By Abai Francis
Recently, it was reported that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, donated a whopping sum of N30 million to victims of a fire incident that occurred at the Katsina Central Market in Katsina State. Also, in another media report, the Governor of Rivers state, Nyesome Wike, was said to have pledged a land and the sum of N10 million to Burna Boy, the 2021 Grammy Award winner, and same sum to other artistes that performed at the homecoming party of the artiste.
However, in sharp contrast to a crude oil spill that poses grave harm, which occurred precisely on Thursday, 18 February 2021 from the Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) Otunana flowstation situated at the Jones Creek area in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta state, the people in the affected communities have been abandoned by CNL, owner of the assets that caused the spill; by the State Government as led by Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa and by other related stakeholders such as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), as no form of negotiation, compensation, and release of relief materials have been made available to the victims of the spill.
Since majority of the inhabitants of the affected communities ply the trade of fish farming as well as depend on the rivers for their water supply, the oil spill has no doubt imposed severe hardships on them as their source of livelihood is now affected and their lives are now being endangered. This has also worsened the state of their poverty.
It would be recalled that on the onset of the oil spill, various attempts by way of letters written to CNL and publications made in the media by members of the impacted communities, to get the attention of the management of CNL to own up to the oil spill, all failed to produce the expected result.
Some of such publications were published in the Vanguard newspaper (online) on 28 February 2021 by the Gbaramatu Youth Council (#GYC) ably led by its President, Comrade Shadrach Onitsha Ebikeme in protest to CNL to own up to its responsibilities; another publication on the PENGlobal platform on 5 March 2021 by the Impacted Host Communities Chairmen who vowed to resist any attempts to carry out repair works on the affected trunkline in the absence of any compensations; and a letter written by the Gbaramatu Lawyers Association (Gbaramatu Oloutolumo-Abu Gbolei) dated 8 March 2021 wherein CNL was given 14 days to respond affirmatively to the demands by the association in relation to the oil spill.
Therefore, seeing no other peaceful alternatives to the spill issue, the members of the impacted communities on Friday, 26 March 2021, decided to take their destinies into their hands by embarking on a massive protest. That action led to the total shutdown of the Otunana and Abiteye flowstations in #Kokodiagbene and #Benikrukru communities respectively, each belonging to the American oil giant.
In its earlier response, after days the spill was detected, the oil multinational company (CNL) released a statement denying the spill despite evidence to the contrary. Till date, no Joint Investigation (JIV) has been done by CNL.
However, there were allegations that Chevron Nigeria Limited was planning to repair the trunk line from which the spill occurred, a situation that further sparked anger and rage from residents in the affected communities, who perceiving foul play reacted by wat of protest. Monday, 20 March 2021 will make it day 4 since the protest began with the people vowing to never leave the affected flowstations until CNL did the needful.
Over the years, protests against the antics of multinational companies seem to be the order of the day in the Niger Delta oil producing communities. Host to the Otunana flowstation, Kokodiagbene community, has held several protests that led to the shutdown of the company’s operations in time past. In February 2017, the people of the community had given CNL 14-day ultimatum to provide them with electricity. Last year (2020) March, women also staged a protest at Chevron’s facility demanding for water and other basic infrastructures. Also, on 19 December 2018, protesting women shut down the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) Beneside flowstation in Ojobo community, Burutu Local Government Area of Delta state. These are just a handful of protests.
It is a known fact that oil companies make so much revenue from engaging in crude oil operations. Unfortunately, host communities and even those coastal settlements far away from their base of operations have not benefitted but have become poorer and poorer. No thanks to the pollution of the environment from oil spills, gas flaring and the destruction of fishing equipment of the natives in the area Till date, most communities (including hosts) do not have access to clean water, electricity, healthcare facilities and other basic infrastructures. Meanwhile, the oil companies themselves are making huge profits as the adjoining communities continue to rot in perpetual poverty.
The role of the state government and other agencies of the federal government are also culpable in the plights faced by those in the creeks who suffer severely from the antics of multinational companies. From every indication, it seems the government is only interested in ensuring its dividends by way of royalties and taxes from the multinational companies are not hindered. Hence, they care less for the welfare of the people. Else, how can you explain the current scenario wherein, after more than four weeks of a reported spill, there are no actions from the state government and from the federal government’s agencies?
Therefore, the government and other related agencies and commissions should sit up. They should not close their eyes and block their ears from the crimes committed by oil companies but are swift to draft security teams to protect assets of same companies in the name of ensuring law and order. That itself is a double standard.
What the people are asking for is not too much or impossible to achieve. Chevron Nigeria Limited should rise up to its Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSRs) by conducting a Joint Investigation (JIV) including the necessary parties in the exercise, carry out an extensive research on the extent of the damage in Gbaramatu communities, engage in negotiations, carry out a compensation exercise and finally, ensure that such incident does not repeat itself in the nearest and distant future.
CNL should be aware that it is only but a stranger, an investor looking for returns on its investments. Aside the local contractors that are contracted on the basis of casual workers, most of the staff of the company are not resident in the creeks. And so, it is pertinent that they do not in the course of seeking for dividends and profits on their investments endanger the lives of the inhabitants of the area where they carry out their operations.
The ongoing protest is not about money but it is about the survival of the people whose natural dwelling habitat is being threatened and that if justice is not served at the end of the day, their extinction becomes a possibility. Moreover, that what is good for the Goose is good for the Gander. Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) cannot eat its cake and have it back.