Sarah Ganagana is a farmer in Kegbara Dere, a rural community in Gokana Local Government Area in Ogoni, Rivers State. Sarah has been farming for over 30 years in the village. Her major crops are cassava and okro, from which she cares for her five children who are wholly dependent on her for their survival and education.
Sarah shared her pains with our reporter who toured Ogoniland for a week on a fact finding mission to the devastated zone in the Niger Delta. Ogoniland has been in the news for years not necessarily for good and development but for hunger, pain, violence and environmental degradation. Ogoni was one of the major oil producing area in the region but the activities of oil firms which have exploited the region have left the area reeling in pains with their primary means of livelihood destroyed.
Sarah told our reporter that for over 30 years she been farming, producing cassava and okro to fend for her family. She has five children but following the destruction of the environment by oil, her crops are no longer doing well. Life has become difficult, especially feeding her children and funding their education.
Hear her, “it has been difficult to feed since the crops are not doing well because of oil. My children are small. We are not happy because the oil has destroyed our crops. We are expecting compensation from oil firms”. She pointed to a red heap of sand a few metres away from her farm as a device by the oil firms to ward off the continuous encroachment of oil into the area.
The community leader, Morgan Norteh, who is very familiar with the environment and guided our reporter round the area, said the crops cannot grow well because there is crude oil underneath the crops. He said after growing for a while, the crops will suffocate and die because the impact of the crude underneath it will overpower it and reduce its lifespan, causing it to dry off before it gets to maturity.
“We don’t know what to do’, he lamented. The oil firms are capitalizing on our impoverished nature to exploit our environment. The process of taking the firms to court is very cumbersome. I will love a situation where a local farmer can take shell to customary court to demand for compensation for the destruction done to us”.
At the end of the chat with Mrs. Ganagana, she looked gleefully at our reporter, expecting to receive some good things of life from him. This was interpreted by the community leader as she was not too fluent in the communication process. Her action is actually not unconnected with the hunger in the land.
Even market women are not left out in the down turn occasioned by the effect of the oil pollution in the area. Lizzy Friday, a seller of food items in the same community, has similar bitter tales to tell. For the past two years, Mrs. Friday has been on the business of selling food items having abandoned her former trade but all to no avail.
“I sell articles, rice, beans, oil, magi and salt plus onions. I have been selling these things for more than two years. I was selling stock fish before I started this business. I was making money before but now there is no market again. People are no more coming to buy things and as such the market is going down and down every day. People are saying there is no money to buy things again. Survival now has become a problem”, Mrs. Friday explained.
She said all the community people have abandoned trading for farming, even in the midst of the devastated environment. Since there is no money to trade, the villagers are now battling to survive on farming. Looking around, the market has few traders who are still struggling to keep the market going.
There are stores but no women to sell in them. To them, there is no money in business, even the farm they’ve resorted to, the land is bad. “As for me, when I sell a little I will leave and spend the remaining part of the day in the farm. I’m married with three children. They are going to school but we are suffering, sometimes I beg to send them to school”, she said with a sigh of grief.
The market was built by one community leader many years ago. It was learnt that there was a company that wanted to work in the community. But the community leader told them to either build the market or pack out of the community. However, the company agreed to build some structures while the community built the rest. “It was built on community efforts. We all contributed and forced everybody to work. Every break layer and carpenter in the village were compelled to work here. That was how we were able to build the market”, Mr. Norteh, the community leader, explained.
In a similar vein, farmers in Gio, an agrarian community in Tai local government area are not happy. The biggest challenge in the community is that of water. The impact of oil is felt in the entire Gio community. “There is nothing working here, there is no drinking water, all fishes in our water have died. Nothing is functioning. This oil has spoilt our farm land”, a community member noted.
Somehow, the oil spill seems to be on a continuous process. On October 2, 2016, an oil spill woke the people from the night sleep, sending shiver down the spine of the villagers. The community member said “we woke up to see heavy smoke and getting to the site we saw oil and fire running on the ground. The spill damaged our fish ponds and farmlands. Our crops were all destroyed, economic trees also destroyed.
“We don’t have water. We drink from one dirty stream that flows through the bush path. The water has nothing to write home about, you saw the children inside the water when we were coming. All the water you saw, there is oil inside it. Any time we go to the army, they will tell us it is sabotage but we don’t know what is sabotage. But the base of the JTF is not far from where this explosion took place.
“We only have electric poles but there is no light in them. The pole has been standing for about 10 years, but one of our major challenge is that there is no representative in government that can speak on our behalf. The government has neglected the Gio people because we don’t have any representative in government.
“ We are not happy that is why we are here to tell you the situation we find ourselves. The thing that shell did for others they didn’t do for Gio people. You can see the cassava stems destroyed. They always tell us it is sabotage but we don’t know the meaning of sabotage.
“You see the security post is very close to this place, if they have the JTF just less than 10 minutes walk from here and pipeline could be blown up here and no arrest, then you can understand the matter for yourself. That means they are collaborating and when that happens they will tell us it is sabotage”.