Public Holiday In Honour Of Oloibiri, First Oil Well

Public Holiday In Honour Of Oloibiri, First Oil Well

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*Why You Should Be Concerned

BY CHIMA NWAFO

Often, most Nigerians feel unperturbed when issues of devastation of the environment, militancy, oil-bunkering and other unflattering symptoms of youth restiveness in the oil-rich Niger Delta come up for discussion. For example, such are not even moved by the sometimes exaggerated and oft-reported environmental pollution of Ogoni land, which the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has recommended for cleaning. Going by latest findings by experts, the exercise, like most developmental issues in Nigeria, has become muddled in partisan politics. Yet, people’s health and livelihood are threatened by the day, even as lives are lost.

But what exactly is the environment?

“The word environment is derived from the French word environ which means ‘surrounding’. Our surrounding includes biotic factors like human beings, plants, animals, microbes, etc., and abiotic factors such as light, air, water, soil, etc.” This simple dictionary definition makes it compelling for everyone to be interested in his or her environment. It makes it clear that our life, health and survival draw a lot from our immediate environment. We shall also, in the course of this survey examines such other aspects as environmental pollution,environmental health, environmental impact assessment, environmental science, environmental sanitation, environmental management, environmental engineering and environmental conservation.

For starters, below is a suggestion by a Bayelsa-based non-profit. Because of its relevance to the issue of our neglected environment, especially that of the Niger Delta, it is important to weigh its relevance or rationale as a marketable idea. But that is not all. It also merits interrogation because it’s novel. And given its novelty, the concept could also be expanded for the benefit of both the economy and people of Nigeria, including those who enjoy the benefits of oil production, but care less about the ecological impact on oil-bearing and neighbouring communities.

The publication stated: “The Oloibiri Oil and Gas Discovery Day Initiative has urged the Federal Government to declare a national public holiday to commemorate the discovery of oil in the sleepy riverine community of Oloibiri.

“The president of the Initiative, Evang Naranie Albert Karibo, who made the appeal in an interactive world press briefing in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, on Monday (January 14), said that they want the government to recognise the Oloibiri Oil Field for launching Nigeria into a petro-dollar state.”

Before taking the nitty-gritty of the foregoing suggestion, please, take special note of the phrase:  “for launching Nigeria into a petro-dollar state.” That’s a very encapsulating rendition of what crude oil has done for the country and some privileged Nigerians as individuals.

However, it is important to clear some points in connection with crude oil-find, because my contact with the public in the over three decades of journalism practice, especially as a copy editor, seem to confirm the American quip that the best way to hide information from a Black man is to put it in a book. Nigerians love to quote their own figures, dates and data, even when the accurate details are in public space. This is sad, because not only politicians, but even lawyers, writers, motivational speakers, etc, are guilty of this communication flaw. 

 According to Shell’s records, whereas “Shell D’Arcy Exploration parties conducted geological reconnaissance and geophysical surveys in selected areas in Nigeria in 1937, the first exploration well in Nigeria drilled by the company was in 1951, at Iho, North-west of Owerri (now Imo State capital); the first successful well drilled was at Oloibiri, in 1956.” Two years later, Nigeria joined the league of oil exporters, as Shell-BP Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited made the first shipment of crude oil in February 1958. From initial surveys to first export lasted 21 years, not 50 as touted in some quarters.

Talking about a public holiday: How did the Federal Government react to the call for a national holiday in commemoration of the first successful oil-well drilled at Oloibiri village in today’s Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State? Perhaps, given that the call was made in the heat of the National Assembly and presidential polls, it could be said that the timing was wrong. And, despite the Federal Government being the constitutional owner of the nation’s mineral resources, the oil-bearing communities cannot bye-pass their local councils and state governments to deal directly with the Federal Government. Therefore, while the demand is valid, the timing and approach call for review and rechanneling. For the same reason of improper timing and approach, this column will defer to a later date further discussion on the all-important issue of commemorating Nigeria’s first oil-find event and the host community. The most important reason is the veiled and indisputable fact that crude oil wealth built Lagos and Abuja cities, and created petroleum-induced-multi-millionaires outside the Niger Delta region, besides being the dominant contributor to the federal coffers from where the 36 states and the FCT feed, in the last 50 years. Conversely, as oil exploration and exploitation created wealth for the powers-that-be and their acolytes, so has it produced an unprecedented and unquantifiable magnitude of waste and degradation of the local environment for the communities. But, who cares?   

Someone somewhere has to care because lives are being wasted; farm lands and marine lives are being destroyed; generations unborn are being denied means of legitimate livelihood. As a result, crime, youth restiveness and militancy in the area cannot be contained or checkmated through the corruption-ridden hand-out called Presidential Amnesty. It can neither heal the wounds nor restore the environment.

The flight on the Environmental Orbit has taken off, with this debut installment in which an attempt has been made to introduce the menu. No doubt you’ll see us in the second flight next flight next week, as details unfold. You’re welcome.  

*Nwafo, environmental issues analyst, is Consulting Editor with News Express Nigeria, and can be reached on chi_dafo@yahoo.com; +2348029334754

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