Pollution: 16 Years After, Goi Remains Ghost Community

Blessing Ibunge, in Port Harcourt

In January this year, when a Dutch court sitting at The Hague, Netherlands ordered Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to compensate four communities in Niger Delta, including Goi community in Ogoni, Rivers State over oil spills from the company’s facilities that adversely impacted their livelihoods, many saw it as justice for the people.

The court’s ruling rekindled hope of the poor farmers who instituted the lawsuit through the aid of Friends of the Earth against SPDC in 2003. Other communities whose farmlands were affected and therefore parties in the suit were Ikot Ada Udo community in Akwa Ibom State, and Oruma community in Bayelsa State.

Ogoniland in Rivers State has always hosted one of the best natural resources that has enriched Nigeria, yet the area bears no imprint of development reminiscent of what it hosts. This is further worsened by degradation of the ecosystem caused by multinational oil companies operating in the area, but they in turn blame it on suspected sabotage of their aged and corroded pipelines.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had in June 2016 flagged off the cleanup of Ogoniland in Bodo, Gokana Local Government Area, one of the majorly impacted areas by the oil spill that led to altercations which culminated in stoppage of oil production in the area.

Five years after, though there is an ongoing remediation process by the federal government agency, Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (Hyprep), larger parts of the impacted communities are still in a bad state.

THISDAY visited the area recently, on a special coverage alongside some international environmentalists both from Nigeria and other African countries and the situation on ground was quite telling.

During the visit, THISDAY observed that the people who believed that their polluted farms, fish pond, creeks, rivers and lands would soon be treated are still suffering the adverse effects of the pollution.

Goi community is one of the oldest towns in Ogoniland, known for friendly and hospitable disposition to visitors but the people were forced to vacate their land as a result of pollution caused by the activities of oil companies. About 16 years after, Goi community still looks deserted with no inhabitants seen in what was once a lively and bubbling town.

Surprisingly, it was learnt that the heavily polluted Goi community was not undergoing cleanup exercise, because it was not captured in the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP) report as part of impacted areas that needed cleanup and remediation.

Goi is in Gokana Local Government Area. History has it that Goi was the first community to accommodate people in Gokana, but today is the most polluted community in Niger Delta. This is because there is no other community in the Niger Delta that pollution has actually chased away people, destroying the entire livelihood and the economic activities of the people as it did to Goi.

Indigenes of Goi lived a productive life until the major oil spill in Bodo. But before then, because of the tidal movement of the river that connects Goi, the spills from Okrika, Andoni, Bonny, K-Dere, usually got deposited in Goi community. That was the origin of the spill until the major spill that led to fire outbreak in the community.

As a result of the outbreak from the spill, the schools, poultry, bakery, and the community life was completely destroyed, which forced people to migrate to other communities. Till the time of this report, the Goi people are still struggling to get compensation for their economic activities that the oil destroyed.

Still on the investigation, it was observed that Goi does not have oil and oil well. Goi does not have any manifold but they are facing the worst oil pollution.

Chief Eric Dooh, paramount ruler of Goi, who narrated the incident that drove them away from their ancestral home, regretted that 16 years after the pollution experience which claimed their livelihood, the federal government has not shown serious concern about their plight.

The monarch regretted that instead of the government to come to their aid, it was non-governmental organisations and some renowned environmentalists that have been fighting for justice for the indigenes.

Dooh said: “The year the spill occurred in Goi, my home community, was in August 2003, and it emanated from the Trans-Niger pipeline, about a kilometer from my community and we vacated in 2005.

“There is no oil well in my community but my environment is in between the Bomu oil fields and the Bodo West oil fields, and when there is pollution because of the tidal flows of environment, the spill coming from Bodo is carried by the high tide into my community and spill from Bomu oil field because of the topography of the area, it flows downwards, through the sea, into my father’s investment in Goi.

“Goi has suffered to an extent that those who came in here when it was in a normal situation, normal habitat will see that we have serious mangrove forest in the Creek but continuous pollution and outbreak of fire engulfing the environment led to the total devastation of this environment.

“We worship crocodile but because of the pollution you cannot find any reptile in this place again. All the shrines were burnt because of fire outbreak, the crocodiles left and some died and we buried them. It is the problem we are encountering here.

“So Shell coming into this place to see this devastated environment could not even seek for alternative means. They only asked my parents to leave this place. My father had over 30 canoes that he was using for the deep sea business, especially excavation of solid mineral from deep sea. The fire consumed them all. It was God that brought Rev. Nnimmo Bassey and he took me from my father and I followed him so as to get justice.

“My father had a commercial school here (pointing at a building). It was as a result of the pollution the school closed down, my father had a bakery, fish ponds but as a result of this pollution the fishing business closed down, everything wrapped up.”

Dooh is presently demanding for restoration of his hometown and compensation to indigenes who have become refugees in neighbouring communities.

Also, the environmentalists, who visited impacted sites at Goi community which was sacked by the 2004-2005 spill in Bodo, expressed sadness.

The Executive Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, regretted that Goi community does not have an oil well, flow station, gas flare, oil installation apart from the pipeline at the fringe nearer to Bodo, yet they had the worst pollution in their river which has also affected their land.

Bassey stated that “This community is a prime example. Goi has been neglected. The UNEP report did not mention Goi at all and you don’t hear Goi appearing in the cleanup in this territory but this is the prime place that the cleanup ought to have started.

“The Goi people are living as refugees in other communities. You cannot stay here for long and remain healthy because the hydrocarbon is very thick in the atmosphere, in the air that we are breathing.”

He therefore, urged the government to restore the Goi community and bring back indigenes to their ancestral home.

“The oil spill and fire that occurred here did not happen because they have oil installation but because the ecosystem, the creeks are all inter connected. Goi needs attention and government should not wait any further before reacting. Whether UNEP shut or open its eye, government cannot shut its eye to Goi community”.

Speaking further, Bassey frowned at the way multinationals operate in the region with impunity, polluting the environment through their careless activities.

“In the terms of pollution in the Niger Delta, the refineries are also complicit. That is why in terms of contributing the money for the cleanup, NNPC, Shell, Total, Eni, the refineries and other petrochemical in this area should be involved because they also contribute to the problem.

“So, there is no part of the petroleum industry activity that is safe. In terms of prospect for seismic activity on land and in the water, they disorient big aquatic animals,” Bassey added.

Also, at the other impacted areas undergoing remediation, Kpobari Nafo, Information Officer with Hyprep, revealed that the cleanup was in progress in Ogoniland, adding that the agency was concentrating on less complex site and had achieved tremendous success.

He explained that the complex site in K-Dere Gokana and other similar sites would be handled after treating the less polluted areas in Ogoni.

Nafo further disclosed that Hyprep had given more attention to drinkable water supply, stating that majority of the impacted areas were suffering from serious pollution which had contaminated their water making it poisonous to drink or use for cooking.

“We have been sensitising the communities, making them to understand that this environment is theirs, so repolluting the environment is to their own detriment. We have been working and they have been cooperating. Most of the communities have ensured that those who come to re-pollute their areas are no longer finding it business as usual.

“The rumour that Hyprep is not working is false. We are working according to the UNEP’s recommendations; moving from the upland site that is contaminated before going to the coastal area.”

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