• Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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BusinessDay

Why Bodo, last community on Trans Niger Pipeline, is sitting on time bomb

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…frequent oil spills ravage community

…armed gangs occupy, turn oil spill sites into ‘oil wells’

…agencies, JV partners prevented from gaining access for inspection

…factions at war, trust breaks down, monarch forced into exile

Preamble:

Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State is the last community on the Trans-Niger Pipeline (TNP) that delivers the major part of Nigeria’s crude export, and now gas. The other is the Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL). Together, these two lines deliver Nigeria’s quota in the international oil and gas market, which brings foreign exchange back to run the country and often to fuel petro-dollar corruption.

The TNP has however, come under frequent hacksawing and drilling to tap crude oil that now feeds a parallel oil economy where over 600,000bpd is lost. According to officials from Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), the harm is beyond lost oil but the environmental damage being heaped on the oil region and the damage being done on the 600km long pipeline.

The spills from both the TNP and NCTL pollute the oil region to emerge as the most damaged area in the world. Worse, it has created a huge underworld community of hackers, tappers, illegal refiners, merchants, vessel operators, foreign hitmen, and financiers (including banking services). Above all, it has also created ungovernable areas in the Gulf of Guinea now in the hands of highly resourced armed gangs, according to recent studies.

It is not certain what makes oil spills most frequent in Bodo. While oil industry experts and International Oil Companies (IOCs) insist its third-party factor, the indigenes and non-governmental organisations insist it is equipment failure. Dedicated agencies ought to go in and make a definite finding but armed gangs emerged to block access and take possession and ‘ownership.’

BusinessDay was part of a team that toured Bodo under the auspices of Natural Justice (Nigeria) led by Mike Karikpo, a lawyer, to interact with the community people and to understand the local imperatives of the spills and vibes that flow from them.

The challenge of Bodo:

Fyneface Dumnamene, executive director, Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC), another NGO keen on the persistent spills, said no quarter passes without oil spill there.

He said that the reason was not far-fetched. Dumnamene explained that the TNP that passes through Bodo is old, having been there since the 1950s.

“In April 2022, four oil spills took place, and in August 2023, two spills occurred, yet, they have not been clamped. There has been no joint inspection yet known to us in the activism world,” he said.

He joined in demanding the change of the TNP and in asking the FG to take immediate action to save Bodo.

“We demand that the owners of the TNP should change it. They should take steps to rectify them and pay compensation to the community people. They should also mete out punitive action according to the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) provisions if it is caused by third party

“The frequent spills are causing crisis and fighting has occurred over who controls the spill sites. This has caused deaths and injury. The community people believe that if they don’t go to protect the spill site, the IOC could sneak in and clean it without compensation. They want compensation first.”

He called on the Joint Venture partners and the FG plus the Rivers State government to take immediate action. “Rivers State is part of the governance system within the locality. They should see what they can do to address the issue.”

Community sources studying the spills said the challenge is that Bodo is the last community on the about 600km TNP. After Bodo is the creek and then Bonny Island. There are two manifolds (for ease of transfer of crude oil to pipelines) in Bodo. The pipeline covers an area of about five kilometers in Bodo alone plus the creeks. Some say about 40km of Bodo is taken by pipeline, crisscrossing farmlands, homes, etc.

When the pipelines were laid, Nigeria knew nothing about environmental justice, the sources said. From the beginning to the end, many do not know they live on the TPN.

Some said the pipeline must be corroded, and thus no longer safe. Each time it erupts, people suffer.

A source said: “In 2018 when it erupted, the IOC came to reach a deal, but it is like it did not work. Now, the community people said choppers hover above in Bodo.

On the day of the visit, the rains were fresh and the community people said the spill had gone underground. Some other community sources claimed that when the spill occurred, that water was pumped into the pipeline and that it helped to push the spill underground. There was no independent confirmation of this.

Whatever the case, the young people have emerged as a force. They are demanding no money but justice and support for an economic lifestyle. They call it “economic justice.”

Community in fracas

Apart from oil pollution, armed gangs and conflicts help to make Bodo a community living on timebomb. Killings are more frequent than oil spill.

Ekpean Kpai, a chief in the community, who is now a regent, said what is before Bodo is environmental catastrophe, saying the water is not safe and fishes are not safe. “We are living on environmental timebomb.”

An NGO said people die in Bodo of unknown sicknesses, but that the villagers believe deaths are caused by witches. “There are about five burials every weekend, but it does not alert the community people. Nobody pays attention to it. Oil has balkanised these people. Surveillance contractors do more than surveillance of pipelines, they divide the people. In the politics of oil, government and IOCs share the oil but the third owner (the community) is watching. There is also gas pipeline that carries products and this too passes through Bodo.”

The Bodo environment

Another NGO official regretted that in well-ordered places, Bodo would have been evacuated for proper cleanup but that it is a miracle as well as tragedy that people still live there today. “They live in the face of death and it is because they have nowhere to go.”

How the huge compensation Shell paid made no impact

Bodo people took up a fight against SPDC in the 2008 spill; compensation came in 2014. Sources say this payout left a lacuna. “It rather created a problem between the people and their leaders.” Some say the IOCs instigate this so the community people won’t unite and fight them. It is actually not clear how the community people would blame IOCs for their in-fighting over the funds.

What is true is that there are hardly any governance structures in the communities and governments at all levels do not show any interest in creating grassroots leadership structures. When benefits come, fracas comes. A source said blaming the IOCs for what the indigenous governments ought to do is not right.

Now, the Bodo Paramount Ruler is on exile because he is seen to be more for the government and the oil interests than for the people. They threatened him out of the community. He did not respond to efforts to get his comment.

“In that scenario, there is no king in Bodo at the moment but there is a regent. The rule says when there is no king, there will be a regent, but the cohesion that would have been provided is missing.

“There are also oil contractors and politicians who feed fat and sabotage Bodo. No Bodo man is in the NNPC. Even if there is no production going on in Bodo, they are the last TNP community and so a potential national security asset. Bodo is a darling community of the FG but they are not properly known.”

On the 2014/15 compensation, the source said it was only cash compensation without environmental justice. What is true however, is that there was cleanup deal in the compensation and Bodo cleanup began before Ogoni cleanup.

The people however, complained that their king (not SPDC) was owning and controlling all benefits and allegedly distributed this to his friends. Crisis, thus, came.

Now, youths have taken over governance of the area. “The youths keep vigil at spill sites to ensure the asset owner does not bypass and do anything funny.”

Next, Bodo has been under cult violence since 1999 when politics came, they said. “Hundreds have died. The fleeing gang came back and killed and kidnapped. So, far, three attacks have occurred.

“It is curious how spills and gun attacks co-relate. Many now ask why each time spill occurs in Bodo, there is always attack. They wonder if it is to stop the people from organising themselves and agitating.

“Experts believe more spills are coming. People say there are more spills in the creeks which go unnoticed. This kills aquatic life. Life here was good for food. Now, the land is at the verge of extinction; now devasted. Bodo is threatened.”

Others see a lot of fraud in environmental narrative because the implication of devastation is not brought up. “It’s tragic. Bodo is a salt water place, but people now eat fresh water fish. Now, original fish is gone; it’s all about fresh water fish. This asset is dying. It is because of oil pollution.”

Some say the IOCs are selling off and running away without cleaning up. “The Government does not want to deal with the issue. There is no consensus on how to solve oil pollution. FG does not call the parties to ask for unified way to deal with oil spill. Each IOC does what its country likes,” BusinessDay was told.

A source said whereas oil is not going on in Ogoni, but TNP is active. Action is going on. TNP is keeping the economy alive. The only business in Nigeria is oil. Shut down oil and banks will close down, and hotels will shut down. It is for the government not for the people.

What the people want

The regent (Ekpean Kpai) said Bodo people want help of well-meaning Nigerians to get things rights. The chairman, Bodo Council of Chiefs, Polycarp Gbaraba, said the LGA chairman, Confidence Deko, had summoned a meeting because of cult killing two days earlier. All efforts to obtain his efforts in getting Bodo ready for peace and cleaning failed. He did not reply to texts.

Enter Natural Justice, Mike Karikpo

Speaking with BusinessDay, he said:

“We visited Bodo because there have been consistent oil spills there and we wanted to know why this is so.

“Apart from the 2008/2009 spill that eventually attracted compensation, there has been no other compensation, yet, spills keep flowing every often.

“Since 2020, there have been some 60 oil spill incidents on the TNP. It was important for us as an African non-governmental organisation (NGO) to go there and find out why the pipeline breaks to spill crude into the community.

“Bodo is a small community, not by size but by population density and many people live right beside the pipeline. To have spills all the time puts people at risk. Besides, there is gas pipeline. There are houses on both sides of the pipeline Right of Way (ROW), and if anything happens, people will perish.

“Our finding is that the TNP has not been changed since inception (1960s and 1970s). That is why it keeps rupturing and we think the situation should be dealt with: Is it to relocate it or to replace them? Thus, decision must be made, and fast.”

According to him, “It is a key issue we need to deal with, else, its time bomb. We walked all of the pipeline route to where the spills took place. What I think is: we either re-route the pipeline or change it to brand new pipes.

“Secondly, an issue that has not been properly analysed is that though they were paid compensation not too long ago, but any interaction in Bodo will show that there is a disconnect. Young people there are in war mood and conflict is rife there. Young people have set up camps demanding heaven on earth.

“They demand for development, and Government should create sustainable development so young people do not set up camps and gangs just to benefit.

“Anyone can see the level of instability there. The person (Chief Sebastine) that was chairman of the Council of Chiefs who negotiated the compensation with Shell has been chased away. Other council members are on the run. Even the monarch is on exile.

“That is one of the issues my group had identified when compensation came; we were interested in how to train the beneficiaries and young people so they do not spend it and come back. Unfortunately, nobody paid attention to this aspect.

“That is what is happening there now. That is the mentality I see. All of that fund is gone and everybody is back looking for the next spill. If oil spill occurs, young armed people come and bracket the spot and make sure they are the ones to coordinate what comes in. Everybody now wants to be in charge and to lead negotiation.”

Karikpo further said: “Most communities in the Niger Delta are suffering same thing, not knowing how to manage expectation. There are no productive activities in host communities; there is no alternative economy. So, it’s all about compensation.

“In Bodo at the moment, groups attacked those who negotiated the first one and took over. In this latest incident, armed men came at night, shot and killed two persons, and injured others

“The JV partners have to decide how to deal with the TNP. Best bet, relocate it.

“Many ask why Natural Justice (an NGO) is interested in the Bodo spills. We work with communities. Part of our vision is to defend them especially where extractive activities are ongoing. All of Africa, we are known for this. We are a community-driven group and we have history of where else in Africa we have intervened.

“We have the Wild Coast case in South Africa where we supported a community where an IOC wanted to do seismic survey but the community said no, that they have spiritual link to the river. The court agreed. We have another case in Uganda/Tanzania where an export pipeline was to established to export crude oil. We were at the forefront of the action supporting local groups that sought to stop it. They argued that you have to heat up the pipeline to make it warm. It’s a long pipeline from Uganda that is landlocked to the coast of Tanzania.

“Senegal is another place where we are working with the community to stop a coal plant. Bodo is thus not a special-interest case apart from protecting the environment and to support communities to demand for their right.

“That is what we do all over Africa against where big corporations with deep pockets are muscling against communities that can’t fight them. We show the communities that they have a friend ready to stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, to defend your interest.”

Advising the youth of Bodo, he said: It’s a vicious circle. Conditions made the youth to behave how they do. We should not blame the victims of a situation they do not have control over. Some of them were not born when Shell came, and they have to live and compete for space with pipelines to live healthy and dignified lives. They have been forced to survivalist life.

“Some talk about 3rd party activities in Bodo, but I say most of the pipelines were laid in the early 1960s and 70s. Technology was not what it is today. That is why they are spilling.

“In Bodo, they are staying with the pipelines and their surveillance contractors are right there. They know when it is equipment failure. Nobody will be breaking pipeline in such a close-knit place.

“When you see community youths gather and stay at a spill site, know it is equipment failure, but if they were the ones that broke it, you won’t see anybody there because they know you can’t get compensation for 3rd party breaking.

“Except where they are doing bunkering, there is no way anybody can dig and break pipelines that have gas and crude. They would fear the possibility of explosion especially as one pipe is gas. I hope something is done quickly to relocate the TNP in Bodo.”

He further said: “The local council boss and the leaders should act. If they had set up productive activities that could employ 200 persons when compensation was paid, it would have been better instead of sharing the money which is very wrong.

I am very uncomfortable the way we frame legal actions against oil corporations. It focuses on compensation and nothing else. The result is that the communities may get the money and invest in that same poisoned place. They acquired luxuries and live with the poison. Both the luxury and the humans degrade and die gradually. I think it is a fundamental error.

“Natural Justice will, if the community is willing, provide legal training to the community with clear support. We will look at the possibility of filing an action that deals squarely in enhancement of the livelihood of the people, even if compensation is paid. We will look at how to help the community develop production that can even supply to the oil company.

SPDC, paramount ruler, LGA boss keep mum

SPDC did not accept to speak to this story but it had shut down the TNP for repairs and resumed pumping in about October 2022. Other sources said the communities do prevent joint inspections provided by law.

In 2022, SPDC said it has started repair works on the illegal tapping point discovered on the TNP in nearby Nonwa-Uedume Community in Tai LGA.

A 2km illegal pipeline operated on Shell’s TNP for over seven years had capacity to load two tankers of 33,000 liters of crude oil per night.

The paramount ruler and the LGA chairman also did not accept to talk to our correspondent despite over two weeks of delays and reminders.