Bayelsa Times

The Opu Nembe Spill in the Niger Delta

News Niger Delta Politics
Peace Tamuno, Yenagoa

Just like any other day, the people of Opu Nembe woke up on Nov. 5, 2021 to witness a mother of all spills in the history of Nigeria oil exploration.
The  massive oil spill which occurred at AITEO well head at Santa Barbara, Southwest field, in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa state, was quite unlike other oil spills  which had occurred in the state.

Of course oil polluting the environment in this region is a normal occurrence but this can be imagined to that of gulf of Guinea just like it happened in Ogoni land that is yet to be remediated and cleaned up after so many years.
The Santa Barbara oil platform was said to have been acquired from shell by AITOE in 2015 and since then, AITOE has been managing the well until the recent development.

Although it was later clamped down after almost one month which made the spill to flow to other parts of the region, the adverse effects is yet to be recovered from.

Speaking to some folks then, Preye Romiel an indigene of the community said  that the spill affected them because the whole river was polluted.  “The oil was everywhere. It was close to a month that the spill was on so the water was filled with oil.

“The Santa Barbara water is salty so we don’t drink it but we do swim, and bath with it. We also cook with it,  but because of the nature of  the spill now, nobody can go there and swim again.
“All the fishing pots around that territory are all affected. The content of the oil is so much that the whole water is totally polluted.  We cannot also go and fish there for now because all the fishes have ran away from that area.

“All the people that fish in the night used to put on light but if you mistakenly do that now, the person will die because that place is full of oil.

“It has happened like that before. When the oil was flowing, some people didn’t know that it was inflammable and they went and put on light and it exploded and  people died. It has killed so many people in my area but for now it has not happened in this one.”

Also, Tombara Dressman another indigene who refuted idea of sabotage, said “That well head has not been producing for years now. It is the pressure from it that caused the spill.

”That platform was bought from shell in 2015 and those equipment they have not been changed or maintained  for decades..

“The oil has spilled to the other communities because the water has low tide and high tide.”
On her part, Joy Wingemi, said, “We the women cannot go to the river again to bath or wash our clothes. The river is now full of oil. We can’t fish again and it is causing serious hunger.
“Our children are now hungry because before now, whenever we go for fishing,  we use some of the fishes to cook for our children but now we cannot fish. The fish have all ran away and we can’t even go near the river again.”
Meanwhile, Mr Moris Alagoa, Field Officer of Environmental Rights Action in Bayelsa state who also spoke on the environmental implications of the spill, said   that the adverse effect of the spill on the environment was massive.

He said, “The oil spread very far just  like  the spill in Biseni in 2005 that affected Biseni  in Yenagoa Local Government Area of the, state. “From what we saw, the mangrove span has been seriously affected and definitely it will kill all the periwinkles and oysters that our people depend on for their daily protein intake if not for sale because the Nembe people don’t sell periwinkles. It is against their tradition.

“The post impact concern is that there should be proper monitoring, clean up and remediation exercise for the environment because if they don’t do that, the whole of that environment will not have enough
aquatic lives for our people whose main occupation is fishing.”

In the same vein, a medical doctor at the Federal Medical Center (FMC), Yenagoa and a one-time Chairman,  Association of Resident Doctors, FMC chapter, Yenagoa, Dr Ebimobowei Onini speaking on the health implications of the spill said, “There are lots of health implications where there is oil spillage. You look at the individuals that are living around there.
“As Respiratory Physician, these things are not farfetched. First and foremost, the health implication can be divided into immediate effect, medium term effect and long term effect. The immediate effect will be
on the environment.

”For instance, environmental degradation; where by the sources of livelihood for the persons that are living around that environment will be destroyed.
“Farming will be stopped, fishing and those stuff will be impeded to a very high extent, people will not be able to fish and do some things that provide their sources of livelihood. And of course once people are handicapped, poverty comes and with poverty the next thing is disease.
“Crude oil contains a lot of substances, it is compound substance. It is not just one single substance. A lot of petroleum products are embedded inside crude oil and each of them has their effect on different parts of the body but in general, we can consider the spill that is being spilled as a solvent that people inhale.
“When somebody inhales that kind of substance, the first thing, is that the person can have upper respiratory hyper sensitivity and some people can start with sneezing, cough and that way because of the nature of
these chemicals, they will go and hamper some form of process in the body that will damage the immune system.
“It will expose these individuals to something like either upper respiratory tract infection mainly for adults, but for children, it can expose them to lower respiratory tract infection.

“The spillage can cause any kind of disease because some of these things, the people may not notice them immediately but over time it starts having effects on  different parts of the body even on the
reproductive system.

”It can affect any part of the body. It is very possible that people can have impotence, infertility as a result of exposure to some of these chemicals.
“It is really a very serious problem and it calls for an emergency measure to be applied so that people can be relived of the problem.”

Also, James Karibo, an indigene of the community and a fisherman who operates in Nembe Creeks bemoaned the incident which is coming barely three months after an earlier leak from the facility which lasted for 32 days before it was plugged.
He said: “It is a sad news for us who depend on fishing in the creeks. We have not even recovered from the losses from the last spill which contaminated and destroyed our fishing nets. We are in distress and cannot fish in oil contaminated waters.

These cries are the same all over the  Niger Delta region. Will oil spill ever stop in the region? That is a relevant question waiting for an answer.

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