Last month, YNaija.com launched its Monthly Citizenship Dispatches, which explores in detail, the lives and realities of Nigerian citizens across the country.
This month, the dispatches come from the Niger Delta, where our reporters have spent weeks digging deep into a part of the country oft reported about and sadly still mis-understood.
These are the stories we will share with you daily over the next two weeks – for the voices, the issues, the realities that fellow citizens living in the Delta have dealt with, and continue to deal with every day.
Giasi Paulinus was sleeping at home the day the spill began. Usually the 32-year old fisherman would wake up at 6am and go downtown to the river banks to begin fishing for each day. His wife and two children would be happy to count the fish and periwinkles that he brought home. Their smiles and happy counting made him happy. He was after all a man and providing for his family was one of his responsibilities.
About 500,000 barrels of oil were spilled from pipelines belonging to the Royal Dutch Shell Company in 2008 and 2009, even though its official report claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilt in all.
“The difference is staggering: even using the lower end of the Accufacts estimate, the volume of oil spilt at Bodo was more than 60 times the volume Shell has repeatedly claimed leaked,” Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International said at the time.
The company had apparently had difficulties in accessing the pipelines to repair it and due to their negligence in following up, the communities of Bodo, Bomu and others were affected.
According to a 2013 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, the water in these communities has become unsafe for drinking and now contains alarmingly dangerous levels of benzene, a carcinogenic compound.
“We have been neglected”, the lanky Giasi says in a soft voice. “We’re a major contributor to the national economy, yet we are neglected. In America, every state no matter how small has the same rights as California, the biggest state.”
After the spills, the price of fish rose 10 times which should ordinarily have been good news for Giasi, but then the fish itself became harder to catch. Previously crayfish and mullet came with the flow but now he has to go up to half a kilometre where the waves are ten times more dangerous, to fish.
As a result, he spends even less time with his family and more time staring at the water from the safety of a shed beside it, waiting for the right time of flow to go fishing. On some days, he stays there for as long as twelve hours, waiting. In a small bag, lies the empty plates that once contained the brunch his wife packed for him. Even the quantity of that has become half of what it used to be.
“The oil has affected everything. Our livelihood, the fishes, the water. Everything. People don’t even live as long as they used to before. Our oil has now become a curse.”