Communities impacted by oil spills in Bayelsa State, Nigeria on Thursday accused the regulatory agencies in the oil sector of connivance with International Oil Companies (IOCs) in the destruction of their environment.
The agencies are, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA).
The four communities impacted by oil spills are – Babragbene, Lasukugbene and Oyeregbene in Southern Ijaw and Mbikiba in Brass local government areas
They made the accusation during a town hall meeting with members of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) at Oyeregbene community.
The commission, led by the Archbishop of York in the United Kingdom, Dr. John Sentamu, is on a fact-finding tour of oil spill and environmentally degraded communities in the state.
The communities demanded a clean-up of their land and waterways as well as payment of compensation by the oil multinationals operating in their area.
They alleged that DPR and NOSDRA were biased in favour of the international oil companies (IOCs) whenever spills occur.
They claimed that the Joint Investigation and Verification Reports were not always representative of the actual incidents of spills that destroy their source of livelihood.
President, Ijaw Association of Oil and Gas Producing Communities, Mr Yabrou Tou, spoke on behalf of the aggrieved communities in a presentation to the Commission set up in March to document the adverse impact of oil exploration,
He bemoaned the total neglect of host communities by the oil multinationals despite series of appeals to them on the effect of the spills on their environment.
He shed tears as he narrated his ordeal, how he was dragged before a court in Abuja for reporting Chevron to the Nigeria Human Rights Commission for refusing to clean up a spill that occurred from its facility.
Tou said the incident, which occurred in 2015 at an oil rig, leaked crude into the environment for six months non-stop.
“The oil firm refused to pay compensation after initially accepting responsibility for the damage to the environment, saying it occurred on their Right of Way (ROW).
“The spills reoccurred in 2018 with the company initially accepting responsibility but later reneged on its promise to pay compensation because, according to them, members of the communities tampered with their facilities at the spill sites.”
Also speaking on behalf of the four communities, Pastor Ofongo Alamene and a fisher woman, Mrs Flora Soridei, called on the multinational companies to live up to their social obligations.
They urged the IOCs to do so by providing social amenities like potable water, electricity, healthcare and payment of compensation.
“The multinational companies know that a divided house cannot stand. So they sponsor violence, which is working for them.
“They also know the level of ignorance of the communities and exploit the loophole to their advantage.
“They get them to sign the wrong documents, which render the communities defenseless when they avoid repairing their pipelines that are long over aged.
“Some of the pipelines have stayed up to 40 years whereas their lifespan is 20 years.” Alamene said.
Pastor Alamene accused the oil majors of non-implementation of the terms of their General Memorandum of Understanding (GMOU) signed with host communities.
“No medical or material supports are given to victims of oil spills while projects promised in the GMOUs are either haphazardly done or abandoned midway with flimsy excuses,” he said.
The community leaders reported, for instance, that Agip provided a six-classroom block in the community but abandoned the construction of a jetty and did a one-kilometre concrete road only half way.
The community leaders however expressed gratitude to Governor Seriake Dickson for setting up the commission to address their plight.
The Bayelsa State Commissioner for the Environment, Ebipatei Apaingolo, in his remarks, said the commission was established to examine the impact of oil exploration activities on host communities in the state.
According to him, the oil companies have been neglecting their responsibilities of cleaning up the environment and paying compensation to affected communities.
Other members of the commission on the tour included Prof. Michael Watts, Prof. Emeseh Engobo, Prof. Lucky Worika, Dr. Anna Zalik.
Others are, Dr Catherine Nwajiaku-Dahou and Dr. Isaac Osuoka, pioneer spokesman of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and founder of Social Action, a Niger Delta-based CSO.
However, an official of NOSDRA who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the allegations said that the claims are false and baseless.
“These allegations are not only baseless but false and do not reflect the sacrifices and the risks that our officers face while investigating oil spills. In 2015 we lost an officer at Azuzuama in Bayelsa during an explosion at the oilfields.
“We follow best practices and conduct spill investigations with representatives of State Ministry of Environment, Communities and oil firms,” the source stressed.