This is not the best of times for the communities of four local government councils of Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme, all in Ogoni area of Rivers State, as farming and fishing activities have become a nightmare for thousands of them because of the effects of oil pollution.
Ogoni, one of the largest ethnic nationalities in Rivers State has suffered large-scale environmental pollution wrought upon it by the activities of multinational oil companies operating in the region.
The Ogoni have over 500,000 rural population according to the 1980 census.
The Nyor Khana has the largest landmass with thick forest reserve for farming activities. The entire Ogoniland has great potential for agricultural activities which include farming, fishing, tapping and distillation of palm wine into local gin.
But the activities of petroleum exploration companies which started in 1958 have contributed to the environmental despoliation which polluted streams, creeks as well as farmlands in the area.
Ogoniland, according to Maduagwu Chimezie, is blessed in soil fertility but which in recent times has been tampered with such that cropping and other forms of agriculture are essentially exploitive because of nutrients removal. And with the advent of mineral oil exploitation, the entire farms within the oil drilling locations have been affected, thereby, causing low crop yield and avidity which changes crop adaptability.
Oil pollution, according to researchers, also generates air-borne diseases which not only affect human beings but also contributes to scarcity of fish and other marine animals.
Recent research has revealed that within a few weeks of taking oil pollutant, the tilapia groups of fish die. It was also learnt that oil destroys the gills of catfish and also kills embryos thereby decreasing their population.
Residents of Ogoni communities and indeed the entire Niger Delta have been complaining of poor crop yield, animal production and shortage of food.
“Many communities in the oil producing areas have always complained of poor crop yield, animal production neglect and hardship. Many have left their homes because of the harsh economic effects of oil pollution on them. The communities can no longer fish, farm or hunt because oil production has polluted their rivers and made farmlands unproductive.
Oil spills from outdated oil equipment have driven fish into off-shore water where the Ogonis are not equipped to embark on fishing. The people of the area now buy foodstuffs because acid rain has destroyed much of the land,’’ stated Chimezie.
In Ebubu Eleme, farmlands and streams were destroyed by oil pollution which occurred several years ago. A resident of the community, Ollor Chujor, said oil pollution has affected farming in the area. “We are having very serious issues in terms of farming and other agricultural activities in Ebubu. The land destruction caused by oil exploration activities is at unimaginable proportion. Our land is not yielding crops any more.
“Before now, we were having bumper harvests through aggressive farming activities. We cultivate all kinds of crops ranging from vegetables, cassava, yam and all kinds of food crops but the land is no longer fertile to make good yield. Our aquatic life is equally affected as no serious fishing activities are going on in our area,’’ Chujor stated.
Another Ogoni indigene, Barinee Koba, said farming activities have been badly impacted as a result of oil exploitation and exploration.
“Oil exploration has done great harm to agriculture in Ogoniland. There is no part of Ogoniland that is not impacted by one form of pollution or the other. Oil exploration devastated our communities and left it in ruins. We cannot farm and get good yield. Our farmland was polluted, and our aquatic lives were destroyed. The soil was greatly impacted as a result of high effects of hydrocarbon pollution.
We can no longer go for fishing expeditions and this has affected us in no small measure. We are solely dependent on farming and now that our source of livelihood is being threatened what are we going to do,’’ Koba lamented.
Rivers State government had established lots of agricultural projects in Ogoniland given its rich arable land mass. Some of the agro farm projects established included the Banana plantation and the Songhai farm projects. The residents of Ogoni are into subsidiary farming as every household has large portions of land for farming but oil pollution has done great harm to large proportion of arable land in the area.
The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released it environmental assessment of Ogoni in August 2011. The report according to Shell bulletin, was commissioned by and delivered to the Federal Government of Nigeria. It makes recommendations to the government, the oil and gas industry and communities to begin a comprehensive cleanup of Ogoniland, restore polluted environments and put an end to all forms of ongoing oil contamination in the region.
The UNEP has assessed that the environmental restoration of Ogoniland would require coordinated efforts on the part of government agencies at all levels, industry operators and communities.
It also presented its recommendations as a major opportunity to bring new investments and employment opportunities and drive improvements in the environmental and health situation on the ground.
Majority of the Ogonis believe that on completion of the cleanup exercise by the present administration, their environment would be restored and serious farming activities would commence.
“We are hopeful that at the end of this clean up, our land will be restored and serious agricultural activities will commence.
We need something urgent to be done towards this direction because majority of the Ogonis will like to go back to farming which is our primary trade,’’ stated a resident of Bomu, Tombari Dekor.