Oil pollution: Community cries out for help

Source: vanguardngr.com

By Olasunkanmi Akoni, Gbenga Ashamu & Monsur Olowopejo

BARUWA, a suburb of Lagos is not an oil-producing community just as Lagos is not classified as an oil-producing state. So, ordinarily there is no reason why the community should suffer the ravages of oil pollution or be embroiled in oil-related crisis.

Indeed before 1994, life in this community with a population of 300,000 residents was generally peaceful as there was little or no cause for restiveness among the people who were merely concerned about how to eke out a living for their daily survival.

But the same cannot be said presently as things seem to have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold for them, no thanks to the unusual discovery of oil in their common sources of drinking water.

It happened when some of the residents went to draw water from a well and noticed an oily substance in it. They dismissed it as nothing to worry about. But how wrong they were. Soon the oily substance began to be noticed in other wells. After a while, those who sourced water from boreholes also began to notice slight changes in the taste and colour of the water they got. In addition, an unusual odour started to spread in the environment.

Traditional religious believers thought it was a matter for the gods and resorted to a series of sacrifices to appease the gods of the land over the strange development.

When that did not yield the desired effect, the community set up a committee to trace the source of the contaminant, which they were certain was oil. Through this effort the problem was eventually traced to a spot at Honey Land Primary School , formerly known as Niger Pre-Age Primary School where petroleum products have been leaking from a ruptured Petroleum Products Marketing Company's (PPMC) pipelines that passed through the school compound.

Various efforts were thereafter made to get the PPMC and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to address the problem by stopping the leakages. The Lagos State government was also contacted through its State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) with the hope that it would intervene in getting the problem solved.

However, as at the time of filing this report, nothing had been done to address the issue. Since the pipeline cuts right through the heart of Baruwa village, almost half of the population are presently affected by the pollution. At the last count, about 300 wells are said to have been affected by the pollution and all have been permanently shut down.

The spillage has left the people of Baruwa with no choice but to spend heavily in buying water since all their sources of water for drinking, cooking and washing have become polluted. A survey carried out in 2007 indicate that on a daily basis, an average family spends N2,000 in buying water. In fact, the people have to travel two to three kilometres to get potable water.

Recounting the genesis of the crisis to Vanguard Metro, the legal representatives of the community and head Quincy Law and Environmental firm, Barrister Bob Olukoya, explained that the spillage in Baruwa has been a problem to Lagos State and indeed a national problem since 1994.

He noted that to Lagos it is an environmental challenge and threat to lives while it is a national problem because the refined oil products that run from Mosimi to Ejigbo and Ejigbo to Mosimi via Baruwa Village are being wasted while the integrity of the pipes carrying those products have been corrupted.

His words: : “It is leaking at a point in Baruwa village; the exact point we do not know. But this should not be a difficult thing to know. Petroleum products are been pumped out on daily basis, just wasting, sinking into the underground system since 1994. Any well dug in Baruwa brings forth petroleum product, refined product. At times it would be PMS, AGO or black oil. The sample is still there.

“Baruwa community is like a time-bomb waiting to explode. Experts and consultants have been employed but up till now we have not been able to detect the exact point of the leakages but we know there are leakages.

“I first got involved in the issue early in 2000 and down the line we are still fetching petroleum products from over 300 wells in Baruwa. It is unfortunate that we cannot find the source of the leakages. Nigeria is losing money, the masses are not having the benefit of their boreholes since the water therefrom is useless and they are living under the fear of explosion at anytime because of the volatility of the petroleum products.”

On the efforts of lawyers from Quincy Law and Environmental Firm, a team of lawyers and environmentalists that took the matter up on behalf of the community, he said they have been interfacing with PPMC, NNPC, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) and even the media on the matter on the need to avert imminent danger in the area.

The lawyers he said have dialogued with PPMC and NNPC. According to him: “It was a problem they are well aware of since 1994. They are well aware of it even before we came on board, they've tried to take one or two actions in the past but for some reasons it was truncated”.