4 May 2012
LEON USIGBE accompanied President Goodluck Jonathan on his recent inspection visit to the Bayelsa State communities impacted by the January blowout of gas facility operated by Chevron, which has caused a lot of discomfort to over 30, 000 inhabitants. He reports:
Koluama 1 and 2 are part of the eight communities in the State affected by the blowout of gas facility owned by Chevron in January, this year, the others being Ezefu I, Ezefu II, Furoupa, Fish Town, Sangana, and Ekeni, with a combined population of about 30,000 people. Access to the communities from Yenagoa, the state capital, takes two and half hours ride by speedboat through the creeks. For other boats, the time can be much longer. The journey can be particularly frightening, especially for non-natives not used to water. For the indigenes, there is nothing to worry about as far as riding the waves is concerned. Life in the waters is normal for them. It is a way of life that they were born into.
In the beginning, in spite of the distances they had to cover in the waters, there was peace, harmony and understanding with nature. But things have been drastically altered, especially with the activities of the oil prospecting companies and their manner of operation in the area. They make good money but are hardly interested in giving back to the communities.
It is now common to find oil floating on the creeks, not necessarily from the activities of the oil majors but from the enterprise of Niger Deltans who have established local petroleum refineries along the banks of the rivers and creeks. The base of the mangrove forest bordering the creeks is discoloured by moulds of oil which will require an unprecedented effort to restore to their natural state. The people burst oil pipelines buried by the oil majors and cause spills in an attempt to siphon the crude for illegal bunkering activities and refine some to dispose of at the readily available markets. The business is risky but who cares? How can oil pipelines pass through their houses and they do not benefit from their content? That is what they seem to think.
Many people do not see how the risky bunkering and illegal petroleum refining and, consequently, the degradation on the creeks, can be stopped in the Niger Delta because of the number of people involved on the one hand and the perceived complicity of the Joint Task Force (JTF) stationed in the area on the other. Apart from the inadequate knowledge of the creeks where the business thrives, the JTF operatives are said to be more interested in extorting those in the bunkering and illegal petroleum refining than checking their economic sabotage. Therefore, all along the route to Koluama, thick smoke rises at various positions on the river banks, indicative of the existence of local refineries where business is booming.