Polaku, Ogu: Oil-rich communities but impoverished by political leeches
The activities of the oil companies polluted their waters, therefore depriving them of their main source of livelihood, which was farming.
BudgIT, with Stakeholder Democracy Network (SDN), visited the oil-rich communities of Polaku in Bayelsa State and Ogu in Rivers State, Nigeria, to ascertain the challenges of oil-producing communities and also their immediate needs.
Polaku community, located in the kingdom of Gbarain, Bayelsa, is on the outskirts of Yenagoa. Gbarain community boasts at least 11 communities and has an onshore oil and gas field, which, at a point, was discovered to contain 1,122 million barrels of oil. Driving into Polaku, one would not miss the gas flaring happening in the open air in an industrial plant on the way to the innermost parts of the community.
Similarly, Ogu community has three oil wells and some well-placed national-interest establishments such as the Federal Lighter, Ocean Terminals and Intel Nigeria Limited. Arriving in Ogu, one cannot but notice that unlike other oil communities, the roads are well-paved although the houses are hardly the kind of quality one would expect from an oil-producing community.
The ever-present smell of smoke from the gas flaring at Polaku and our curiosity about Ogu’s level of development set the tone for our engagement there. Something the communities have in common: they have been ravaged by oil exploration and oil-producing activities from oil giants such as Shell and Chevron. This similarity was one of the reasons we visited these communities, We aimed to put a human face to the challenges confronting these communities, therefore we utilised the following questions in shaping the nature of our engagement:
What has been the impact on the communities and the members of the communities?
At Polaku, the devastating nature of the oil companies can be seen in the advancing shoreline of the river, which has washed away two of their primary schools and robbed them of a burial ground.
“We cannot see any benefit of the oil in their environment; the only primary school we have was built by the community,” His Royal Highness, Tarila Barnabas, said.
The Women Leader, Chief Mrs Tarere Lyte, corroborated his frustrations, saying: “The activities of the oil companies polluted their waters, therefore depriving them of their main source of livelihood, which was farming.”
We took notice of the ramshackle building where we met the community members, particularly its damaged roof; the damage, we learnt, was an effect of gas flaring. The emission also affected the air quality, so much that the rain was acidic, destroying crops and wreaking all sorts of health havocs.
Ogu has been deprived of their main of source of livelihood: fishing. However, unlike Polaku, where Shell was pointed out as the main villain, Integrated Logistics Facilities and Services (INTELS) was fingered by Mr. Patrick Fubara, a leader in the community of Ogu, as the main culprit that comes every year to initiate incomplete community projects.
The community members complained about instances of pollution, oil-soaked dead fishes, incessant soot, high level of insecurity and untreated water that leaves them at the risk of ill-health. They also acknowledged that the pace of illegal oil bunkering is really alarming and causes serious damage, with the smoke from the oil companies seriously affecting the whole community.
What knowledge do they have about the allocation of oil revenue and how would they want it to be distributed?
Both communities denounced any knowledge of the methods through which the proceeds from oil revenue were being allocated. However, there was a difference in approach from members of the two communities. While both communities showed distress over their lack of knowledge about the methods of allocation of crude oil benefits, the members of the Ogu community were more adamant about getting this knowledge.
According to Benson Dick, a member of the community of Ogu “ the people of Ogu community are interested in knowing how they can have access to the Budget, in order for them to be able to ask questions from their representatives”.
Are their elected representatives accountable to them?
At Polaku, this was considered unfathomable, as the leader of the community listed instances where they had trusted their elected representatives to their detriment; he had become suspicious of government officials that he, in effect, did not believe they represented the interests of the community as they should.
“The people they elected should come back home and think of how they can better the community for the next generation to come,” HRH Barnabas said.
This sentiment was echoed by the Ogu community, where the people believed that their leaders were only interested in the community in order to increase their followership. They stated further that the government officials, whom they had access to, were insensitive to their complaints.
So on the count of accountability to them, both communities minced no words in stating that it was non-existent.
According to Mrs Adline, a resident of Ogu community “the only development that came from the federal government is the secondary school they built and the school is not yet functioning”.
This report is supported by the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI)
Niger Delta: Economies of Violence [http://geog.berkeley.edu/ProjectsResources/ND%20Website/NigerDelta/WP/Dadiowei_24.pdf 03.06.2017] Working Paper no 24
The Tide; Cultural Heritage of Ogu People — http://www.thetidenewsonline.com/2010/01/16/cultural-heritage-of-ogu-people/ [03.06.17]