People of Ogwuanocha, and Ogwuikpele communities in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra, South-East Nigeria have cried out over the degradation of their environment as a result of oil exploration activities in the area.
They said the impact of activities of Sterling Oil Exploration and Energy Production Company (SEEPCO), the company prospecting oil in the community had resulted in erosion which was already sacking homesteads while oil spillage had contaminated the water bodies which in turn made their farmlands unproductive and aquatic life unsustainable.
Ogbaru Local Government has all its communities on the bank of the River Niger and their livelihood which is mainly agriculture depended largely on the river.
Jacinta Udemba, a farmer from Ogwuanocha said the exploration activities by the company have had negative impacts on the community with no deliberate move by the company to remedy the damage.
Udemba said places where soil was excavated for laying of pipes were left open while the water was channelled through the culverts to flow into the communities to destroy the homes and farmlands.
At the moment, she said there are growing public health concerns among the people of Ogwuanocha community due to the absence of a healthcare facility. There is also no access to school, Udemba said, urging the exploration firm to build these social infrastructures as part of its corporate social responsibility.
“The oil exploration activities are killing us gradually, water they channeled into Oguikpele and Ogwuanocha because of the pipe they laid is sacking families from the homes and washing away our farmlands.
“They have refused to build anything for us, not hospital, not school, not even access roads,” she said.
Oliver Nnaji, the traditional ruler of Ogwuanocha community corroborated the claims that the community’s environment has been destroyed by the crude oil explorers.
But that’s not the only issue that bothers Nnaji. As the monarch of the host community, he had not been visited by the management of SEEPCO since it commenced operations in his community. All complaints and petitions against the company have not yielded any result, he stated.
“They are destroying our environment, we are losing our livelihood as a people, yet, I have not enjoyed the luxury of courtesy visit by the company,” added the traditional.
Arinze Awogu, Transition Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area, said the oil exploration company was operating without formal understanding with the host community or approved Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Awogu said the absence of EIA was why mining and pipe laying activities had resulted in encroachment of the River Niger into people’s homes and farmland thereby making them strangers in their own lands.
He pointed out that rather than go into a formal arrangement with relevant government authorities, SEEPCO was working hard to set the two communities against themselves by giving them paltry handouts.
According to him, the company adopted a divide and rule system where it gave pittance to families and pitched them against one another. Rather, Awogu said the oil company ought to engage the affected communities in collective bargaining,
He recalled that oil prospecting and exploration in Ogbaru dated back to 2010 when China Petroleum & Chemical Company (SINOPEC) crossed the River Niger into Ogwu-Aniocha from Okpai in Ndokwa East Local Government Area of Delta State, South-south Nigeria for oil exploration.
He said SINOPEC discovered about 93 oil wells but could not continue for unknown reasons and left in 2011.
But SEEPCO, he said came in 2013 to continue with initial works of SINOPEC in Ogwu-Aniocha through Oguta in Imo State a nearby Southeast state and cleared a large expanse of land and laid pipes from Ogwu-Aniocha to Oguta in Imo State preparatory to the commencement of production.
The transition chairman said the presence of the company and its activities were not noticed until 2016 because there were no signboards.
“They brought in and set up 350 caravans, constructed helipads to land their helicopters, assembled earth moving and other heavy equipment, moved in their rig with their workers mostly foreign nationals scattered all over the place,” he said.
“In Ogwu-Ikpele, the movement of their rig from one location to another by SEEPCO is like taking a leisure walk, yet, there is neither EIA as required by law has been conducted nor Memorandum of Understanding which would accommodate instruments of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) signed.”
He said that Ogwu-Aniocha and Ogwu-Ikpele Communities, the Ogbaru Local Government Council and Anambra State Government were not officially aware of the presence of SEEPCO in their geo-space as no single document can be cited as containing any form of understanding entered into.
“SEEPCO has done no community engagement, has no signboard anywhere in Anambra State, has no employment quota for the people but has continued to devastate our land and aquatic lives, has continued to cause casualties on our land and waterways in the name of oil exploration and production,” he said.
The ultimate desire of the communities, Awogu said is to have SEEPCO formalize its operations in Anambra State-conducting its activities as required under the extractive industries regulations such that will bring about Anambra State becoming an oil-producing state.
Professor Charles Ofuegbu, Chairman, Technical Subcommittee of Anambra Oil Gas Development Committee, a renowned mining geologist, said there was proven evidence that SEEPCO had been exploring petroleum from the Ogbaru end of the Anambra basin for years without due process.
Ofuegbu said rather than site its collection point in Anambra, the company laid pipes running hundreds of kilometres to Oguta in Imo and Okpai in Delta states as a collection point.
He said Ogbaru was tangential to Anambra basin which includes parts of Imo, Enugu, Delta, Kogi and River states rich in oil and gas deposits
The expert said a series of petitions against the company had attracted the Senate to visit the site after which a high powered Federal Government Committee comprising Defence Headquarters, NNPC, Anambra Government and SEEPCO and Federal Ministry of Environment was set up to address the situation.
According to him, the communiqué from the meeting jointly signed by the representatives dated September 15, 2020 directed that SEEPCO should repair and restore the devastation caused to the environment and ensure that there was EIA for the field.
“That SEEPCO and NNPC should regularise their presence in Anambra and prioritise CSR to project affected communities with enlarged stakeholders’ engagement with all parties,” the document stated.
Meanwhile, the Anambra State Government says it would ensure that the operations of SEEPCO were brought under control by making sure that the order for the company to formalise its activities was enforced.
Patricia Igwebuike, Special Adviser on Petroleum Resources and Legal Matters to Governor Willy Obiano said that any agreement between the host communities and SEEPCO without the knowledge of the government was null and void.
She decried the negative impact of the SEEPCO’s operation and said that whatever was due to production affected communities would be made to reach them while calling on the Federal Government to accord Anambra the status of an oil-producing state with the attendant rights and privileges.
On November 5, a stakeholders’ meeting was held between representatives of the Federal Government, the communities, SEEPCO and Anambra government in Agulu, Anaocha Local Government Area of the state.
Officials of the company apologised for whatever wrongdoing but explained that the NNPC was aware of their activities.
However, Sandeep Singh, Vice President of the company was not immediately available for comment when contacted by the HumAngle. He did not take his calls or respond to text messages sent to his mobile phone.
SEEPCO, an Indian company is into a partnership deal with Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to explore OML143 field (Okwuibome) in the Northern part of Niger Delta but officials of Anambra State Government say that the field also traverses the state.
They said the large deposits of oil and gas in Anambra and effective drilling which had commenced should make the state enjoy the status of an oil-producing state.