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The Devastating Effects of Oil Spillage And Gas Flaring on Families in The Niger Delta
Environmental Pollution -Oil Spillage and Gas Flaring
One of the militant camps was about four hours from Yenagoa waterside by speedboat. The trip was made in a chattered speedboat. On the way, they passed three speedboats filled with soldiers, who were apparently on patrol in the creek but they did not interrupt their journey. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter, Paul Douglas was traveling to the militants’ camp to interview the leader of Niger Delta Emancipation Force. This was the first foreign reporter Jasper accepted to grant an interview.
As soon as he entered the speedboat in Yenagoa, it was obvious to him, that he was embarking on a journey of no retreat until the meeting with the leader of Niger Delta Emancipation Force would have been over. Below them the outboard engine churned the water to foam with the whispering sound of continuously breaking waves. The same foreboding that eclipsed him, when he visited the Islamists’ camp in Afghanistan, two years ago, enveloped him all over. But then, there was nothing he could do, as he was face-to-face with militants who could do anything to him at the slightest provocation.
He was sent by BBC to cover the Niger Delta insurgency. He’d covered wars, revolutions, riots in some other countries. These assignments almost cost his life. He’d been wounded twice as a result of his devotion to his career. He covered Iraq occupation of Kuwait, Afghanistan, Darfur and Middle East.
There were some little fishing boats tied up by the jetties along the river. Midway to their destination, rain began to fall. Deafening thunder, blinding lightning, and howling winds caused Paul to be anxious. Driving rain made vision poor, and everyone on the boat was soaked to the bone and terrified that the boat could crash into another boat.
However, the linkmen kept assuring him there was no cause for alarm. Between the crashing thunder, the pelting rain, and the roar of the outboard engine, it was a wonder Paul Douglas could hear his linkmen at all. Sometimes he plugged one ear with his finger, straining to hear every word.
He was served bread and corn beef when he was hungry. As they passed the various oil communities on their route to the camp, the scars of attacks on oil installations in the creeks were still visible with virtually all the locations abandoned by the workers. The Brass-Bonny pipeline remained shut down. The militants showed him some of the flow stations that were recently shattered by them.
Getting near to the camp, some members of Niger Delta Emancipation Force were stationed in a speedboat, ostensibly waiting to collect toll from seamen. They actually beckoned on their team but one of the militants in their team muttered the password.
Not too long after, they again ran into another checkpoint by the militants, mounted by a patrol team of the Niger Delta Emancipation Force. The militants paid obeisance to them before they snaked through tapered water to the camp.
Those manning the camp had taken positions at strategic locations with rocket-propelled grenades, general purpose machine guns and other weapons to fire if the intruders were from the enemy camp. They soon realized it was their colleagues in the speedboat and lowered their weapons. He breathed a sigh of relief but all eyes were upon him.
The militants all seemed to be committed to the cause they were fighting for. They went about their assignments in the camp with discernible discipline; they appeared to be ready for confrontation at any time with the way they took position whenever any boat approached the camp.
The outboard engine driver cut the power and another militant grabbed the mooring rope, which he tied off quickly. He felt their eyes burrowing through his skin but he managed to keep a calm composure, as he jumped down from the speedboat. He waded through shallow water to the shore.
Without doubt, it would be extremely difficult for the Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta to access the camp because of the terrain. Only somebody who knew the swampy terrain could take you there or you could be killed before you knew it. Nevertheless, the natives freely passed the camp as they went about their fishing business but nobody came into the camp without authorization.
No doubt, Jasper was expecting the reporter but some clearance still had to be done. He was not allowed inside, until he performed the ritual of allowing himself to be sprinkled with a fetish concoction from a pot in front of the camp. Every visitor to the camp participated in the ritual, which he was told was for cleansing. He was ordered to wait in the security post outside but Hatchet, who served as the linkman refused, saying that he should go with them.
Paul Douglas was taken to a waiting room in the camp while consultation was being made with Jasper, the leader of the Niger Delta Emancipation Forces. Meanwhile, some of the militants started gathering around where he was sitting. As they all spoke in Ijaw language; he thought they were planning how to add him to the hostage list. He was deep in thought when Hatchet drew his attention to the fact that the leader was ready and wanted to meet with him.
He stood and was taken to meet Jasper. The BBC reporter listened to Jasper talk. When it came to resource control of Niger Delta, Jasper had plenty to say. Paul Douglas was decked out in small jacket of khaki color that appeared to be made up almost entirely of pockets.
The first thing he told Jasper was that he was expecting to see a much older person as the leader of Niger Delta Emancipation Force.
Jasper laughed. “Well, you have seen me, I am the leader here,” he said lightly. “Welcome to my operational base.”
“Thank you very much for allowing me to visit and discuss with you.”
“I hope my boys I sent to pick you up from Port Harcourt were polite?” Jasper asked.
“Everything went well. I have no cause to complain.”
They tried to make him go through some more ritual to ensure he would not squeal the beans on them when he left the camp. “To ensure that you will not betray us to security agents, you’ll have to swear,” Jasper said. “Are you ready?”
“I’ll not swear, my word is my bond as a Christian. The Almighty God, who is our creator, does not permit us to swear by anything. You should just accept my word as my bond. I’ll never betray you.”
It took a lot of talking to win the confidence of the Jasper and once that was done, he sat back to start the interview.
“Yes? What do you want to discuss with me?”
“My organization is interested in what is going on in the Niger Delta.”
The surf was pounding just yards away behind Jasper’s base. “That’s interesting. What exactly do you want to know?”
“In Niger Delta, blood and death bloom like fetid mushroom. You’re playing a high-risk game. Do you think that you can use violence to achieve your goals?”
“We’ll do everything necessary to redeem our enslavement and restore our human rights. Niger Delta is being exploited for the benefit of other parts of the country and foreign oil companies that is why I have ordered all oil companies and Nigerians whose root is elsewhere to leave this region with immediate effect.”
“You should not abuse other people’s rights in order to pursue your own.”
“The people of Niger Delta have endured decades of depravations. It is monstrous injustice which has been visited upon us by the government and the oil companies. We have been making the point within the ambits of civilized agitation that this is a sore point which portrays Nigeria as a country that steals from its own people with the aid of unjust laws. It is sad that international community, literary gurus, and economists have not lent their voices to the fight by the people of Niger Delta for their rights hence we opted for a violent approach.”
Jasper tried to like the man who at least came to understand the cause of militancy in the Niger Delta. Mainly, the grouse of the militants was that the Orient Petroleum Development Company and other oil companies, operating in the area, had neglected the people of the community in terms of employment and provision of social amenities like water, electricity and hospitals. They also thought that the plausible way to draw the company and government’s attention to their troubles was to kidnap foreign oil workers.
“There are many unknowns in battle. So many imponderables. On the field of battle there are no certainties. You’re not a soldier. How do you think you will withstand trained security officers in the field of battle? These men are highly trained, and very dangerous.”
Jasper waved dismissively. “We’ll fight against the soldiers with all our might. This is not only about us but for generations yet unborn. This is a life-and-death situation. Life is not so idiotically mathematical that only the big eat the small; it is just as common for a bee to kill a lion or at least drive it mad. We’ll attack pipelines, loading points, export tankers, tank farms, refined petroleum depots, landing strips and residences of employees of the oil companies. Oil exploration and production activities in this region have led to the degradation of the environment without any reasonable benefit to our people. Specifically our creeks and rivers have been polluted and aquatic lives destroyed, leaving us a legacy of abject poverty. And this must stop.”
Paul Douglas slid Jasper an enigmatic glance. “But the oil companies have been building some infrastructure here. And the Niger Delta Development Commission has been contributing in the development of the region, too.”
Jasper’s eyes zeroed in on Paul. “What do they do?” Jasper snarled, and then regained his temper. “An unfinished hospital building here, fish landing jetty still under construction there, a fish processing factory that never went into operation, an artesian well dug to supply clean water abandoned, full up with contaminated water.”
Seeing his sudden flash of temper, Paul chuckled. “I should have known what your reaction would be. You have always wanted more for your people being their fiercest defender.”
The roof shuddered under the force of powerful wind. There was crash and clatter of debris being blown around outside.
“In recent months, you have been taking many foreign oil workers hostage in a series of raids. Most people see you as a bunch of crazy kidnapper, murderer, and a thug.”
“The old adage states that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Mandela once said that, ‘When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.’ That is my case and others like me.”
“And Leonard Woolf equally said that, ‘Anyone can be a barbarian, it requires a terrible effort to remain a civilized man.’ Kidnapping of foreigners is a big dent on the image of the Niger Delta and Nigeria as a whole. It is unfortunate and very embarrassing. The violence in this region is affecting living standards of your people who you claim to fight for.”
“These are unfortunate things we need to do to be heard. My people will be better for it later. It has not struck the government yet that it has been killing hundreds of young men; their lives cut short for asking to have a piece of national cake baked with the oil from their land. Anchee Min said that, ‘If you can’t go back to your mother’s womb, you’d better learn to be a good fighter.’ We are freedom fighters in order to survive.”
“But Mortimer Jerome Adler equally said, ‘True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.’” While Jasper tried to figure out if that was a compliment or an insult, Paul pushed on. “What do you think?”
“Martin Luther King Jnr. also said that: ‘There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.’ So we are doing what we are doing because we believe we are right.”
There were sounds of machine guns. “What is that?” Paul Douglas asked.
“My boys are undergoing training. After the training, they will come out hardened and tough. To us, the sound of guns is like music. There is nothing desperation cannot cause.”
But he hadn’t been trying to sound important. He’d been chatting easily, conversationally, about a cause he believed in so much.
“Thanks for granting me this interview. I will be leaving now.”
“My boys who brought you are waiting at the beach. I wish you safe journey back.”
Paul heaved a sigh of relief at about five o’clock in the evening when his request to leave the camp after conducting the interview that brought him there was granted. However, a new vista on the predicament of the natives dawned on him on their way back to Port Harcourt –just how local the Niger Delta region was.
He was forced to reflect more introspectively when he saw parents and children in the mud-covered communities discussing in groups and waving at them, as they sped pass them, while smoke ascended into the atmosphere from the fire with which they were preparing their evening meals. He wept inside, as he thought about running to Port Harcourt where there was electricity, while Nigerians in the Niger Delta creeks would soon be enveloped by darkness in the thick swampy terrain.
While some people are in the cities were playing music, watching television and attending parties, the people in the creeks do not have such luxuries. He looked at their ramshackle homes, which people in other parts of the country would not use to house their domestic animals and he trembled at the level of denial and deprivation.
There was no doubt that Niger Delta natives were suffering in the creeks. There, thousands of youths were without jobs and that was why Jasper and other militant leaders found it easy to enroll them as guerrilla fighters. There was no hospital. The seriously sick ones among them have to be taken on a not less than three-hour trip to Port Harcourt before they could get medical care and some of them had died during the trips. There were no good schools for their children to attend in the creek. The enlightened youths among them were those that had the wherewithal to find their way to Yenagoa or Port Harcourt.