People of Iwhrekan Protest Years Of Neglect.
People in Iwhrekan, an oil and gas producing hamlet in Delta State‘s Ughelli South Local Government Area, have threatened large protests over what they call oil corporations’ long-term neglect of the area.
They stated that they had reached the end of their patience and urged the federal and state governments to come to the people’s aid and rescue them from health, economic, and social problems caused by environmental degradation, such as pollution of water bodies and farmlands as a result of oil exploitation.
This was stated by the Iwhrekan people during a one-day ‘Community Diagnostic Dialogue’ held in the community hall over the weekend, which was organized by the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that pledged to work with negatively impacted communities to address environmental injustice.
Elder Victor Onokere, speaking on behalf of the Iwhrekan community, said that despite being the host community for ND Western (formerly SPDC) with the first and second phases of the multi-billion dollar Utorogu Gas Plant, the people have nothing but ruined fishing water, farmlands, houses, and a slew of health issues to show for it.
He said that the oil and gas companies have apparently been taking the community for granted because Iwherekan has been too quiet as a peace loving community.
Onokere said, “We are calling on the ND Western, they are the people in charge, all these companies we have mentioned today, they are working with them. There are contractors working under ND Western. We will stage a protest for the whole world to hear us, to know what we are suffering here.
“Many multi-national companies are coming here, for example Malcolm’s Engineering Services; they just finished the second phase of the gas plant. Now we have Lowlem that are working here now, working on the third phase of the gas plant.
“Pollution is one of the things we experience in this community. Hazard, serious hazard! We drink the gas, we inhale it. If you wash your shirt like I was telling one of your men, just wash your white shirt and put it on the sun in the next 30 minutes you will see that it’s already black; and, that black, that carbon, is what we inhale into our system and we don’t even have hospital, no health centre in our community. As a community having two to three gas plants here we have no hospital.”
Pa Onokere further said, “We are the host community to ND formally SPDC. We have the first phase gas plant, which is Utorogun Gas Plant 1, and then we also have the Utorogun Gas Plant 2. Now the third phase is under construction by a company called Lowlem; but in all this, we have nothing to show.
“In all this, we have nothing to show. The government doesn’t recognize us, the company ND Western does not recognize us. Today, we have no functional school as the only one, which is the technical school, is like a ghost yard. When you go there today, you hardly will see any pupil there, because there is no equipment there, no teacher to teach them; these are things we are experiencing.
“We are sharing primary school with another community, the only secondary school we have, go there it’s like a graveyard. No chairs for the children to sit, there is no teacher to teach them and they say they have given us a technical school, there is no single equipment to show for it. So, we want you to help us talk to the government, talk to those that are concerned to come to our aid because we are suffering.”
The Executive Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, assured of the readiness of environment and democracy friendly non-governmental organisations like HOMEF to support media efforts to persistently draw attention to the plights of Iwhrekan and other host communities that suffer so much neglect from appropriate authorities.
He lamented the fact that no visible respite has come for the Iwrekan community despite over 15 years of engaging in legal tussle to get the multinational oil companies operating in the area to put an end to degradation of its environment including permanent gas faring.
Bassey said, “In 2005, the people of Iwhrekan took Shell to court. It was the first time that we have a case that was successful on the issue of gas flaring. By the end of 2005, I believe it was November 2005, there was a judgement by the high court in Benin-City that gas flaring is illegal, is unconstitutional and against the human rights of Nigeria people. From that time, we have been watching to see whether the gas flaring in Iwhrekan community will stop, but as we speak at this moment it’s still going on.
“It is even expanding rather than stop. And, that judgement that was given in 2005 was not appealed to or appeal against until recently. In fact, it was in January 2022 that the appeal case was first held. So, you can imagine what has been having. Judgement against identity, against the government and against the oil company for so many years and nothing was done about it.
“And, so we are here today to listen to the community people about exactly what their situation is, how they are surviving the case of environmental degradation and in what way their issue have been listened to, and what they believe needs to be done and how.
“In this process, we are going to different communities, we are not going to all the gas flaring communities because they are over a hundred communities where this is going on. So, we are dealing with gas flaring, oil spill and also impact of climate change in communities. And, when we come to a place like Iwhrekan, the outcome from here has significance for other communities.
“In fact, through the media and through our contact we are going to share what happened here today. And we also have in mind to connect Iwhrekan community to other communities where they have similar problems so they can share experiences directly and also probably come here to visit and see what is going on.
“HOMEF is a grassroots organization, we work with communities across the continent of Africa and we don’t impose anything on any community. We are here to visit the community. You can’t force yourself on any community and we don’t do that,”
Similarly, the coordinator of ‘We the People’, a Port-Harcourt based NGO, who is also a researcher with HOMEF, Mr. Ken Henshaw, said, “We are here for community diagnostic dialogue with Iwherekan community, here in Delta State, around the environment of OML-34.
“Sometime last year, about November last year, we carried out intensive research on this community and other communities. Basically, to understanding the underlying natural resource issue of this community, specifically coming to terms with how natural resources extraction, oil and gas extraction has affected the community of Iwhrekan.
“What we discovered here was devastating. We discovered that, for example, gas is flared here from four different points non-stop for 24 hours; the entire year gas is flared. And, gas flaring alone has significant impact on the community here.
“We also discovered, in terms of infrastructure, that if you build a house here in Iwhrekan community, the chances of the house being destroyed within a short space of time is much higher than other part of the country on account of the gas flaring.”