she used to fish on the Sombrero River and the adjoining creeks but then came the oil, and greed, and pollution and war, now most of the fish are dead, fat men and women fight over the overspill of their bellies and men with guns terrorize people trying to live in peace! This could be a long story and maybe one day it will be but for now….
The picture above captioned as A Niger Delta Village In the 1960s (Before Oil) has sparked much discussion on online forums in Nigeria. While there have been debates about its veracity, what is interesting is the way that it provides a catalyst for people’s memories about the region before oil.
Here is one comment that I find particularly moving and evocative:
As a young Niger Delta boy even in the early 70s such good looking natural environment existed in the Niger Delta.
1. I remembered going to pick periwinkles in the swarms meeting blue coloured water that is reflecting the blue skies in a hot afternoon like that.
2. I remembered especially on a rainy day and especially at night going to creeks with only Calabash and bare hands coming home with good catch of fishes
3. I remembered using such clean (so to say) sea waters tasting salty to soak my garri padling my canoe while returning from Kaa or Iyanaba market
4. I remembered not bothering about tap water every morning to bath to school but jumping into this river like you do in this modern day swimming pole, wash mysely come out robe high scenting pomade and off to school
5. I remembered having my canoe capsided on the sea and I swarm to safety without any polluted water with oil to choke me
6. But I also remembered afterwards on Sobiekiri river many canoes with people on the water, someone mistakenly threw a cigaret stub on the water and it caught fire and so many people were burnt to dead including good swimmers who jumped into the river to see if they could dive past the burning oil on the water
50 years on and Shell STILL has not cleaned up it’s mess – despite the 2011 UN Environmental Programme’s [UNEP] damming report on Shell’s and the NNPC activities
The report found that, without exception, all the water bodies in Ogoni was polluted by the activities of oil companies – Shell Petroleum Development Company (Shell) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Indeed the report stated that some of what the people took as potable water had carcinogens, such as benzene, up to 900 times above World Health Organisation standards. The report also revealed that at some places in Ogoniland, the soil is polluted with hydrocarbons to a depth of five (5) metres.
The UNEP report revealed that the Ogoni homeland had indeed been turned into an “ecological disaster,” as the Bill of Rights asserted. We remind ourselves that the UNEP report made recommendations that most of us saw as low hanging fruits that government could easily have responded to assuage the pains of the people and commence a process of restoring the territory to an acceptable state. The apparent inaction is nothing but a squandering of opportunities to rescue a people and for impactful political action.
A total clean up of Ogoni land will take a life time or about thirty years at the least. That is the length of time UNEP estimates it would require to clean up the water bodies in the territory. And it would require an additional five (5) years to clean up the land. How is that a lifetime? Well, life expectancy in the Niger Delta stands at approximately forty-one years.