Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
Bayelsa State Governor, Mr Seriake Dickson saturday accused International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in the state of environmental terrorism, which had claimed lives of several residents of the state.
Dickson, also, alleged that for over 50 years, the people of Bayelsa had been subjected to the gravest level of pollution without respite arising from the activities of oil multinationals operating in the state.
He made the allegation after receiving an interim report from the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission (BSOEC) at Dappa Biriye Conference Centre in Yenagoa yesterday.
Dickson, who appreciated the Chairman of the commission, Bishop John Sentamu and his members, urged them to continue to mobilise international support against the degradation of the environment and the livelihood of Bayelsa residents.
Describing the situation as tragic, the governor said for him, the matter was beyond his constitutional duty of protecting the people of the state, but a personal one, since he had been personally affected by the phenomenon.
According to the governor, a simple blood sample taken from anyone resident and living in the polluted parts of the state will return very shocking results.
He said: “This is one of the world’s most tragic and ignored stories of what we do to each other as human beings. This is part of documenting our story. It is not just a part of my mandate to protect my people in all ramifications, but far more than that, this is personal.
The lives of Bayelsa people matter a lot. From now on, any activity involving our people or adversely affecting our people should be reported. Let the world continue to know that what we have talked about for decades is real.
“Beyond increasing the bank accounts of their shareholders, special interests and all, is the human story. This is part of the story that so many interests do not want us to talk about.
They do not talk about the silent health crisis. This is why what the oil companies are doing is environmental terrorism.
“This terrorism is not about pointing guns or blowing people up, but this brand of terrorism is real and insidious but very silent in the Ijaw nation. It kills our people in instalments. They don’t want us to talk about it.
“This is a major crisis, one of monumental proportion. Beyond making money, a very important part of international diplomacy is the real life story of our people, but in the end the Bayelsa life matters.
“As we go to the poll, I have only started it. These are some of the things we must continue to handle. There is development to bring to our people and there are oil companies to be engaged,” the governor explained.
Sentamu, also the Archbishop of York, described the pollution occasioned by oil exploration and exploitation activities as a slow environmental genocide, destroying lives and property in Bayelsa State.
Sentamu, also a member of the British Parliament, decried the IOCs operating in the state for failing to uphold best standards as they do elsewhere in the world.
He noted that the commission had spent the past seven months in conducting researches in all the eight local government areas of the state, describing the level of degradation as serious and lamentable.
He said apart from losing lives and its ecosystem, the commission’s findings revealed that communities in the state are deprived economically and lacked access to justice.
He assured the state government of his commitment to telling the Bayelsa story, stressing the need for collective action against the excesses of oil companies in the area.
He said: “Environment knows no national boundaries. We all have responsibility to care for the environment. It is for this reason I accepted to chair this Commission.
“Oil and gas exploration has had adverse impact on the lives of Bayelsa people, water systems, biodiversity and its people. Over the past seven months, the commission has been investigating and gathering evidences about the activities of oil companies.
“The commission has spoken to hundreds of people across the eight local government areas of the state on the impact of environmental degradation and its wide ranging effect on the people.
“I believe what we have seen amounts to a slow environmental genocide taking place here in Bayelsa and this has been allowed to go on for over fifty years.
“We need a sort of moral outrage; we ought to express what is happening to the people of Bayelsa. Companies have done an incredible level of damage and they can’t just be allowed to get away with it any longer.”
In their separate remarks, the Secretary, Dr. Kathryn Nwajiaku and member of BSODEC, Prof Engobo Emeseh expressed shock at the findings of the commission in all the communities the expert team visited.