The people of Bodo community in Ogoni, Rivers State was recently reminded of their past when Amnesty International visited the community over Shell oil spillage, the helpless community welcomed the visitors with tears, our reporter Precious Dikewoha was there.
The recent visit by Amnesty International to Bodo community in Ogoni, Rivers State was not only to pledge their commitment to campaign against Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) over the devastated oil spillage in the area, but to refresh their minds on the unforgettable tragedy that took place five years ago and to reawaken their consciousness that the struggle for the oil reach environment continues.
However the visit reminded the community of how important was their environment before the spillage, some of them especially women, who could not hold back their emotions wept openly amid a crowd gathered at the Market square to welcome the Amnesty International.
Meanwhile, before the arrival of the representative of Amnesty International to Bodo Market square, elders of the community had conducted Mr. Salil Shetty, Secretary –General Amnesty International to see the affected oil spillage sites which include Sivibilagbara River and Tene-ol water side. At the sites, some fishermen who lost their fishing business to the spillage spoke on their experiences and expectations but one thing common among them was consistent abuses by Shell.
Emmanuel Kuru, ex- fisherman said he has been running away to visit the site since the incident occurred in 2008 because he didn’t want the site to remind him of his past, “I don’t want to die on time that is why I have been avoiding to visit this Sivibilagbara River where my boats and fish ponds were destroyed by Shell facility leakages which resulted in oil spillage. He recalled “I collapsed and became frustrated the day I heard that crude oil has polluted the water and killed all the fishes in the River. This unexpected situation forced me out of business with nothing to fall back on since 2008 when the first oil spillage occurred with another spillage which took place in December 2009 and destroyed my family means of livelihood.”
“My family has been eating from hand to mouth and the worst of it is that Shell has been singing on various electronic and print media houses in Nigeria, saying they have done clean-up in Bodo community. But I want to tell you now that Shell has not visited Bodo community since the spillage occurred and have not in any way paid compensation to anybody. My children are out of school because I could not afford to mobilize money to pay their school fees. When I was fishing in this River, ask anybody here, they would tell you I was somebody you can call a man. I mean someone you could be proud of, but today look at me, living under the shame of abject poverty”, he lamented.
Kuru angrily declared that if it was in his power to send foreigners away from Nigeria, the name Shell would have become history. “I hate Shell with passion, they are very lucky that life has placed me where I cannot have the power or authority to send them parking, if not; their activities in Nigeria would have become a thing of the past. In fact, each time I hear the word Shell or I am passing and I hear people discussing about Shell, that day I will be unhappy, if I tune on my radio and a newscaster or presenter mentions the word ‘Shell’, I will immediately change to the next station because I don’t want to hear anything about them.”
Another fisherman, Lekova Kpande, who also is a pastor, testified before Amnesty International, saying that the money realized from his fish rearing business was used to assist his ministry and the helpless members of the church. He however, regretted that since the oil spillage occurred in his community, his ministry has been struggling to stand with his family members surviving by the grace of God. “When you look at the faces of the people of Bodo community you will know that the people are living with abject poverty, the youths are working in shadow, no job or other means of livelihood. It is only the wealthy families that can afford to send their children to good schools and eat good food. In fact, we are nothing but slaves. When the incident took place, those of us who were fishermen thought we will be compensated, at least, to start another business but surprisingly Shell, even the state and Federal Government did not show any concern about the plight of those who lost their fishing ponds and boats to spillage, God will never be happy with Shell.”
A 70 –year- old woman, Madam Grace Kpobari, told Amnesty International that Shell killed her husband who was a great fisher man. “My husband died after he had the news that all his fish ponds were submerged by flood of crude oil and when he visited the River and discovered that crude oil had taken over the position of water he gave up the ghost. Since then, I have been shouldering the responsibility of taking care of my children, I have not received any compensation from anybody and it is inhuman treatment to our people.”
Briefing the Amnesty International at Sivibilagbara River and Tene-ol water side, the immediate past chairman of Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders, Chief Mene Leema, told Amnesty International that Bodo community is one of the communities with rich deposit of oil and mineral resources.“ What the fishermen told you are real truths of our present life reality. Bodo community has an abundant natural mangrove forest comparable to vegetations anywhere in the world. But since 2008, after the inhuman oil spillage in the area caused by the activities of SPDC, life has become a mirage and the people of the community were abandoned with their faith which has forced both men and women in the community including the youths to become idle and hopeless in their own land.”
After those brief comments at the water side, Amnesty International with members of the community and the representative of Centre for Environment, Human Right and Development (CEHRD), hurriedly drove back to the community Market square where members of the community and Bodo council of Chiefs and Elders were anxiously waiting for them.
Delivering the address at the Market square on behalf of the community, the chairman Bodo Council of Chief and Elders, Chief Mene Kogbara thanked Amnesty International for making time to visit Bodo community and also inform them that the people of Bodo community are economically frustrated.
Chief Kogbara said: “With a deep sense of humility and responsibility, I convey the warmest appreciation and profound gratitude of Bodo people to Amnesty International who is the only solace that this community has got in the face of an obliterating disaster which has ruined our survival and existence and rendered extinct the consummate ecological heritage of the Bodo people. Our God given aquatic zone became creek of oil, our farm lands were submerged by flood not of water but of crude oil, which had its destined home either in the crust of the earth or in the Shell –galvanized pipe lines. May I inform you that it has today assumed the height of a legal Everest, for the Bodo people to prove the onus that a mangrove and aquatic range of such unimaginable dimension that constituted the uterus of the infinite content of the gulf of Guinea.” “The reason why the heart of Bodo people yearn in embracing you is that in April 2010 you dispatched a team of your apostles to Bodo after the flood, they swan in the oil, bathed in the crude and exhumed relics of the hitherto Bodo wealth and heritage. Their valour, strength and courage are recorded for posterity: “The true tragedy” if what is written remains, then the content of the report which you published on November 10th 2011 shall forever cast a spell on Shell for the evil and calamities that they have wrought on the Bodo people. We thank you because Amnesty International has fixed the authentic image in the true tragedy –the crime of Shell in Bodo, as a permanent image on the careens in every home in Europe, West and the wider world. In term of publicity and propaganda Bodo has taken the world by storm flying on the benevolent wings of Amnesty International.”
Chief Kogbara however added: “Five years after this level of tragedy in Bodo, it has not constituted a discussion at any level of government to consider us as those deserving any form of humanitarian assistance. Yet we face accelerated death rates, explosion in very unusual forms thus the second phase of the tragedy, is the length of time and the condition in which the Bodo people have been abandoned.”
After listening to the speech presented by the community through their chairman, Shetty said the plight of Bodo people is clear and quite understandable and promised to carry out strong campaign against Shell.
Shetty said: We have come to see the problem between you and Shell and with what we saw, to be frank, we are not happy that the people of this community have been helplessly abandoned after the Shell spillage that did not only pollute the environment but brought poverty to the land. We are going to carry out more campaign against Shell and before the community; we are standing here to inform Shell that we are watching.”