11 July 2012

Nigeria: Ocean Surge - People Make Sacrifices to Calm the Gods - Newuwumi

Photo: The Vanguard
Ogheye community.

The first part of this special report was published yesterday.

Pupils, church sacked: Vanguard gathered that pupils of the community's primary school sacked from their classrooms by ocean surge, long ago, are using the town hall as makeshift classroom. The former location of the primary school is now an ocean.

The pupils, who were apparently oblivious of the colossal catastrophe their parents were passing through were receiving tutorial from their teachers when we visited. The reporter sighted the pastor and members of a new generation church pulled down by ocean raid, working on a new structure with planks at a section of the community.

People make sacrifices to calm the gods - Newuwumi

Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, chair aspirant in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State and Niger-Delta activist, Comrade Omolubi Newuwumi, hails from Ogheye, one of the riverine oil communities that are seriously under threat by ocean surge. He spoke to Vanguard in Ogheye on the looming disaster.

What is the name of your community and is it oil-bearing?

I am an indigene of Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State. Both my paternal and maternal parents are from Warri North local government area. The names of my communities are Otonila, Tebu, Jakpa and Usor. These are all oil producing communities in Warri North Local Government Area.

When did the problem of ocean surge start in your community and what has it been like?

The ocean surge started as early as the day I was born and till date, the surge is still sweeping away our communities. It is not a story told me by my elders or fathers. You are here and even see things for yourself. Every six months, a house in the community shifts from its original ancestral home or is lost to the surging Atlantic Ocean.

Sometimes we do not experience the surge for one or two years but at other times, you wake up to discover that your house is under water and you have to relocate to a place where there is no water. That is how we keep relocating from one place to another. This problem of sea surge is not common to my community alone. All the neighbouring communities in the area suffer the same fate.

How big was your community before and how is life there now?

Ogheye is a large community that accommodates very large number of people from different areas. Besides, Ogheye as a community has the largest market and business spot in Warri North Local Government Area.

Abundant life

People from far and near come there to trade and do business. The place is populated mainly by Itsekiris, Ilajes and other tribes and there used to be abundant life, but you cannot compare it to yesteryears because of the fear of ocean surge.

What are the important things the community has lost to the sea surge?

Many uncountable and unquantifiable things. The community is always losing houses, property, money and in most cases, lives are lost to the sea surge. The sea surge is a natural disaster that comes up unawares.

You can wake up in the morning to discover that your house has been swept away by water. The problem is caused by sea tide, which could be very high sometimes, while at other times, the torrent reduces.

Are you saying that people die because of this disaster?

People die sometimes, although not in every case. Deaths caused by the sea surge are not new. At other times, however, people only lose their property.

What is the cause of the sea surge?

It is caused by high rising tide and by natural sea encroachment, which occur almost every time.

Is it possible to stop it?

Yes, it can, by way of reclaiming the land and by providing shore protection.

Are the ancestors disturbing the present generation for relocating from their homelands?

The communities are still located around the seashores and even with the migration of people and their houses, they are still there. Ancestral problem is common with all the communities. They are the result of movement from one place to another. The people always engage in sacrifices with the belief that the sacrifices will help calm the situation. That is how they have been managing their day-to-day affairs.

How are indigenes of the community surviving presently? What about their traditional ruler, where is he currently?

Indigenes of the community survive by engaging in fishing business, as fishing is the major trade in the area. It is an area where you see all kinds of seafoods, including fish, shrimps, periwinkles, crabs, etc. As you know, we have just one king, who is His Highness, Ogiame Atuwatse 11, the Olu of Warri. He is highly represented by his chiefs from the various communities in their areas, which form a link between the community leadership and the king. Moreover, tackling the problem of sea encroachment has been the heart cry of the Olu of Warri who also has been demanding absolute protection for his people.

Do your people plan to return home someday to their erstwhile homeland or it is gone forever?

The issue of going back home to the land is impossible because the sea occupies wherever it claims at any given time. For instance, where I was given birth is currently severalmiles into the sea. The same scenario applies to my family compound in Ogheye. The lands are completely gone forever.

How does the problem occur?

It happens exactly the same way the others have been happening. Whenever the sea waves rise, virtually all the communities around the riverbanks are severely affected. It is very common around communities around the coastlines in all parts of Niger Delta.

So how do the people of the communities live in the face of this threat from the sea?

They will always live because they are used to the environment. It is their ancestral home.

Peculiar problems

This goes a long way to tell you that every community has its peculiar problem, and as far as communities located around the seashore are concerned, these are their peculiar problems.

How has the government (whether local, state or federal government) helped the riverine communities in tackling these problems?

Actually, the federal, state, local government and oil companies have not helped to solve this problem in any way. Solving this problem requires reclamation and shore protection, which none of the Itsekiri communities have currently. These have always been our demands through the local government to the state and federal government because the people of the communities live in abject poverty, rejection and fear of death every day. In most cases, the people hardly sleep because of fear of high sea tide that may come at any time.

What about Niger-Delta Development Commission and Ministry of Niger Delta, are they not making impact?

These are all government agencies and as I said, the government has not done anything to help. If you can recall, I led a protest in Warri, some time ago, to make demands for shore protection and reclamation, including other amenities for the people from the Niger Delta Ministry's budget, but the agencies and government still did not provide the required shore protection and reclamation. The onshore communities are not left out of the underdevelopment problems either.

How do you relate this to the claim by the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum that oil wells 200 isobaths belong to the entire nation and should be shared as a common patrimony?

You see, it cannot be shared in that way because they are not suffering the deprivation, loss of lives, houses and property that we are suffering. However, the sole responsibility of government is to protect the lives and property of all its citizens. We need assistance from the federal, state and local governments to enable us live as one Nigeria. The northern governors must know that such land and oil wells now claimed to belong to the federal government are owned by communities and people, who had lived there before. Maybe, some of them need to be educated on these things because they have not travelled here before to see things for themselves. I will personally want the Niger State governor, Dr. Babangida Aliyu to visit Ogheye and I would take him round to see and understand what is happening.

Worsening security situation

The demand of the northern governors for a review of the derivation formula was in bad faith and is capable of worsening the current security situation in the country. His argument that the northern states were being short-changed was irrational and irresponsible.

Who should own oil wells 200 isobaths, the oil producing states or the entire country?

That is where the principle of derivation comes in. It all starts from the people to the communities; from the communities to the wards; from the wards to the local governments; from the local governments to the states and from the state governments to the federal government. So, oil wells should be owned by the people who live where such oil wells are found because they bear the suffering, the deprivations and lack of development.

Laughing contention:In the Niger Delta today, we do not have many local governments like the Northerners and the present arrangement is advantageous to the north as they have so many local governments, owing to their geography terrain. The argument put forward by the Forum that the old oil wells that are 200 nautical miles away belong to the federal government is not tenable, it is frivolous and wicked. They should know these oil wells they say are 200 miles away from the shore are where communities and people inhabited before they were driven out by ocean surge.

For somebody like me who came from the coastline, I cannot attempt to go by canoe or even flying boat to where my grandfather's house used to be again because the community there had been swept away by the surging Atlantic Ocean, which claims one community after the other yearly. The oil wells in these communities are what are now being claimed as belonging to the federal government because they are 200 nautical miles from the present community. What happens to their ancestral homes? I do not think anyone can come today and claim the ancestral homes of the people of the north. Why do they think they can do same to us here. They are just being mischievous.

Do you not think northern governors are right in their argument since Nigeria is a federation?

No, oil derivation cannot be shared equally because local governments are not shared equally. Besides, House of Representatives seats were not shared equally as well. In fact, oil-producing states are even been cheated by the recent sharing formula, the 13 per cent derivation funds accruable to them are not enough, compared to the amount of deprivation and neglect the region has undergone since the discovery of oil in the region.

Moreover, besides the devastating effects on ecology of the communities, there is also an economic effect. In the North, someone can trace the house of his father and great grandfather, but in the coast line, in the Niger Delta, the people have to build new houses every other year because of the ocean surge and that is the amount of deprivation we suffer. The 13 percent derivation fund is not even enough for the revenue.

Think of the cost of building every other day and the cost of moving from place to place, not to mention the loss of fishing lines, farm settlements and many other commercial activities, which are what the people live on.

The northern governors should remember the way the allocation was shared during the groundnut era, the cocoa era and so on and so forth: it was fifty-fifty and now that it is oil in the South-South, we get a mere 13 per cent and they are shouting. The 13 per cent is not enough.

Some communities relocate every six months

Ocean surge is more frequent because of oil exploration and exploitation going on in both the creeks and sea. Some communities have to relocate every six months because of the threatening sea surge and you can imagine the amount of money and materials that are being spent by these communities. Our creeks are now blocked because oil spill through exploration had made the water there to be still and stagnant and so fishing activities, which used to be our source of livelihood is no longer possible, and so also, is farming, as the only dried land has been polluted.

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