Nathan Tamarapreye, Yenagoa
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), an environmental rights group, on Saturday, trained some 80 residents of an oil-bearing community in Bayelsa.
Speaking to the volunteers during the training in Ogboibiri community, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa Mr Stephen Oduware, Programmes Manager, HOMEF, said that the community people are impacted by the activities of the oil and gas industry and hence better placed to monitor the environment.
He noted that International Oil Companies operating in the area notably Agip and Shell were the dominant polluters and had a series of oil spills in 2015, 2021, and 2022.
Oduware said the aim of environmental monitoring and reporting training is to bring the people together to highlight and document the environmental impacts, the changes they are going through and the sufferings of the people.
He noted that it is believed that through capacity building, they will be able to advocate sustainable environmental practices and speak up on what they want in their community.
Oduware explained that the session also covered community governance organising because as communities, they have the numbers and the backing of civil society organisations like HOMEF and ERA and that amplify their voices.
“So that their voices will be heard both at the government and policy level for the change that they want to see in their community.
“Ogboinbiri is one of the communities that is heavily impacted by pollution and that is why we came here today to stand in solidarity with the people and to tell them that together we can push and fight for a healthy environment, it may take time but we will win it at the end of the day.
“They have mentioned that they have been having a series of oil spills and gas leakages that have resulted in environmental pollution degradation.
“They have lost their livelihood because they are fishermen and farmers. You hear today that a particular species called ‘Mama Coco’, a cherished specie of cocoyam is extinct in the community and their farm produce is no longer yielding the desired harvest.
“The fishermen and women can no longer go to the river to fish because the water body is highly polluted and you know you cannot find fish in the soup of oil.
“The multinationals should stop their impunity, they should know that the community was here before they came and after they go the community will be here,” he said.
Oduware urged the oil firms should own up and be accountable and be responsible to the plight of the people and stop the spills and ensure that they conduct health audits for the people and a good environmental clean-up and also livelihood restoration for the people.
On his part, Mr Morris Alagoa, Programme Manager, Head Environmental Right Action (ERA), Niger Delta Resource Centre, said that the event is to educate the people on the importance of the environment and pollution and its mitigation procedures.
He said due to the activities of man in the environment, most of the aquatic animals and food items and crops have gradually gone into extinction.
He said the oil spill is one of the things hindering healthy living amongst the rural dwellers, stating that the environment has been polluted over time.
“We are in the community to empower them on how to reach out to their people on what to do in order to reach out to the government, the oil firms, the media and to be self-reliant in dealing with their issues,” he said.
He commended HOMEF, for the training and sensitization of the rural people who are the host community.
On his part, Monday Zeworitin, Project Officer, ERA, said pollution in the simplest form is the alteration of the natural physio-chemical characteristics of an entity medium or matter as a result of the presence of substances or compounds.
He said oil spills are accidental releases of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment due to human activity and are a form of pollution.
“These spills load the Marine environment with a lot of dangerous chemicals that are detrimental to life underwater.
“When exposed to oil, adult fish may experience reduced growth, enlarged livers, changes in heart and respiration rates, fin erosion, and reproduction impairment. Oil also adversely affects eggs and larval survival,” he said.
Residents of the area had fled the coastal community several times from 2013 till date following massive gas leakages from nearby oilfields operated by Agip.