Posted 18 September 2011, by George Onah,Vanguard Media, vanguardngr.com
As the convoy of cars from Bodo town conveying journalists veered into the road leading to Goi community, the air became fetid. The air was so offensive that two members of the entourage made to throw up. The air had been poisoned by the smell of crude oil that had enveloped the river serving the five communities of Goi.
The deeper the convoy rolled along the tarred road towards the river, the stronger the smell of the deadly spill. The stench, it was learnt, is worse at night when the ebbing river returns. As the vehicles brushed through the grasses that have grown into the road, few youths and elders stared at the group with gloomy faces. The road had obviously not been in full use because the spill had emptied the clan of its population.
None of the onlookers offered a smile. While mothers clutched their naked pale-looking babies, the old people and youths stood akimbo wearing long faces. The appearance of the rural folks reflected the extreme trauma the oil spill had programmed their lives. Minutes later, many deserted houses came into view. As we approaches the inner part of Goi, we beheld a community under siege by a demonic crude oil. Most of the buildings were in a state of disrepair.
The occupants have since fled because of the massive spill. Goi, said to be the oldest in the area, and with a population of nearly 60,000, is tucked on a quiet hill in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State. The Goi River, which has its source as Bonny River, flows through Opobo Channel and Bodo West, with tributaries scattered around the villages of the clan.
While examining the volume of destruction, it was observed that an area of the river, where spring water was gushing, had been covered by a mass of oil. The thick oil stretched all around the edges of the water which overlooks the swamp in the far end of the river. It was the community’s source of drinking water. Clearly, aquatic life in the river had gone extinct. Paramount ruler of the clan, Mene Livinus Kobani, said the spring water used to accommodate crocodiles and boa, which the community embraced as its deities.
According to him, “Mudskippers and periwinkles, which sprinkled along the shores of the river and welcomed visitors to the water, are all gone. With what has happened here, no one can fish in the next 50 years”. Scores of carcases of fishing canoes and other seafaring materials littered the shores of the river. Even all the farmland, where the waterfront slopes in the clan, had been made infertile.
The exposed roots of coconut and palm trees whose leaves flutter as the ebbing water returns had started dying from the roots to the fronds. Spokesman of the land Alhaji Muhammad M. Kobani said four villages and scores of canoes in the clan were razed by a mystery fire when the spill spread round the area.
The fire and the spill have, according to him, rendered over 30,000 of the communities inhabitants homeless. “Those who refused to move out are daily inflicted by various ailments. Because the people do not have any choice of drinking water now, they scoop whatever they can find including water polluted with benzene. As at last count, we have lost 15 people in one month. What is happening here is a gradual extinction of our people by oil spill”.
When Sunday Vanguard visited Bodo General Hospital, the medical doctor in charge refused to comment on the effect of the spill on the people. He said he would need authorisation of the state government to speak. But some patients, including pregnant women, old people and youths said they started experiencing pain and nausea as soon as the spill was noticed in their river, three years ago (2008).
Many pregnant women were said to be miscarrying at an alarming rate. Mr. Barinua, a resident, said he had spent all his life savings catering for his sick family since the spill was noticed in the community. “We spend so much money on drinking water. If you have to spend so much on water alone, what about food, school fees, hospital bills and others? This oil spill has scattered the community and many families”.
Another resident, Mrs. Barigboma Williams, said she had lost three pregnancies in a row due to the “bad water, smell of oil every day and the general hardship” occasioned by the spill. “We cannot even relocate because of the financial implications. I used to farm and trade while my husband fished to sustain the family. But we have lost our sources of livelihood because of the spill”.
Sources of Spill
Narrating the sources of their woes, Alhaji Kobani said the first spill in the area was in 2004 and was ignored by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, because they said it was sabotage. He said the spill of 2008, which has remained till date, was accepted by SPDC as system failure at Bomu Manifold – Trans Niger Pipeline. The spokesman explained that Goi has “always been at the receiving end of system failure and pipeline sabotage as claimed by Shell”.
The paramount ruler of the place, Mene Livinus Kobani, said he was taken aback that the UNEP report on the oil spill in Ogoniland did not mention Goi. Kobani said he was also surprised that the community has also not been involved in the distribution of drinking water by the Rivers State government.
Mene Kobani said, “Presently, there is no government or Shell presence in the community” and, for life to return to the area, they require a health centre. My people want to return to the river to fish as well as to the land to farm. So, Shell should clean up the area and carry out remediation. We want adequate compensation from Shell and we want the company to build schools here. Rivers State government should help us by supplying drinking water to this community”.
The lack of drinking water, he said, has contributed to the people leaving the area in droves. “The five sources of drinking water have been badly polluted. You see, only those who experience things would know the extent of pain. We are undergoing severe hardship in this community and the entire clan as a result of the oil spill here”.