For over 30 days, communities in Nembe Local government area of Bayelsa State, witnessed one of the most horrific moment of their decades of existence, the massive pollution of their waterways, the main source of their livelihood, movement and habitat. The spill, which occurred as a result of leakage from the well head of OML 29 belonging to AITEO Petroleum Company, spilled an unquantifiable volume of hydrocarbon crude into the Santa Barbara Rivers, spreading across several Nembe communities and others in the State.
The ugly event of the oil spillage in Nembe, once again reminds us, that there are some crimes that are hard to hide, especially those committed against humanity. Environmental crimes are of that sort. It takes willful blindness to pretend not to see, smell or feel. Most worrisome at this moment, is the fact that AITEO as a company, has refused to categorically admit its failure and accept full responsibility for the tragic devastation that its operational failure caused in Nembe.
The truth is that, everyone responsible for the monumental environmental disaster witnessed as a result of the AITEO Oil spill, must now be called to question and made to pay for the extreme harm they have inflicted on the people of Nembe and the environment.
SING is deeply worried, that apart from the Nembe environment being heavily polluted because of massive oil spill into Santa Barbara Rivers, the people of Nembe and other parts of the state affected by the spillage, have now been forced to contend with poverty occasioned by the inability to return to fishing and other aquatic activities, which has been their main source of livelihood.
There is no doubt, that failure to observe due process, adequate warning and precautionary measures even after previous minimal leakage of the same oil well, sometimes in 2019, is responsible for this avoidable tragedy in Nembe. Over 30 days after this act of environmental terrorism, AITEO is yet to begin engagements with the affected local communities, government and stakeholders in the state. Rather, it has resorted to divisive tendencies, media campaigns of calumny and continued refusal to take responsibility.
It is no doubt, that the people of Nembe must be paid compensation for their losses and the affected area rehabilitated. But this must be preceded by an immediate launch of a clean-up process. The urgent clean-up of the affected rivers and communities is inevitable, judging by the magnitude of the OML29 catastrophe and the health danger it poses to the poor inhabitants of the communities.
SING insists, that this remains one of the most devastating oil spills the world has ever witnessed and yet there’s a desperate attempt, at undermining its damaging effect on the people and environment in and around Nembe in Bayelsa State.
The disaster at Nembe should not have happened. If AITEO had immediately stopped the spills and cleaned up the oil, the impact on people’s lives and the environment would not have escalated to the level of complete devastation that prevails today.
SING is seriously worried about the future of Nembe communities, particularly the women, children and young people. With few job opportunities, outside their predominantly fishing and aquatics businesses, the people are now being forced to look for work elsewhere, when in actual fact, the jobs are unavailable, at their nearest reach.
The AITEO Oil disaster puts the very fabric of traditional Nembe society at risk of destruction. Parents worry that the next generation is missing out on the training they need to one day become fishermen and women.
Nembe, just like many parts of Bayelsa State, is generally peaceful and has been providing a peaceful environment for the operation of active and non-active facilities of oil companies. But we are worried, that failure to ensure justice and urgently mitigate against the consequences of the AITEO Oil spillage may open another window of youth restiveness and other vices in the state. There is enough evidence that the failure to address environmental injustices of the past, particularly the failure to clean them up, is responsible for several disturbances across the Niger Delta region.
Kudos must be given to stakeholders from the government, media and Civil Society, who worked tirelessly towards getting AITEO to block the leak, which led to this devastating spillage.
The Nigerian government has a responsibility, not only to order a thorough investigation into this tragedy among other atrocities being committed against the people of Niger Delta and their environment, but it must also ensure that proper sanctions are imposed where there are failures on the part of these companies and their collaborators in the region. It is sad, that the over 35 days of the monumental environmental tragedy in Nembe, did not receive any credible intervention, from the expected agencies of government, including NEMA and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs