This text is based on a special report by Friends of the Earth Nigeria
Friends of the Earth Nigeria / Environmental Rights Action (ERA/FoEN) has demanded a Nigerian Federal Government probe into explosions caused by Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC] operations in several communities in Bayelsa State where the company has facilities, and a revocation of the company’s operational licence.
Explosions from Agip pipelines and resultant deaths have been recorded since 1995 and have escalated in the last three years.
The latest incident in Azuzuama in Bassan Clan, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area on 9 July 2015 claimed fourteen lives.
FoE Nigeria verified through its field monitors that fourteen people died along Agip’s Tebidabe-Clough Creek pipeline at a damaged section of the pipeline during a Joint Investigation Visit. Several others received burns.
The incident claimed seven workers attempting to clear a major spill at its facility. The victims were burnt alive while clearing oil spills with spades and buckets. The company who got the contract for the cleanup, DAEWOO, contracted youths from Ozochi, without any training or proper clean up kits, to dig pits which they transferred the crude oil into to set it ablaze later. An ensuing inferno killed five of them and caused extensive destruction of the environment, farmlands and biodiversity.
The first major tragedy by the company recorded by ERA/FoE Nigeria was at Ozochi in June 1995.
A PATTERN OF ‘ECOCIDE’
In 2000, 18 youths died in a tragic incident which occurred in Etieama community in Nembe Local Government Area during a clamping operation on a ruptured section of NAOC’s Brass-Ogoda pipeline. The incident is said to have been caused by spark from a machine used during the clamping.
On Sunday, 29th July, 2012 a similar incident happened along Agip pipeline within Ayamabele/Kalaba community environment, in Okordia clan, Yenagoa LGA. Sixteen people were lucky to have escaped when a fire was ignited in the process of the cleanup.
ERA/FoE Nigeria Executive Director, Godwin Uyi Ojo said: “A clear pattern of ecocide has been observed in the Niger Delta. The incident in Azuzuama is yet another sad episode from NAOC operations as the testimonies from bereaved families and officials of the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment indicate.”
OPERATING LICENCE MUST BE REVOKED
Demanding the revocation of Agip’s operating license, Ojo explained that a consistent trend of explosions leading to needless deaths has trailed the company’s operations, hence the need for the Federal and state government to set up an investigative panel to review its operations as well as its spill contingency plans and protocols, which have so far put production and profit at the fore and left safety in the back seat.
“Government should ensure that Agip complies with international standards in oil pipeline clamping and procedures which must also guarantee the safety of workers, regulators, and communities,” Ojo said.
He insisted that Agip must be brought to book following the equipment failure and substandard mode of clamping and procedures in addition to adequately compensating the bereaved families including victims of the Ozochi tragedy.
Government must also ensure only competent firms are engaged as contractors to carry out clamping jobs that require high levels of professionalism.
Ojo said that while a price cannot be placed on the loss of human life, Agip must compensate each family with the sum of $ 2 million (two million dollars).
“Beyond the investigation, Agip must provide public response to the fire explosion incidents, conduct immediate clean up and environmental remediation and compensation for destroyed livelihoods. Enough is enough on this systematic decimation of the lives and environment of our people”, Ojo stressed.