protesting and the community people are also protesting that they wouldn’t allow the company go like that without compensation.
“The company doesn’t have office in Akwa-Ibom but they have in Port Harcourt and Lagos where they’re operating from but as at when the incident happened they were operating from offshore (shallow water) in Akwa-Ibom, they usually carry their workers either by boat or helicopter to the platform to work and come back. As I am talking to you they’re planning to come back there for another operation but we have told them that until they clean up and compensate the community they shouldn’t dare to enter our territories”.
“Failure to comply with this simple and peaceful demand, will spark more protests in the coming days… Today is the beginning of a series of protests until the right things are done,” he concluded.
Speaking on the matter, Mr. Anthony Aalo, the Executive Director of Kallop Humanitarian and Environmental Center, expressed displeasure in the manner in which oil companies and their contractors operate in the Niger Delta communities.
He said that the oil companies have no regard for human lives in the region and that the Kallop Center will continue to support oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta for environmental justice.
Mr. Aalo said the injustice in Eastern Obolo will no longer be business as usual as the company responsible will be brought to book.
He further said that the government regulatory agencies should live up to expectations by monitoring the activities of the oil companies and their operations in the region.
Community Relations Officer of SHELF Drilling Nigeria, Mr. Ladi Dare when contacted via telephone, exonerated his company of any wrongdoing, saying that there was no spill or chemical discharge as claimed by the community, to warrant the dialogue or negotiation that the Niger Delta fishing community people are seeking.
He told our correspondent that his company SHELF drilling have not done any rig operation in Eastern Obolo for close to ten years now as such could not have been the company being alleged to have discharged chemicals into the river.
In a spontaneous response, Aalo said that it was a fat lie to claim that they haven’t done any rig operation in Akwa-Ibom for the period.
“He lied because AMNI Petroleum Development Company, contacted them to do an external drilling for them at the Princess Aweni platform. That was in 2020. I have a video recording of how they discharged the substances and it is confirmed by some workers of SHELF Drilling that the video was recorded from their platform while the discharge was going on so for him to claim they have not work in Akwa-Ibom for ten years he lied”, he said.