Nigeria: Bayelsa Communities Lament Environmental Damage

Some oil bearing communities in Bayelsa State have said the commission of inquiry inaugurated by the state government recently on environmental degradation will expose the level of damage and neglect the exploration of oil has done to the communities in the state and other states in the Niger Delta region.

Residents of Azuzuama, Ikarama and Egbebiri communities who spoke to journalists recently when the members of the environmental degradation commission of inquiry visited the areas, also applauded the state government for setting up the probe panel to assess the years of negative impact of oil exploration in the state.

The traditional ruler of Azuzuama Kingdom, in Southern Ijaw Local government Area of the state, Chief Atubo Jonathan, said the spillage has caused serious damage to their livelihood.

He said: "Oil exploitation in my Azuzuama community is no longer a blessing to our people; as I am speaking, there are no farmlands for us to cultivate."

"The sources of water, which are the rivers, have been polluted; no portable water to drink except when we buy water from the city.This suffering and smiling is getting unbearable, the common aliment here is cancer and kidney disease and our people are dying of it almost on daily basis," he said.

A youth leader of Ikarama community, Mr Benjamin Walter, also described the spills caused by oil exploitation as worrisome to the people. He said the move by the Bayelsa Government to investigate the harmful impact of environmental degradation would go a long way to checkmate the wrongs of the multinational oil firms in their host communities.

The Scientific Officer in the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, Mr Bob Keniyinboh, explained that the cause of spillage was mainly equipment failure of the oil companies and commended the setting up of the commission of inquiry on the state.

Chairman of the probe panel Dr. John Sentamu promised to look into the people's complaints during investigation and recommend approximate remedies to both national and international communities for immediate actions.

Governor Seriake Dickson last week inaugurated a 10-man Bayelsa State Commission of Inquiry on Environmental Degradation, with the Archbishop of York, in the United Kingdom, Dr. John Sentamu, as the chairman and former President of Ghana, John Kufour and eight others as members.

Dickson during commission's inauguration explained that it is comprised of Nigerian and foreign scholars and experts in various fields, and had a nine-point term of reference, which include to investigate the environmental, health, socio-economic, cultural and human damage caused by operations of both local and multinational oil companies.

He also charged the commission to analyze the legislations governing the operations of multinational oil companies in Bayelsa State and in Nigeria as well as establish a set of recommendations that would lead to the development of a new legal framework that ensures accountability.

He noted that the state accounts for 40 per cent of Nigeria's oil wealth and hosts the operations of all the major multinational oil companies, adding that oil companies operating in the state have for decades acted with impunity and with little regard for the environment and people, causing multiple oil spills leading to environmental degradation and loss of lives.

He said the primary aim of setting up the commission was to prevail on oil companies to adopt best practices in the conduct of their operations in Bayelsa as they would in Norway, Scotland or the United States.

He said that the region had recorded not less than 40 million litres of oil spill annually as compared with 4 million litres annually in the United States.

The commission, is expected to hold public and private hearings, and submit its report and findings within nine months.

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