Polobubo and Opuama communities are communities of Egbema clan of Ijaw ethnic nationality in Delta State, Nigeria. Other communities in the clan are, Dinkoru, Ikpotogbene, Atesuwo, Arigbegha, Ebiama, Agoduba, Dabotubu, Wekegbene, Kokoyegbene, Kukugbene, Lagose, Okrigbo 1, Okrigbo11,Sengbene, Kpomenegbene, Palouba, Cele-Ama, Belief-Gbene, Ajagbene, Jalagbene, Azama, Lubou, Kalaba.
They are located in Warri North Local Government Area, a freshwater swamp that was once rich in diverse species of fish, water snails and other seafood decades ago that sustained life of their forebears. Members of the communities were good fishermen. The women farmed shrimps and other seafood in the creeks around their community.
Their fresh water was sought after and brought in people from other communities who came in to fetch water from Olodua creek and others.
The community boasted a rich ecosystem with trees including economic trees like Abura, azonia, white and black afara, cottonwood, palm trees, herbal plants, forests teeming with different species of animals including crocodiles, antelopes, manatees and many others.1
These communities are oil bearing, rich in crude oil and gas. Oil production began in the 1960s by Shell.
Older members of the community recount the early heady days of hopes of prosperity and happiness as oil activities commenced. Many of them, especially the men worked in teams for contractors of the oil company. A few years on, locals reported the flight of different species of animal and the gradual altering of the community’s ecosystem following the onset of production activities.
The community members during visits in 2002 noted that the alteration of the environment became noticeable in the 1960s when multinational oil company Shell moved in and began operations in the area.
Animals that roamed the rich tropical forests began to disappear through the effects of seismic operation connected to the exploratory process and other deleterious practices.
The most damaging impact however, was in the 1980’s when American oil company, Chevron (then known as Gulf Oil) embarked on the construction of a canal along the Opuekeba creek, specifically to facilitate its operations in the area.
With that act, saline water from the Atlantic ocean entered what was a fresh water ecosystem leading to the destruction of the natural forest and fresh water.
The resulting salinization and transportation of heavy sediment load, has been growing poverty due to the destruction of the life support system of community members. The rivers and creeks around the communities some of which were said to be about nine fathoms deep in some areas, had mostly silted up2.
Ongoing degradation manifests in the silting of the creeks by the force of water and sediments brought in through the canal along the Opuekeba creek.
The grip of poverty as a consequence of these oil production related degradation is palpable.
In 2002, an encounter with a local woman whose family struggled to survive on the meagre harvests of seafood after spending over 14 hours in the creeks has been documented.
Little children as young as 8 years old, struggling to fish in outsized boats meant for adults, was a rude reminder of the precarious reality of life in these communities.
During a subsequent investigative visit to Polobubo in January, 2018, several children with yellowing hair, a consequence of malnutrition, possibly kwashiorkor, were observed in the community.
The story of Polobubo, Opuama and other sister communities is that of communities struggling to maintain their humanity in the face of environmental onslaught brought on by powerful oil company interests and an uncaring government, poor system of justice that offers no succour for communities whose existence is threatened by environmental degradation.
A rich community, poor people facing possible extinction.
Polobubo community is host to four oil companies including Chevron, Shell, Sahara Energy and Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC.