• July 13, 2020

Anxiety Over Mystery Deaths In Rivers Amid Pending Environmental Issues As Governors Focus On Coronavirus

By Chima Nwafo

Given the Nigerian government’s contempt for history public office-holders, particularly presidents and governors, often do not bother about the verdict of posterity.

But one of the greatest leaders of all-time, Winston Churchill, was concerned about the verdict of the future. As captured by his private secretary John Colville in his DiariesThe Fringes of Power: The war-time and post-World War II British Prime Minister, paying tribute to Neville Chamberlain, in the magnificence of his language and balance of his phrases philosophised:

“History, with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trails of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all these? The only guide to a man is his conscience. The only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and upsetting of our calculations; but with this shield, however, the fates may play, we march always in the ranks of honour.”  

When one considers the amount of money Nigerian political parties charge members contesting for public office, it becomes so glaring why the sole purpose of office is not service but crude acquisition of wealth by all means, at the expense of the electorate who voted them into power. Hence, in our clime, irrespective of party or creed, no one cares about honour, rectitude and sincerity as a shield or the arbitration of history.

In two recent editions, the Orbit regretted the non-challance of coastal state governors towards the inhuman and repulsive sight of the floating putrefying croakers in their thousands. They neither upset by the health hazard nor the economic loss both of which touches on the life and livelihood of the people. In fact, the governors are too busy battling their hapless constituents and other Nigerians with lockdown orders and irrational curfews, creating a thriving market of corruption extra-judicial killings for security agencies, especially the police. Task force operatives are not left out in the sleaze. A particular Niger Delta governor would rather the people die of starvation than ease the burden of his COVID-19 pandemic war. He dictates when food items would be sold and in which locations. Yet, he was once advised by a concerned citizen of the state to extend his palliatives to non-indigenes residents of the state. In some states, the palliative is for party members alone. Maybe, because, the presidency has not proved itself a neutral father yet.

Amid this smorgasbord of contradicting executive orders, it was not a surprise when the House of Representatives raised the alarm that mystery deaths has already claimed 13  lives in the oil city of Bonny, Rivers State. Thank God for a Rep in touch with his people. Interestingly, “the symptoms were reportedly not exactly as those of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), as it neither presented cough or respiratory issues.” Equally of note is the fact that this incident is “occurring in Bonny Island not long after the discovery of large quantity of dead fishes around the Bonny/Andoni shores.” Observations showed that “the deceased exhibited symptoms including loss of the sense of smell and taste, as well as fever, weakness, vomiting and stooling.”

According to The Guardian, in effect, the house at plenary presided over by Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila enjoined relevant authorities, including the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), to wade in and arrest the situation.

“The house directed the NCDC to immediately brief its joint committee investigating the dead fishes in Bonny and other Niger Delta coastal communities for the necessary intervention of relevant government agencies and further legislative action.”

The decision reportedly followed the adoption of a motion under “matters of urgent national importance” sponsored by Mr. Dagogo Farah and 11 other lawmakers from the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Farah warned that if the health issue was not contained, it could affect the residents and personnel of the naira-spinning Federal Government and Joint-Venture partners-owned Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) “as well as the country’s economy, besides spreading to other parts of the country.”  

Meanwhile, the Reps called on the Federal Government to establish a Federal Medical Centre (FMC) in Bonny – not Bori or Andoni, but the host-town and operational headquarters of the multi-billion dollar NLNG – to carter for the medical needs of multinational oil and gas workers as well as indigenes of the area. Other partners include Royal Dutch Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Agip, and Elf – all the international oil corporations (IOCs) in Nigeria – lacked adequate medical facility in Bonny Island. Aru!

In the words of Farah: “It was (is) regrettable that the island, which lacked adequate medical facility, could only be accessed via marine transport and without a link road to other parts of the state and the country.” This is a shameful vote of no confidence in the avowed corporate social responsibility claims of the NLNG and Shell, the leading partner. Recall the words of two US authors engaged a few weeks back: It is not the company but the community that determines if an organisation is socially responsible.

Meanwhile, while the cause of the death of the croakers is yet to be established, some communities of Bayelsa State are grappling with fresh pollution issues from an ageing Agip facility. In a belated report, the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) said the two recent leaks from Agip’s oil fields in Southern Ijaw and Brass local government areas of Bayelsa were caused by equipment failure.

Mr. Idris Musa, Director-General of NOSDRA, confirmed the development to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Saturday in Yenagoa, adding that officials of the agency conducted a Joint Investigative Visit (JIV) to Agip’s 10″ Cough Creek-Tebidaba pipeline at Ologbobiri in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and found the cause to be an equipment failure. He said that officials of the agency also visited the 24″ Ogoda-Brass trunk line site at Okpoama in Brass where a leak discharged a yet-to-be ascertained volume of crude oil into the environment.

But before the officious NOSDRA boss and his team went for the JIV, the spill had been discharging crude into the environment for about 14 days. As a result, the people of Okpoama in Brass Local Government Area had earlier sent a “Save Our Soul” message to the Federal Government, “following widespread pollution by the oil spill in the area.”

This was confirmed by the chairman of the Okpoama Kingdom Oil and Gas Committee, Percy Jerry Wemi-Kwomain, who told NAN that the incident happened at the Amangaetima bush near Ewoama-Brass: “The oil spill occurred two weeks ago and it discharged enormous amount of crude oil into the adjourning creeks and rivulets, thereby affecting the environment and the livelihood of the people of the area.” 

According to him, the Nigerian Agip Oil Company made two secret attempts to fix the leaking pipeline without a JIV, as statutorily required. This is a direct pointer to NOSDRA’s laxity, despite Musa’s pretensions. Wemi-Nkwomain noted that illegal efforts of Agip to fix the equipment were frustrated by youths placed on surveillance in the area. Without letting us know, they came with a swamp-buggy to fix the leaking point. We stopped them twice before they came to inform us that they want us to join them for the JIV. The oil is still leaking and that was why we have sent SOS to the Federal Government to come to our aid.”

The community leader disclosed that the high-pressure pipeline was built since 1972 (48 years ago) and had recorded failure in several points. Neither the relevant government agencies nor state government is bothered about replacing the ageing facility.

Reacting to the disagreement between Agip and the host communities, the NOSDRA director-general told NAN that the JIV was done and concluded amicably. “Officials of Agip, however, declined comments on the two incidents.” Case closed till another spill. This how the oil-producing environment is being subjected to abuse without official intervention. You wonder why state governors who receive the 13 per cent derivation from the Federation Account aren’t bothered about the destruction of the ecology and biodiversity of the region. Other states, except a few, also show the same uncaring attitude towards environmental issues. With the general air of selective observation in our society, no effort is made to establish the cause or reason for non-performance, thus creating a formidable barrier to further inquiry and more accurate understanding.

On the monumental death of croakers, which is rightly being fingered for the mystery deaths in Bonny, let’s hope that the House of Representatives committee does an in-depth investigation that will produce a credible forensic report. 

*Nwafo, Consulting Editor of News Express/Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: chi_dafo@yahoo.com; +2348029334754.      

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