Double woes: Oil spillage, sea surge threaten Ilaje communities
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Since the discovery of oil in Nigeria, the oil-producing communities have been a major target of major oil companies. Oil exploration though profits the oil-rich companies, but there has been a major loss and regrets for the host communities. The ICIR’s NIYI OYEDEJI reports about how the people of Ilaje communities battle for survival amidst constant oil spillage and sea surge.
SUNDAY, July 26, 1998 was like every other day at Ubale-Nla community in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.
The Christians in the fishing community were looking forward to another edifying Sunday service in their respective churches. Those who didn’t plan to go to church were looking forward to a bountiful fishing expedition on the river until someone raised an alarm – they found an oil slick on the river body.
At first, it seemed like a mere water pollutant that started at Ubale-Nla, but it continued many seasons after, and 22 years later the villagers in Ilowo and other neighbouring communities in Ilaje are still counting losses.
“That oil slick that covered the river on that fateful day was the beginning of our woes and since then, we have been struggling to make ends meet,” Sunday Omojoye, the eldest man in Ilowo, a neighbouring town to Ubale-Nla recounted.
“We did not only lose our farms, business, animals but we also lost our relatives,” Omojoye told this reporter who visited the 12 communities affected by the oil spillage.
Omojoye said the people could not understand at first, what it was, but they saw that the oil covered the entire part of the river with each water tide spreading across the water body.
A distraught Omojoye said that was the genesis of oil spillage that the 12 coastal communities have been battling with.
“When the oil spillage first happened, it spoiled so many things in this riverine areas. All the nets that were hanged on dry land were all destroyed and there is nothing that can wash off the oil, it was to our own shortage,” he lamented.
While the oil spillage spreads, it affects the aquatic life that serves as the villagers’ source of income.
“We could hardly get fishes from the sea because the oil was all over the water. It killed fishes; animals were just dying at the seaside including our cows and sea animals,” said Omojoye as he reclined on a wooden floor of his house that is raised on the sea.
There are health issues with the spillage and other domestic animals too.
“In Ilowo alone, over 65 cows died without counting the goats and sheep and then, once the sun shines, the oily water will become so hot. If you mistakenly put your leg into the water, such leg will be bruised and blistered.”
He recalled how he sustained a leg injury during one of the spillages that occurred at the community. For months, 68-year-old Omojoye stayed at home, down with terrible leg sore, depending on his wife, Ruth Omojoye, a petty trader, who now feeds the family from her daily sales.
“I had to rely on whatever my wife brought in to survive, life has been harsh.
“After 1998, we have witnessed some other spillages and it was one of those periods that I sustained this leg injury that have kept me away from fishing. I did not only get injured, but I also lost my fishing nets,” Omojoye said.
The real source of oil spillage
Ilowo is just one of the over 200 communities scattered along the Atlantic shoreline, where the vegetation is mostly mangrove and typically fragile. Residents of these communities are predominantly fishermen and farmers.
However, the incessant oil spillage from the Chevron Nigeria Limited, one of the largest oil producers in Nigeria and one of its largest investors, has continued to frustrate the livelihoods of the people living in these areas. Chevron has been operating around the area for years.
Festus Uraye, 54, resident of Mese, another coastal community, lamented the seawater oozes offensive odour that has landed many children in the community hospital.
“The odour of the oil alone kills the fishes and even affects our children, that they keep visiting the hospital for various respiratory diseases,” Uraye said.
Uraye said his children, who could no longer bear the odour of the poisonous water in their community now live with his brother in Akure, Ondo State capital.
“I’ve sent my children to my brother in Akure, they just keep falling sick here and we don’t even have a health centre to cater for their treatment,” he stated.
Similar tales In Ogungbeje
According to a 2015 Amnesty International report, 1,693 numbers of oil spills with over 351,000 barrels were reported by Shell between the year 2007 and 2014 in the Niger Delta region.
Ogunbeje residents have no better stories to tell, their accounts are similar to that of other communities in Ilaje, where oil spillage is threatening the livelihoods of the residents.
When this reporter got to the community, it was a total silence. The villagers have for a long time been staying indoor because of the contaminated water body in which they could no longer fish or farm.
Owopebijo Omonuwa, a farmer in the community lamented how the oil spillage has taken over his maize farm.
Having been sacked by the spillage, the 56-year-old man said he is now jobless and stays idle, depending on his children for survival.
He added that the children are also facing their own problems, as the oil spillage also affect their fishing activities as well.
“My farm has been overtaken by the oil spillage, in fact, all the maize that I planted this year have been damaged. My children who are fishermen are also facing their own problem,” Omonuwa said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 63 million Nigerians do not have access to an improved source of drinking water. While 75 per cent of the urban population is served by improved water supply, just 42 per cent of people living in rural areas have access to clean water.
Before the oil spillage, communities in Ilaje Local Government had no access to clean water -they had relied on the river for their water source. Their plights have been compounded by the oil spillage.
Emilolorun Owoyele, a chieftain in Oju-Imole revealed how the community has been battling an age-long water crisis.
“There is no water here; we go too far distance to fetch water since the oil spillage has spoilt the machine they brought for us,” Owoyele lamented.
Due to the scarcity of clean and safe source of water in Ilaje communities, the residents now pay huge amount of money to get water, while those without money travel several kilometres.
“It cost our people N20 to buy a sachet water of water, N400 to buy a bag of sachet water and N600 to get a keg of water for domestic use,” he added
Despite different tanks and taps littering the whole community, none of them is functioning.
Residents said that the tanks have never worked as they were abandoned by the contractors.
A survey conducted by Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and UNICEF shows millions of households in Nigeria do not have access to clean water sources.
At Molutehin, an abandoned water project embarked upon by the Ilaje Regional Development Council has also never worked. Community leaders at Molutehin said the water project was abandoned since it was brought to the community.
Foluso Gboluwaga, a teacher at Molutehin Comprehensive College, the only secondary school in the community narrated his ordeal of how he usually struggles to get a bucket of water for himself and his colleague.
Gboluwaga was a new teacher posted to Molutehin community, he accepted the posting despite many of his colleagues rejecting the posting based on the environmental challenges facing the community.
“I was newly posted to this place, I and my colleague could hardly get a bucket of water to bath, the little one we shared was full of impurities, but we had no choice,” he said.
“Most of the people don’t like coming here; they always reject the invitation to work here because of the scarcity of good source of water we battle here.”
While some residents of the community suffer from skin infections arising from the usage of the unhygienic water, some are losing their lives while travelling on the water in search of a good source of water.
Gbolahan Akinsipe, the Deputy Community Head of Molutehin told this reporter that his people are dying.
“There are people who have died in the process of going to fetch water from a far distance,” Akinsipe said.
“ A woman almost got drown with her child when she fell into the water; and she had to swim with her baby. The boat almost ran over her while she was raising her baby to swim to the riverbank. They rescued the tw- month-old baby, but the leg is bent till today.”
Ayenuro Kehinde, a primary school teacher at Ogungbeje community who also narrated his experience said his passion to impact the younger generation has kept him in the community despite having to contend with a poor source of water.
“The water we drink here is not good at all, we are just managing it. I am always managing myself anytime I am here, it is either I buy pure water or I preserve water during raining season.”
“Not only has this contaminated water caused water-borne disease for the people of these communities but has also endangered their lives,” Kehinde stated.
Sea incursion wiping out Ilaje communities
Apart from the oil spillage threatening the lives of the residents of Ilaje communities, sea incursion is yet another natural disaster inflicting hardship on these people, who are gradually becoming helpless.
At about 2 am, on Saturday, November 14, 2020, residents of Ayetoro community were visited by rising of the “Malokun Sea” (deep sea) that swept away many homes and destroyed properties. The whole community counted their losses all through the night.
Ayetoro community has been battling with sea incursion since the drilling of oil started in the area, it became worst when pipelines are being damaged under the sea. This menace has continued to render many of the residents of the community homeless, while some are losing their source of living.
Atimise Benson, Secretary of the Youth Committee in Ayetoro community who was part of those who came out at the middle of the night to rescue the affected residents said, “The water came unexpectedly, above sea level which brought all the dirt from the deep sea.”
Benson recounted the previous incidences which had kept shifting the community inward. According to him, the distance between houses in the community and the sea was more than 100meters but the rising of the sea have shortened the distance.
“This is not the first of its kind, something similar like this had happened in July. We were about 100meters distance far away from the sea, but the water has destroyed all the houses, about 10 houses have been submerged under the rising sea. We are now just three kilometres to the sea before.”
He lamented that Ondo State Government is doing nothing to alleviate the burden and hardship the sea incursion is inflicting on the residents.
“Ondo State government came here to do a survey and they conducted it through World Bank assistance but since then, the project has been lying fallow with no completion in sight,” Benson said.
He explained that “funds have been disbursed to cater for this place but unfortunately, they brought a fake contractor. The contractors could not complete the project and they left their equipment right here”.
“They even made some sample by pumping some sands. We had to expose them through Social Media before the World Bank came early this year, and did another survey and promised to be back. We were expecting them to come in October after the election but they did not show up,” Benson lamented.
While taking this reporter round to see the level of damages done by the sea incursion, Aralu Emmanuel, another resident of Ayetoro community, who has been sacked from his home by the sea incursion, said the rising of the sea comes at intervals; at the middle of the night and in the evenings.
Emmanuel expressed frustration over what he described as the government’s neglect of the community despite the huge sum of money allocated to address the menace. He also lamented the poor manner at which the situation is being used to play politics during the electioneering period.
“I am homeless now, the sea has wiped away my properties and my home has been occupied by water,” Emmanuel pathetically lamented.
Investigations revealed that in 2004, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded the contract for the construction of a shoreline protective wall in Ayetoro community.
The contract was awarded to Gallet Nigeria Limited at a cost of N6.4billion. After paying about 25 per cent to Gallet for the commencement of the contract, they were considered not capable of handling the project.
Later in 2009, the contract was again re-awarded to Dredging Atlantic Limited. At that time, it was not disclosed how much was paid to the new contractor but 15 per cent of the cost of mobilisation was paid.
From 2004, when the contract was awarded, to 2009 when it was re-awarded, the situation remained unchanged in Ayetoro Community. The community is regularly plagued with the sea incursion that is gradually wiping it out.
At Obenla community, the story is not different from that of the Ayetoro residents, the water is gradually flooding the community, sacking residents and rendering some homeless.
The incursion has affected the drylands and as well destroyed the farmlands making it difficult for farmers to survive.
Omoyele Erooluwase, lamented how water waves from the rising sea have taken over his farm, adding that the situation was necessitated by the oil exploration in the community.
“Over N500, 000 that I invested on my farm is gone. We no longer have either dry season or dry land to plant because our land is always full of water.”
The situation was more pathetic at Mese community when this reporter visited Mese, a community in Ilaje Local Government that lies between Odofado and Gbagira along the coastal line at the middle of the sea.
The sea incursion displaced the residents and wiped out the entire community, destroying houses and properties. From afar, this reporter could see the woods used to erect the houses.
The more the sea wave comes, the more it penetrates into the community. The community is in total ruin with planks and dirt at the seashore, and the residents have fled to neighbouring communities.
OwopebijoOmonuwa, who has lost his home lamented how he and others have been abandoned to suffer despite being the host community to an oil well.
“We are the owner of the oil and we are the one suffering from it. If I had money, will my house be taken over by water? With my age, if I die in this present condition, will my children still continue like this?
“My house has been taken over by water when I am a citizen of Nigeria and from Ilaje, on the land that produces oil. Do you think this is fair?” Omonuwa rhetorically asked.
Odofado and Gbagira community are also at the risk of getting wiped out by the sea incursion. Not only are the residents living in fear, they are also afraid that the sea will force them to relocate to another yet to be known community.
Experts allay fear
Experts say oil spillage and sea incursion do not only poses threat to humans’ life but also violate United Nations resolution on access to water.
Temple Oraeki, the program coordinator, Nigeria Young Water Professionals says it is worrisome that millions of Nigerians do not have access to clean water, adding that it is more disheartening that oil spillage and sea incursion is further complicating the woes of the people.
“Nigeria is treaty to the 2010 UN resolution that recognises access to clean drinking water as a human right. Ten years after, millions of Nigerians are still without access to this basic necessity of life.
“While it’s worrisome that millions of Nigerians do not have access to clean drinking water, it is more disheartening that the available water bodies, though unwholesome, which most people rely on for source of water supply, are further been polluted by spills from oil exploration or wastewater discharges from industries.”
He stated that the ugly situation is forcing most Nigerians to ingest hydrocarbons, while trying to quench their thirst for water.
“The situation has resulted in most Nigerians ingesting hydrocarbons, in a quest to quench their thirst. This is a clear violation of fundamental human right.”
Another environmental expert, Elizabeth Ohuotu, the founder, Ecological for Good Inititative said it is worrisome that people have to go through the rigor of contending with environmental disasters that are avoidable.
“Sea surge and oil spillage are actually environmental disasters that are avoidable but it saddens the heart that people have to contend with them because of the negligence on the part of government and decision makers.”
Calls and text messages requesting for comments on what the government is doing to alleviate the burdens of people living in Ilaje communities that were sent to Funso Esan, Ondo State Commissioner for Environment were not answered.
NOSDRA, NESREA decline comment
The ICIR tried to speak with top officials of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and that of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) for their comments on the pollution in Ilaje communities. All the efforts were fruitless.
Mr. Idris Musa, The Director General (NOSDRA) and his counterpart, Professor Aliyu Jauro, The Director General (NESREA) were not available for comments.
An official of NOSDRA who spoke with this reporter asked him to send a letter to the office of the DG for comment on the subject.
Emails sent to the office of the DG NOSDRA and DG NESREA were neither acknowledged nor respond to till the time of publishing this report.
Additional reports by Ikulajolu Adesola
Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ through funding support from Ford Foundation.