No fewer than 60 communities and groups have presented evidence of oil-related devastation to the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu.
The 10-man panel inaugurated by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson in March this year rounded off the second round of its fact-finding investigative assignment during which it held roundtable sessions with non-governmental organisations and health experts.
It also visited six ravaged communities in Southern Ijaw, Brass and Yenagoa local government areas of the state.
The traditional ruler of Agudama community, MC Kipasa, told the commission that they had recorded several oil spills from the operations of both Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), which have seriously affected his community.
“We don’t have fish in our river anymore. Even our land for farming is gone. Nothing is left for us due to these oil spills,” he lamented just as he thanked Governor Seriake Dickson for giving them hope by setting up the commission.
An Agbura community leader, Chief Igwe Napoleon, while giving evidence said the farmlands and river in his community have been polluted due to oil exploration activities and accused Shell of reneging on the terms of agreement signed with communities in the area.
Stephen Moses from Egbema-Angalabiri also gave evidence of the devastating effects of environmental pollution on his community. He lamented that oil production had become a curse to his community instead of a blessing.
Hon. L. A. Eminah, who represented communities where the Obama oil field with about 12 wells are located, also complained about the effects of gas flaring in the area, saying the heat from the flares had resulted in blurred vision among the locals.
Other speakers included Donatus Gbame from Bakiri community in Ekeremor Local Government Area, Comrade Hitler Joseph from Okoroba community, Hon. Ken Again who represented the Amananaowei of Peretorugbene Federated Communities, Chief Shagari Edward of Ogbotobo Community, Ojoto ThankGod of Agbayama Community, Chief DSP Ikporo of Koluama community and Dr Awoli Anapurere, who is the public relations officer of the Oil and Gas Producing Areas Enlightenment and Empowerment Initiative.
Earlier in his presentatation, Prof. Paingha Alagoa, noted that there were numerous effects of oil spills on the communities, including but not limited to skin diseases, destruction of marine life, respiratory illnesses and chronic fatigue.
He said gas flaring in Niger Delta communities accounted for about 19.75% or one-fifth of the entire global flares and that the dangerous trend will take more toll if not adequately addressed.
Chairman of the commission, Archbishop Sentamu, in his remarks, decried the lack of political will on the part of the Nigerian government in addressing the environmental devastation in the Niger Delta, saying the time had come for total cleansing and remediation of the affected communities.
“Change must happen even though the laws have not been effective and the issue of compensation have not been addressed. In some communities we visited, it looked like a bomb had been dropped but it was oil spillage.
“The rest of the international community cannot just turn a blind eye. The pollution that has gone on in this particular state has affected the global village,” he said.
He however urged the community leaders to continue to be resilient in the midst of their challenges, adding that the commission under his leadership would make the right recommendations to the Bayelsa State government.