The recent oil spillage from Shell Petroleum Development Company’s facility in Bodo, an Ogoni community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State has ignited resource conflict among cult groups which has consumed two community members in a strange scramble for anticipated site-entry money from the oil company. For a community that was grieving over the loss of their crops and sources of livelihood as a result of the oil spillage, the killing of community members amounts to double tragedy.
National Point gathered that on Friday 18 August, 2023, crude oil was spewed into the environment from Shell’s Trans Niger Pipeline at Sugi Village in Bodo City. The Trans Niger Pipeline is a 28 inch pipeline transporting crude oil to the Bonny export terminal. The quantity of crude spilled was not ascertained as at press time. However, it was huge enough to destroy farmlands with cultivated crop- both food crops and cash crops- as well as economic trees. It also flowed into the community’s stream, thereby polluting their major water source, National Point gathered.
Environment monitors who visited the community reported that attempt to access the spill site with some pressmen proved abortive as aggressive looking youths cordoned off the area to ensure nobody could enter the area. As at the time of filing this report, neither Shell nor NODSRA had visited the site of the spillage. The Joint Investigation Venture, JIV, has also not been done to ascertain the cause of the spill.
When National Point contacted the Zonal Director of NOSDRA, Cyrius Nkanwung, he admitted that JIV has not been done. He attributed the delay in conducting the JIV to conflicts in the community and challenged National Point to visit the community again to confirm the state of insecurity there.
However, community stake holders, who would not want their names in print for security reason, attributed the spill to equipment failure. They noted that Shell’s facilities in Ogoniland have been weakened by long ages of usage.
National Point investigation disclosed that as soon as community members discovered the spill, some youths believed to be members of a cult group that has been chased out of the community earlier, regrouped and occupied the spill area as a surveillance group. They were said to have occupied the area providing 24 hours surveillance, waiting for the arrival of Shell, the owners of the ruptured pipeline. “Their expectation was that when Shell comes to clamp the point of spillage, they would get settlement from the company before they would be allowed access to the site,” said reliable community sources. The sources disclosed that this is not the first time cultists and other community youths decided among themselves to provide unsolicited surveillance at spill sites in Bodo in order to collect huge amounts of money from Shell.
National Point was informed that a similar scenario played out during a spillage that occurred close to the present area on August 24, 2022 on the same 28 inch Trans Niger pipeline. During that period, a group of youths believed to be cult group was said to have occupied the area for some days before the arrival of the oil giant. They set up canopies to provide a shed for them from rain and sun as they were cooking, eating and sleeping there, not minding the stench of the spilled oil as well as the risk of pipeline explosion.
When the Shell team eventually arrived, it doled out over N100million for the youths as they made it clear that the company personnel would not be allowed to enter the spill site unless they settled the boys. After collecting the money from Shell, the youths shared it among themselves before disappearing from the spill site.
When the recent spill of August 18, 2023 occurred, the group which were prevented from partaking in the sharing of money saw it as a good opportunity to make their own money. They quickly mobilized and became the first to occupy the Sugi spill site. Trouble however, started when the group that benefitted from the August 24, 2022 spill attempted to either join or dislodge the group that first occupied the site of the new spill. When they first arrived the area, they were chased away. But they mobilized and launched a ferocious attack with dangerous weapons on Saturday, August 26, 2023 at about 2am.The attack resulted in the killing of two persons, Wisdom Pilla and Barioma Dutu.
Five other persons, Charles Saago, Tombari Akere, Lekaga Agbi, Oliver Nyimaage and Barinem Pigalo were said to have sustained various degrees of bullet injuries. The killing plunged the community into mourning and deep tension.
Contacted, the Rivers State Police Command spokesperson, DSP Grace Iringe Koko, told this publication that she was not aware of any killing in Bodo over the oil spillage. She however said, said that she was aware of crisis and clashes in the community. She added that police investigation had commenced.
A faction of MOSOP led by Fegalo Nsuke in a reaction, condemned the attacks, describing it as barbaric. The faction said the incident was very painful and unfortunate. Nsuke expressed his condolences to the families of those affected and urged the Police to investigate the crimes. He also called on the people of Bodo to do all that is necessary to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book.
Nsuke squarely blamed SPDC for the incident saying, “The incident wouldn’t have happened if not for the presence of Shell’s pipelines in the community”.
According to him, “These are all consequences of natural resource extraction. It is unfortunate that while we suffer the consequences of these exploitation, we are told not to talk about the benefits which are distributed to all states in Nigeria and we get nothing because our political rights to function within Nigeria as Ogoni people are being denied.
“We demand an investigation and we will want to see the outcome of the investigations into these” he said.
A community based organization, Eco Defense Alliance headed by Damian Gbogbara, on its part, blamed the incessant oil spills in Ogoniland and Bodo City in particular, to the silence of the government and negligence of the international oil companies, IOCs, operating in the Niger Delta area. The group called on the government and the IOCs to find a lasting solution to the needless and further degradation of the Ogoni environment. It lamented that weeks after the Spill, neither NOSDRA nor Shell had visited the community to address the people, assess the damage, stop the spill and ascertain the cause of the Spill. The group stated that the situation is affecting farming and fishing activities of community members which are their sources of livelihood, expressing worries that if nothing was done, the situation would get worse.
The Alliance noted that beside the pollution and degradation of the environment and loss of livelihood, oil spill had become a major source of conflict and crisis in the community, adding that the community was yet to recover from the crisis that erupted during last year’s spill.
It therefore called on NOSDRA and Shell to quickly move to the community, constitute the JIV team and find a permanent solution to the environmental degradation going on in the community to forestall further crisis there.
In a chat with National Point, Fyneface Dumnamene, an Ogoni born environmental justice crusader and leader of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, YEAC, stated that Shell deserved a space in the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of spills it had caused in Bodo in particular, and Ogoniland in general. The frontline environmental justice crusader said he had lost count of oil spill reports from Bodo city alone due to incessant occurrences, and there was a need to go beyond press statements that put these spills on record to seek Guinness Book of World Records for the community and for the polluter to be globally named and shamed to serve as a deterrent to both indigenous and multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.
According to him, this global mention will help further hold the offending companies to account on the Niger Delta ecosystem destruction and save the fragile Bodo, Ogoni, and Niger Delta communities, especially, with the ongoing cleanup exercise by the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP).
The recent oil spill occurred in Bodo in the evening of Wednesday, August 24, 2022. It was the second in the month of August 2022 alone after another spill was also reported by Advocacy Centre on August 2, Fyneface stated.
Bodo community had in 2008, experienced two large-scale oil spills from Shell’s facilities, destroying the environment and the fishing and farming livelihoods of the people. Shell was dragged to court in the UK as a result of those spills.
In 2015, Shell opted for an out of court settlement and offered to pay the sum of £55 million ($83 million) to Bodo villagers as a settlement agreement for oil spills and to also clean up their lands and creeks.
Efforts to get Shell to respond to the spill proved abortive. Michael Adande, spokesperson for Shell was called several times on his GSM phone but he did not answer to the calls neither did he return the calls,
The following request was sent to him through WhatsApp:
“Good afternoon sir. National Point Newspaper is doing a report on the oil spill that occurred in Sugi, Bodo on August 18, 2023 over which a violent clash that led to the killing of 2 persons happened. We would like to know your position with respect to the spill which happened on Shell facility What actions have you taken so far? Has JIV BEEN DONE? Has clean up commenced? Have you discussed with the community on the way forward? Do you have any report on the incident?
My name is Styvn Obodoekwe”.
He did not respond as at press time.