Who will quench the nine-month old fire outbreak in Abereke?

March 9, 2021
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Night has fallen in Abereke, one of the Ilaje communities of Ondo State. Yet there is a yellowish glow that lights up the sky in the horizon. But Abereke is not the land of the midnight sun. The glow is caused by a fire outbreak, one that has been burning for over nine months. The fire emanated from an oil explosion at Ororo-1 oil wellhead in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, where Abereke is.

Abereke is a community of about 50,000 inhabitants. They are predominantly fishermen and farmers.

Usually at night, Deji Ehuwa, a fisherman in Abereke, would be out on the waters fishing. But these days he is at home. His fishing equipment have been damaged due to the oil spill in his community, and the fishes are nowhere to be found in the waters. They are all dead. Fishing is the mainstay of the community.

He finds it ironic that oil, which gives life to the Nigerian economy, has sounded the death knell to the economy of Abereke community.

He told Nigerian Tribune that it is only by the grace of God he and his family are still surviving.

He said, “This is the second year after the oil spill. Our fishing nets are spoilt. Even those who have tried come back with nothing because the oil spill has driven the fishes far away from the sea around us. The spill has gotten into the land so that the pigs in our piggeries have died.”

Chief Happiness Olupo heads one of the fishing cooperatives in Abereke community. He also spoke to Nigerian Tribune and the story is the same.

“This is the second year since it happened. The spill has affected our community land.

“Our farm animals are dead. Our fishing nets are spoilt. Houses have been affected too. We don’t have a meeting place for our cooperative any more. We don’t know what to do any more. To eat is difficult.”

Does he have any other means of survival? “I have a cassava farm and I grow plantain too. But the polluted water has affected those ones too. The yield is not what it used to be.”

He said the oil spill has taken its toll on his children’s education. “The oil companies should step in. I have 10 children. Those going to school had to stop. Some of them are supposed to do WAEC exams, but that is on hold now because I don’t have the money. The government should do something to help us.”

Dead livestock.

Twice bitten?

There have been at least two fire outbreaks from different oil spills in the community.

The first involved Chevron Nigeria Limited. On Thursday, April 18, 2019 according to a report by the community, there was a fire outbreak and oil explosion at its Ojumole oil wells.

It affected Chevron’s oil wells and fields including Parabe, Malu, Mina, Opolo 1-8, Eko, Isan West, Isan, Opuekaba, Ojumole, Omuro among others, all said to be connected together. Abereke and Abereke seaside communities were said to have been affected by this incident.

Chevron operated the oil wells through a licence issued by Department of Petroleum Resources under Oil Mining Licence (OML) 49 and 95.

Later on, on April 30, 2020 precisely, the inhabitants said they woke up to discover that one of the largest fishing ports in Ilaje land had been hit by another oil spill from Ororo-1 well head.

The Ororo-1 oil wellhead pertains to OML 95 operated by Guarantee Petroleum Company. This oil spill, the community would find out, actually occurred on April 12, 2020. This latest incident led to a fire outbreak on May 16, 2020. As of the time of this report, that fire was still burning.

An ecological disaster

The Abereke community says that before they noticed the latest oil spill from Ororo-1 oil wellhead, they had been seeing large quantities of dead fishes of different species floating on the surface of the sea and within the community waters.

The dead fishes, they said, include species like bonga fish, cray fish, croaker, snapper, mullet, tilapia andcat fish among others.

On the land, they said the spill led to the untimely deaths of 7,800 ruminants resulting from the consumption of poisonous feeds occasioned by the oil spill.

The community has also witnessed massive annihilation of economic trees, herbal trees, cash crops and soil degradation.

The health of the inhabitants is at risk. The poisonous gases from the fire and contaminated water are extreme health hazards. Some have reported critical dermatological problems as an offshoot of a poisoned environment.

Some experts say the recent oil spill is in the range of 40,000 barrels.

With the death of millions of fish, thousands of the inhabitants have been deprived of their sole means of livelihood.

Speaking on this and similar incidents in the Niger Delta, environmentalist, Nnimo Bassey said, “Considering the enormity of the incident and its impacts, the pall of silence over it is rather dreadful. It is sad to note that oil companies operating in the Niger Delta are rapidly setting a pattern of totally ignoring oil spills for weeks and months in the same way they have ignored gas flares for decades. This impunity must stop. Our people deserve better. The Niger Delta must not continue to be a sacrifice zone.”

The SOS cry

Prince Taiwo Ayedatiwa is the community secretary of Abereke. He said that since both incidents occurred, the community had reached out to the Ondo State government, DPR, NOSDRA to prevail on the oil companies to carry out remediation of the land and to compensate the people.

In both instances, the community wrote an SOS letter to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, to intervene.

Regarding the Chevron incident, the community in a letter dated September 2, 2019, stated that the Chevron Nigeria Limited fire outbreak/oil spill of April 18, 2019 lasted not less than two months in the Ilaje coastal communities. They had written two letters to Chevron on May 6 and May 20, 2019 on the matter with no response at the time. They alleged that Chevron had caused not less than 15 major crude oil spills between 2004 and 2019. The community asked the authorities in the Senate to compel Chevron to compensate the community for the destruction and damages caused by the oil spills over the years.

In their SOS letter to the Senate dated June 2, 2020 regarding the Ororo-1 oil wellhead incident, the Abereke community said Guarantee Petroleum Company Limited had done more harm than good to the community. They asked that a “clean-up operation should commence immediately in our communities to avert human catastrophe and further social and economic damage.”

They also demanded a monetary compensation of N15 billion.

So far, Ayedatiwa said the community has not seen any action from the oil companies on remediation or compensation. He said the community remains in dire straits.

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