The Egi people are part of Ogba kingdom in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State. The clan is made up of about 17 communities and Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited [TEPNL] otherwise known as Elf is the main oil company operating in the area. Apart from several oil/gas wells and a flow station within the Egi clan, Elf also operates a gas plant in the area. This facility has denied the people much of their farmlands as the company continues its expansion and demands for more land. Following information of recent operational failures that led to gas explosion/eruption in the area ERA/FoEN (Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria) field monitors visited some of the impacted sites and communities to confirm and ascertain the situation of the environment.
Four communities within the environment of the gas plant impacted by the recent gas explosion/eruption were visited. They include: Egita, Obiyebe, Ogbogu and Obite. Apart from obtaining testimonies from some indigenes of the communities, ERA/FoEN field monitors were led to some of the sites of interest where the eruption of gas was still raging. From ERA/FoEN observation, the environment has been further endangered by the current eruptions of gas in many ways. This was proven not only by sign posts indicating danger in the area, but by the fact that construction of buildings not far from the eruption sites were ordered to be stopped. Community folks have been instructed to stop drinking from their common source of water. This has further increased the burden of the people. The testimonies captured are here relayed:
Comrade Che I. Ibegwura, National Chairman of Host Communities Network of Nigeria
There was an explosion within Egi environment on March 19, 2012. The explosion occurred around the facility of OML 58 which is under the control of Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited [TEPNL] or Elf. It was an underground explosion that was accompanied with fire that burned underground. While that incident was still the subject of discussion, the recent ones happened. They were very explosive gas eruptions within the environment of four communities. I have it on video and if you see how this gas is roaring and bubbling from the ground, you will appreciate our concerns. The communities are: Egita, Obiyebe, Obite and Ogbogu. These are the communities within the immediate environment. But considering the incident, I think the whole of Egi is in danger now. The scenario is now such that a man dug a well near where he wanted to start his building and gas started coming out from the well too. The very first day of these multiple gas leakages, people were running for safety as gas was coming out from the ground with mud, making holes in many places and this is spreading in the bush. Again, the smell is inimical to people’s health. Instead of taking concrete, practical steps to effectively stop or control the leakages, Total/Elf is trying to use their divide and rule tactics. A meeting was called in respect of this last week Wednesday but they influenced the selection of those who attended that meeting, keeping aside relevant stakeholders. Because they do not want the story to be heard by the outside world, the company is doing all it can to use one section of the people against the rest and the environment. Instead of being on the side of the communities and safety of the environment, agents of the company in the communities are more interested in protecting the oil company. So, we are calling on all the good people of this world, environmental/ human rights NGOs, Community-based organisations, faith-based organisations, international organisations such as Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth International etc to come to the aid of Egi people. We are dying. If you go to the area now you will see that police are there. We are calling on the state and federal governments to come into this matter and ensure that the right thing is done.
Emmanuel Zacharias, Ogbogu Community
My community is one of the directly impacted communities. Our major occupation is farming and as you can see, there are farms and economic trees all around these gas eruption sites. You can see the effect of the pollution on the leaves of the cassava. The leaves are folding. With these kinds of incidents in our environment you can see that it is affecting farming and that means starvation for us. We are calling on Total to come to our aid. What we have been telling them is that it is time that they really pay attention to the plight of the people. You see, for somebody not to have food is the worst thing that can happen. For instance, how can somebody put so much effort to raise farms and at the end of the day the company will pollute and not pay compensation for damage caused by pollution from their facility? We are really suffering in the hands of Total Exploration and Production. Again, instead of approaching the direct victims of this pollution, the company would choose to go through the group they call the Egi People’s Assembly that has clamped down on the rights of the people. That is why we are calling on the environmental/human rights community, federal government and whoever is sympathetic about what is happening in Egiland to come and attend to our plight. Apart from the farms, there are farmlands that were to be farmed soon and all are now affected. As you can observe, there are caution sign posts scattered around this area. These sign posts were not here before the gas eruption. Total/Elf just placed them recently to warn people about the danger posed by these gas leakages. You can imagine, even phone is not allowed to be put on here for fear of fire outbreak. Right now we are not even sure of our safety, even at night. People no longer sleep well and the fear is that there might be an earthquake any time. Because of the hazardous environment we find ourselves having strange health problems which include asthma.
SILAS ELI, Obite Community in Egi Clan of Ogbaland
About three weeks ago we were surprised to find gas eruptions everywhere in our environment. Even from my house here you can see some of the impacted trees. The eruption was so severe that the pressure carried the mud that comes with the gas up to the height of very tall palm trees. There are over 14 spots of gas leakage right now and since this incident we have been afraid. We can no longer sleep well because of the sound of the raging gas. The situation is worse at night. At night the sound is very audible as if it is right inside this compound. Apart from the sound we also inhale the gas and we have been experiencing some health implications especially children coughing and other problems. This is our plight. And we have also noticed in the past few days that the oil company’s helicopter has been hovering over this environment, monitoring the situation. Yesterday they went round in the air about three times. They did the same thing today. Even the water in our compound [from the borehole] we have just been instructed not to drink because the gas is everywhere. That is the same thing with the source of water that supplies the whole community. I wonder how we can withstand the situation if we cannot even drink water…
Ijeoma Joseph, 35 years-old from Obite Community in Rivers State
The gas leakages around us have been on for three weeks now and we have been experiencing coughing. It is disturbing us because we inhale the gas in the air. Sometimes we feel like vomiting. My children are not spared this environmental hazard facing us. They are sick. Even in my cassava farm, the leaves have all become abnormal. Those we managed to harvest recently are not good enough and we are afraid to consume them. We were told by Elf that they will send a medical team to us but we are yet to see such a team. The gas has gone into our source of water and we cannot drink it anymore. We do not make use of the water now. We are suffering. I want the company to take care of us. They said we should pack our things and leave this place because of the effect of the gas on us. We are waiting for them to come and relocate us. Not that we are willing to give away our land and buildings to the company but we are willing to be relocated because we do not want to die.
Precious A.C. Uche from Obite Community
I believe my fundamental human rights are guaranteed by the constitution of this country. This place where we are is owned by families in the four impacted communities. It was on April 2, 2012 that we woke up and saw gas eruptions and to say the least, this is one of the ugly incidents that have happened to our environment and people. This was caused by Total Exploration and Production Nigeria Limited, otherwise called Elf Nigeria Limited. It is as a result of the company’s horizontal drilling activities. We are really surprised that this company is doing this without our knowledge. This may have been possible in the ocean but not upland area as we have here. Now it has resulted into several points of gas leakages and the air is saturated with gas. Apart from the economic trees and crops around here, the entire communities are saturated with gas. We have no option than to call on Elf to put this rubbish to an end and let us know where we are heading to. Even as I am here breathing this air, my stomach is revolting. I see no reason why we should be treated like this by Elf. What have we benefitted from the company since they started operations here? Nothing. Apart from rubbish like this from them they come around to bribe some community folks to stand against the communities. So we insist Elf come and stop the gas leakages so that we do not experience earthquake in our environment. I use this medium to call on the federal government, environmental and human rights activists in the whole world to come and assist us. The way this thing is shaking the ground is of concern. Total/ Elf has also stopped some people from going ahead with their building that are at the foundation stages. A certain man from Obite who was about commencing his building foundation dug a well and gas came out from the well. The oil company has now stopped him and one other lady from going ahead with their building. Total/ Elf promised to go and see these people later. I do not know how they are going to settle this kind of thing….
Azubuike Awlom, Obite Community
My wife and children were here when I traveled but when I returned they had relocated to stay elsewhere in the town because of the gas leakages around us. I brought them back when I returned but because of the effect of the gas in the environment they are not steady here. We do not even cook here anymore for safety reasons. When we want to cook we have to go into the town to some of our relations places and cook and return with the food and eat here. You can see my lantern hanging there on the wall not in use again because of fear of fire outbreak. I would want the company and government to take practical steps on this matter to avoid a situation whereby we begin to lose lives…
Gloria Osiagu, Obite Community
As you can see we are not so far from where the gas is bubbling from the ground. The gas is disturbing us. I have two children and the last one is just about a month old. Because of the effect on my children I took them to the clinic on Wednesday this week. Elf should help us by stopping the gas leakages in our environment.
Comrade Donald Victor, youth leader, Obite Community
I witnessed the incident on the day it happened few weeks ago. We saw some strange substance leaking here in this cassava farm and we did not take it serious. It was some women who came to farm that discovered it and came to inform the community youths. We saw that it was coming out like vapour, though we also sensed some kind of odour. We were surprised when we tried to investigate further trying to trace if we could find any other related matter. We discovered several other points leaking in the whole of this bush, spots that had mightier eruption of gas. It was when we discovered it was gas we had to quickly inform the Total/Elf personnel and they rushed to the bush with us. The expatriates were also here and we asked them some questions. They told us that there is no solution to the problem for now and that we should give them some months to seek solution to this thing. Since then we have been coming to take a look at the situation and it is escalating. We do not know if a river or sea is gradually forming from this. We are convinced that these multiple gas eruptions were as a result of horizontal drilling by Total/Elf. They positioned the rig at the cluster and extended their pipes underground collecting what belong to other people. The initial problem was that there was an explosion at the rig site. There was fire right inside the ground. Through that diversional drilling they were doing some cementing, sending cement into the ground and in that process no air was coming out. We investigated and we believe that this is the cause of all the gas eruptions we now experience in our environment. The Rivers State Commissioner of Environment has been here and even the federal government has visited the sites. The rig explosion happened on March 19, 2012 while these gas eruptions started on April 2. We are not comfortable with this thing and we call on Total/ Elf and the federal government to quickly find solution to this matter before it gets out of control….
Apart from the heavy presence of police men within the environment, ERA/FoEN field monitors heard the rising and falling sound of the gas eruption like the sounds of ocean waves. The sound got stronger and clearer as field monitors got closer. Although the fence of the Obita Gas Plant is very close, the last living home to the gas leak sites was less than two hundred metres. Several safety sign posts were seen placed all over the environment, warning people to switch off phones, not to come with naked fire, and not to ride motor bikes around the environment. It was plainly written on the sign posts that the environment is hazardous. At one of the most serious eruption sites, it was observed that the pressure of the gas carried mud up into the air as high as palm trees as some of the already damaged trees indicated. The sound at the site was like waves of the ocean landing at the shoreline and was very frightening too. The mud splashed everywhere made it difficult to get closer for good photographs, though this was also influenced by panic. Everyone was conscious of danger and the need not to take too much risk and to leave the environment as soon as possible because any spark of fire would mean death for all. While some spots were pushing thick liquid mud into the air, the gas was coming out like heat over fire at some other points. These could not be captured by the camera. Another observation was the folding leaves of cassava which is not normal.
ERA/FoEN has also observed that the media has been publishing mostly Total’s claims that they shut the plant due to the company’s penchant for posting notices and information about their accidents on their websites rather than directly informing the public and communities. This for us is further abuse because the community people lack access to the internet.
1. It is not enough that the authorities have visited the sites. The gas eruptions should be stopped immediately by Total/Elf to prevent further damage to the already polluted environment and reduce the danger posed to the lives of the people.
2. Immediately the eruption spots are stopped, it should be followed up with cleanup and remediation
3. The relevant agencies of the State and Federal Government should ensure proper investigation to ascertain the cause, spread and the short, medium and long time impacts of the gas eruption on the people’s health, environment and livelihood.
4. As Total/Elf was stealing the wealth of the people through improved technology [horizontal drilling], the company should not delay in finding immediate solution to the problem they caused.
5. If the people are to be relocated, then the people directly affected should be directly involved in the negotiation to ensure they are not grossly denied their rights.
6. Total/Elf should not only provide good drinking water and meet the medical needs of the people; adequate compensation should be paid to the families and communities impacted. And because the pollution is airborne, the whole of Egi Clan and beyond should be seen as impacted zone.