By Patrick Aigbokhan
The Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) has called for immediate legal action against ENI and it’s subsidiary, Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), over damages done to Ikebiri community in Bayelsa State when an oil pipeline operated by NAOC burst about 250 metres from a creek north of the community in 2010.
The oil spill from the incident, which occurred on April 5 of the said year was said to have caused irreparable damage to the creek, destroyed aquatic life, dug out fishing ponds and ruined their farmlands, crops and other livelihood sources in the affected fishing community.
NAOC operates seven wells and eight pipelines with several flow lines in the area of Ikebiri.
Speaking at a briefing held Tuesday at the Excellence Hotel, Ogba in Lagos State, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, Executive Director, ERA/FoEN said that, after the incident, it took six days for NAOC to agree to a joint inspection visit where it was concluded that “equipment failure” caused the spill.
Speaking further, Dr. Ojo explained that after the visit, the leak was closed but the surrounding polluted area of bush was set ablaze in a state of the art clean up technology often deployed by AGIP and without the consent of the local community, noting that, “no other clean-up has taken place since then.”
The Executive Director said, “It is frustrating to learn that AGIP accepts responsibility for the Spill but without liability to clean up and pay adequate compensation. The tactics of underestimating spills to reduce damage has been challenged by this historic court case. Though NAOC claimed the polluted area is 9 hectares and an estimated 50 barrels of oil leaked, we know from chemical analysis that the polluted area is much wider. It is at least 17.6 hectares wide, while evidence of pollution has also been found by soil sample analysis 2km downstream from the spill site.
“The monumental hurdles and the challenges of access to justice on the way of community people includes lack of access to information, high costs of legal cases, sleeping on your rights which limits period of initiating a case, and the cumbersome nature of oil spill cases against transnational companies that could take a lifetime. These impediments on the way of local people to seek access to environmental justice persists hence this court case to serve as deterrent.
“In the Niger Delta, there are potentially over 1000 cases against oil companies arising from negligence and nuisance from their oil operations. In the case of Ikebiri, AGIP/ENI is considering as cleaned up a land that is still heavily polluted, and offering a paltry sum as compensation to externalise productions costs. The community has lived with this heart retching situation ever since.
“Their plight is now the same with other communities of the Niger Delta that live with the impacts of continuous oil spills on their environment, health and livelihoods.
As mentioned last week when the case was instituted, the spill could have been managed and stopped from spreading to a huge expanse of the Ikebiri swampland but the nonchalant attitude of the ENI/NAOC created the current mess.”
Ojo however indicated the joint support of ERA/FoEN and Friends of the Earth Europe for the community of Ikebiri in their court case against ENI, in their struggle for justice.
The court case against AGIP/ENI was filed in Milan, Italy, on May 4, with the plaintiffs seeking the clean-up of their community and compensation for the pollution that ENI caused
In the court case, the King of Ikebiri is the plaintiff, and the lawyers representing them are Luca Saltalamacchia with Chima Williams of ERA/FoE Nigeria.
Similarly, some other communities have recently suffered untold hardship from the impunity by Agip/ENI and are yet to be left off the hook.
For instance, there is the case of the Azuzuama incident that occurred on Thursday July 9, 2015.
Ojo stated that on this incident, ERA/FoEN’s Field Monitors recorded that 14 persons were burnt beyond recognition along NAOC’s Tebidabe-Clough Creek pipeline at a damaged section during a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV).
He lamented that AGIP/ENI had no fire emergency plan or service on site and was conducting pipeline repairs during a JIV contrary to the provisions of the law.
“It has failed to pay adequate compensation and carry out remediation of the expanse vegetation that was burnt,” he said.
The people of Etieama community in Nembe Local Government Area and Ayamabele/Kalaba community environment, in Okordia clan, Yenagoa LGA, both in Bayelsa are also said to be at the receiving end of Agip activities.
As ERA/FoEN demands final justice for the affected community, it demands that the court case requires the following;
1. Compel ENI and its Nigerian subsidiary to clean up the spill in the community and compensation of Euros 2 million to the Ikebiri community.
2. Stop oil companies from acting with impunity in the Niger Delta, neglecting the communities severely impacted by their operations and getting away with this due to their above the law status
3. Put in place adequate enforcement mechanisms through agencies like National Oil Spills Detection and Remediation Agency (NOSDRA).
4. Provide discretional deterrent including punitive award against Agip/ENI in like sum of Euros 2 million to the Ikebiri people.
“This is an unprecedented case in Italy, and its success has been a product of 4 years of painstaking research and documentation and the patience of the Ikebiri people suffering this ordeal this past seven years. We hope that this case will be successful being the first instance of an Italian company having to face justice in Italy for its actions in destroying the environment overseas.
“It will help end the impunity and offer hope to other communities that have suffered damages as a result of pollution from oil wells or pipelines operated by Agip/ENI or any other multinational firm operating in the Niger Delta and elsewhere.
“We reiterate our belief that though Agip/ENI and its subsidiary have long evaded justice, now its finally time for justice to be served,” Dr. Ojo siad.