Health Of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, has advised oil communities in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states agitating for the remediation of their communities by oil companies to speak with one voice.
Speaking at a joint community monitoring training exercise organised for Ibeno and Joinkrama communities of Akwa Ibom and Rivers States respectively in Eket Local council of Akwa Ibom State, HOMEF director, Nninmo Bassey said the communities, having experienced the hazards of extractive activities of the oil companies for too long, needed to be heard, and thus encouraged them to raise their voices in unison.
Bassey who is also an environmental expert decried the environmental, health and ecological impacts of gas flaring and oil spills on the two communities in addition to the attendant human rights abuses and repression.
While noting that the capacity training was aimed at giving the communities the basic tools and knowledge on how to defend their environments vis-a-vis their health and livelihoods, Bassey said their situation was that of negligence and abandonment by the oil and gas multinationals.
According to him: “The situation in both Ibeno and Joinkrama shows abject abandonment of very accommodating people. Their situation cannot continue to be one by which they are remembered only for exploitation of resources and extraction of votes during elections.
“There are key oil and gas issues in these areas and there have been notable oil spills over the decades, human rights abuses and repression of the people.
“We have heard from them and we encourage them to speak with one voice. They deserve to enjoy the right to a safe environment and the time for them to be heard is now.”
Recounting the negative impacts of oil exploitation and exploration in their communities, Azaga Ovie-Oniso Kelvin, a member of Joinkrama community, said: “Oil floats on our rivers and we can no longer fish. We still drink polluted water from the Orashi River. Crops like cassava are also not yielding like they used to. You can see the environment. The roofing sheets are all rusty.”
Also Emmanuel Akpan from Ibeno community narrated: “ExxonMobil has enslaved us for long but it is time to take up active advocacy in demanding for the restoration of our environment. We have suffered from cancers, respiratory diseases and other ailments while we lack basic essential amenities that we ought to have.”
They called on the oil companies operating in the areas to stop the pollution and clean up the damaged areas.
Earlier, Ken Henshaw, the executive director of “We The People,” during his presentation regretted that the Nigeria state does not care about the health and environment of its people.
He said the training should charge and equip the people to face the government and oil companies to demand the right thing and to demand accountability from their leaders.
“It is more difficult to break a united and courageous group. The more united we are in fighting this cause, the more it is easy for you to achieve a better result,” he said.
Henshaw encouraged the communities to reject the obnoxious sections of the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, 2021 which encourages gas flaring.
Said he: “The PIA actually allows gas flaring to continue. This is something that is poisoning and killing our people but the government said it can continue as long as the oil companies pay fine for the gas flare. That fine is not going to be used for the benefit of the people suffering health issues; rather it is put into a fund that helps them explore more gas in frontier basins mostly in Northern Nigeria.”
On his part, Stephen Oduware, one of the resource persons encouraged the people to do things differently in advocating for their rights.
He said they can use social media in registering their displeasure by making short videos on Tiktoks and posting them to blogs, Facebook, Instagram or any other medium exposing the ills of gas flaring and pollution caused by the activities of oil companies in their communities.
“Your social media is another potent tool you will use to express your plights. Call HOMEF, call lawyers from your communities, call the press. You should begin to do things differently. Do short videos on your sufferings over the activities of these oil companies and post on Instagram, write short messages and post on Twitter so that people will begin to hear about the sorry state of your community so that you achieve what you want,” he said.