SPECIAL REPORT… Privatization and failed promises —Inside the abandoned Enugu coal industry
A once booming venture, Nigeria’s coal industry has been stripped of life and laid bare with its potential for wealth creation greatly diminished. A cursory observation reveals thousands of job losses caused by a failed privatization scheme that has left everything in tatters and made nonsense of the nation’s mouthed diversification plans. Investigative reporter, PATRICK EGWU, visited the Enugu coal mines, which is now a shadow of its old self.
On a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, Ray Chime sits at the balcony of his home located at Colliery Avenue in Enugu. Colliery Avenue is the residential quarters for coal miners working at coal fields in the state.
Chime was the former Colliery manager of the Nigerian Coal Corporation [NCC]. When he started working with the NCC in January 1972, it was a booming industry which served as a major source of foreign exchange for the country with coal being exported to the UK, South Africa, Egypt and Ghana.
“The coal industry is now moribund and all efforts to revive it have failed,” Chime tells Ripples Nigeria. “There was politics in it,” he says. “I am sure that if the coal corporations were situated in the north, the federal government won’t allow it to die like this.
The government is not interested in trying to get it resuscitated and the machines need to be constantly revived.”
For Chime, the once booming industry has become a shadow of itself following the privatization policy of the federal government in 1999.
With the privatization taking full force, workers were retrenched, the NCC properties were sold off and a deal that killed the fortunes of the industry was sealed.
The good-old beginnings
Before the discovery of crude oil, coal was once treasured as a jewel, powering the national and regional economies in the country. Presently, experts are worried that an all-important money-earner like coal could be so abandoned. This is considering that coal is still a money-spinner and keeps industries running in other economies of the world. Coal-powered stations reportedly generate about 40 percent of the world’s electricity.
Much of the materials used in making steel, coke, is derived from coal. The beauty industry also finds coal extremely useful in producing such items as shampoo and dandruff-fighting creams or powders. Fertilisers are by-products as well. Even concrete is derived from coal.
Coal was discovered in Enugu in 1908 by a team of British geological explorers led by Albert Kitson, but actual mining did not start until 1916, a year after the then British colonial government and several Udi warrant chiefs led by Onyeama of Eke signed an agreement for its exploitation.
However, with the discovery of oil in 1956 in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in commercial quantity, the coal industry started dying off gradually. According to the Enugu State Tourism Board [ESTB], up until this point, the Nigeria Railway Corporation [NRC] was the largest consumer of coal in the country, but with the discovery of oil, the NRC began to replace its coal burning trains with diesel-powered engines.
Another negative impact on the industry was when the then Electricity Corporation of Nigeria began converting its power generation equipment from coal to diesel and gas.
Further chronicling the challenges of the industry, the Board notes that “the Nigerian Civil War negatively impacted coal production; many mines were abandoned during the war. Following the war, production never completely recovered and coal production levels were erratic. Attempts at mechanizing production ended badly, as both the implementation and maintenance of imported mining equipment proved troublesome, and affected production. After the civil war, the Nigerian coal industry has not been able to return to its peak production of the 1950s.”
Nevertheless, Nigeria still holds large coal reserves, estimated at about 2 billion metric tonnes which is said to be low in sulphur content and in high demand in international markets. Experts are therefore worried over the poor state of the industry which they say if properly harnessed, will not only restore the nation’s long years of epileptic power supply, but also contribute to the nation’s forex earnings and employment generation.
The Kopex and Bul-Nig take-over agreements
In an attempt to revamp the industry, the Nigerian government signed an agreement with Kopex, a Polish company based in Warsaw to take over mining and boost productions with the NCC playing supervisory roles. Efforts to retrieve the documents of the agreement was not successful. However, what many Nigerians hoped would be the best deal to revive the industry, became unsuccessful after a few years.
“They came around 1977 but they couldn’t do much because their activities weren’t reliable,” Hyacinth Ohagwu, a former engineering manager at the industry said. “For instance, they brought in obsolete equipment when new ones were paid for.”
“Kopex left because their system of mining and ours was different, hence, the privatization didn’t work for them,” Ohagwu said.
After Kopex left and couldn’t continue coal exploration, some foreign companies were consulted to run and manage the industry as a way of making it work optimally again. The first country that won the bid to revive the industry was a company from Bulgaria. The agreement was later known as “Bul-Nig” to reflect the name of the two countries. According to the agreement, when produced, the company was expected to take 40 percent of the gains while the NCC takes 60 percent.
“They bided and the agreement then was that if the coal is produced in Nigeria, it would be exported to Poland, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa among others. They competed with other companies and won the bidding,” Chime said of the agreements. “They even sent some of us abroad to learn their mining practices.”
In 2002, in what appeared to be the last efforts of the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to revive the industry, Nigeria and South Africa signed an agreement for the development of the coal industry in Nigeria by exploring specifically, the Onyeama, Okpara and Owukpa coal mines. However, mining development didn’t commence as was promised and little is known of the outcome of the deal today.
Privatization that finally terminated the industry
What looked like a ray of hope came for the coal industry in 1999 when former President Obasanjo initiated plans to privatize it, alongside other national assets. With the development, the NCC lost its monopoly over the Nigerian coal industry, as the government allowed private companies to begin operating coal fields in joint ventures with the NCC, with an eventual goal of completely selling off the NCC’s assets to private investors. The government planned to sell 40 percent to private investors and 20 percent to the Nigerian public while retaining 40 percent.
According to ESTB, in 2003, the federal government announced plans to create a technical advisory committee that would be tasked with reviving the industry. However, by 2004, the technical committee had not issued their report and the NCC found itself almost bankrupt. To raise funds, it began selling off some of its assets to pay off mounting debts, including salaries owed its staff.
The Enugu state government under former governor Chimaroke Nnamani, had protested the planned privatization and demanded for consultation with the federal government on any planned sale.
Having lost the mining fields to private investors, the Enugu State Government under former governor Sullivan Chime succeeded in taking over two properties of the NCC purchased from the Bureau of Public Enterprise [BPE] under the federal government’s privatization of its landed properties. The two properties are the headquarters of the Corporation located along Okpara Avenue and the Colliery hospital also in Enugu.
At the handover ceremony, the then Director-General of BPE, Benjamin Ezra Dikki had stated that the privatization of the Corporation which started in 2007 was aimed at handing over the coal blocks to credible investors that would invest money and expertise to mine the coal blocks to create jobs and boost the economy of the state and Nigeria at large. It is yet to be seen how those goals have been achieved, as companies with mining licenses are yet to begin coal exploration.
Unfortunately, the headquarters of the NCC in the state has also been sold off to a private investor by the state government. When this reporter visited the premises, the signage of a company contracted to construct a perimeter fencing around the premises was seen at the entrance gate. An attempt to enter the premises was blocked by a security man at the gate. But the miners want it back.
“The place has been sold by government and non-government groups,” Ohagwu, said. “We have repeatedly made our feelings known that we want that structure back even if every other thing is sold. Because it is a very costly monument for the nation and not only the state. The industry played a very important role in Nigeria’s independence and if not anything, can serve as a museum for the young generation.”
“People thought the privatization would revive the industry,” Ohagwu who voluntarily left the industry before the privatization said. “They are yet to complete the payoff for workers.”
Over the years, the people of Enugu state had hoped for the revival of the once-booming coal mining activities in the state which they believe would provide electricity to the region, power industries and provide direct employment. However, successive administrations have come and gone without as much as a passing glance at the mine.
Hope appeared to have been reignited last year when the Minister of State, Mines and Steel Development, Uchechukwu Ogah visited the state and revealed the federal government’s plans to revamp the moribund industry.
Ogah said his team was on a fact-finding mission with regards to “what is already on ground, what the Federal Government has done and what we can do to revive the coal mines in Enugu State so that they can help grow the economy and generate jobs.”
Earlier in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had during his election campaign, pledged to revive the coal industry. Buhari had promised that the abundant coal deposits in Enugu would be harnessed to grow the Nigerian economy, and also generate employment opportunities for youths in the South East and other parts of the country. Specifically, he said that coal deposits would be used to revamp the Oji River Power Station which generated electricity for the defunct Eastern Region and has the capacity of generating the nation’s 30 percent energy needs.
But nearly five years after, nothing has been heard of that promise.
In 2016, a group under the aegis of Buhari Support Organization [BSO] once again, drew attention to the condition of the mine by including it in their list of demands for the president to address alongside projects planned for other geopolitical zones with the $30 billion loan being sought from multinational institutions.
Ex-workers’ continued protests
Former workers of the Corporation are wondering the type of privatization carried out in Nigeria’s premier solid mineral industry that has completely deflated the industry. As far as the ex-staff are concerned, what took place was outright devastation of equipment and properties of the industry, with no intention to revitalize the Corporation as was the original philosophy of the federal government’s privatization policy.
According to them, it is pathetic that the industry has gone under with no hopes in sight of ever mining coal. This is even as they claim to be owed wages and entitlements with all the properties of the Corporation sold to individuals.
Aggrieved workers had already petitioned President Buhari over their plight. The issue they raised included; non-settlement of all arrears owed the disengaged staff of the NCC amounting to about N315 million; destruction of coal mining property by the BPE through a property consultancy firm, corruption through purported monetization of houses of the NCC, allegedly committed by the consultancy firm, among other allegations.
In one of the petitions, the workers claimed that the “BPE and their agents sold off heavy plants and machinery of the NCC at very ridiculous prices and declared peanuts to the BPE and even the lands too. This is a clear case of corruption.
“Example of such sale made is the gigantic and highly sophisticated coal washery plant housed in an entire seven-storey building built by Kopex contractors, Poland, together with the vast land housing the edifice worth over a billion naira was sold at N160 million.
“Other examples are two capacity coal briquette plants at Enugu and Ankpa, Kogi states which were sold in the same manner as plants and weigh bridges at Enugu, Okaba and Owukpa, among many others.”
They, therefore, urged the President to scrutinize all transactions made by the BPE, their agents and NCC officials, maintaining that due process was not followed.
They further prayed the President to “ask the BPE, NCC and their agents to make available a comprehensive list of all NCC office properties in the country, whether leased or not; whether sold or not as a lot of lease documents were manipulated while a good number of leases that expired were secretly and hurriedly re-negotiated, back dated and removed from government files.”
Amidst the raging controversies, with some of the matters already in court, Dikki stated that it was not the business of the BPE to question what buyers of properties do with them as they have become the properties of the new owners.
On the issue of sold processing plants being used for other purposes other than for coal matters, Dikki said the plant was vandalized before the BPE sold it to the new owner, which he said was the reason he could not hold the new owner responsible.
He however, said all hopes were not lost for the revival of the industry through privatization, stating that there is an existing committee drawn from government agencies with the mandate to draw a road map for the immediate coal mining revival.
“We were supposed to go to the five coal blocks to make diligence recommendation but the rainy season disrupted it because you can’t go to the mines in rainy seasons but now that the rains are getting over, we will soon commence the assignment,” he said.
“The welfare of workers was very poor. No worker enjoyed his services as a coal worker. They were not well looked after like other workers in other establishment,” Ohagwu said. “So for now, it has not been settled anyway. And they are still owing many of us our welfare packages like for me I have not received anything since I left in 1994. So many workers were underpaid. Some were not paid at all.”
On December 30, 2019, some Kopex properties where some of the miners presently live were put up for bidding and sale in the national dailies on January 14 and 17. For instance, a Kopex quarters with 16 bungalows in it at Iva Valley in Enugu where Ohagwu and his family and other miners live were put up for public bidding on January 16.
“This is not fair. They put up the advert when people must have travelled for the Christmas holidays,” Chime said.
The governor of Enugu state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has on many occasions, expressed sadness over the inability of the state to tap from the economic benefits of coal and other solid mineral deposits in the state.
He urged the National Assembly to amend the Nigerian constitution towards transferring the prospecting and exploitation of solid minerals from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list.
This, he said, would enable the states participate in the issuance of mining licenses.
The governor also asked the federal government to compel companies with mining licenses in the state to commence operations, or have the licenses revoked.
He regretted that companies with mining permits had failed to commence operations, saying that the situation could have been avoided if the governors were involved in the issuance of licenses.
Stressing the importance of mining to the federal government’s economic diversification agenda, Ugwuanyi noted that Enugu state had not benefited from coal and other solid mineral deposits in the state.
He underscored the need for mining to commence immediately, saying “We have to say that this is even more important for Enugu State, a state that is richly endowed with solid mineral resources but which paradoxically, has gained so little from their existence, especially after the collapse and the eventual winding up of the NCC due to the nonchalant and uncooperative attitude of the owners of mining leases and licenses in the state.”
In 2018, during a trip to Poland for the COP24 – the United Nations 24th annual climate change conference, he had a discussion with the Polish government on how to partner and revive the coal industry in the state. Nearly 90,000 Poles are employed in coal mining, and for decades, they have enjoyed high wages and benefits from the industry. However, the outcome of that meeting is yet to be seen in real terms.
Geometric Power shares hope for revival
Geometric Power, an independent power generating and distribution company in the country says it is currently working on the development of 1000MW coal fired power plant [500MW in the first phase expandable to 1000MW in the second phase] in Nigeria.
According to the GENCO, the inspiration for this project is based on its founding philosophy of developing power projects which will result in immediate commercial advancement and development of the host community while making economic sense for the investors.
Giving further reasons for a coal powered plant, Geometric says “with a generation type mix of 70 percent gas and 30 percent hydro, Nigeria is unduly dependent on gas, including the Aba IPP, for power supply. With the underdevelopment of gas infrastructure for domestic use, gas supply is even more precarious. The country now has more installed generation capacity than can be adequately supported by available gas.
“Secondly, though the hydro is a renewable source of energy and in fact the cheapest source, it is seasonal and the country cannot be said to be hugely endowed with hydro potentials. A situation where it is constantly used as a peaking source whenever the gas plants are down, perennially places the country in short supply even when the gas stations are up during seasons of low water levels.
“Coal as fuel for the proposed power plant gives a triple edge advantage; it provides the needed diversification, cheaper overall electricity and its abundance locally effectively mitigates the fuel supply risk factor that has bedeviled gas as a source of fuel for power plants in the country.”
It added that this project is envisaged to supply power to the national grid and all classes of consumers within the country and also diversify fuel source for power development for both Geometric Power and Nigeria at large.
In the early years before its decline in the 1980, coal for instance, was used to power the Oji River Power Station in Enugu which generated power for the region and beyond. Industries in Enugu like Premier Cashew industry, AvopVegetable Oil, Sunrise Flour Mills, Niger Gas and Niger Steel were all powered by coal.
“The construction of a coal power plant provides multiple benefits to the nation especially the people of the state where the plant will be located. A key benefit is that it provides immediate employment opportunities [for both skilled and unskilled labour] as well as infrastructural development in the area. Given the integrated nature of the project, it is expected to attract an influx of allied businesses that support both the coal mining and power plant operations. Thus, the most significant benefit when the project is commissioned, will be a major economic transformation of the area,” it stated.
Despite promises expressed by Geometric Power in generating power using coal, residents in the state famously known as “Coal City” because of its large coal deposits, think the federal government is not sincere in fulfilling its promises of reviving the industry. Former workers are still living in solitude of working for an industry that never cared for their welfare.
Chime’s father who was a former miner, witnessed the Iva Valley massacre of 1949 where more than 20 miners were killed by the colonial police for demanding better welfare packages. In 2006, Chime retired from active service and is yet to be paid all his full benefits.
“It is all window dressing because the government was not serious with it else they wouldn’t have allowed it to collapse like that because the country was making lots of money from it,” Chime said of renewed interest of the government at reviving the industry. “We have seen this before and we are here to see what becomes of the industry”, he concluded.
Investigation… GAS FLARING: A story of wasted wealth and how a N/Delta community grapples with infertility
By Sunday Orji…
“…Before the end of the third day, all the animals that took the water died“.
The flares at Obrikom in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of RIvers State, never die. Fumes from high vertical flare stack stay steadfast in the air; darkening the day and brightening the twilight. The plants and shrubs and weeds are lean and stale and drained. The soil is thick and stony. The surface of the muggy rivers wear a veil of dark slowly floating black powders like a boundless sheet of dark cloud. The bunch of fire from the flares wag off vivid dark smokes into the sky.
Over the years, with gas flaring in full effect, only few plants and palm trees have survived the scourge coming from the heat and noise. And except for their green stained leaves, every vestige of the fertility in Obrikom and neighbouring Okwuzi –communities once great for its robust farm yields and rich waters – is fading off. The rain now comes late and acidic. And the farm yield is scare and poor. Obrikom is as hot as the edge of hell and the people wear sweat all day.
Thirty nine years after first outlawing gas flaring (since 1979) – the burning of natural gas during petroleum crude oil extraction – in Nigeria has continued. Defiance against environmental regulations and advocacy in addressing gas flaring has been high as communities within the Niger Delta region including Obrikom continue to face severe health out-turn. The multi-national oil companies – Total Nigeria Plc, Texaco, Shell Petroleum Development Company, Oando Group, NAOC, etc. – burn off gases, with the perils settling on host communities.
“From your first day on earth, you begin to inhale poisoned air until you are thirty, forty or fifty. Air is the source of life and if the air you take is poisoned, how would you live? Death is very rampant in the Niger delta. Mysterious sicknesses. A whole lot of miscarriages occur here. Our pregnant women are not in good health. The foetus in the womb is already endangered” Moses Ijemene (not real name), an engineer with Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC], says.
Ijemene was born in the Niger Delta some forty years ago. He was among the last generation that saw the green fields of the Niger Delta and the fruitful clean ponds and rivers. He grew up eating everything fresh and healthy from the farms and waters. His father was a great fisherman. As the years rolled by, Moses watched the fading way of the past. But only one aspect of the disappearing vestige struck him.
“While growing up in the Niger Delta” he says, “I saw great fishes and aged men. The oldest men in our community were 140, 130, and 120. We lived long and healthy because we eat only natural foods, fishes and vegetables. There was barely a need for hospitals because we enjoyed fine health. As the years rolled by, death became rampant, and young men and children started dying. The oldest man in my clan today is just about 70 or thereabout. That was when I knew that my people were in trouble.”
River Orash, the biggest but poisoned source of livelihood for the people of Obrikom and other neighbouring communities
Today, Ijemene lives away from the community. He found another home in the city of Port Harcourt so that his family and children would be safe from the threats of the toxics from flares. Yet, George Bennet, another engineer with Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC, has lived almost his entire life in the rural community.
He has watched for the past three decades the unblinking flaming of gas stack, he has watched the rising of dark fumes from the tongues of the flare fire, he has watched the blanketing of his community with dark smokes and now he lives with great fear for his people’s health at Obrikom.
“In the communities around here where gas flaring is taking place, you find a lot of persons that are disfigured but in Obrikom our eyes are almost going blind. A lot of little children need glasses to read from tender age. Those who are most affected by threat of blindness are workers or retirees in the gas plants. Anybody that works in the gas plant for a long time, the person must surely use glasses before he can read” George said.
The gas flaring experience for the residents of Obrikom has been a story of memories and nostalgia. Sadly, the memories are not positive memories. They are negative memories. George, like every other adult shakes his head to throw off tears when he talks about a past buried in sorrow and regret. Obrikom and neigbouring Ebocha, Okwuzi, Mgbede, and Egbema are host to two giant multinational oil companies – Total Nigeria Plc and Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC – with about eight gas flaring stack around them.
Night-time flares by the oil companies in Obrikom
“There was a time the community complained to Agip that the sicknesses amongst our people was too much”, he states. “They brought white doctors to confirm if indeed the community was facing severe health challenges from the flares. The white doctors came with different species of animals and birds and fishes to run an experiment on the health situation in the communities. They fed the animals with the rain water that some of us in the Niger Delta drink. Before the end of the third day, all the animals that took the water died.
“The company, that year, offered free medical services to the community. After that year, it never happened again till today and its way over 10 years”.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the total volume of gases flared by oil and gas companies rose by 17.46 percent in the past year. The report by the country’s apex state oil corporation claims that flared gases rose from 244.84 billion standard cubic feet in 2016 to 287.59 billion standard cubic feet, SCF, in 2017.
In Nigeria, the penalty for gas flaring, according to Nigeria National Gas Policy 2017, is quite soft and the Federal government plans to “increase gas flaring penalty.” The document establishing the policy says that “the current gas flare penalty of N 10/Mscf (equivalent to $0.03) of associated gas flared is too low, haven been eroded in value over time….Consequently, the low penalty has made gas flaring a much cheaper option for operators compared to the alternatives of marketing or re-injection.”
Away from the penalty being too small to deter the oil companies, George says, the oil companies have not been showing any concern to the health of the communities.
“If you are sick, you go for your own personal treatment. And there are a lot of persons in this community who are poor and can’t foot their own health care bill” he retorts.
“Nobody in the oil producing communities is excluded from the hazards but what can the people do? The communities sometimes try fighting for it but those at the top would close it. People are suffering and no one compensates these communities for endangering their lives. But if I write about the rot in the land with my pen, where will it go? There is nothing the communities can do” says Eze Okaru, the paramount ruler of Okoronkwo village in Okwuzi, River state, Nigeria.
The tragic twist is that the people have been silent and terrified. The terror of volatile response from the oil companies or elements within the communities that benefit from their activities is fierce says Moses. A word for their fate is costly and only a few have the courage to unveil the secrecy. Getting interviews is difficult. Sources chew their words and pick carefully their phrases. To their heart, every pain and agitation is buried and silence is a common response.
In the next 15 years husbands may not be able to impregnate their wives
Obirikom is a two hour drive from the city centre of Port Harcourt. Disappearing farm lands mingle with cluster of palm trees; presenting a crossroad between fertility and impotence. The zincs are routinely dark-grey. The old are frail with a touch of white kink hair and stripes of folding skins that leave strands of many years of exposure to the affliction of flares and the infirmities of poverty.
White vehicle packed at Okwuzi few months back painted black by soot
For the past three years, Patience – a community health worker at Obrikom – has watched the drastic drop in the number of new born infants and pregnant mothers in some of these communities starting from Obrikom to Okwuzi, Ebocha, Mgbede – all in Ogba – Egbema – Ndoni local government area m of the state.
Cases of young ladies missing their menstruation is high and yet the pregnancy level is dropping. She says the experience is terrible but she doesn’t know how to explain the root of the problem to the locals.
“In the last three years if you come to the health center on Thursdays – usually the anti-natal days or Tuesdays –usually the post natal days – you find a huge number of women, say around 60-80. But now, you find just a few women who still come with a whole lot of health complains. Every now and then, someone is complaining of missing her menstruation” she said.
She says that in the future, say ten to 15 years from now, most male in this region would be suffering from infertility and prostate cancer. And they would be unable to impregnate their wives. The population of these communities would diminish and the male would suffer most.
Dr. Leelee Zitte, an environmentalist and neuron-physiologist at the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Port Harcourt reveals that the radiation and chemicals inhaled during long exposure to gas flaring can result in defect in the sperm cell. He states that this problem can affect the mobility of sperm cell such that a man may really find it difficult producing children.
“Something you wear has been polluted. Something you breathe has been polluted. Something you drink has been polluted. Something you eat has been polluted. Gases come from the numerous flare stacks around us and there is no free zone,” says Eze Okaru, who adds that it would be an extreme miracle to find a resident of any of these gas flaring communities that’s not facing one form of health problem or another.
A study by Professor Georgewill of the department of Pharmacology, University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital demonstrated that infertility can be triggered by hydrocarbon poisoning – a common byproduct of gas flaring. While specialist consultant surgeon, Dr. Furo Green claims that lung cancer associated with gas flaring-driven air pollution could affect over six million persons in the city of Port Harcourt, one of the core oil producing states of the Niger Delta.
My Child moves in the Womb
Its twilight on Tuesday in Obrikom. Glowing bulbs rise from every door post one at a time until the darkness in the community fizzles out. The flare – which is the king of all lights – sparkles from a distance above. It’s an amazing sight for aliens and awful time for indigenes and residents especially nursing mothers and pregnant women.
Pregnant mothers like Uchechi Micheal have several complains about the flare. She says that it’s usually very difficult to sleep at night because of how heated and noisy the environment turns every evening. This situation overtime creeps into systematic insomnia. Insomnia – medical studies have shown – leads to mood swings, irritability and higher risk of developing chronic diseases and general decline in both mental and physical health.
When the people protest, soldiers are sent after them
“My fear is that once the flare is heated, the heat in the community increases and the child in my womb begins to move about. This happens almost every night” she said.
Other pregnant mothers around surrounding communities confirm Uchechi’s experiences; aligning with her confession on sleeplessness and the movement of their babies at night and constant illness.
George Bennet, a father of two, says that children in the community are sick freak. George who is also resident in Obrikom says that the only way to keep the younger ones safe is by placing them on drugs once they are 4-6 months. The children here are often down with illness especially cough and malaria and fever, he complains.
Three years ago, Patience was transferred to Obrikom to work as a doctor in the community health center. She was born here some forty years back but she never lasted in the place as a child. She had gone off to the city to study. In between those years, she only breezed in and dashed off again. Her employment was a homecoming of a sort and optimism was huge.
She had returned with her five children. They arrived healthy and happy. After the first day at Obrikom, one of the kids was down with illness. Within the next one week, the other four kids came down with cough, malaria and fever. She had known from her studies that gas flares were terrible, but she had no idea it was this dreadful.
“My son who is less than two years has always been falling sick. Sometimes it’s cough. Other times its fever, and malaria. These ailments are always around the children here. The lungs of the little children are also seriously affected in a bad way”, says Patience.
The pollution in the Niger Delta has been linked to high infant mortality in the region. In the Nigerian context, researchers suggest that gas flaring can result in deformities in children.
Dr. Zitte, reveals that long term exposure to gas flaring results in damages to the brain cells and the central nervous system. He reveals that gas flaring effect is, however, more pronounced in infants and the unborn children in the region.
“Children developing in the womb under this flares are likely to have malformation and deformities”
Technically, gas flaring is illegal in Nigeria. The Articles (20) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides that ‘the state shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.’ Nigeria is signatory to the Africa Charter and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – both containing provisions that outlaws the violation of the safety of the environment.
Yet, government early this year revealed that there are 178 gas flare sites in the country.
Gas flaring reduction chart by NOAA/GGFR
Only few local researches have been directed at revealing the cause-effect studies on gas flaring and child health but strong speculations – drawn from general medical researches – prove that the effect do not just exist but they are dire.
Relatedly, the study by Professor Roland Hodler and his colleagues primarily provides a direct connection between pollution and child health in Niger Delta. Using spatial data from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor and the Demographic and Health Surveys, and relying on the comparison of siblings conceived before and after nearby oil spills, the researchers discovered that nearby oil spills doubled the neonatal mortality rate.
Its findings reveal that of the 16,000 infants killed within the first month of their life in 2012, 70 per cent – that is around 11,000 infants – would have survived their first year in the absence of oil spills.
Generally speaking, life expectancy in Nigeria is 53-55 years but in the Niger delta, life expectancy averages around 40 years; almost 15 years less. This is due to lifetime exposure to contaminated air, water sources, soil and sediment resulting from oil spill and gas flaring amongst other pollutants, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) after carrying out a two-year study in the Niger Delta region.
The black powder that kills
Its 9a.m in Nigeria’s oil rich city of Port Harcourt. Moses, an engineer at Agip, was driving down the route to the University of Port Harcourt. The distance ahead of him is buried in black tiny moving powdery substances called soot. The entire city wore a dark air and everything was touched. The soot made waves in the media few months back and passed away and things remained the same.
“It has been around for the past two years and we never can tell where this substance would place the future of children and the unborn”, Professor Gobo of the department of Meteorology and Environmental Management, Rivers state university, Port Harcourt Nigeria said.
Gobo says the scale of the problem that the soot is placing on the entire Niger Delta may not be clear until scholars channel their studies to that field. “We may not see the entire consequences of the soot today though we are sure the effect is dangerous”, he told Ripples Nigeria. “In the future there may be more illnesses especially with our lungs. The little children would suffer most but everyone who takes in the poisoned air of the region is under health risk”
He adds however, that the government and the oil companies don’t want to encourage research into this area because it would expose the scale of the inhumanity done to the peoples’ health already.
The effect of gas flaring has been brutal
When the powder of the soot started dropping on Port Harcourt few months back every roof was touched and the windows and doors pierced. The airy cloud of dark pigment enmeshed the bare floors and settled on kitchens and pots and plates. When the soot, dark as the devil, settles on white clothes, it becomes bleached and its whiteness gives way for blackness.
“Some days, you wake up and discover that some part of your house is dark and if you walk through the tiles, you would discover that your footprint would be carved on the floor because of the dark droppings in the room. Beyond the increased heat in the city, you equally notice that a lot of persons are going down with throat cough” says Chioma Eze, a resident of Port Harcourt.
Soot are tiny black particles that can travel very far in the air and is chiefly composed of hydrocarbons produced as a result of incomplete combustion of largely oil and other forms of fuels. Health researchers explain that soot can consist of acids, chemicals, soils and dust. Soot results from the burning of fossil fuels, coal, manufacturing.
Gobo says that the blanketing of the Niger Delta by soot is traceable to gas flaring and the setting ablaze of illegal refineries by the military operations against bunkering in the creeks. These two, he says, ruins the air quality standard.
“Breathing in this tiny particles can cause coronary heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, and many other respiratory illnesses” wrote Zachary Keefe, a Senior Indoor Air Quality Consultant at US-based Cashins & Associates.
Researches in the United States of American reveal that exposure to the particles of soot-related air pollution results in around 20,000 premature deaths yearly. Relatedly, a study by Donald McCubbins shows that, in the United States, 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma, 35,700 premature deaths, 2,350 heart attacks, 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis were avoided annually by implementing the soot pollution reduction.
There might be a more terrible situation in the Niger Delta but there are no studies to reveal this, Gobo believes.
Particles from soot – studies have shown – like the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides mingle with moistures in the clouds to form acid rain which undermine the water quality resulting in damages to the soil and crops, and poisons food and waters. The tiny particles of soot can penetrate the lungs and the cardiovascular system posing huge health threats, the World Health Organisation reveals.
Some die in less than one minute.
For nearly three decades, Okoro Isaac, worked in the gas plants with one of Nigeria’s multinational oil companies, Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC]. Being a griot, he talked about the days in the oil companies and in those stories, death, and crumbling health were common characters. While Okoro talked, cycle of coughs snatched short phrases from his lips. His breath was lousy and deep. And when the cough sounds are made, it seemed as though he would vomit his heart.
Yet he refused to talk about his health, insisting that it was personal and that his healing was spiritual. Anyways, a community health worker in Obrikom says that such signs of failing health was common amongst retirees of the oil companies and residents who have been around long enough.
“They don’t usually last after retirement. They are often moving from one clinic to the other because their entire immune system has been destroyed over the years. The oil companies give them huge salaries because they know they won’t be alive to enjoy the wealth. The road network in this community is superb, the electricity is constant but what about the health of the people?” she retorted.
Over the years, discussions on gas flaring and the associated health dangers have been restricted to the communities, but reliable sources from the oil companies told Ripples Nigeria, that primary staff face more dangers than is known. The sensitive nature of the gas plants and petroleum exploration require that companies keep certain safety standard in order to protect the health of the oil workers who are directly exposed to all sorts of dangerous gases.
Engineer Moses argues that every discussion on the dangers of gas flaring should start from the health of the workers. He says that the personal protective equipment required for safety are grossly inefficient and many workers die in silence. He adds that the companies threaten those who fail to comply with sack.
“The white man would tell you that you would not find any job elsewhere if you are sacked from this job. Honestly, the fear of losing your job forces many of us to continue this work.”
In 2014, Moses recalls, he lost his closest colleague in the company to brain tumor and he has seen more workers suffering instant or delayed deaths. As he talked, his fingers wagged in the air, his voice was slowing and deepening and tears formed around the red clouds over his eyeball.
“For years my friend suffered from failing health. He won’t be able to say he is weak because the management would sack and replace him. He continued visiting those sensitive places unprotected. Upon his death in 2014, the result of the autopsy showed he died of brain tumor but the company concealed it.”
He lamented, that “Dying here is gradual but steady, as men take in these gases every day. Little by little we die off as one inhales the poisoned air for twenty, thirty or forty years. Our lives drop every second. As we inhale this acid into hearts, and livers and lungs, my people rot on the inside” Isaac bewailed.
Isaac and Moses who have a combined 34 years’ experience in the gas industry claim that most of these occupational hazards would have been avoided if the companies made adequate provisions. They, however, agree that the handful of accidents and impairing health can be traced to the carelessness of the oil worker.
“While the oil companies have their standard for protecting the health of workers, the field managers may not have the full equipment to follow this standard especially during emergency. The instruction may tell you not to enter a particularly place without wearing a nose mask but the worker may not have it and in certain conditions, a worker is forced to go in and work unprotected irrespective of health risks” Isaac said.
But there is an exception. That exception is not positive. The top managers who manage operations rarely face these problems. So the primary workers are most endangered and those who flaunt compliance lose their job irrespective of the health hazards.These primary workers are largely Nigerians.
Sadly, Isaac said that in the course of operation some workers go down for it. He recalls the death of a young oil worker – few months back – from his community who was exposed to an extremely concentrated gas that takes a person’s life in less than one minute.
Ordinarily, the oil companies make medical provisions available for health checks which in some cases takes place once a year for active workers. There is also a free medical clinic services for retired oil workers. But the complex health situations that oil workers develop, Moses claims, far exceeds what this routine checks and clinic can handle.
Wasting wealth, harming health
The NNPC disclosed that oil and gas firms operating in the country are currently flaring 700 million standard cubic feet (SCF) of gas per day, resulting in loss of N868 million daily.
According to NNPC Group Managing Director, Mr. Maikanti Baru, this 700 million SCF per day of gas flared daily, is capable of generating an equivalent of 5,000 megawatts of electricity per day.
The tragic twist is that 75 percent of Nigerians lack electricity. According to the Nigerian Association of Energy Economists, NAEE, despite statistics indicating that 45 percent of the country’s population is currently connected to the national grid, regular supply is still restricted to just about 25 percent of the population.
Nigeria’s power problem has lingered for years, forcing the government to privatize the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in hopes of achieving at least a moderate supply of electricity.
Though Crude oil accounts for more than 80 percent of Nigeria’s foreign earning, internal utilization of the many potentials of the sector have been undermined by wastefulness and shortsightedness, and the continued waste of the country’s wealth in gas flaring is sadly, a strong pointer to this scenario.
For instance, the energy problem in Nigeria can be addressed almost at no cost by resorting to gas generated energy, as the country has over 187 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of proven gas reserve (comprising 97 tcf associated gas and 90 tcf non-associated gas). Nigeria has the 7th largest natural gas deposit in the world, and holds the 4th largest reserves worldwide.
The country flares nearly eight billion cubic meters of gases annually. This flared ‘eight billion cubic meters of gases’ the World Bank’s GGFR reveals, is enough to “generate electricity for over 75 million of its population that lack access to electricity.”
Data obtained from local reports show that oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria burn over $3.5 to $5 billion yearly from the over 257 flow stations in the Niger Delta. Nigeria, interestingly, flared about 17.15 per cent of the 95,471 metric tonnes of gas produced in June 2015 alone, a report from Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) revealed. This too is very sad in a country where more than 70 percent of its 180 million population live below the poverty threshold.
For over three decades, Nigeria has been shifting the deadline for gas flaring starting from 1979. The government’s newest deadline was 2020. That date too has been technically shifted by 10 years. That’s because Nigeria recently became signatory to the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative by the United Nations, meaning that the government has shifted attention to 2030. With this new goal post, Nigeria is set to lose about 50 billion dollars in the next decade to gas flaring.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, in a piece published in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, Bulletin for December 2017-January 2018 revealed that gas flaring led to “the burning of money that would have been used to generate wealth, create employment and also generate electricity for the people”.
“In this country, right now, we have 178 gas flare sites… Daily, we flare around 755 million standard cubic feet per day. You can imagine how much we lose as a country, the carbon credit we would have gotten from this, the electricity we would have generated, the LPGs (liquefied petroleum gas)…” a representative of the minister at the Gas Buyers’ Forum, organised by the Gas Aggregation Company of Nigeria in Abuja was quoted as saying.
In 2008, Nigeria launched the Gas Master Plan (“NGMP”) which provided a roadmap for the exploitation, rapid development and effective distribution of Nigeria’s robust gas reserves. Nigeria has so far made relative progress since the inception of the NGMP, with the gas supply market increasing from 300 million to 2 billion cubic feet per day (cfpd).
But gases even have greater and growing domestic value. There are millions of Nigerians who are reverting to the use of gas cylinders and 1 kilogram of gas in Nigeria local market sells at 300 – 400 Naira (nearly 1 dollar). The potential of gas in Nigeria is great but no one may say just how great until the right policy and strategic planning meets opportunity and potential.
The era of crude oil is gradually fading away. The recent fumbling of oil prices is a pointer. Even more, the attention to renewable energy is getting higher, as the original markets for crude, whether in Europe, Asia or America are doing everything possible to sideline oil at most in the nearest future, whereas the era of gas is just emerging.
A lot of European nations are either liquidizing their gases or conserving them through re-injection. Nigeria might not liquidize or re-inject gases but the country has lingered too long with the dangers of gas flaring, which harms health as wealth is wasted.
This story is supported by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism.
RipplesNigeria… without borders, without fears
Click here to join the Ripples Nigeria WhatsApp group for latest updates.
INVESTIGATION…. INSIDE OGONILAND: How a promised clean-up is turning into a people’s nightmare
The Morning after
On an overcast morning of August 2008, Christian Kpandei rushed off to the creeks to survey his fishing net placed all night in the river. His eyes, in memory, blisters with hope. In the past, it was common to visit the shore and find trapped slick black-headed catfishes on the net or the spiny fin of scaly tilapias.
Surprises were scarce.
Routinely, Kpandei would unstrap the cluster of fishes with a craftsman’s expertise and pull them off the net and drift home with a smile hanging on the edge of his lips. But with the Bodo crude oil spill in 2008, and a follow up spill in 2009, nothing ever remained the same, even when the people bury their suffering in pretence.
The spill experience was the defining moment in the life of Kpandei as much as the lives of about 832,000 inhabitants of Ogoni land according to the 2006 National Population Census Figure. Available data reveal that 70 % of the 15,600 Bodo people – traditionally fishers and farmers – live below poverty line and the London High Court claims that about 600,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled over many communities.
Yet, he manages to disremember the details of that day. He only remembers leaving his home hugely optimistic and returning from the water front with depressive pessimism. These were the extremes between his feelings.
His Majesty, the leader of Goi, Tomii S, Tomii, said spills were not new, neither were creek fires uncommon. He downplays any shock and recalls “the destruction of 38 fishing canoes packed in the mangrove by crude fire in the 1970s.” That notwithstanding, he concedes that 2008 and 2009 spills were “terrifying.” Christian said it was “massive.” And Dominic Saanaa, the Acting Youth Leader of Bodo, Rivers state, thinks it was “unprecedented.”
The United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, says that indeed oil industry operations were suspended in Ogoniland in 1993, “widespread environmental contamination remains.”
After the spills that covered the creeks, stifling, without discretion, every living thing in the coastline of many communities in Ogoni, the people initiated consultations and planned on the next line of actions. They watched the lips of the government and the body language of Shell Petroleum Development Company (Nigeria) Ltd, SDPC, whose facilities triggered the spills. Deciding the means of taking up the case was delicate for some reasons.
For one, dragging Shell to court was ideal and receiving compensation from the polluters – that’s pulling Shell into the Polluter Pays Principle, PPP – could be consoling but payments don’t heal the land; it feeds, rather trivially, the mouth in the interim. The people resolved to approach the court proceeding with two demands. One, demand compensation for damages. Two and vitally, clean up their coastline so as to restore its rich and fading vestige.
Historically, the position of most Ogoni communities, King Tomii claims, has always been on these two premises. In previous instances, receiving compensation was attainable but cleaning up was, ordinarily, far-fetched. In fact, Christian says that “Shell are more willing to pay for compensation in the issue of damages but Shell will never clean up.”
But there was change in 2009. That change was a positive change. Yet the change was not from Shell.
While the call for cleaner Ogoni land dates back to a couple of decades, the Ogoni clean up or to put it more dead-on, the government’s allegiance towards cleaning the region, was aroused by this two major spills.
Prior to the spills, mutual suspicion had grown between the company and the communities. Truce was scarce. And even in the midst of this riff, Christian thought Shell took their “inhumanity to the extreme. For seventy-two days, oil oozed like water. Flying upwards from the leaked pipes and Shell did nothing,” he says about the 2008 spills. “The second spill in 2009 lasted for seventy-eight days before Shell intervened”
The president Olusegun Obasanjo administration seemingly wanted to heal the tortured relationship between the government and the multinational oil companies and Ogoni people. The death of Ken Saro Wiwa. Unpaid compensation. But much more, the clean-up of Ogoni land, fractured the reconciliatory process and UNEP, though relatively alien to the Ogoni people, concedes that “trust” was a major undermining peace between the stakeholders in Ogoni land.
Tomii measures the suffering of Ogoni in moments. He said long stories that zeroed down on the people’s fear and betrayal, and the death of Ken Saro Wiwa in 1993 was “a delicate moment of sorrow and resignation” for his people but the relief that came on June 2016 when the Ogoni clean-up was flagged off seemed “special and healing.”
The government pledged itself to two crucial task when it flagged off the Ogoni clean up mid 2016 as well as the 2009 commissioned assessment of Ogoni land; One, to investigate the level of damages done to the Ogoni or what UNEP described as “comprehensive Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.” and “an environmental clean-up to follow, based on the assessment and subsequent planning and decisions.” The bigger task, more narrowly, was the clean-up.
The government deceived us
Accordingly, the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, under government funding, in two years concluded and submitted their assessment of the impact of oil pollution in Ogoni land. With this, the first stage of the government’s bargain was delivered.
The second – remediation based on the impact of the assessment – was adjourned despite warning by UNEP that “restoring the livelihoods and well-being of future Ogoni generations is within reach but timing is vital. “Failure to begin addressing urgent public health concerns and commencing a cleanup will only exacerbate and unnecessarily prolong the Ogoni people’s suffering.”
June 2, 2016, the government of president Muhammadu Buhari flagged off, finally, the implementation of the Ogoni clean up. At the Sivibiragbara water front, popularly called Patrick’s Water front in Bodo community, Ogoni, and perhaps sensing the thick weariness in the faces of the ordinary people, the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the programme with many promises.
UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner, said the flag off was a “historic step toward improving the situation of the Ogoni people. He added that the scale and nature of the project means that the “clean up of Ogoniland will neither be easy nor fast, but it needs to be done.”
It was nice that Steiner placed a clause on the project. And to prove government willingness to genuinely savage the situation, the report provided a starting point. The starting point, no doubt, was the implementation of “emergency measures” detailed in the report. And when the Vice president spoke to Ogoni people during the flag-off ceremony, he calmed, wordily, frailed nerves and revealed that he knew that the “lives, socio-economic and political interest depend, to a great extent, on the quality of our environment.”
“When you hear the politicians speak, you can easily be misled into thinking that it’s from their heart to help you” says Chief Jude Baritema, the spokesperson of Bodo city, one of the largest cities in Ogoni, comprising of nearly 35 villages in Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers state. He admitted seeing rich flagging off ceremony at the waterfront but he adds equally that “nothing more than that has happened after the flag off”, and “from day one, we have never seen any sincerity from the government.”
Baritema is reserved. He is such a man that kept his voice even in moments of irk. It’s only in the redness of his eyes and the shaking of his head that his anger is laid out.
Old Tomii wasn’t. His age and anger contradict. His fingers, raised to drive a point, was tenuously dancing in the air. But his words were clear. He took each word with elderly patience. Such that his bottled up anger, came out precise and fierce against the subject matter. “The government has deceived us” he said. “And we know Nigeria has a dead government and don’t care if we live or die. Their attitude towards the clean-up proves this.”
After months of expectations, the government pleaded that it needed more time to sort out vital issues related to the assessment report received from UNEP. It revealed that the report had flaws. Ibrahim Jibril, Minister of State for Environment, in 2017, told newsmen, that they “discovered this document was faulty to a large extent” and “had to review it.” He says this review was “the reasons we are slow.”
Kenteber Obirador, Project Officer Energy and Climate Change, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) says the minister’s comment was “shameful and pathetic.” And proves that he is more keen on “paying lip service to his master, the president. We invited UNEP in the first place because we didn’t have the technical know-how to carry out the assessment”, he says. The report, by every standard is a vital starting point, though it is not necessarily “perfect.”
Ripples Nigeria called up Kpandei for a talk on the Ogoni clean up. He was there when the trench for installing Shell’s pipe was dug 50 years ago. And he worked in that field, in what he describes as “unknowingly digging his people’s grave”. Christian pulled a black suit over a traditional old British jacket and had a blacksmith’s kind of dark glasses. He talked a little about the ongoing Bodo court case with Shell in London and Ken Saro Wiwa. And those small side talks gave way for the huge Ogoni clean up matter.
But Kpandei didn’t talk that day. No, the term talking undermines the thick anger in his voice, and in his eyes, as he speaks. “There is nothing like clean up in Ogoni land. The Cleanup you see is only a television and radio clean up. The government is not honest! “ he summed and stayed silent.
The Ogoni clean-up is pretty fragile. It has always had that shade of emergency. It has always had the taint of tussle. And UNEP, thoroughly, recognised this delicateness. The report revealed that the “loggerheads” between the people and politics and the oil industry created a “landscape characterized by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame, set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned.”
Upon this observation, the agency, advocated quick emergency actions to restore, partly, the lost trust and much more, the environment. The agency says that “even though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoniland, oil spills continue to occur with alarming regularity…any delay in cleaning up an oil spill leads to oil being washed away, traversing farmland and almost always ending up in the creeks. When oil reaches the root zone, crops and other plants begin to experience stress and can die.”
Nevertheless, there are facets to the clean-up and the delay in Ogoniland especially UNEP recommendations. Ideally, the “emergency measures” in the wisdom of UNEP required radical and immediate actions. These emergency measures are eight and should have been implemented as a quick follow-up on the report. According to Fegalo Nsuke, the spokesperson of Movement for Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, the delay is dangerous for “many reasons.”
“One, the people are dying in their numbers every day. Recent community survey shows that Ogoni buries nearly forty persons weekly. This is particularly sad because majority of the diseased are young persons of between 20 – 30 or 35 years” he says.
Still, the Vice President, like other members of the government, undermined this threat. He would rather prefer that all stakeholders understand that “there is a lot going on. And that the government can’t address all of the problems at once.”
Life expectancy in Nigeria, between 2006 to 2016, increased by seven years to over 63 and 67 years for men and women respectively yet in the Niger Delta region, life expectancy, within the same period, dropped to 40 – 43 years says United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP. This disparity, experts agree, is due to early exposure to heavily polluted environment.
There have been, ordinarily speaking, a lot of round bruising with the clean-up and the Ogoni people, in resignation, seem to be stooping below the storms. The delays, it’s been widely reported, is as a result of funding or more appropriately the controversies of funding. To trigger the clean-up exercise, UNEP, suggested an initial capital of 1 $billion dollars be set aside as part of Ogoni Restoration Fund.
In the beginning, in the days of Amina Mohammed as a Minister of Environment, she was quoted by a local media report, that “funds for the Ogoni clean-up are intact…There is no politics here. The facts are clear. The Ogoni environment has been degraded and we need to restore it. That is what we are doing.” That was August 2016.
Subsequently, the government’s New Niger Delta Vision reported that the “Vice President presided over the ceremonial signing of the Ogoni Trust Fund escrow agreement. With this signing, $170 million is to be provided imminently from the first tranche of the $1 Billion for the Ogoni clean-up that was recommended by the UNEP,” the vice president assured. That was April 2018.
Much earlier, Guardian, UK, reported that Shell was holding off the payment of their part funding for “the long delayed clean up” because nothing was in place to show that the clean-up has begun. The spokesperson of Shell said that “the money will be made avalaible when we are sure that the structures are in place, are robust and will be overseen correctly. It is very much the responsibility of the Nigerian government.” That was August 2015.
Few months forward, Shell reportedly provided $10 million dollars for the project. In a widely circulated report, SPDC General Manager, Internal Relations, Mr. Igo Weli, revealed that “SPDC JV has made available the $10 million take-off fund for HYPREP as part of its contribution towards funding its share of the Ogoni Restoration Fund.” She added that the delays in the clean-up had nothing to do with lack of funds. That was August 2017.
However, the government did not see the honesty in Shell’s position. Maybe, Shell wasn’t lying but the government was having a different view on the grounds of her probable extreme financial constrain. And when the vice president addressed the issue months later, he said that “contrary to claims that government has been docile on the issue” that the government, in the nearest future – next meeting in a week time -, would discuss “budget” for the clean-up.
“You cannot do anything without money and you cannot collect the money without budgeting for it so you have to show the work that it is meant for. We are on the right track and very soon we would all see the work being done,” he said. Osibanjo admitted, contrary to the position of Shell, that “funding was a major constraint for the seeming delay in the project and the clean-up exercise.” That was November, 2017.
Prior to the government’s self-satisfying position, the Governor of River state, Nyesom Wike says the government was not serious with the clean-up. He told the Senate Committee on Environment led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu that the “The federal government is not serious about clean-up of Ogoni land. We are tired of telling our people that the project would start next year. Let it not be a political project. Look at the North East, a commission was established and $1 billion dollars was released.”
Probably touched by the agitations raised by Wike, Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment, Senator Tinubu, imminently, articulated a new line of action. “We are concerned about the issues, “she started. “We will use face masks when we get to the location. Face mask would draw attention of the message to the world on the essence of the clean-up”.
Fegalo of MOSOP said “It’s difficult to trust the Nigerian government on this. They have not kept their words at all. In seven years, the government has not been able to provide water for a single person in Ogoni land. The standards recommended by United has been flawed. In the end, this clean up would not result in a clean Ogoni land”.
In all these, Ibrahim Jibril, the Minister of State for Environment, feels that the “rush” to clean up Ogoni was needless. Seven years and counting, he thinks, is a short time to implement at least the emergency measures. The clean-up, in his view, could harmlessly take a longer time. His tone suggested that the people, after all, have been on their suffering for years.
He says that “accusers” should know he is not in a haste to fail.
“You may say we are slow, yes we are slow and these are the reasons we are slow and the accusers who say we are doing it for politics and now that we have won, that is why we are not doing anything again. For so many years, these things have been going on and nothing happened and now that we are on the verge of doing something, everybody is impatient” he stated.
Quite honestly, the minister was on point. The government have done nothing. For the past three years they are still on the “verge of doing something.”
Again Kentebe, an environmental activist, feels this is sad. The fact that the people have been on this suffering for decades should make the government sympathetic and humanly quick. The government should understand that cleaning up ogoni land is not a gift to the people, it’s their right irrespective of the number of past administrations that had skipped that task, he argues.
UNEP, foresightedly, warned that delays could escalate the magnitude of the damages done to the Ogoni land and in some ways emphasized this view lightly when it indicated that “while no oil production has taken place in Ogoni land since 1993, the facilities themselves have never been decommissioned. Consequently, the infrastructure has gradually deteriorated, through exposure to natural processes, but also as a result of criminal damage, causing further pollution and exacerbating the environmental footprint.”
This delay has consequences, Amnesty reported in 2018. It shows that the government has taken only limited steps to do things rightly and ordinary people keep paying the prize. But beyond rights, Fegalo, the spokesperson of MOSOP says that the government is “provoking Ogoni people to violence but the people have remained peaceful.” And the government is creating the impression that “only violence is rewarded.”
“The government would be happy if we take up arms so that they can wipe all of us out in one day like they killed over 4000 indigenes of Ogoni when we stood up for our rights between 1993 -1999” he said.
HYPREP Has Failed
Kpandei who said he was trained by three British masters, lamented, “There is a lot of propaganda on the radio and television that a clean-up is taking place in Ogoni land but when you go to the site or communities, look into the creeks, make your research and find out from the people, you would know whether the reports on the media are true or not,” he revealed.
Sadly, Kpandei was saying this in low spirit. His voice was clear and fragile but his face was far too troubled.
To understand the context of Christian’s complains or contempt, the suggested modalities for the exercise would be revisited. The Hydrocarbon Remediation Project, HYPREP, was established to implement the recommendations of the UN Environmental Programme report. The task of HYPREB, experts say, was pretty clear. Even if the UNEP report was, in some instances, imperfect, only few adjustment would be required. Much more, the roles of HYPREP was divided into phases.
First off, HYPREP primarily ought to start the implementation of the reports from the emergency measures. To skip this modality would have consequences. And this consequences would be ugly. The report argues that those recommendations were structurally interconnected such that altering the steps or side-lining some would undermine the progressive success of other stages and of courses, the entire process.
The United Nations Environmental Programme says the document provided the “foundation upon which action (can be) undertaken to remedy the multiple health, environmental and sustainable development issues facing millions of people in Ogoni land,” adding that the report “can provide a firm foundation upon which all the stakeholders concerned can, if they so wish”
Whichever way, the starting point was to imminently execute the emergency measures. The emergency measures were eight and vital and fragile. The UN agency said that these measures “warrant immediate action.”
Generally speaking, a health audit of the entire region was suggested, in addition to providing adequate drinking water for impacted sites plus initiating a survey of all drinking water where hydrocarbons were observed. These three, alongside health awareness campaign deterring communities from neither engaging in artisan refining or living in communities having contamination exceeding intervention values and warning families not to drink, swim and bathe or walk in place and rivers where hydrocarbons were observed in the surface.
“When HYPREP asked us to leave our homes and livelihoods, they gave us nothing. Our people are aliens in different places and many people have died. I may not be alive to see Ogoni clean but the government should heal our land for those who would survive” Tomii said.
With those words, Tomii went silent.
Observers, from the duty of care point of view, argue that HYPREP had no reason sending people away from their lands without any support to resettle away from their livelihood. And till today, communities within Ogoni land still drink contaminated water because “HYPREB did not provide a single well for us here” says Fynface, The Executive Director of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre.
But there are other reasons, more narrowly, to which the failure of the HYPREP has been ascribed. The discriminatory isolation of select communities in Ogoni land from the exercise; creating more troubles than it rolled away according to local sources. For instance, Bodo, one of the largest and most polluted communities in Ogoni land has been isolated from the faulted, medical outreach. And has in fact “lost touch with the clean-up” according to Baritema, the spokesperson of thirty-five village Bodo.
Kpandei says “the average man doesn’t know anything about what HYPREP is doing. The agency doesn’t have the charisma to carry out this clean up. They have failed. HYPREP has lost their credibility. The people in HYPREP have no vision, they have no focus.”
Swamped by this round bruising, HYPREP, rather shockingly, has no reason to panic. The government, whose tone it must dance to is pretty pleased with its job. The president, Muhammadu Buhari, speaking in the three years of his administration said that “the environmental clean-up of the region (Ogoni land) is progressing satisfactorily.”
The government too, to put it bluntly, must have been impressed, or better still, seduced by the aired efforts on television or radio most times in respect to the clean up. After all, the president has never been to Ogoni land in his administration. He has never seen the oil upon their waters. He has never seen their crude sailing on their soup or the dark boundless sheet of soot on their waters or the dark overcast over them at twilight. And when the rare opening of launching the clean up in 2016 came by, he was pleased to pass on it.
When Ripples Nigeria reached out to Dr, Marvin Dekil, the Project Coordinator of HYPREB, he was courteous at first, but as soon as our correspondent introduced himself, and the reason for the call, that it has to do with the Ogoni clean-up, his demeanour changed, and everything turned from unassuming courtesy to subversive antagonism.
“You can’t talk to me just like that. There is a due process. In fact, I am in a crucial meeting. And if you want to talk to me, go to the website and apply for the opportunity” he hollered and hung up.
A trusted source close to Dr. Marvin offered some explanation for his attitude. He pleaded that we ought to empathise with him. “Everybody is beginning to find out that he is doing nothing. It has been frustrating for him and it is difficult facing one media organisation after another. With all these reports, he feels the government may axe him”.
The source suggested that the presidency could have been misled into believing that the clean-up was working. His view is not an outcast. And didn’t differ in perspective from Fegalo’s who revealed that “a lot of propaganda was going into the clean-up.”
Based on Marvin’s assertion, our correspondent sent an email HYPREP, aligning with his expectations towards “due process,” and indicating that the request was urgent, relatively.
Seven days later, there was no reply. A friendly follow-up was sent across. After another seven days passed with still no feedback, our correspondent again called Dr. Marvin. Several call to his number went unanswered.
“To have said that cleanup was progressing satisfactory, for us is something that came very surprisingly,” Conflict Adviser of CISLAC, Mr. Salaudeen Musa, said at the meeting of civil societies in Port Harcourt late May. “Tendencies are there that the Advisers of the President are not advising him properly. Tendencies are there that they are feeding the president very wrong information.”
Beyond the inadequacies of the present efforts, locals accuse HYPREP of deliberately running an isolative and selective clean up, ignoring many deeply affected communities in the process.
The spokesperson of Bodo, Baritema says “HYPREP doesn’t have program, it has never had and it’s better scrapped. Bodo is one of the largest community affected by the spills in the Niger delta.” He continued, “but we have been completely isolated from the clean-up exercise.”
But he has no regret because, according to him, his people “don’t need a jamboree health outreach where people would be fighting for paracetamol and multivitamins and mosquito nets. HYPREP picked better grounds where they can be worshiped and fool the people and sell their lies. My people are wise.”
If Ken Wasn’t Killed
Seeing the situation of the people, and the strength of the pollution, it’s natural to feel terrified and provoked. One remembers the words of the elders, many of whom may die before another visit to Ogoni, many of whom may go blind too. One remembers the sick bones of weighed souls wearing wizened skins, the black spring and the thick dark waters. And it’s not easy to forget, the slow tear coming down the cheek of Tomii when he said his own death could be few months away.
Needless to say, the distress of the people, as well as the suffering of the widows of pollution, and the legion of early deaths recorded weekly, is as vivid as the sun rising from the neon-yellow cloud during the first visit to Ogoni.
“If Ken wasn’t killed,” Tomii said, “we would have been saved.”
Tomii stayed silent now. He was facing his own portrait, taken probably in his thirties, his broad chest pushed forward, and his face vacant. There is such anguish in that silence, one could easily commune with his people’s suffering.
Maybe Ogoni land and the rest of Niger Delta deserve more. Maybe Nigeria has been unkind in the past. Maybe, it’s time to heal their land and water. Maybe, it’s time to set Tomii free from his despair. Maybe, it’s time to calm the rage of this people.
This story is supported by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism.
RipplesNigeria… without borders, without fears
Click here to join the Ripples Nigeria WhatsApp group for latest updates.
SPECIAL REPORT… Erosion takes lives, properties of communities as funds to curtail it remain unaccounted for
With over 2,800 active erosion sites in Nigeria’s Southeast Region, the risk of people losing their homes and means of livelihoods loom larger than ever before, even as funds to tackle the menace seem to have been diverted.
Gideon Arinze was In Nsukka, and captured the misery and pain staring victims in the face.
The menacing showers
Each time the clouds begin to gather, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa naturally fall into spates of happiness, but for the residents of some communities in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu and other states in the South Eastern Region, it is a clear sign that they need to get prepared for the unknown.
It was a blistering Tuesday afternoon, and the clouds had started gathering strength before this reporter left the house of 60 years old Leonard Ngwu. Soon, the rain started and on a return to Ngwu’s house after the cry of nature, the once dry environment had become damp, difficult to walk on and potentially wrecking.
By the time the rains stopped, Ngwu who is a teacher had been subjected to turmoil, standing by one corner of his house with his hands wrapped around his chest and his eyes wide open. Anger clearly written all over his face.
At one end of the house, members of his family were removing water and other debris out of their rooms. His compound had just been submerged again. The flood went away with some of his property as usual.
“This erosion has dealt with us,” he said pointing towards the direction by which the erosion channel passes through his house. “This is not the first time we are experiencing this situation. It has caused a lot of damages to me and my family. We have lost many of our property. We don’t even know how to recover them again,” he said visibly trying to stifle his anger.
Over the years, Ngwu had devised a means, or what seems like a means, of mitigating the erosion by building a wall around his house. But this does not often work. The situation is even more terrible now as he and his family are almost forced out of their home.
NEWMAP to the rescue?
Ngwu is a member of a 10-man committee that has been selected by the Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) to look into the issue of erosion which till now, has become a major source of concern for the people of Onuiyi, a Community that sits sedately in Nsukka Local government of Enugu in South Eastern Nigeria and other surrounding communities.
A World Bank assisted project aimed at addressing the Nigerian gully erosion crisis in Southeastern Nigeria and land degradation in Northern Nigeria on a multi-dimensional scale, NEWMAP is supported by the International Development Association (IDA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Trust Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF). The project was borne out of the request for assistance made by President Goodluck Jonathan to the World Bank in 2010.
“We have lost about 34 people” Ngwu speaks of the erosion which has existed in Nsukka for over 35 years. “Every year, it causes destruction at least four to five times before the dry season sets in and this usually happens between the months of June and September. Sometimes, we even wish there is no rain,” he said with all manner of seriousness.
‘These monstrous gullies can eliminate whole communities’
Erosion which usually starts off with the relatively uniform removal of the soil surface by excess runoff aided by steep sloping topography, soil/rock types, removal of vegetative cover and poorly designed construction works, becomes concentrated with time, forming channels and rills and if not properly checked, progresses into the monstrous gullies which are found scattered all over the south eastern region of Nigeria.
Across the globe, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries.
A report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reveals that Africans especially Sub-Sahara Africans, are more vulnerable to climate change effects- among which is erosion- and unfortunately they have the least capability of adapting to its deleterious effects.
Prof. Francisca Okeke, the Director, African Climate Change Adaptation Initiative at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka said that the most prominent and dominant erosion category in the South East region is the gully erosion as the geology of the region has a lot to do with the propagation of gullies.
Among the effects of erosion in the region, she listed: Farmland destruction, vegetation loss, disease outbreaks that affect humans, loss of property and effect on life.
“If we refuse to address this crucial issue overtime, roads would be totally inaccessible, there will be no social, environment and economic balance. There would also be loss of facilities and infrastructure for research, hence, non conducive atmosphere for learning, teaching and research would not work in the nation” she said.
It also takes lives
So far this year, three people have lost their lives to the erosion, following heavy downpour between July and August. The first victims were a motorcycle rider and a student whose bodies were discovered in Alor Uno community, about one kilometer from Onuiyi. The second victim was a little girl who was carried away as she tried to cross a water channel on her way back from school.
The death of the three victims threw the entire community into pangs of fear, not because it is the first time the erosion is washing away lives but because they feared who the next victim would be.
Each time it rains, especially at night, Ngwu, like every other villager, does not sleep a wink. He usually stays awake to keep watch and know when the rain will overflow, leaving the erosion channel and finding its way into people’s homes.
“For me, that is a way of making sure that the rain does not swallow me and my family when it comes. As soon as I hear the sound, I quickly carry my wife and children away,” he said.
Mr Ngwu and his family are part of over a hundred households whose livelihoods are constantly being affected by the menace of erosion in Nsukka and the South Eastern region of the country.
Houses have been washed away by erosion
Seated in front of his house nestled somewhere at the backwoods of the picturesque Alor Uno rolling hills is 76 years old Simeon Omeje who Intermittently looks in the direction where the house he had built for his children now lies in ruins.
“My son,” he says as he tries to recall when the house was destroyed. “It happened on a Tuesday in July. Myself and my wife had gone into our own room after a busy day when the clouds started gathering strength by 8 p.m.”
Omeje who now shares a single room with his wife and children was fast asleep when the rain began. At exactly 12 midnight when the rain had become intense, he heard a reverberating sound and when he came out to see what was happening, he discovered that the house he had built for his children had been raised down by the rain which had completely submerged his compound.
“At first, I did not know what to do. But when I saw that the rain was gradually finding its way into our own room, I quickly rushed in and took my wife and our little daughter out and carried them to a place where they slept till the next morning,” he said.
By the time Omeje came back in the morning, his room had also been filled with water. His property- chairs, motorcycle, food items and other valuables had all been damaged. Not even his livestock which he reared at one end of his house was spared.
He recalled that sometime in 2016, a part of his house was also lost to the erosion. “I was still trying to see if I can put that one together when this one was destroyed. Now, I don’t even know where to start rebuilding the house again.” he said.
Omeje who said that his older children had all travelled when the rain came that night explained the why the erosion continues to ravage his community.
‘How it finds it’s way to our houses’
He said that the drainage through which rain passes each time it comes is too small compared to the amount of rainfall. As a result, each time it gets to that point, it does not move further anymore. Often times when it overflows, it starts finding its way into people’s houses.
“We are the worst hit because we live very close to where the bridge is located. Many people who were living here have all relocated due to disturbance by the erosion,” he lamented.
Eight people- Just one room.
For 35 year old Sunday Uguoke who is only struggling to survive, life has literally lost its grandeur. He does not know where to begin as he has almost lost every of his belonging to the erosion that is ravaging his community. At one end of his house, Ugwuoke, like Omeje formally reared livestock which he always sold to provide food for his family and take care of other needs. But now, all of them are gone.
Ugwuoke and his family are not staying in their house anymore, as the rainwater, each time it overflows, finds its way into their house. He is married and has 6 children. But they all share a single room in another house he secured in his community.
On this day, Ugwuoke had just returned from working on one of the water channels to prevent more erosion. He explains his situation with his face forlorn while his shirt hung around his neck “I am tired of everything. I have been trying to see what I can do so I and my family can at least return to our house because we are not comfortable in the one room we are staying now.
“As you can see, he said pointing in one direction, “my wife is bringing out things that the rain packed into our room the last time it came. We are back and trying to fix things again. Maybe before we finish, it will rain again and destroy everything we have repaired” he said.
Because of the menace of the erosion in Alor Uno, Ugwuoke’s brothers have all left the community with their families. But he does not have money to go anywhere. So, he and his family are forced to remain and suffer the menace of the erosion.
No help from the government
When asked what the government has done in address the problem of erosion in his community, Omeje said that there have been successive governments in the state, but regretted that none has tried to address the issue which has always had devastating effects on the community.
“The government has always come here to make promises each time they hear that the erosion caused destruction. They have talked about it on radio and written about it on newspapers. Each time they come around, we become happy that our problems are over. But as soon as they leave, we don’t hear from them anymore” he said.
He recalled that operatives from the Local Government paid him a visit when they heard that the erosion destroyed houses in the community and made promises thereafter. “But after then, no one heard from them again,” he stated.
He also remembered that operatives from World Bank came last year and even two years ago and surveyed the erosion site, taking pictures and measurements in the process to reassure the community of their readiness to deal with the issue. Yet still, nothing has been done.
“Now, we are completely helpless. We don’t have anywhere to go to. The erosion is almost forcing us out of our home. We have lost almost everything and the government has refused to help us out”
Confirming the words of Omeje, Ngwu said the problem of erosion has existed in the community for a long time and that they had written past authorities several times, yet no positive result was recorded.
Our home now make shift kitchen
Chinwe Eze believes that her community is suffering the menace caused by erosion because those who claim to represent them in government are only after their personal gains.
Eze and her family are presently finding refuge in a nearby house following the heavy downpour that entered their home in August and rendered most of their property useless. That was not the first time the rain is entering their house. But it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. They could not bear to stay any longer.
When this reporter got to Eze, she was sitting on a chair just in front of the house with her frustration showing on her face. She had only come around to prepare what her family would eat for the day.
In front of the house that had now become uninhabitable, Eze and her family usually set a small fire where they prepare meal each day. “That is the only thing we come here to do now as everything has been destroyed” she said pointing in the direction where a portion of their house now lie in rubble
When asked what the community is doing to help remedy the situation, she said that nobody has done anything yet. “Nobody cares. They are all minding their business since it does not affect everybody in the community”. she said.
Constituency development Fund: A tale of corruption and misuse
The neglect of the erosion site in Nsukka and others spread across the South Eastern region, like many other constituency development projects has become .a recurring decimal in this part of the world.
Across the South East, from Enugu to Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia states, erosion has led to the loss of many lives, cut up and washed away roads, destroyed farmlands, pulled down houses and sent residents fleeing their homes.
First introduced during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 after the leadership of the National Assembly approached the executive for approval claiming it was in response to frequent demands of their constituents for the dividends of democracy, constituency development fund, otherwise known as zonal intervention fund, has been widely criticized as a drain pipe employed to perpetrate fraud in the budgeting process and secretly channel public funds into the pockets of Federal legislators.
Specific details on the projects such as cost and target sector are usually kept secret because the lawmakers allegedly engage in self-enriching deals in the implementation of the projects. As a result, constituents hardly know what should statutorily accrue to them.
Though implementing the zonal intervention projects does not involve cash payments or any other form of payment to legislators, as their duty is simply to identify the location and the type of project to be sited; only contractors nominated by the lawmakers are often awarded the contracts. As a result, they still have a say on what happens to the project.
This year, the Senator representing Enugu North Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Utazi Godfrey Chukwuka, nominated a total of N460 Million as constituency development project, out of which N36 million was set aside for erosion control at Onuiyi Nsukka/ Adani Road, Enugu North Senatorial district.
Sadly, a physical inspection of the erosion sites by this reporter shows that no work has been done yet. The sites have remained the way they used to be and the erosion continues to have devastating effect on different communities.
Whereabouts of funds allocated unknown, senator shuns enquiries
Several efforts made by this reporter to contact the Senator to explain how the fund for erosion control in the affected communities have been used did not yield any result as he was neither picking calls nor responding to text messages sent to him.
In September, the West Africa Reporter (WAR) reported how the lawmaker also failed to account for the sum of N104 million he nominated for constituency development project in 2017.
A senior official with Tracka, a non- governmental organization that works to ensure quality delivery of government projects across Nigeria said that the organization has written the lawmaker in the last two months, using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act asking for explanations on the project he nominated last year. Yet, he has not responded
In 2017, The Federal government approved the sum of N5.567 billion for the 3rd quarter erosion control Accelerated Intervention in six states of the federation, including Enugu, Kano, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Ondo and Osun. But ever since, nothing has changed.
Hope for better days
Over the years, successive governments in Enugu and other states in the South Eastern region have only paid lip service to the menace of erosion. But Ngwu hopes for better days ahead. He believes that the present government in Enugu State will take bold steps to address the situation, as it is so far the only government that has truly realized the extent of damage erosion is causing in rural communities.
In August, the state governor made available the sum of N500 million to demonstrate its political will to qualify for the additional financial programme of the World Bank and also approved the Anyaurum Ohom Orba, Onuiyi Nsukka and Enugu Ngow gull erosion sites as priority of his administration.
Ngwu called on the state government to speed up measures to deal with the menace of erosion in the communities affected so residents can heave a deep sigh of relief.
Eze and her family are afraid of returning home. She believes that if nothing is done to deal with the threats posed by erosion in her community, the government may wake up one morning to discover that everybody has been swept away.
RipplesNigeria… without borders, without fears
Click here to join the Ripples Nigeria WhatsApp group for latest updates.
INVESTIGATION…How endless oil spills leave Niger Delta severely polluted, livelihoods ruined and citizens poisoned
A six-month long investigative story, with laboratory tests, by RUTH OLUROUNBI and KELECHUKWU IRUOMA reveals how contaminants in the air, water and soil, as a result of the oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoniland are affecting the health of people and how the slow cleanup exercise is putting more people at risk of dying.
Eric Dooh, 60, had just returned from Goi, a community in Ogoniland, within Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. He had visited his family’s property in the community he left a few years back due to air pollution. Near the property is a large river where men fish, but it has been contaminated as a result of oil spills, causing unending pollution that pervades the air.
He was exhausted. He sat on a red couch in his sitting room wearing a red traditional shirt and cap. His eyes were red like fire due to the poor quality of air containing harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide he was exposed to.
Dooh had hung a plain trouser he wore to the community the previous day on a wall. He stood up, went to the place the trouser was hung and dipped his right hand inside one of the pockets. He searched for a sachet of franol — a medication that relieves breathing difficulties — he usually took after returning from the oil spill site but could not find it. Goi is one of the affected communities ravaged by oil spills.
“Our people suffer very seriously; they inhale chemicals,” lamented Dooh. “My mother and father died in 2005 and 2012 respectively. They were diagnosed with respiratory disease and could not survive it.”
Nigeria has the largest oil-producing mines in Africa with the bulk of its crude laying beneath farmlands and rivers in Ogoniland with oil companies like Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) extracting about 100 million barrels of crude every year.
Crude oil is very important to Nigeria’s economy. The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that crude oil export accounted for N3.74 trillion or 70.84% of total exports in the third quarter of 2019, making it the most exported product in Nigeria while its contribution to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) was 9.77%. Despite this, the oil-producing communities suffer from numerous oil spills.
Between 2003 and 2014, there were devastating oil spills from the Bomu manifold, a Shell facility at Kegbara Dere (K-Dere) located in Gokana local government area of Rivers State. Shell has been pumping oil from the Niger Delta since 1958 and it remains the largest multinational oil company operating there.
Although Shell has not pumped oil from its oil wells in Ogoni since 1993 when Ogoni activists led protests against the oil company for destroying the environment, halting its operations, its pipelines still carry crude oil worth 150,000 barrels daily through the region to its export terminal at Bonny Island on the coast.
The pipelines were reported to be ageing and poorly maintained, prompting multiple splits as a result of internal pressure, spilling thousands of barrels of crude oil. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, in its 2015 report said about 352,000 barrels of crude were spilled between 2007 to 2014.
But the major oil spill occured in 2009 when fire from the Bomu manifold burned for 36 hours and spread to neighbouring Goi and Mogho communities, causing damages that destroyed the people’s livelihoods.
Loss of livelihood
That cold night, 35-year-old Dorgbaa Bariooma kissed her children and husband good night, turned off the light switch and went to sleep. Neither she nor thousands of people at K-Dere knew the event would change their lives forever. The first thing she woke up to was the heat from the explosion.
“It was as if our house had been set on fire. Later came the smell of crude oil. It was so bad we could not breathe well for the first few months,” said Bariooma.
The oil spills had devastating impacts on the forests and fisheries that the people depend on for their food and livelihoods. Many K-Dere residents grew up near Kidaro Creek, where they fish. Fishing was one trade they excelled in but the harvest is poor as the creek is now contaminated with crude oil.
“Growing up, I would watch my father fish from this very creek and on sunny days like this, many of us will come to the creek to cool off. Here, there was once luscious vegetation and the sound of laughter and happiness was infectious,” said Erabanabari Kobah, an environmental scientist from K-Dere as he pointed towards the oil on the creek.
Reaching the intersection leading to Goi, the smell of crude oil pervaded the air and deserted houses were seen around the community. As the car conveying the journalists screeched to a halt and its windows wound down a kilometer from the spill site, everyone covered their nose as the smell of benzene spreading through the air intensified.
Mounted near the riverbank which thousands of people depended on for food was a public notice inscribed “Prohibition! contaminated area. Keep off.” The river has been contaminated with crude oil crawling on the water. Fishermen could no longer catch healthy fish but a few unhealthy crabs.
Raphael Vaneba, 47, still goes to the river to fish despite the environmental and health risks involved. He came out of the river carrying a fishing net on his right hand and an open gallon containing five crabs he had caught. His body was soaked in crude oil. Soon he dropped the fishing net and started to itch every part of his body.
“I scratch my body whenever I come out of the contaminated river after fishing. We do not catch fish here anymore because the spilled crude oil has killed them and we don’t get money,” he lamented as he opened the mouth of a crab to show crude oil inside.
Caroline Gbogbara sells food items at the community market in Bodo, one of the affected communities that experienced major oil spills in 2008 and 2009. She goes to the river to pick periwinkles to sell but since the oil spill happened, she was not able to pick periwinkles. As a farmer also, her farmlands were affected by the oil spill but she still farms on the contaminated farms. When it’s time to harvest her cassava and vegetables, she smells the stench of crude oil.
“We don’t have anything to eat. Farmers farm on lands filled with crude and have no choice but to eat the contaminated produce. Families are forced to eat the chemicals from the spills,” she said.
According to the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), oil spills could lead to a 60% reduction in household food security and is capable of reducing the ascorbic acid content of vegetables by as much as 36% and the crude protein content of cassava by 40%, which could result in a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition.
Besides the contamination of rivers and farmlands, the communities’ sources of drinking water, which are mainly underground water and streams, have also been contaminated. Goi has a stream where the people collect water to drink. The stream which pathway is now bushy no longer receives visitors to fetch and drink from.
“If you fetch the water and pour in a glass cup, you will see crude oil inside. We are drinking poison here,” lamented Dooh.
Exposure to toxic substances
Petroleum hydrocarbons can enter the body through the air, food, and water, or when one accidentally eats or touches soil or sediment that is contaminated with oil. Crude oil contains a significant amount of aromatic compounds including Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene, and Xylenes (BTEX), which are the most dangerous gaseous elements of crude oil and poses the risk of acute or chronic toxicity in humans during its production, distribution, and use.
In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report on the impact of the oil spill on the communities in Ogoniland after the federal government hired its services to assess the extent of the oil spills.
The report revealed an appalling level of pollution, including the contamination of agricultural land and fisheries, drinking water, and the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people to serious health risks.
It revealed drinking water from wells in communities in Ogoniland was contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline.
Before oil was discovered in Bodo community, Emma Pii, chairman council of village heads, said the people were living a peaceful life and the economy was buoyant. But with the discovery of oil, they started living in bondage.
“Instead of oil to be a blessing, it became a curse to us,” said Pii. “What Shell has done is to take our oil and make money from it while the people who own the oil are suffering.”
It’s a terrible moment for the people of Ogoni who now live with the consequences of mistakes that were not their doing.
Eleven years after the major oil spills that rocked the oil-producing communities, their health is now failing them. They complain of symptoms, of which they do not know the underlying cause.
Oil spills release certain harmful chemicals such as benzene and toluene. Benzene is a known carcinogen while toluene can cause kidney and liver damage. Many spills also cause fires, which release toxic fumes that can cause respiratory problems.
Each year, hundreds of post-impact assessment studies are conducted to assess the impact of the hazards generated by the oil industry on the social environment and human health due to oil spills. The reporters decided to do blood testing to determine how oil spills impact the health of the people of Ogoni.
The reporters consulted Dr. Olawale Shipeolu, a medical doctor in Port Harcourt who recommended we carry out blood tests to check the kidney and liver functions of the people.
Chukwunonso Okoye, a clinical lab scientist with the Union Diagnostics and Clinical Services, traveled with the reporters to Ogoniland to take blood samples of 50 non-smoking and non-drinking volunteers from Bodo, Goi, K-Dere, and Mogho communities. The collected samples were then taken to the lab’s headquarters in Lagos for analyses.
Full Blood Count (FBC), electrotype urea and creatinine (e/u/cr) and Liver Function Test (LFT) were conducted on 50 blood samples drawn from 26 males and 24 females, including youths and adults.
Based on the results generated by the Union diagnostics and clinical service, no electrolytes were deranged, indicating nothing was happening with the kidneys. However, the results showed some level of derangements of liver enzymes.
Out of 50 people sampled, 38 people representing 76% of the total number were found to have elevated Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and 18 people representing 36% of the population had elevated Alanine transaminase (ALT).
The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2008 put the reference range for Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), an enzyme found primarily in the liver and kidney at 11-47 U/L for males over 20 years and 7-30 U/L for females of the same age.
CDC in 2012 also put the reference range of Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) at 13-38 U/L for 10 to 20 years of age and 13-33 U/L for 20 years and above for both genders.
Based on the results, more than half of the volunteers had their unit levels higher than the CDC reference range.
With their consent, Stephen Kpea had an elevated AST of 253 U/L and ALT of 107 U/L while Clement Glogo had an elevated AST level of 164 U/L.
Young people within the age of 18 – 25 also had elevated liver enzymes. 19-year-old Gbogbara Barriduula had an elevated AST of 60 U/L while 20-year-old Happiness Sunday had an elevated AST of 62 U/L and ALT of 79 U/L.
On the other hand, results for direct bilirubin showed that 22 people representing 44% had elevated direct bilirubin; 11 people representing 22% of the population had elevated total bilirubin while none had an elevated alkaline phosphatase.
According to the Union Diagnostics, total bilirubin normal levels fall between 0.3 and 1.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Anything above 1.2 mg/dL is usually considered high while direct bilirubin level is less than 0.4 mg/dl.
For example, Lucky Yira’s total bilirubin and direct bilirubin were 8.0 mg/dl and 3.9 mg/dl respectively.
“Such elevated liver enzymes may indicate damage to the liver cells and such patients might be prone to liver disease,” said Dr. Festus Davies of the Sapphire Health Group.
A study published in the Journal of Hepatology by Dr. Kezhong Zhang of the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics and his team discovered that exposure to airborne particulate matter in ﬁne ranges (PM 2.5) has a direct adverse health effect on the liver and causes hepatic fibrosis, an illness associated with metabolic disease and liver cancer.
Also, research by Kesava Reddy and Mark D’Andrea of the University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers, Houston, Texas, linked elevated AST and ALT to exposure to toxic substances due to oil spills.
“That is the effect of the environment,” said Dooh, when he learnt he had an elevated AST.
“Any young man who wants to [continue to] stay here will definitely not see tomorrow.”
At 60, Dooh still remembers how his parents suffered and died due to diseases caused by the oil spills. Dooh’s anger was felt through his voice as he spoke.
Houses in Goi have been deserted as residents run for survival. While some migrated to Port Harcourt, others migrated to neighbouring communities.
Dooh now lives with his family in a small bungalow in Bodo having been asked to leave Goi by UNEP to protect themselves.
“We are migrating,” said Pii. “We are refugees because when the means of livelihood of the people have been destroyed and you do not have what to sustain you, you have to migrate to where you can do something to survive.”
89-year-old Tudor Tomii is from Goi community but now lives in Bodo due to the oil spills that ravaged his community.
“Here I am living in diaspora because of oil pollution. We can’t eat anything we plant there. We order anything we eat from Port Harcourt. We buy water from outside Ogoniland. Normally we drink from streams. Since the stream is polluted, we don’t have anywhere to drink from,” he lamented.
Compensation to the communities
The people of Bodo have been compensated by Shell after they filed a case in the United Kingdom, where Shell is incorporated. Shell accepted the responsibility for the oil spills in Bodo. The parties settled in 2015 and US$83.4 million, 82 percent short of their original demand of US$454.9 million was paid to the people of Bodo.
Pii said every indigene of Bodo who was 18 years or above received N600,000. But they are still not satisfied because the oil spill is yet to be cleaned.
Goi, Mogho, and K-Dere are hoping to be compensated by Shell for destroying their livelihood. K-Dere had filed a case for compensation in a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt against Shell for the havoc caused on its land.
But Shell said it can only pay compensation to communities whose oil spills occurred as a result of operational failure and not spills caused by sabotage and vandalism.
“The majority of the spill recorded in the Niger Delta, including in Ogoniland were as a result of sabotage and vandalism,” said Shell’s spokesperson Bamildele Odugbesan.
“Every operational spill with impact is what we pay compensation for and if there is no impact, we don’t pay. Our pipelines have continued to suffer third party interference.”
Slow cleanup exercise
UNEP in 2011 said the environmental restoration of Ogoniland was possible but could take 25 to 30 years if a comprehensive clean up exercise could begin immediately. It recommended the creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund (ERF) for Ogoniland with a capital of USD 1billion, to be co-funded by the federal government, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Shell for the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland and restoration of livelihoods of people in impacted communities.
A year later, the Nigerian government established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), an agency under the ministry of the environment with the mandate to implement the environmental clean-up programme in Ogoniland.
In 2016, the government then launched a USD 1 billion clean-up and restoration programme of the Ogoniland, with $200 million to be released every year. But the cleanup exercise did not kick off immediately.
UNEP said continued delay in the implementation of the recommendations will not only undermine the livelihoods of the Ogoni communities. But it will also cause the pollution footprint to expand, requiring a fresh investigation to rescope the place and determine the extent of the contamination. Ogoniland is a high rainfall area and the spill has been carried across farmlands and into creeks and the root zone to other areas.
The cleanup exercise later took off in 2019, eight years after UNEP’s recommendation. So far, the sum of $360 million has been released to HYPREP out of which less than $30 million has been spent.
But the cleanup exercise has been slow.
“The cleanup may not be successful,” said Kobah.
“The speed of the cleanup is so slow that the desired results will not be achieved. Since 2011, this place has remained contaminated. This is what the people have been living all through their lives with. This is suicide. The people have been crying and complaining.”
HYPREP said it is only following due process to have a successful cleanup exercise. Being quick without observing the rules, according to HYPREP, will be the reverse side of the slowness bad coin and that will be counterproductive.
“The Ogoniland cleanup project is not slow, it is on course and going at a pace that standard remediation practice allows,” said HYPREP’s spokesperson Joseph Kpoobari Nafo.
Sam Kabari, an environmental expert and a lecturer at the Nigerian Maritime University, Delta State, disagrees. He sees the drag as a bureaucracy every government agency experiences in the procurement and civil service processes. He believes HYPREP will only achieve its mandate if it functions independently.
“We wanted an independent HYPREP that would own its processes and take critical decisions towards achieving its aims and mandates itself. HYPREP should be in charge of its funds, decisions and day-to-day running,” he suggested.
Dooh accused HYPREP of only cleaning less impacted sites, leaving the highly impacted areas. But HYPREP said the highly impacted sites are not being cleaned yet because they are complex sites, which will be difficult to clean by any of the Nigerian contractors.
According to HYPREP Project Coordinator Marvin Deekil, “We are coming to the highly impacted areas. We need more detailed and extensive work in delivering those sites. That is why we had further strategic meetings in Geneva with UNEP so that we can come up with a better way of addressing those sites. We need international contractors.”
Declare state of emergency in Ogoniland?
The people of Ogoni want the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the region to cleanup the entire affected areas.
“With what we have seen here, what we have passed through, what has happened to our children, the elderly and pregnant women, we want the government to declare a state of emergency in Ogoniland,” Pii said.
He said the emergency measures such as the construction of hospitals and providing alternative sources of water for the affected communities have not been done, putting the health of the people at risk.
Kabari, who is the Head of the environmental and conservation unit of CEHRD described UNEP’s inability to implement the emergency measures as unacceptable. He said the emergency measures were supposed to have been implemented before the actual remediation activities began.
“Stakeholders are yet to see the provision of portable drinking water in communities where the groundwater was significantly impacted. Stakeholders are, however, doubtful of HYPREP’s understanding of the UNEP report given the misplaced priority of sequence of the UNEP report implementation,” he said.
“Water for Ogoni is almost there,” said Deekil.
“This year , we told you there will be water in the communities. That is the commitment the government is keeping and we are working very hard to ensure it happens. We are going to be seeing the [water] contractors in the communities very soon.”
To avoid future oil spills, Shell said it has taken effective steps. For the last seven years, Odegbesan said Shell has replaced 1,300 kilometers of its pipelines, including in Ogoniland.
“We also monitor the pipelines to ensure nothing is happening to them. If something is happening to them, we can respond swiftly. We have helicopters with high definition aerial cameras hovering over our assets daily to capture the illegal activity of our pipeline. We have intensified our campaign among the local people not to go near oil facilities and engage the public on the danger of pipeline vandalism”, he said.
Dooh is sad the cleanup exercise has not been effective as expected. He believes until the people are compensated and HYPREP follows UNEP recommendations as instructed, Ogoniland cannot be restored.
“If the cleanup becomes effective, people will go back to the communities and start living well,” said Dooh. But if the cleanup is not successful, Ogoni people will continue to suffer.”
This investigation was supported by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Microsoft Modern Journalism.
Increased rainfall, as a result of climate change, has impacted negatively on many parts of the world. In Anambra State, Nigeria, KELECHUKWU IRUOMA, writes that farmers have also felt this environmental challenge, with means of livelihood threatened. With no help coming from government to mitigate their losses, there are concerns that food shortage looms.
On October 1, the day Nigeria marked its 60th independence anniversary, Kenneth Nwabueze was in his house with his family at Omor community in Anyamelum local government area of Anambra State when it began to drizzle. At that moment, he knew it was going to rain but he never thought the rain could cause a devastation that would destroy his means of livelihood.
When the heavy rain continued without stopping, he was scared. Worried, he called two of his friends and picked his farming tools and went to his farmlands. When he got to the farmlands, he was devastated.
“All my farmlands — rice, yam and cassava farms — were washed away by the flood,” Nwabueze lamented.
Kenneth Nwabueze standing on the flooded rice farmlands at Omor in Anyamelum
The rice he cultivated on his five hectares of land was due for harvesting while his yam and cassava in three hectares of land had just been cultivated. Nwabueze lost the rice. In a bid to rescue some of the tubers of yams, he started to uproot them. He succeeded in uprooting a few of the yam the rain had not completely damaged.
Independence day became a day of sorrow for Nwabueze.
The rain continued the next day. This time, it was heavier. He carried two baskets and went back to the farms and uprooted the rest of the yam tubers he laid his hands on. Unfortunately, the rice and cassava farms had all been washed away and destroyed by the heavy rain.
“It is unbearable,” he lamented again. “I have no hope. All the money I borrowed to cultivate the rice, cassava and yam is gone and I am left with nothing.”
“How will I repay the loan I collected? How will I repay the one I borrowed from my community members?” he questioned. “I am finished. I borrowed 1.2 million naira to invest in my rice farms. I still borrowed money from my community meetings. I lost about 2.3 million naira to the flood.” he lamented.
Rice farmlands in Anyamelum submerged by flood as a result of heavy rainfall
Anyamaelum is one of the local governments whose lands are rich for cultivation of various crops such as rice, yam, cassava and other crops. The local government is the highest producer of rice in the state. The farmers basically cultivat rice and complement it with other crops, but flooding as a result of heavy rainfall exacerbated by climate change has become a problem.
Climate change affects agriculture production
The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), a government agency that issues weather and climate forecast, in its 2020 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) predicted near-normal to above normal rainfall of varying magnitude is expected for most parts of the country. It said the country was expected to have rainfall amounts ranging from 400mm in the north to over 3000mm in the south, warning farmers to adopt measures to reduce the impacts.
Benedict Unagwu of the University of Nigeria’s Soil Science department said flooding is as a result of heavy rain falling at a particular time and in watershed areas, which washes away crops, especially in Anambra where the effects are huge.
“To some extent, heavy rainfall is now linked to climate change. There are changes in climate. Looking at the amount of rain, the duration of rain and the time it comes. Climate change is true and it is the changes in weather. That is not the only reason. Whether climate change or not, we human beings have to do everything to manage our climate,”
“Flooding affects farmers in the sense that they will lose all their [farm] produce for the year and further incur losses,” he said.
Heavy rainfall as a result of climate change is affecting Nigerian farmers, limiting their contribution to agricultural production in the country. Anambra State is one of the states in Nigeria that is affected by floods annually.
An unusual flood in 2012 displaced 2.3 million Nigerians in what the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) described as the worst flooding in over 40 years, affecting 30 of the country’s 36 states and causing damage that was estimated at N2.6 trillion.
In 2015, heavy rainfall in Cross River displaced more than 1,220 families, and destroyed 4,501 farms in coastline communities.
Cultivated cassava did not germinate as a result of the flood that destroyed cassava farmlands
In 2017, floods as a result of climate change destroyed over 3000 hectares of farmlands in Benue, a state known as Nigeria’s food basket. The heavy rainfall submerged farmlands in 21 out of the 23 local government areas of the state and displaced more than 110,000 people, according to a report credited to Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). for an impending food scarcity in the country.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)estimated that the world population would reach 9.1 billion by 2050 and to feed that number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70%. For Africa, which is projected to be home to about 2 billion people by then, farm productivity must increase at a faster rate than the global average to avoid mass hunger.
500 hectares of farmlands submerged
Ken Onyeabu, a farmer and a royal cabinet member of Omor community likened the flood that ravaged farmlands in the community to that of the 2012 flood.
Ken Onyeabu’s 10 hectares of rice farmlands were washed away by the flood
“It is a terrible situation,” he said. “The flood covered both the upland and wetland. It did the same in 2012 but ever since, it has been coming on a yearly basis but we have mastered the areas that are regularly covered. So even when people avoid planting in some upland areas, the flood of this year still covered a lot of farmlands.”
Onyeabu, who cultivates rice said the flood ravaged his 10 hectares of rice farmlands. Some farmers who cultivate more lost over 10 hectares. He estimated the ravaged farmlands to be close to 500 hectares of land.
“If I had harvested the rice flood washed away, I would make a lot of money going by the present price of rice. The fertilizers and herbicides are very costly but we have done everything to the final stage, which was fertilizer application. The only thing we were waiting for is for the rice to be matured and then we harvest. All the required investment had been done. It is only to harvest and receive back our money and the profit,” he said.
Onyeabu said he spent N5 million cultivating on the rice farmlands before it was washed away. “So I was not expecting anything less than 15 million, that is at least if the year is not so bumper.”
Angela Ejike’s five hectares of rice farmlands, two hectares of cassava and yam farms were destroyed by the flood.
Angela Ejike lost her rice, cassava and yam farmlands to the flood, leaving her with nothing
“At that time, it seemed like every hope was lost. Honestly, I am thinking about our future and my household. How are we going to cope in the coming months and next year? Because it seems the flood will continue,” she said.
Last year, Ejike’s rice, okro, yam and cassava were washed away as a result of floods. She lamented the increase in the prices of food and how the destruction of crops due to floods will exacerbate current agricultural challenges. She said if she had harvested and sold the rice, she would have made N2 million and contributed to agricultural production in the country.
“We do not want the recurrence of the flood. The government should help,” said the mother of four.
The community youth leader of Omor, Peter Ahanti is devastated. He is furious the flood has become an annual tradition in Anyamelum.
He said the adaptation method adopted by farmers in the community to reduce the impact of the flood is not working.
“Our hands are tied,” he lamented. “We are looking at the government to see if they have something to do concerning this incident because it is definitely above our capacity.”
Ravaged rice farmland at Omor community in Anyamelum local government
The public relations officer of Omor youth council, Igwebuike Mgbechi also said measures were adopted by farmers to reduce the impacts of the flood by not cultivating in some parts of the wetland areas, yet, the floods “came again in a mighty way.”
Lack of compensation to farmers
He has been relaying the information concerning the devastating effects of the flood on farmlands in the community to the state and federal governments but they have failed in assisting to reduce the effects of climate change in the local government.
He has made efforts for farmers from Omor to be compensated after every flood incident but laments none of their farmers receive compensation from the governments.
After the flood of 2012, to reduce the impact of the flood, the federal government provided a total of N17.6 billion. In Anambra, where over 150,000 people were affected, N500 million was provided to the state government. Eight years after, Mgbechi said farmers did not receive any compensation from the state government.
“We compiled it [names of farmers affected], we did video on it and presented it to the Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). Once they brought the items to the people that were affected, my name and others affected were not in the list,” he said.
When contacted, Anambra SEMA’s executive secretary, Paul Odenigbo declined to speak to this reporter.
Anam community, which comprises eight villages in Anambra West local government was also affected by the floods. Before now, Anam had always been impacted by floods. Houses are always submerged and farmlands destroyed.
Arinze Obediegwe, a farmer in Mmiata Anam was affected by the flood as flood his cassava and potato farms
At Mmiata Anam, Arinze Obediegwe, a crop farmer and fisherman said 2020 is the third consecutive year the community has experienced huge flooding that destroyed crops and farmlands. “My five hectares of yam, likewise the cassava and potato were damaged by the floods,” he revealed.
In previous years where floods damaged farmlands, some of the farmers resorted to fishing in the Anambra River but this year, fishing was not favourable as the floods killed fishes.
“The destruction is so huge,” he lamented. “After the annual farming, I was expecting 2 million but we are always losing because most of the crops did not germinate.”
“If this [flood] is not controlled, by next year, there will be a very big famine”
He calls for assistance from the government to help affected farmers start again. “The farmers are the food baskets of the society because what the farmers do is for the benefit of the society and states, including providing the food we need for human sustenance. The farmers need to be assisted in one way or the other. We must be farming to sustain our lives because we cannot do without food,” he said.
If measures are not taken to reduce flooding as a result of climate change, there could be “10 to 25 per cent decline in agricultural productivity by 2080”, according to a study by the Centre for Global Development.
Destroyed yam and cassava farmlands at Anam in Anambra West local government
Onyeabu admits that climate change is a natural occurrence but can still be controlled to mitigate its effects.
“This type of flood is unavoidable. The only way we can avoid it is to sit at home or be resigned from being farmers. In the situation that we resign, what else do we have to do because this is what we have been doing over the years,” Onyeabu said.
Unagwu urges the government to provide alternative lands for farmers whose farmlands have been impacted by floods and sensitize them on what to do before rain comes.
“Drainage can be constructed so that when that heavy rainfall occurs, the impact can be minimized. Nigerians have bad culture. They pour refuse on waterways. They affect water flow. The channels have to be open so that when heavy rainfall occurs, the water will follow the pathway and move, thereby minimizing flood,”Unagwu said.
According to Ahanti, “if this [flood] is not controlled, by next year, there will be a very big famine,” he predicted.
Nwabueze is hopeless. He is scared that in months to come, he will be bankrupt.
“I am left with no hope,” he lamented. “I am only begging and crying for help. Very soon people I am owing will come and be disturbing me. Let the government come to our aid before person will commit suicide.”
This report was published as part of the BudgIT/Civic Hive Media Fellowship 2020