Editor's Note:Many communities in Niger Delta are on the brink of collapse because of neglect by government and multinational oil companies. Austin Oyibode recently travelled to some of the abandoned communities where he reported tales of neglect in Niger Delta heartland
This community in Ogoni land is in dire need of government attention. Very few people live in it with their principal occupation being fishing and floating wood for domestic uses.
The community is in the outskirt of B. Dere, an enclave of people who had made great breakthrough from fishing prior to the oil pollution of the waters in Gokhana Local Government Area, Ogoniland in Rivers State.
But with the pollution of the waters and the eventual death of the fishes, the people are left groaning in pains with no available means of livelihood.
The most beautiful building in the fishing settlement is made of mud and bamboo joined to serve as shelter against rainfall and the unfriendly sunshine. All the houses in community are built with mud and the faces of the people symbolize pain and hunger boldly inscribed on their faces. The people are very few with majorly men and an infinitesimal number of women and children.
As soon as our reporter with an officer of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), arrived the settlement, the community immediately caught our attention due to the nature of the settlement, looking so tiny, the muddy nature of all the buildings and the few people in it, majorly men and their occupation being 90 percent fishing with their nets and boats.
Life in the community seems actually simple. Palm and coconut trees are planted around which prevent the settlement from the scorching sunshine. Most of the mud buildings are in dilapidated state, some of which are already caving in but the people feel secured under the roofs with bamboos, thatched roofs, abandoned nylon bags to hide their nakedness. These people do not think of robbers and thieves who could invade them at anytime of the day or night. There is apparently no security in the settlement.
There are a number of reasons why the people here do not live with fear of robbery. They live very simple lives with nothing available for a thief, except the one who wants to steal the broken plate, faded fishing net and boats or their little meal made of vegetables and few tilapia fish caught from the oil polluted water.
Against the expensive life people live in cities, these people do not need to spend money on anything, the materials for building their houses are within their immediate reach, they eat simple food unlike city dwellers who go for refined foods and foods soaked with chemicals. The community has neither school nor a primary health centre for their health needs.
The vegetation is serene and their life is simple. They have water from the supposed streams but the challenge is that the water has been polluted by oil. But they have no option, they must bath with the water, do their domestic work with the water and drink the same polluted water. This is why the Chairman of Ogoni Traditional Rulers Council, HRM Timothy Suan Bari Dam, said the people in Ogoni are daily dying of cancer as a result of benzene, a dangerous chemical in the area.
They bath and wash themselves directly into the water that flows actually to nowhere. Some of the people were seen bathing inside the water when our reporter visited the settlement. It was an eyesore that the community people were bathing in oil polluted water but such remains the fate of an abandoned people in the midst of plenty.
These are communities, according to Morgan Norteh, the B.Dere community leader, that fed the nation in the 1970s prior to the devastation of the Ogoni environment. Looking through the water, yes, one will see the oil having effect on it, their fishing nets are all covered with oil, even their bodies show the impact of the oil. But they appear hopeless waiting for a government that seems to have neglected their existence and abandoned them to their fate.
A resident of the area, who the community people delegated to speak to our reporter, Donu Bari Isigide, said life is difficult for them in the settlement. Though not too fluent in the command of the english, Izigide expressed displeasure over government abandonment of the area. He was literally full of grief and pain as he explained the myriads of challenges bedeviling the poor and forgotten community in the rural Niger Delta.
“I’m a fisherman’, he said, ‘but oil has spoiled everything for us. Oil has spoilt our nets and our canoe”. Pointing at their nets and the oil filled water, he said “see our nets here, oil has spoilt them. The whole of this water you are seeing now is full of oil, we can’t do anything in the midst of the oil. We can’t go a fishing again”.
He said following the oil pollution of the water, there is no fish in the water again, adding that “they have all run away while others have died. We were picking periwinkles from the water before but now they are no more there. There is oil everywhere; in fact we don’t know what to do again”.
He told our reporter that “I have done this fishing for many years. Before the oil spoilt the water, I was making about N50,000 everyday from fishing alone. Before now, there was fish everywhere, we see them jumping up out of the water and we get plenty of them with our net. That was a big job for us in those days. With my net that I throw into the water I catch a lot of fish and make a lot of money”.
He explained that restaurant operators and other people from nearby communities patronized the fish they harvest from the water. But with a mournful face, he said “now there is no fish again, oil has destroyed all of them and others have disappeared into the high seas. For now we are all hungry in this village, we have no food to eat again. It’s God that is taking care of us”.
Mr. Bariton Bariman, another fisherman in the village, also gave lurid details of the travails of the community people. But rather than continuing with the fishing thrill which has lost its fervor, Bariton now resorts to floating wood from neighbouring communities through the water. For him, he lives on the meager earning from the wood business which he said restaurant operators and other community members buy at affordable prices for him to keep his family together.