TANK FARMS OF DEADLY FUMES

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Bob Majirioghene Etemiku writes that the activities of some tank farms in Niger Delta are endangering lives

In November 2020, there were several reports that irate youths of Ute Okpu, Ika North east local government area of Delta State, took to the streets to protest the rising deaths of youths in the area. According to these reports, the youths got angry after four of them died. The protesters reportedly burnt a market, but were unable to get to their monarch’s palace. A team of soldiers and policemen stopped them. The deaths were said to be unexplainable, and the gist around town was that the gods or deities of the community affected were angry at misdemeanor of certain elders, and so had taken the lives of the youth as propitiation. But investigations have revealed that the youths were not killed by the gods. Rather, they had died from yellow fever and allied ailments from deadly fumes arising from the unregulated activities of tank farms in the Niger Delta. Five inhabitants of Arakpa community in Oghara in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State tell their experiences living near tank farms. Mrs Edith, mother of two children – a boy and a girl – is a petty trader. She lives just as few metres away from the tank farms run by an oil company in Arakpa community in Oghareki in Delta State. She has lived there for three years. When we met her, she was clearing her nostrils now and again. Mrs Edith claims that ‘odour’ from the storage of fuel and gas in the tank farms is what makes her sneeze and her children to wheeze. She said she always feels dizzy and drowsy. According to Mrs Edith, the ‘odour’ from the tank farms occurs daily and is strong. When the fumes blow around, their eyes itch. She said that doctors who had treated her for sneezing and cough have advised her to leave that vicinity. Before moving into the vicinity three years ago, she hardly sneezed or wheezed and her children were not always sickly.

Mr. Kenneth Omasugbo, father of a 10-year-old son Raymond, is an indigene of Oghareki community. Mr Kenneth told us that Raymond often cannot sleep because of shortness of breath. He attributes Raymond’s condition to the activities of an oil company. He said that fumes from operations at the tank farm is usually ‘unbearable’. Mr Kenneth said that he had to take his son away from Oghareki to nearby Oghara for safety after a doctor warned him to leave. After taking him away, Raymond no longer has shortness of breath. But taking Raymond away has not solved his own problems. ‘After I return from work in the evening and enter my house, I always notice a strong smell of gas in my living room. That apart, the noise from their machines affects me. This place used to be a residential place but the oil company has turned it into an industrial ground and we are suffering’.

Mr White Natighome, 56, is a farmer and father of six children. Oghara is his ancestral home. Last year 2019, he claimed that he lost his youngest child, a daughter, to a strange illness. She had coughed and coughed endlessly the night she died. According to Mr. White, he had planned to take his daughter Ejiro to the hospital in the morning but she died in the midnight. Mr White told Wadonor that prior to setting up the tank farms in Oghara, an oil firm bought the land it uses for the tank farms from residents on the land. Thereafter, they paid some kind of compensation to members of the community. But after the oil company began to lift crude off from their tank farm, his life was disrupted. His children could no longer play outside, and his wife too was forbidden from lighting firewood outside for cooking. Anytime she did, the oil firm management sent soldiers to beat him up, and throw away his food. The company conducts regular medical checks for its staff every two weeks. We know too, that because of the fumes from gas and fuel, they give them milk and beverages. Even though we who live close by suffer from the effects of the fumes from their company, they ignored us. We have written many letters to them but they refuse to act’, Mr Natighome told us. Mr Natighome also said that doctors have advised him to relocate from that vicinity because water for fishing, drinking from the river close by and that from boreholes for drinking and domestic chores is likely already contaminated. But he cannot move. ‘They bought the land from some of my family members, Babasa and Agbamaido, and they relocated. Why can’t they buy our land so that we can leave this place?’

There is also the case of Chief Lucky Ubieribo who has lived in the UK for about 40 years. He said he bought the land in 1976 and built upon it in 1980 in Oghareki. This was before the oil company began operations there in 2014. He travels home every year to spend time with his family, and in 2015, he said he began to experience breathing problems. After he went back to London from his last visit, he said he began to feel weak, tired and dizzy. ‘My GP referred me straight to the hospital and I was admitted in London for one month after an initial diagnosis that my lungs were not working properly. The doctors wanted to know where I live in Nigeria whenever I visit and I described it to them that it is close to a tank and gas farm. Even though the doctors were able to prescribe certain drugs that took care of my lung problem, they told me that living in that area where gas and tank farms were located poses serious health risks in the short and long terms. What is happening here is going to cause a disaster in future’, Chief Ubieribo said.

Chief Obodoko Emmanuel is a businessman and a landlord in Oghareki. Together with some members of his community, he approached the owners of the oil company to highlight their problems – health issues from inhaling fumes from fuel and gas from the tank farms. According to Chief Obodoko, there were assurances from the oil company that in due course they were going to acquire any piece of land close to their gas and tank farm. He said the company enumerated certain areas close to the farms and valued them based on her capacity to acquire and pay compensation to effected residents. Some collected a compensation while others who felt cheated from the low value placed on their lands rejected the compensation allegedly paid to them.

Residents want to be evacuated from the community and paid medical compensation. Because that has not happened, they sought to take matters before the law. In a letter dated 10th September 2019, they wrote to the management through their lawyer over ‘constant exposure to dangerous fumes from the tank farms in their community’. They also wrote to the attorney general and Commissioner of Justice. In the letter to the commissioner of Justice, Delta State, the Oghareki community reminded him of an earlier visit to his office on March 28, 2019 where they sought his help to stop the firm’s operations bearing in mind the implications of siting an industrial gas and fuel plant in a residential area.

Etemiku is editor in chief of Bob MajiriOghene Communications and publishers of WADONOR, Niger Delta Cultural Digest