The people of Ibeno, a prosperous oil-producing community in Akwa Ibom State, have experienced a drastic reversal of fortune. What was once a blessing in the form of oil reserves has now become a curse, as the activities of oil companies have resulted in severe environmental, economic, and health hazards.
Multinational oil companies operating in the area have caused oil spills and engaged in gas flaring, which has had detrimental effects on aquatic life, vegetation, and human health. Oil spills due to operational failures involve the release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbons into the land and marine ecosystems.
The residents of Ibeno are deeply distressed by the contamination of their water sources, making it exceedingly difficult to access safe drinking water. Rhoda, a youth activist from the area, reveals that potable water is nonexistent in Ibeno, with a sachet of water sold at an exorbitant price of N100. Families unable to afford such costs resort to consuming water tainted with oil from local streams.
During a town hall meeting between the Environmental Rights Action (ERA)/Friends of the Earth Nigeria and various civil society organizations in the state, Rhoda recounts the harrowing experiences of Ibeno’sIbeno’s population, particularly women who endure miscarriages and respiratory ailments due to gas flaring. She shares the heart-wrenching story of losing her pregnancy two years ago while working in Ibeno, a tragic consequence of inhaling polluted air.
“About two years ago, when I was pregnant, I noticed that something was coming out of my nostrils. I was having severe chest pain, so I went to see a doctor in Uyo.
“After examination, the doctor asked whether I was close to a gas flaring area, I said yes, and he explained that due to the environment I exposed myself to and what I have been inhaling, that my baby has been affected. The summary of the whole story is that I lost the pregnancy.
“Rainwater from the zinc is completely black, the water that is even coming out of the ground is oily, and these old women and children fetch and drink it like that; some of the water is even green in color.
“Ordinary sachet water that is sold at N20 in Uyo is between N50 to N100 in Ibeno depending on how interior the community is. Most of the people cannot even afford it; hence they resorted to drinking the oily water because they are helpless,” Rhoda narrated to a perplexed audience.
Rhoda acknowledged that the community used to have access to clean drinking water in the past. However, ever since the onset of oil spills, their once-potable water sources have become contaminated, depriving them of this basic necessity.
In addition, Kofi, a Cameroonian fisherman residing in Ibeno, lamented the scarcity of fish caused by the oil spills. The spills not only damage fishing nets but also have a significant impact on overall fishing activities, making it challenging to catch an adequate amount of fish.
He said, “We no longer have fishes anymore in the high sea due to oil spills because the oil does not allow our nets to catch fish. Life is getting tough every day because we have already lost our means of livelihood.
“Our health is deteriorating; when it rains, and you put your bucket outside, the color of the water will be black. You keep it for some days, and when you filter it, you see oil particles underneath the bucket. It is God that is saving us.
“Is it noise pollution? We don’tdon’t sleep at night because the walls will be vibrating as if someone is shaking it or knocking at the door. All these things are as a result of oil exploration by the oil companies. It is terrible.”
Furthermore, Mrs. Beatrice Eja, the President of the Women Association in the Amadaka community located in Eastern Obolo, disclosed that there was an occurrence of an oil spill in their community the previous week due to an overflow from an oil well.
Eja expressed her disappointment that the responsible company had not yet taken any action to address the spill. She emphasized that if no measures were taken to rectify the situation, the women would organize a protest.
“The oil spill had devastating effects on our aquatic life, farmlands, and crops, and even contaminated the air we breathe. The women in our community have been the most affected by this oil spill. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, and there is a risk of deformities in unborn children,” she stated.
Chief Moses Akpankpo, a fisherman from the neighboring Inuaeyen community in the Ibeno Local Government Area, recounted that their community had experienced oil spills in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2019, but no action was taken until 2022.
“The spill caused significant damage to my property at sea. It affected my fishing net and engine and even led to the capsizing of my boat, resulting in the loss of my fishing sensor. NOSDRA came to inspect the spill, which also had a detrimental impact on our periwinkles,” he explained.
Akpankpo further highlighted that there were over 200 oil flares at sea, which had adverse effects on their crops, drinking water, and overall environment. He called for assistance from the international community to aid them in their distress.
Unfortunately, the people of Ibeno have been plagued by the anguish and setbacks caused by oil spills since the first recorded incident in 1998. Although the oil company Exxon Mobil operating in the area, eventually cleaned up the spill, subsequent spills were not promptly addressed, leading to further damage.
In addition to the 1998 oil spill, other incidents were recorded in the state, including spills on February 28, 2008, April 3, 2010, January 13, 2013, June 29, 2014, December 15, 2014, February 28, 2015, March 4, 2015, March 12, 2015, April 27, 2015, November 25, 2015, and several others, as stated by Dr. Ufot Phenson, the President of the Akwa Ibom Oil Producing Community Development Network (AKIPCON).
According to Dr. Phenson, Exxon Mobil has allegedly failed to compensate the affected communities or undertake environmental cleanup for all the spills. He accused the company of only providing a “palliative” payment to the state government in 2012, despite the fishermen, farmers, and businesses suffering immense losses.
However, Exxon Mobil’sMobil’s spokesperson, Ogechukwu Udeagha, consistently denied these claims. Udeagha maintained that the multinational oil company takes prompt action whenever necessary and cited their provision of free electricity to the host community as evidence of their positive contributions.
Nevertheless, sources revealed that Exxon Mobil, along with other oil multinational companies, is currently planning to divest. This development has been strongly opposed by the host communities and various Civil Society Organizations, who demand environmental remediation and compensation for the impacted communities before their departure.
They argue that it is unjust for the oil companies to abandon the host communities in a state of disrepair after decades of polluting the environment through gas flaring.
Dr. Phenson asserted that the ongoing gas flaring in the Niger Delta has contributed significantly to the acidification of rivers and soils, posing health risks and exacerbating food crises in the region.