An Environmentalist, Dr Nnimmo Bassey on Friday urged oil firms operating in the Niger Delta to clean up polluted onshore sites before divesting and moving their activities to offshore oilfields.
Bassey spoke at an oilfield dialogue with the theme, Building Community Resilience against Fossils Extraction organised Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) for oil communities in Bayelsa.
He lamented the plight of the hitherto clean and natural environment in the Niger Delta region before the discovery of oil some 60 years ago without remediation and noted that the gradual shift by oil firms to offshore posed greater danger to the fishing vocation of Niger Delta people.
Bassey who holds a national honours of Member of the Order of Federal Republic for Environmental Activism noted that the rich biodiversity of Niger Delta with freshwater and marine ecosystems like rivers, lakes, streams and creeks.
He observed that whereas more than 6 million people who are engaged in fishing have their jobs threatened by the oil industry which emplys only few thousands on Nigerians adding that it was in national interest to protect the artisanal fishing industry.
He however regretted that the fresh water bodies which supported the fishing occupation of the region has been lost to decades of oil pollution and urged the people to say, “No to a Niger Delta without fish”.
He said that it was worrisome that Shell that discovered oil in commercial quantities in the 1950s in Bayelsa recently announced further plans to divest from its onshore assets and moved its operations offshore.
“The head of Shell oil company was recently quoted as saying that the Niger Delta no longer suits their business model. On this account, he said they were moving from onshore to the deep waters offshore.
“They are going offshore in order to avoid responsibility for their continued environmental misbehaviour in our communities. They are heading offshore after committing ecocide onshore.
“They are shifting offshore after sucking the land dry and trashing whatever they came across. Above all, the hopes of our fishers remain in the fish that pollution has driven offshore and now the polluters are threatening to take their business there.
“If transnational oil companies replicate their prodigious pollution offshore, the fishers, the peoples and communities of the Niger Delta will be totally stranded on both land and sea.
“That is the definition of disaster. Besides shifting pollution offshore, our fishers will face the hazards of security forces cordoning off oil installations and at the same time be confronted by the largely unchecked activities of sea pirates,” Bassey said.
In her contribution to the dialogue held at the banks of the Taylor creek in Agbia area of Yenagoa, Mrs Alas Talani who is in her 70s noted that she started fishing at the Taylor creeks as a young girl before she married a fisherman and they had bountiful catches.
“Looking back to my younger years before the oil pipelines were laid, it was very rewarding because all you need to is throw your net and tie it across and in a few hours you have a full net but when they crossed the pipes and oil began to pour into the waters, the catch has dwindled.
“And when the oil companies even pay compensation for oil spills, the people they send to pay the money divert it and the money never gets to the impacted fishermen. As the oil leaks continued the fishing here at Taylor Creeks produced very little catch so we moved to the sea.
“I trained all my children from the proceeds of fishing those good old days but these days that nets remain for days with little or no catch,” Talani said.
Also Chief Washington Odoyibo, a community leader and fisherman who operates at Ikarama axis of the Taylor creek in Yenagoa condemned the unsustainable environmental practices of International Oil firms operating in the area.
He said that frequent oil spills had rendered the predominantly fishing people of the area unproductive adding that the pollutions from oil exploration and production did not spare their farmlands.
In her contribution, Chief Ayibakoro Warder, a woman leader at Biseni in Bayelsa applauded HOMEF for the dialogue and training of oil community people on monitoring their environment.
“We are grateful for this capacity building gesture from a non government organisation like HOMEF, we did not have the knowledge of how to deal with these environmental challenges that has been with us for years.
“We welcome the idea of advocating for clean up of polluted sites on land and stiffer penalties to conserve the environment we all depend on for sustenance,” Warder said.