Exploiting oil with respiratory disorder, air borne diseases
Two years after the lifting of crude from Aje Oil Field, an offshore location not too far from Badagry, it has been complaints of neglect, deprivation and environmental degradation by residents of surrounding communities, reports DAYO AYEYEMI
For Mr. Rasaki Agosi, 65, a fisherman at Ajido, a fishing community in Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State, discovery of crude oil in the neighbourhood, which is supposed to be a source of joy to residents, has become a source of worry.
According to him, his source of livelihood is on the brink of extinction due to oil exploration activities in the neighbourhood.
As a fisherman, Agosi has abandoned his lifetime profession, having resign to fate not because of old age or sickness, but owing to recent happenings in the environment, which he said had discouraged fishing in the community.
Agosi alleged that since oil exploration and lifting of crude started in Aje Oil Field, a location less than 10 nautical miles from his neighbourhood, fish has taken flight in the ocean, despite all tricks available to fishermen.
He said: “Look, at my age, is it good for me to toil all night without catching any fish? I have to be sitting at home and quit fishing at night because fis has disappeared from our lagoon and ocean owing to activities of an oil company at Aje Oil field.”
The fisherman dashed inside his four-room bungalow to bring out his fishing nets, hooks and other tools to buttress the fact that he had brought them home since fishing business is no longer profitable in the community.
Agosi added that since oil exploration commenced around the community, fish has disappeared in the ocean due to gas flaring.
“Before I used to make N7,000 daily from fishing, but now nothing is coming in. There is no fish in the ocean again. We toiled in the night searching for fish, but caught nothing. I have no other job except fishing since my tender age.
“I am now old and I suddenly became a beggar in this community,” he said in an emotion-laden voice.
Asked if government and the oil company were aware of this, the old man answered in affirmative, adding that they promised the people many things but none had been fulfilled.
“You can see, I have brought my nets back home,” he said.
Agosi is not the only one lamenting. Other fishermen, farmers, youths and monarchs in Badagry, Ajido, Gberefu and other surrounding communities narrated their ordeals.
According to Ahoso Samson, a cassava farmer at Ajido community, the farm yields have reduced tremendously in the last two years because of the excessive heat wave emanating from the oil field.
Besides, he said most of the cassava farmers in the area had been experiencing stunted growth and yellowish colouration. Samson, therefore, called for quick intervention of government and the oil company.
It is no longer news that Lagos State has joined the oil producing states, having commenced oil exploration from Aje Oil Field in Badagry Local Government Area in 2016.
What people want to see are the necessary steps being taken by the state government and the oil company to avoid major pitfalls of oil producing states in the Niger Delta Region.
Efforts to get the oil company to respond to some of the issues raised by the communities proved abortive as an official from the Lagos State government, who claimed anonymity, said there was an instruction to direct all enquiries relating to the oil field to government and the Lagos State Oil and Gas Producing Area Committee in Badagry Division, set up for that purpose.
Apart from fishing and farming, some people at Ajido, Gberefu and Badagry are now raising fear of environmental degradation, pollution and neglect of their localities owing to ongoing crude oil lifting activities.
They are calling on Yinka Folawiyo Petroleum Company, Federal and Lagos State governments to come to their aid and publish the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report on oil exploration activities in their neighbourhood.
Knowledge of environmental impacts of oil exploration activities in the communities, they said, would save them from impending danger.
According to the Aholu of Ajido, Saheed Sedonu Adamson, some of the challenges of the community since oil lifting activities commenced in 2016 included increased heat wave, scarcity of fish, low yields of coconut and cassava farming.
Adamson also alleged that the oil company refused to carry the community along in its EIA report and never made the outcome public.
He said: “Most of the fishermen are no longer productive due to effect of oil lifting activities on the ocean. Also, harvests from agricultural produce such as coconut and cassava have been discouraging unlike before. What is happening in this town cannot be associated with climate change but effect of oil exploration.”
Apart from oil exploration, he fingered gas flaring as one of the reasons for excessive heat in the area.
Apart from medical check-ups conducted on some residents by the company, the Oba of Ajido alleged that the oil firm had not been responsive to their complaints.
The Aholu of Ajido demanded compensation for all farmers and fishermen affected by negative impact of oil exploration from Aje Oil Field.
He said: “Before the oil exploration, the company refused to talk to anybody; it only focused on Badagry alone, not knowing that there are other communities and villages around. The firm also carried out empowerment programme in Badagry alone by donating books to schools.
“At night, gas flaring affects us badly. The oil company is not attending to our community. We have a lot of evidence to show the impact of oil exploration activities on our community.”
The Oba of Badagry, HRH De Wheno Aholu Menu-Toyi, described oil discovery in his region as a blessing but said the town had not benefitted much from the product in terms of money and development.
He said that though Aje Oil Field was a bit far from the town, all the communities in the region expected much development from adjoining coastal communities.
The paramount ruler of Badagry kingdom confirmed that the communities were not involved in the EIA report done by the company before, during and after oil lifting activities commenced.
The monarch enjoined the oil company and the state government to implement the necessary developmental programmes for Badagry.
He added: “Whatsoever is necessary to be done should be implemented for the growth and development of the Badagry region.”
However, an official of the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, who did not want his name in print, urged the communities to stop agitations, but to direct their complaints to the Lagos State Oil and Gas Producing Area Committee in Badagry Division, chaired by Hon. Justice Solomon Hunponu-Wusu.
The source said that member of the committee were made up of stakeholders from Badagry, government and the oil company, adding that it was set up for the purpose.
The source said the main purpose of the committee was to look at oil discovery and arising issues in the region.
The source said it was not true that the company did not carry the communities along during the EIA processes, adding that the EIA had been conducted long time ago.
“The discovery of oil in Badagry did not just start today, so EIA has been done long ago, and not now. The only thing they must be saying is that if there is any impact of oil exploration in the area and what the government must put in place. The oil field is 24 nautical mile to the shoreline,” the government official said.
When the reporter asked for a copy of the EIA, the source said it was with the Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja, saying none was available in the ministry.
At the last meeting of the committee, the source said the oil company was directed to make available the EIA report to the committee, but that the group had not been able to meet owing to some circumstances as regards the resignation of the Commissioner for Energy, inability of the state government to appoint new commissioner and politics.
He said: “The committee has met on many occasions and came up with sub-committees, which include environment, security and social responsibility. They have been working on the ways to add value. We told all the communities that rather than disturbing Folawiyo company from oil exploration activities, they should meet the committee and let them work with Folawiyo so that things would go on seamlessly.”
The Managing Director, Deltr Limited, Ms. Ronke Onadeko, noted that it took the oil company about 20 years to look for oil at Aje, having spent so much money.
As a result, she pointed out that the first thing the oil company would do was to settle its debt.
In the case of rising agitations for attention by Badagry communities, she said that these had become usual happenings in oil communities, noting that once the locals found out that oil was being tapped in their environment, their mindset changed.
Onadeko said it was the responsibility of government to fix infrastructure of these communities, having collected heavy tax from the oil company.
She said: “There is need to sit with members of the local communities and see what can be done in terms of skill acquisition for qualified youths in case of employment.”
Onadeko, who is also a member of Nigerian Natural Resource Charter (NNRC)’s Experts Advisory Panel, assured Badagry communities that government’s plan was to make the environment close to its original state, adding that as a result of this, there must be long-term and medium-term strategies in place.
On the issue of finance, she said the communities had responsibility to hold government accountable and responsible for infrastructure development of the area.
According to her, the NNRC intervention is to ensure that the value the people get from the oil outweighs the effects/discomforts. She added that the community needed education about oil and gas, urging them to develop themselves to benefit from various opportunities inherent in the industry.
Another resident of Ajido, Mr. Kehinde Avoseh, while corroborating the views of the monarch, canvassed for 50 per cent job opportunities for the youth of Badagry across all cadres in Aje company. Avoseh asked the oil company to build research institute that would admit, train and employ the youth of the community.
He said: “We also need a healthcare centre that will serve and treat all skin disorders/ailments and respiratory diseases for free. We want the company to compensate fishermen by providing quality nets, hooks, treads and board engines, including boats and canoes for them. It should treat the sea and lagoon and ensure they are fit for fishing.”
Avoseh called for enhancement of mat weaving stalk farms and other craft industries in the area, while urging the revamping of coconut oil industry at Apapa jetty at Ajido for the betterment of rural dwellers.
The Baale of Gberefu, Chief Mojeem Adeniyi Mautin, said since the oil lifting in Badagry began in 2016 the community had been deteriorating in term of fishing activities.
While calling for EIA report on oil activities at Aje field, he denied the community’s involvement in any environmental assessment report before now.
He said: “The company in charge of Aje Oil Field has refused to involve us in what it is doing. There is need for EIA, and government should intervene, because it knows best.”
According to Chief Mautin, fish seems to have disappeared from the ocean because of gas flaring from the oil field.
Avoseh added that coconut trees along the seashore no longer producing fruits like before, noting that 600 seeds from one coconut tree had reduced to 50 seeds.
He said: “Acid rain, skin irritation, respiratory disorder, air borne diseases, incessant cough and catarrh, extinction of significant natural herbs, corrosion of roofing sheet, blurring of sky at Jegeme sea beach have suddenly become our lot.”
Another resident, Bosun Kehinde, said the rate of catarrh and skin diseases in the community had escalated.
Another member of Badagry community cautioned on the need to play less politics with the oil exploration in the area, saying there was need for collaboration.
Worried by these development, concerned stakeholders comprising environmentalists, government’s representatives, members of host communities, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), academia, lawyers and researchers are currently taking a critical look at the report of engagements with oil communities in Badagry, Lagos.
After a series of complaints and presentations by stakeholders and members of the Badagry communities, the experts have called for environmental audit of entire Badagry communities to prevent further agitations and degradation of the environment.
They also proposed real documentary and further consultations with host communities, government and the oil company to address some of the issues raised.
New Telegraph observed that no representative of the oil company was present to make any input at the meeting.
Convener of the meeting, Mr. Sulaimon Arigbabu, who doubles as the coordinator, Human and Environmental Developmental Agenda (HEDA), said he was surprised not to see any representative of the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Petroleum and the oil company despite an invite sent to them.
Chairman, Lagos State Oil and Gas Producing Area Committee (Badagry Division, Hon. Justice Solomon Hunponu-Wusu, noted that when gas was flared it would hurt people as they would find it difficult to sleep in the night owing to heat wave.
While urging the oil company to do the needful, he said that people in the communities, majorly fishermen, at night could no longer carry out their businesses.
Hunponu-Wusu tasked HEDA to make available presentations of the forum to the management of the oil company. “We will tell our youths to quench their restiveness,” he promised.
Secretary of the committee, Mrs. Tinu Aina-Badejo, tasked the people on the importance of communication. According to her, it has become imperative for the oil company to let the communities know its plans.
An official of Budgit, Eniola Oladipo, said if the EIA outweighed the benefits, the project should be suspended. Oladapo then called for a research by HEDA and NNRC, saying this would help to solve the anticipated problems now that the oil company had commenced operation.
Botswana and Gambia example
Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Department of Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Dr. Akinola Akintayo, presented a comparative study to introduce and demonstrate the importance and benefits of implementing the Natural Resource Charter (NRC) framework as a resource management strategy to Lagos State through a contrast and analysis of countries successfully implementing the NRC framework and those that are not in Africa.
Akintayo recalled that failure of the nine Niger Delta states to implement sustainable resource management strategy had led to widespread poverty, high level of environmental degradation that would take decades to clean up, agitations and conflicts, lack of development and absence of savings or economic diversification in the region.
Stating the need to adopt 12 precepts of the NRC, he cited Botwana and Zambia, noting that when diamond was discovered in the former, its government was very transparent and accountable as it invested in critical infrastructure.
Besides, he said Botwana’s government, as at 2000, was able to save $63 billion.
Enumerating factors that account for Botswana’s success, Akintayo mentioned high degree of transparency and accountability fostered by the tribal tradition of consultation as enshrined in precepts 1, 2 and 5 of the NRC framework.
Besides, he said the government embarked on investment of infrastructure and human capital; aggressive savings and accumulation of offshore assets to diversify the country’s revenue base; smoothening over expenditure to avoid boom-bust cycles of commodity prices on the local economy and local value addition.
In contrast, the lecturer added that Zambia, one of the world’s most endowed mineral resources nations and highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa and classified a middle-income country by 1969, had accumulated a national debt of $6.5 billion.
Besides, the nation has crippled economy and high level of poverty and exclusion.
Akintayo attributed Zambia’s poor situation to lack of accountability and transparency in the management of resource revenues; volatile tax regime, neglect to smooth over public expenditure and omission to save for growth and development or to diversify the country’s resource base during the time of revenue boom.
Justifying the importance of the meeting, which was put together by HEDA in conjunction with the NNRC, the HEDA Coordinator, Mr. Sulaimon Arigbabu, said it was meant to introduce to Lagos State global best practice governance framework contained in the NRC.
He said there were precepts in the NRC that Lagos State could adopt to avoid the mistake of other oil producing states in the Niger Delta region.
Besides, he said it was meant to help the state to enhance benefits it could derive from oil exploration and also help to mitigate negative environment impacts.
Arigbabu said the natural resources be managed in ways that would minimise the costs and enhance the benefits of resource extraction to the people, especially resource bearing communities.
In his report of Social and Environmental Survey conducted in Badagry Local Government Area of Lagos State, Professor Kayode Oladapo, lead researcher, said it was observed that there was huge awareness about oil exploration activities in the area by the communities’ residents and that there was no visible intervention project from the oil company in the communities
Besides, there was growing agitation by residents for government and oil company intervention, noting that infrastructural decay was a major challenge in the area.
The report reads in part: “There was noticeable effect of oil exploration in the communities such as declining fishing activities, coconut production, etc. Huge unemployment in the communities; heavy corrosion of building components; residents complained of skin irritation, pollution, emissions, acid rain, cloudy sky, etc.”
In his recommendation, Kayode Oladapo called for proper community engagement between oil company and host communities, adding that youth empowerment must be taken seriously.
He said: “Fishermen could be encouraged to form cooperative societies through which they can be assisted with bigger boats to continue their fishing activities.
“Provision of health centres, standard schools should also be considered as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) of the organisation to the communities.”
Besides, he pointed out that road infrastructure in the area needed urgent attention both from government and oil company, adding that there was need to revamp the coconut oil industry at Apapa Jetty, Ajido to better the life of rural dwellers and salvage the industry, among other recommendations.
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