A 23-year old woman has earned praises for embarking on a rare humanitarian visit to a neglected oil-producing community in Akwa Ibom state, South-south of Nigeria.
Akwa Ibom is home to American oil giant, ExxonMobil, and other multinational companies drilling oil in the state.
The state sometimes receives the highest monthly revenue, running into billions of naira, from the country's Federation Account, compared to other states, because of its oil.
But most of the oil-producing communities there, have been abandoned in shocking poverty, despite the wealth from oil.
The woman, Remarkable Mary, on February 14 visited Edonwik, an oil-producing community in Eastern Obolo Local Government Area, to celebrate Valentine's Day with the community people.
She is the first person to embark on such visit to Edonwik, the people from the resource-rich but poor and neglected community told PREMIUM TIMES.
Valentine's Day, said to have its origin from a Western Christian feast day honouring one or two early saints named Valentinus, is celebrated annually on February 14 in many parts of the world as "a day of love".
Ms Mary and her crew member pose for a photograph with children in the poor and neglected community
Most people in Akwa Ibom, just like other parts of Nigeria, spent the day pampering themselves and their loved ones with choice meals, drinks, and gifts.
For Ms Mary, who runs a charity called Mary Remarkable Akpan Foundation, she thought it wise and much more rewarding for her and her foundation to use the day to reach out to people who are in dire need of human kindness.
Together with her team of 13 other young men and women, Ms Mary, a student of political science and public administration, University of Uyo, travelled from Uyo, where she lives, to Okorette, Eastern Obolo's headquarters, a distance of about 59 kilometres.
Taking a risk
From there, the team hired a small boat for N15,000 to cross a river to Edonwik, without wearing a lifejacket.
"None of the boat operators we wanted to hire had it (lifejacket)," Ms Mary recounted her experience to PREMIUM TIMES. "So we had to take the risk."
The boat also ferried utensils, chairs and tables, musical equipment, and other items they needed to organise a feast in the community.
"It was about 25-minute's journey to Edonwik," she said.
Except for Ms Mary, who had been to Eastern Obolo before, the visiting young men and women were assailed by the absence of civilization in the community - no electricity or pipe-borne water, no school or health post for the population of over 6,000 people.
All they saw were thatched houses and a vast shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, dirtied through open defecation.
Ms Mary and her crew in a boat ride across the river to Edowink (1)
The people in the community travel a distance, across the waters, to buy their drinking water in sachets from other neighbouring communities.
"The kids there don't go to school," Ms Mary said. "Those whose parents can afford it, have to cross the river to other communities to go to primary school."
"People don't have mattresses; they sleep on bamboo and the bare, sandy floor."
"When we saw the people's living condition, we felt very privileged. We reflected on life generally and appreciated what we have as individuals," Ms Mary said of herself and her team members.
From the community, Ms Mary and her team members had a good view of the ocean.
They could see platforms belonging to oil companies - they imagined the amount of oil that was being drilled there, the petrodollars made for the Nigerian government and the companies involved.
They also imagined the sharp contrast in the living conditions between the company and the Nigerian government officials on one side, and the poor and forgotten people of Edonwik on the other side.
The team set up a buffet having meals like - 'afang' soup with garri, white soup with pounded yam, fried rice with salad, yam porridge, plantain porridge, and cake - for the community people, the elders, women, the youth, and the children.
The people were served chilled wine and malt drink. They also drank bottled water, some of them for the first time.
Excited Kids, Chief
Children also received cupcakes as a takeaway.
Even after Ms Mary and her team left the community around 7 p.m., the people continued to party till dawn, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
"This community has been in existence for more than 50 years now," the chief of the community, Edwin Nte, told PREMIUM TIMES on the phone. "This is the first time we have had such event."
Mr Nte sounded so excited when he enthused: "Because of how happy I was, I danced with the children in the community.
"God will bless that girl (Ms Mary), and open ways for her. The whole community has prayed for her," the chief said.
The chief also added, "The government has completely thrown us away, we live here as if we were of a different country outside Nigeria."
"Politicians only send emissaries who come here to ask us to come out (to the upland) and vote for them."
Ms Mary's first visit to Eastern Obolo in May 2018, was prompted by a PREMIUM TIMES story depicting the sordid state of the communities in the area.
She was particularly intrigued by a photo of a makeshift government primary school in Isotoyo community, Eastern Obolo.
The school, because of its wooden skeletal structure loosely covered with dried palm leaves, could easily pass for a shrine.
Ms Mary, after confirming the school's location with a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, visited the community to see what help she could get for the school.
"It would take about N5 million to build a school for Isotoyo community," she told PREMIUM TIMES, on Friday. "We have N1 million, and we are still shopping for funders for the project."
She and her foundation is also planning to drill a borehole to provide drinking water for the people in Edonwik.
When Ms Mary posted photos of her Valentine's Day visit to Edonwik, on Facebook, she had a torrent of praise from Nigerians.
"Those pictures made me cry. I have not done 10 per cent of these, and I've been fooling myself," one Facebook user, Ubong Etuk, commented.
"God Bless you; I love the picture of the old mama on (the) table with a glass of juice and those children with takeaway packs. God Bless you again," Mr Etuk added.