For the people of Ibeno, a rich oil-producing community in Akwa Ibom State, the blessing of having oil has turned into a curse following the environmental, economic, and health hazards caused by oil exploration and exploitation by oil companies.
Activities of multinational oil companies operating in the area have led to oil spills and gas flaring, which have been hazardous to aquatic animals, plants, and humans.
An oil spill is the release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbons into the environment, both on land and in the marine ecosystem, mainly due to operational failure.
Indigenes of Ibeno have lamented how their water has been contaminated by oil spills, making it difficult for them to have safe drinking water.
According to one of the youth activists in the area, Rhoda, there is no potable water in Ibeno, adding that a sachet of water is sold for N100.
He further stated that families who could not afford the high cost of the sachet water drank the oily water from the streams
Speaking during a town hall meeting between the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Friends of the Earth Nigeria with Civil Societies in the State, Rhoda recounted how Ibeno people, especially women, suffer miscarriage and other respiratory diseases due to gas flaring.
She recounted how she lost her pregnancy two years ago when she was working in Ibeno as a result of inhaling polluted air.
“About two years ago, when I was pregnant, I noticed that something was coming out of my nostrils. I was having severe chest pain, so I went to see a doctor in Uyo.
“After examination, the doctor asked whether I was close to a gas flaring area; I said yes, and he explained that due to the environment I exposed myself to and what I have been inhaling, my baby has been affected. The summary of the whole story is that I lost the pregnancy.
“Rainwater from the zinc is completely black; the water that is even coming out of the ground is oily, and these old women and children fetch and drink it like that; some of the water is even green in color.
“Ordinary sachet water that is sold at N20 in Uyo is between N50 and N100 in Ibeno, depending on how interior the community is. Most of the people cannot even afford it, hence they resorted to drinking the oily water because they are helpless,” Rhoda narrated to a perplexed audience.
She admitted that there was initially potable water in the community, but since the oil spill started, they no longer have access to it.
Also, a Cameroonian fisherman who resides in Ibeno, Kofi, said fish are difficult to come by due to oil spills, as they always destroy the nets and affect fishing.
He said, “We no longer have fish in the high seas due to the oil spill because the oil does not allow our nets to catch fish. Life is getting tougher every day because we have already lost our means of livelihood.
“Our health is deteriorating; when it rains and you put your bucket outside, the color of the water will be black. You keep it for some days, and when you filter it, you see oil particles underneath the bucket. It is God who is saving us.
“Is it the noise pollution? We don’t sleep at night because the walls will be vibrating as if someone is shaking them or knocking at the door. All these things are a result of oil exploration by the oil companies; it is terrible.”
Also, the President of the Women's Association in the Amadaka community in Eastern Obolo, Mrs. Beatrice Eja, revealed that there was an oil spill in the community last week because of an oil well that overflowed.
Eja revealed that the company had yet to respond to the spill, noting that the women would stage a protest if nothing was done about the spill.
“The oil spill destroyed our aquatic lives, farms, and crops and contaminated the air we breathe. Women suffered most from the oil spill. Women who are pregnant are affected, and the children in the wombs risk being deformed,” she stated.
A fisherman from Inuaeyen community, Ibeno Local Government Area, Chief Moses Akpankpo, said the community experienced oil spills in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2019, but that nothing was done about them until 2022.
“It caused a lot of damage to my property on the high seas. It affected my net and my engine. My boat capsized, and I lost my fishing sensor. NOSDRA came and inspected the spill. It affected our periwinkles.
“Over 200 stands of flare are on the high sea; it affects our crops, drinking water, and every other thing we have in our environment. We need the outside world to come to our rescue,” he said.
However, oil spills have brought a lot of agony and setbacks to the people of Ibeno since 1998, when they were first recorded.
Though the oil giant, Exxon Mobil, operating in that area cleaned it up, it found it difficult to clean subsequent oil spills immediately they occurred until they caused damages.
Apart from the 1998 oil spill, other ones recorded in the state included: 28th February, 2008; 3rd April, 2010 at Idoho platform in Mbo, 13th January, 2013 in the high sea; June 29, 2014 in the QIT tank farm; December 15, 2014; February 28, 2015; March 4, 2015; March 12, 2015; April 27, 2015; November 25, 2015, among others.
In all the spills, according to Dr Ufot Phenson, the President, Akwa Ibom Oil Producing Community Development Network (AKIPCON), Exxon Mobil had allegedly failed to pay compensation to the affected communities and clean up the environment.
“Upon all the oil spills, Exxon Mobil never paid compensation to the victims who suffered losses arising from damaged nets, motor outboard engines, polluted fishes, except that of 2012 which the company paid what they termed as ‘palliative’ to the state government who never suffered any damage.
“This was done to the detriment of the fishermen, farmers and allied businesses who recorded huge losses with attendant abject poverty and frustration,” he alleged.
However, the spokesperson of Exxon Mobil, Ogechukwu Udeagha has always denied this claim.
Udeagha on several occasions had said the multinational oil company is always up and doing whenever the need arises.
Udeagha added that the company provided free electricity to the host community, among other things, and wondered why they (host communities) do not talk about the good the company had done for them.
DAILY POST, however, gathered that the issue is that Exxon Mobil, as well as other oil multinational companies, is making moves to divest, a development the host communities and other Civil Society Organisations have kicked against, insisting that they should remediate the environment and pay compensations to the impacted communities before leaving.
They stressed that it was unreasonable for the oil companies to leave the host communities in this state of disrepair after polluting the environment over six decades through gas flaring.
Dr Phenson said the continuous gas flaring in the Niger Delta in general had contributed largely to the acidification of the rivers and soils which is inimical to health and had led to food crisis in the Niger Delta areas.
Nigeria has been ranked among the top 10 gas flaring countries in the world, with 7.4billion Standard cubic feet of flared gas in 2018.
According to a report by the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) in February, 2023, Nigeria was known to have flared a total of 216.5 billion standard cubic feet of gas in about 11 months.
Data from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, in July 2020 revealed that gas flaring by some oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria cost the country $25.66 million, an equivalent of N9. 24 billion in one month, as they flared 7.33billion standard cubic feet of gas in just the month of May, 2020
However, in its bid to put an end to gas flaring in Nigeria, even though successive attempts have failed, the Federal government initiated a Nigeria Gas Flare Commercialization Programme (NGFCP) in 2020.
Unfortunately, the deadline was missed as gas flaring has continued unabated and the people are still grappling with the hazardous effect.