Endangered Ecological Communities: The Case of Goi
By Innocent Eteng
OGONI, NIGERIA – At the bank of the river in Goi community stood Elias Gbadamosi. Overwhelmed by the filth and the acrid smell oozing from the benzene-filled river, he exclaimed: “I have heard about the oil pollution in Ogoni, but I never knew it is as serious as this!”
Gbadamosi, a youth corper, was witnessing firsthand the horror of a community whose natives are rendered powerless by oil pollution.
Although Goi is not a host to an oil facility or well, the community is today, an oil-polluted and deserted community in Ogoni, Rivers State. In 2005, a major oil spill at neighbouring Bomo Manifold belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) moved through the water body to Goi, contaminating water sources and lands.
A 2011 report by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) said Ogoni is one of the most polluted areas in the world, with refined oil buried eight centimetres underground. Life expectancy in Nigeria’s Niger Delta where Ogoni is located is placed at a low 41% due to heavy environmental impact, mostly by multinational oil companies.
UNEP says one billion US dollars (1billion USD) is required to clean up Ogoni and effective cleanup takes not less than 30 years to complete.
While most of Goi’s mangroves and forests are now depleted, parts of its soil still manage to grow plants.
However, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) warned natives not to eat any produce grown in the area because they are poisoned. They were also warned against subsistence fishing because the fishes are “contaminated”. What’s more, the land and the buildings are considered unfit for habitation. As a result, the people of Goi were compelled to migrate to neighbouring Bomo community, where the situation is nothing bettered.
In the absence of a better option, natives eat crops and fishes produced from the community.
The traditional ruler of Goi, High Chief Eric Barizaa Dooh, says natives have no option than to eat the poisoned produce, else they starve to death.
“The fish they are catching here is contaminated. When they eat it, they develop illnesses,” says Chief Dooh.
Unfortunately, access to decent medication is a luxury to the people of Goi as majority cannot afford it. Health cases traceable to benzene/hydrocarbon pollutants include cancer, infertility, asthma, complicated lungs-related diseases, miscarriages, respiratory infections, stunted growth, skill diseases amongst others.
After a prolonged delay, the government of Nigeria intervened in 2015 to clean up the area.
Director of Health of Mother Earth, Mr. Nnimmo Bassey, says preliminary preparations to clean up the area are underway. HYPREP is monitoring the cleanup.
The visit to Goi was part a three-day workshop (27-29 March) organised by the African Arts and Media for Earth Initiative (AAMEI), to train twelve aspiring environmental journalists on the need for conscious environmental reporting.
For Gbadamosi, who was visiting Ogoni for the first time as one of the fellows of the programme, the environmental decay he experienced will propel him to consistently pursue a career as eco-journalist. “I will spread the word and bring attention of the world to the level of devastation going on in Ogoni. We really need to take environmental matters seriously as we all in one way or the other are affected.”
Gbadamosi’s new spark for environmental reporting only echoes the heartbeat of AAMEI’s Director and founder, Mrs. Ugochi Onuigbo. “What inspired me was that it seems like the whole world is coming closer to extinction. I felt like ‘we are not stopping this; we are not reporting this.’ We need reporters to talk about this and get government to act; to get individuals to take up their responsibilities. We need to protect our generation and we need to conserve the ecosystem,” she says.