ODAHIEKWU OGUNDE, Yenagoa
Foremost environmentalist, Dr Nnimmo Bassey, has urged International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in the Niger Delta to clean up polluted onshore sites before divesting and moving their activities to offshore oilfields.
Bassey made the appeal on Friday during an oilfield dialogue themed, ‘Building Community Resilience against Fossils Extraction’, organised by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) for oil communities in Bayelsa State.
He lamented the plight of the hitherto clean and natural environment in the Niger Delta before the discovery of oil in the 1950s without proper remediation.
He noted that the gradual shift by oil firms to offshore locations posed greater dangers to the fishing occupation which is the mainstay of the majority of the people of the region.
Bassey noted that the rich biodiversity of the region with freshwaters and marine ecosystems such as rivers, lakes, streams and creeks had been impacted severely.
The environmentalist, who observed that more than six million people who engaged in fishing had their jobs threatened by the oil industry that employs only few thousands of Nigerians, rationalised that it was in the national interest to protect the artisanal fishing industry.
He, however, regretted that the freshwater bodies which supported the fishing occupation of the region had been lost to decades of oil pollution and admonished the people to say, “No to a Niger Delta without fish.”
He expressed worries that an oil major that discovered oil in commercial quantities in the 1950s in Bayelsa State recently announced further plans to divest from its onshore assets to offshore operations.
In her contribution, a septuagenarian, Mrs Alas Talani, noted that she started fishing at the Taylor creeks as a girl before she married a fisherman and they had bountiful catches.
Talani stated: “Looking back to my younger years before the oil pipelines were laid, it was very rewarding because all you need do was throw your net and tie it across and in a few hours you have a full net but when they crossed the pipes and oil began to pour into the waters, the catch has dwindled.
“And when the oil companies even pay compensation for oil spills, the people they send to pay the money divert it and the money never gets to the impacted fishermen. As the oil leaks continued, the fishing here at Taylor Creeks produced very little catch, so we moved to the sea.
“I trained all my children from the proceeds of fishing in those good old days but these days, nets remain for days with little or no catch.”
Also, a community leader and fisherman, Chief Washington Odoyibo, who operates at Ikarama axis of the Taylor creeks in Yenagoa, condemned the unsustainable environmental practices of International oil firms operating in the area.
He said that frequent oil spills had rendered the predominantly fishing people of the area unproductive, adding that the pollutions from oil exploration and production did not spare their farmlands.
In her contribution, a woman leader at Biseni, Chief Ayibakoro Warder, applauded HOMEF for the dialogue and training of oil community people on monitoring their environment.
Warder said: “We are grateful for this capacity building gesture from a non-governmental organisation like HOMEF. We did not have the knowledge of how to deal with these environmental challenges that have been with us for years.
“We welcome the idea of advocating clean up of polluted sites on land and stiffer penalties to conserve the environment we all depend on for sustenance.”