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Oil Spills: Bodo Communities Insist On Clean-up By Shell

The row between Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and Bodo communities in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State is yet to subside, a week after the oil giant agreed to pay them £55 million (about $83.6 million) compensation to them.

The communities, which include Romu, Gbe, K&B, Dere and Kpor Gol, want immediate clean-up of their land, and rivers ravaged by two oil spill in 2008 as part of the compensation.

They said they were still licking their wounds, despite the huge compansation.

The row will linger because of the disagreement over the volume of oil spilled. While Shell claimed only 1,640 barrels of oil was spilled over the Bodo communities, Amnesty International said over 100,000 barrels of oil was spilled. This resulted in the long litigation, which delayed the clean up of the affected community, because of their inability to reach a compromise.

Bodo’s Chairman, Council of Chiefs, Mene Slyvester Kogbara, said money cannot adequately compensate for the loss incurred. He said his people incurred pyschological, mental, and financial losses, adding that the trauma will take time to heal.

According to him, the memories of those who lost their lives to hydrocarbon emission, hunger, malnutrition and other problems caused by the spills remain alive, arguing that only a proper clean up would remove the pains.

He said: “Bodo people eat, drink and sleep on hydrocarbon. On the average, eight people die every six weeks from unknown ailmentss since there is no functional hospital to detect their illnesses. This is the big trauma people have been struggling to overcome. To reduce mortality rate, we are asking Shell to urgently clean up our rivers and land. Besides, productivity would be enhanced because people would go back to farming and fishing- their two major occupations

”Traditionally, Bodo people are farmers and fishermen. Part of the agreement, which Bodo communities reached with Shell, was the payment of £55million compensation, and cleaning of its land. Though Bodo is happy with the £55million compensation, which is divided into two – £35million for individuals who have agreed to be compensated for their losses and £20million for the community. The issue of cleaning the environment is more important to us. Without doubt, we are excited by the planned financial reward, but that cannot compensate for the loss of lives and our sources of livelihood which went with spills.”

He said Bodo community is inhabited by over 15,000 people, adding that they can only start a new life after their lands and rivers have been cleaned.

Also, a Director of Programmes, Centre for Envrionment, Human Rights and Deveopment, Steven Obodoekwe, said the communities depend on natural habitats, such as land and rivers for survival.

Obodoekwe said the meeting was crucial because oil spills were threatening the existence of the community, and needed to be resolved.

He said: ”Our organisation , which is based in Port Harcourt, was involved in the legal process that led to the compensation of Bodo people, and wants to see that all the agreements between Shell and the communities are abide with.”

The Environmental Adviser to an international organisation, the Nigeria-Canada Business Association, Ako Amadi, said the effects of oil pollution would remain for as long as Shell delayed the cleaning. He said the issue of reclaiming or recovering an environment is in various stages, stressing that it takes a longer period to recover an area that is polluted by oil.

Amadi said: “The environment can be cleaned, but not recovered. Shell may clean up the community, but may not recover it. The two are not the same. After cleaning an environment, there is the need to restore it. Restoration takes place when plants and animals are re-introduced in an area to encourage the growth of the ecosystem. That is why I said it would take sometime before the land and rivers in Bodo are recovered.”

Outgoing SPDC’s Managing Director, Mutiu Sunmonu said the company understands the plight of the people, noting that it will not spare efforts in the cleaning. He said the development would help in re-uniting the people with the natural habitat.

He said Shell has pledged to be fair with the Bodo community, and would stick to its promise.

He said: ”From the outset, we have accepted responsibility for the two deeply regrettable operational spills in Bodo. We have always wanted to compensate the community fairly and we are pleased to have reached an agreement. We are fully committed to the clean-up process being overseen by a former Netherlands’Ambassador to Nigeria. Despite the delays caused by division within the community, we are pleased that clean-up will soon begin now that a plan has been agreed with the community”

He, however, warned: “Unless real action is taken to end the scourge of oil theft and illegal refining, which remains the main cause of enironmental pollution and is the real tragedy of the Niger Delta, areas that are cleaned-up will simply become re-impacted through illegal activities.”

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report had directed Shell to address the problems in the oil polluted areas in Ogoniland.

The Federal Government’s Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project(HYPREP) was set up in July 2012 to implement UNEP’s recommendation.

This, Sunmonu said, had not come to reality because of challenges facing the HYPREP.

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