The Santa Barbara oil spill from the facility of AITEO Exploration and Production Company Limited affected fishing, and farm settlements of the aboriginal Kula people of the Kalabari Kingdom in the Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The elders and leaders of the communities led by HRH Chief Tubotamuno Dick Esq said this during a press conference on Wednesday.
The monarch was flanked by Chief Flag Amachree, Alabo Kingsley Young-Jack, Engr. Ineye Jack, Hon. Japusoibina Ekine and Comrade Edward Asikitamunoprim.
They knocked the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva for visiting Basambiri/Opu-Nembe communities in Bayelsa State and failing to visit their communities “where the oil spill actually occurred”.
They added that the oil firm’s management had not visited any of the communities and the monarchs to show empathy as well as send relief materials and medical supplies to reduce the rising trauma among persons displaced by the incident.
They said, “Without recourse to having human empathy for the Owuangain Communities, the Minister went ahead in conjunction with the management of AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Limited to briskly mobilize relief materials to the Basambiri/Opu-Nembe Communities who were less impacted and affected leaving out the real host communities (Owuangain Communities in Kula) without giving thoughts of alleviating their plights by replicating same kind gestures in humongous scale as demonstrated for the Basambiri/Opu-Nembe neighbours.
“Yes, categorically stating, for the length of time of the spill, it was just a visit that had been done to remediate the situation where we are dealing with a national disaster as it affects our people, ecology and environment; and all that we get is a restraint for our angst against AITEO for this callous ineptitude. The same AITEO Company, as usual, in its industrial chameleonic language claimed SABOTAGE for their criminal negligence. What surprises us is that from the very day the leak was noticed, AITEO from its multiple press statements had toed the path of denying its culpability, criminal negligence and responsibility, thereby, pushing it on sabotage and incessant crude oil thefts.
“Apart from the accruable resources, the colossal quantum of hydrocarbons spilt into our environment is of least concern to the company and Nigerian Government that is why the needful has not been done after forty days after the deadly blowout without attracting national and international attention. Should the situation not be different if the magnitude of such disaster had happened in other sane climes? The devastatingly forty day-non-stop oil spill in OML 29 is not only threatening the highly vulnerable mudflats in the focal point– Owuangain Communities and environs, but also the ecosystem, marine cum aquatic lives and human components and numerous spiral effects respectively.
“We, therefore, condemn this unpatriotic neglect, insensitivity and colossal failure on the part of AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Limited, the operator of the field and Federal Government of Nigeria who have a duty to protect the lives and properties of the citizen and stop environmental degradations. We also give the AITEO company a 48 hour- notice from today to send relief materials without any further delay to the impacted communities of Owoanga, Kula and other communities in the Kalabari axis and ensure that the company directly interfaces with these affected communities before any remediation efforts.
“The Kalabari Frontiers is calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria and all its agencies to declare a state of emergency on the Santa Barbara River (Owuangain River) area within the Owuangain/Kula Communities in Akuku Toru Local Government Area as a ‘Special Sensitive River Area’, which was where the said spill occurred. It is important to state that the oil spill is still expected to take several weeks since the company does not have the required expertise and best global practices to handle the leaks as aforestated ab initio. Therefore, the various seas, rivers and creeks within the Kalabari Kingdom as the greatest hit would never recover from the ecological damage caused by this recent oil spill and those of the past even in the far distant future. This particular oil spill is succinctly an ecological disaster to the Kalabari largest Coastal Wetland; hence the tremendous damage that can be caused by a limited amount of it cannot be overemphasized.
“The OML 29, WELL 1, oil spill has indeed, generated a number of effects on the environment and economy of the Kalabari people. On a basic level, the oil spill has ruined and damaged waterways, fishing implements (ie Canoes, Paddles and Nets), marine lives and mangrove plants and animals on the marshy islands. Wild lives are deceased and washed ashore. Black oil now infiltrates our creeks, seas, rivers, oceans and water wells, which is the only source of drinkable water that has caused skin diseases and other concomitant illnesses on the people.
“The cost of the oil spill on our people is considerably economic and ecological. Oil on sea surfaces is harmful to many forms of aquatic life since it prevents a sufficient amount of sunlight and oxygen from penetrating the surface. Moreover, ingested oil is noted to be toxic to humans, plants and animals, which may definitely lower and slow down their reproductive rates as well. Such toxicity will definitely damage their habitat considerably; such as the saltwater, florae and faunae, swamps and mangroves, which are notable seashore ecosystems that frequently and conspicuously suffer from oil spills like this due to heavy metals and toxic elements in the hydrocarbons. Studies from Biomarkers have uncovered irreparable harms to humans exposed to oil and gas-related spills. These spiral effects can be grouped into respiratory damage, liver damage, decreased immunity, increased cancer risk, reproductive damage, stunted growth, pandemic and needless untimely deaths. As we speak, three (3) persons had lost their precious lives as a result of this polluted hydrocarbon drinkable well water.
“Despite these enumerated irreparable harms caused by the oil spill, it is so pathetic that even up till now, the AITEO Eastern Exploration and Production Limited and Federal Government of Nigeria have not taken any positive bold step(s) to visit the Owuangain Communities in Kula, where the spill actually occurred, as on the spot assessment and facilitate relief materials to the affected victims of the communities, its environs, Kula Community and the entire Kalabari Kingdom. This display is the worst form of insensitivity and mindless disregard to the plights of the people of Owuangain Communities and Kula Community who are directly feeling the impacts of the degradation and the Kalabari Kingdom in general. Rather, to our utter dismay, local clean-up crews have been quickly put in action to respond to the oil spill that merely travelled in ocean currents to the Basambiri/Opu-Nembe creek axis of Bayelsa State, without considering the Kalabari axis where the oil spill actually occurred.
“Consequently, the AITEO Company had already sent relief materials to the Basambiri/Opu-Nembe Communities at the Minister’s instance without putting into cognizance the pains, hardship and loss of livelihood of the Owuangain Communities in Rivers State, which are the host Communities of OML 29, WELL 1. This gross injustice is highly condemnable and totally unacceptable.”
They demanded proper clean-up of the entire Abureni communities and settlements affected by the spillage, using renowned experts and deploying international best practices.
The communities also called for remediation of the polluted environment and assessment of all property belonging to the people for the oil company to pay adequate compensation without discrimination.
“As a matter of fact, the entire world expects the Nigerian Government together with the management of AITEO Company to address the daunting challenges of the day by liaising with the Rivers State Government to put an end to this grave injustice and insensitivity meted on us (i.e. The Kalabari People). We are very hopeful that with such strong commitment and united leadership, both governments and AITEO management can make a great success in bringing us out from this doldrum. Therefore, we count on their supports and cooperation to do the needful,” the statement read.
“In view of the above, we are further reiterating our demand in very strong terms that the environmental damage caused by the blowout is immediately remediated otherwise, the communities will seek legal opinions to press these legitimate demands. This is because, the oil spill had spread over a number of miles reaching the entire Kalabari Community Coastlines from the shores of Santa Barbara River (Owoangain Toru) to St. Bartholomew River, Sonbreiro River, Cawthorne Channel (Kalabari Toru) and far beyond.
“As the oil continues to migrate, a sustained effort by the oil company is spontaneously needed for the clean-up as the area of spread also steadily expands. Therefore, urgent remediation of our marine and ecological environments is commenced, adequate compensations are given to the affected communities and relief materials are sent to the host communities of Owuangain, Kula Community, all affected fishing settlements and other impacted Kalabari communities in the Kalabari Kingdom.”