From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Succour is yet to come the way of residents of nine communities in Okpe, Delta State, impacted by recent oil spill allegedly from the leaking wellheads operated by an indigenous firm, Conoil.
The affected communities spread across the two local government areas that make up Okpe. They include Amuokpokpor-Elume, Ologho, Elume, Okwelabra, all in Sapele Local Government. Ekoko, Eroghor, Idjekporo, Mereje, Opuraja, in Okpe Local Government.
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Apart from the biting hunger following the devastation of the means of livelihood in the agrarian villages, there was a reported outbreak of skin diseases among residents.
At the moment, residents claimed that they have been abandoned to their fate by the company and those they elected to represent their interests at various levels of government.
Residents with forlorn faces lamented that their issue was yet to receive the desired attention at the appropriate quarters weeks after the spill was reported.
They said they were yet to see solidarity visits by the concerned authorities and local politicians, not to talk of getting support in form of palliatives from their elected and appointed representatives in government and corporate entities.
In a peaceful protest shortly after the spill was noticed, locals expressed displeasure over the disaster. They said the river that has been poisoned by the spill remained the only source of drinking,cooking, bathing, and farming activities to residents even as they demanded justice for survival and environment.
Chairman of Amuokpokpor community, Mr Christopher Efe Obule, who led the protesters at the community waterside, said crude oil and natural gas have been pumping into the community river and nearby fishing settlements for weeks now, along the Amuokpokpor Elume community coastline through other communities before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
He alleged that Conoil abandoned its corporate social responsibility in disaster management. He described the river pollution as the worst disaster that befell the community since oil was discovered along the community river over 40 years ago.
He called on the relevant authorities to come to their aid: “Our only source of water remains this river and all our aquatic animals have been killed by the pollution.
“What happened here was clear wickedness by the operatives to have left us to suffer for what we know nothing about. They refused to purify the water for our consumption. We have to be contributing and buying sachet water for drinking and cooking.”
Obule said some of their children who were ignorant of the disaster, drank the polluted water and hospitalised while others developed skin diseases: “As we speak right now, some of our children that drank this water only survived it just because of God’s love towards us.
“After drinking it, they were rushed to the nearby community health centres where they were treated for cholera and skin infections.”
Councillor representing Ward 18 in the Sapele Council Legislature, Mr. Sam Azu, called on government at all levels, as well as other well meaning individuals and organisations to prevail on Conoil to do the needful regarding the oil spills, lamenting that it had grounded economic activities in the area for weeks.
Azu, a native of the community, said the sad incident remained the biggest oil spill disaster in the history of the community since the three wellheads were built over 40 years.
The community eldest man, Mr Smart Oghomedje, said residents who are peasant farmers could no longer go for their fishing activities.
Residents displayed their fishing nets, cages, hooks among others soaked in crude oil. They said if no urgent attention was taken by the company to ameliorate their plights, the entire communities might be wiped out as a result of water borne and skin diseases.
They, however, demanded the physical presence of the managing director of the oil firm to see things for himself and ensure honesty and transparency on the way out of the woods.
Public Relations Officer of the company could not be reached. One of the company’s staff, Mr Sola Ekundayo, who spoke to our correspondent, directed our correspondent to go to the corporate office in Lagos to speak to the company.
Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Emmanuel Amgbaduba, visited the site where he expressed amazement at the devastating effects of the spill on the communities and how it affected their fishing activities, the main source of livelihood.
Accompanied by the chairman of Sapele LG, Eugene Inoaghan and his vice, Vincent Ayomanor, he promised to take up the issue with government with a view of reaching the oil company operating in the region to take necessary action.