By Obodoekwe Styvn
At Obagi, an oil bearing community which hosts TOTAL AND AGIP, two oil giants operating in the Niger Delta, strange flares from AGIP facilities have not only caused panic in the community, but have placed the lives of members and occupants of the community in grave danger. Many have fled the community as a result of the flares. Although Obagi, just like every other oil bearing community in the Niger Delta has been living with gasflaring for decades since oil mining activities started in the region, the flare witnessed by the community between July 16, 2021 and July 18, 2021 was very different from what they have been living with. It was strange and more frightening.
Flames burn day and night from oil and gas facilities in the village of Obagi, an oil bearing community in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers state in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria producing heat that is neither soft nor warm, but is fierce and prickly. The flame is the result of the burning of gas which is produced alongside crude oil in the process of oil extractions. Obagi used to be a serene community, but oil extractive operations have destroyed the serenity, replacing it with deafening roaring noise from gasflaring.
The constant noise sends animals in the bush fleeing, as the bushes in the community are no longer safe and conducive for them. people within the community must shout to be heard over the roaring flames. Crops in the farms, once green, have turned yellow or stopped growing entirely. The village no longer enjoys the respite of cool WEATHER or darkness of night. Exposure to air pollutants released by gas flaring have been linked to cancer and lung damage, as well as neurological and reproductive problems among numerous other health problems.
The flaring has also affected peoples livelihood as it destroys sources of livelihood, which are mainly farming.
But the type of flare witnessed in Obagi on July 16 and August 12, 2021 from the IDU flowstation being operated by Nigerian Agip Oil Company, AGIP, came with heightened fears and additional problems, causing panic in the community. The flowstation is located within the community. It is about 100 meters away from peoples homes. The flare was more massive, with very thick dark smoke that accompanied it. It was also accompanied by crude oil that escaped from the extraction processes and came down like showers of oil. There was heightened tension and fear as many community members ran helter skelter in search of safe hiding places following the vibration of their houses as a result of the strange flares. The strange flare lasted for about 2 days and occurred again on Wednesday August 11 and Thursday, August 12, 2021.
Morgan Destiny, one of the community youth leaders and environmental monitor disclosed that the flare came with great noise and that buildings shook from foundation. People thought the end of the community had come. He said AGIP discharged huge gas which was more menacing than the normal gasflares they have been living with. “It comes with huge yellowish flame accompanied by thick dark smoke and crude oil. It shook peoples houses to the foundation as if there was earth tremor”, said Morgan. The flare deposited black particulates of hydrocarbons on roofs, peoples compounds and turned cloths and other things left outside into black. We woke up on that fateful morning to see everywhere covered with black soot, said Morgan.
Community members are worried that AGIP operations are turning their people into endangered species. It is no longer safe to live in Obagi, said a community member who pleaded anonymity. “The strange burning and flaring of gas on July 16, 2021 set some dwellers packing while children, youth, and elderly where running helter-skelter on that very day”. Community members said AGIP should either relocate their facilities away from the community or relocate the community away from the oil facilities. It is dangerous to the continued existence of the people to continue living close to the dangerous gas flares. Community members disclosed that they have tried severally to make Agip put an end to the menacing strange flaring pattern but to no avail. They said they have been experiencing this strange flaring occasionally since 2000 and have complained to AGIP, but their complaints fell on deaf ears.
In a protest letter signed by community leaders addressed to the officer in charge of stakeholders management and company development division of AGIP, the community lamented that over the years, community members have witnessed deadly and abnormal burning of gas by Agip company which results in serious acid rain, land tremor, vibrating of people’s houses, and untold twisting of cultivated crops. Despite these complaints, the company has shown no concern for the lives of Obagi citizens.
“Specifically, Obagi as the direct receiver of (the deadly impacts) of your deadly oil activities, had witnessed a cruel and visible acid rain and continuous vibration of our houses since the year 2000, and we continue to suffer the negative impact of live degeneration by your company.
“Every single effort made to draw your company’s attention to the untold environmental predicament that bedevils the Obagi community as caused by your company had been treated with hostility and contemptible levity”, the community leaders narrated to AGIP.
“The current discharge of harmful gas (hydrocarbons, including carbon-dioxide and carbon monoxide) on July 16, 2021, from at about 4pm till dawn is a clear indication that if nothing is quickly done. Obagi community may soon be eliminated speedily from the surface of the earth.”
The strange flare also happened again on Thursday, August 12 with even a louder noise.
The community demanded from the company as follows:
- That AGIP should pay a reparation TO THE COMMUNITY for environmental degradation meted out on the environment and abuse of fundamental human right.
- That a quick and urgent medical attention should be launched in the community for adequate medical checkup and treatment of the citizens.
- That a conscious environmental impact assessment should be carried out to ascertain the possible livelihood of the people and as a way of regenerating the environment that is densely polluted, and ecology degraded as well as the citizens dehumanized because of your oil exploration activities.
- That we have right for just environment as such your oil activities should not be at the expense of lives in the community.
The community further sent a SAVE-OUR-SOULS letter to the governor of the state captioned ‘REQUEST FOR YOUR INTERVENTION TO SAVE THE VOICELESS MANORITY (OBAGI) COMMUNITY FROM MISERY AND ELIMINATION BY AGIP OIL & GAS COMPANY (NIG) LIMITED’.
In the said letter, the governor was urged to save the people of Obagi from the hands of AGIP, saying that if urgent steps are not taken to rescue the community, Obagi may be exterminated by the strange gas flares. “We are more disturbed over the recent discharge of deadly hydrocarbons and abnormal burning of strange oil particles by Agip Company that occurred on July 16, 2021. The unusual experience that send the community packing for the fear of the unknown, because of the acid rain and earth tremor it produced and vibration of houses witnessed in the community”
“Your Excellency, we pathetically pray you to prevail on the Nigerian Agip oil & gas company to quickly do the needful in Obagi community and send a team of environmental experts to reveal the extent of gross damage done to the Environment and the impacts on the citizenry in Obagi community in other to save lives and the environment,” they pleaded with the governor.
They further pleaded with the state government to call on Agip Company to do the following.
- Send medical team to avert the negative impact of the company’s oil activities on human health and lives of the citizens.
- To carry an adequate Environmental Impact Assessment in Obagi community.
- To establish good hospital in the Community for adequate Medical check-up and treatment.
- To pay the community reparation for damages caused by them.
- To respect and Obey Environmental laws of both the Federal Government and Rivers State in their Oil Exploration and exploitation activities.
- To sensitize the people on environmental and health safety.
- To compensate for abuse of environmental and human right over the past 20 years.
The problem of gas flaring in the Niger delta is of great concern to environmental justice crusaders given its huge negative impacts on the environment, peoples’ lives and livelihoods as well as humanity. Through gas flaring, a cocktail of dangerous gasses are pumped into the environment which contributes to the depletion of the ozone layers, leading to global warming.