By Bob Majirioghene Etemiku
In November 2020, there were several reports that irate youths of Ute-Okpu, Ika North-East local government area of Delta state took to the streets to protest the rising deaths of youths in the area.
According to these reports, the youths got angry after four of them died. The protesters reportedly burnt a market, but were unable to get to their monarch’s palace. A team of soldiers and policemen stopped them.
The deaths were said to be unexplainable, and gist around town was that the gods or deities of the community affected were angry at misdemeanor of certain elders, and so had had taken the lives of the youth as propitiation.
But investigations have revealed that the youths were not killed by the gods. Rather, they had died from yellow fever and allied ailments from deadly fumes arising from the unregulated activities of tank farms in the Niger Delta.
Five inhabitants of Arakpa community in Oghara in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State tell their experiences living near tank farms. Mrs Edith, mother of two children – a boy and a girl – is a petty trader. She lives just as few metres away from the tank farms run by prudent oil company in Arakpa community in Oghareki in Delta State. She has lived there for three years.
When WADONOR met her, she was clearing her nostrils now and again. Mrs Edith claims that ‘odour’ from the storage of fuel and gas in the tank farms is what makes her sneeze and her children to wheeze. She said she always feels dizzy and drowsy and ‘na every week naim I dey carry my children go treatment’.
According to Mrs Edith, the ‘odour’ from the tank farms occurs daily and is strong. When the fumes blow around, their eyes itch. She said that doctored who had treated her for sneezing and cough have advised her to leave that vicinity. Before moving into the vicinity three years ago, she hardly sneezed or wheezed and her children were not always sickly.
Mr. Kenneth Omasugbo, father of a ten-year old son Raymond. He is an indigene of Oghareki community. Mr Kenneth told us that Raymond often cannot sleep because of shortness of breath. He attributes Raymond’s condition to the activities of PRUDENT Oil Company. He said that whenever PRUDENT is working, fumes from operations at the tank farm is usually ‘unbearable’.
Mr Kenneth said that he has had to take his son away from Oghareki to nearby Oghara for safety after a doctor warned him to leave. After taking him away, Raymond no longer has shortness of breath. But taking Raymond away has not solved his own problems. ‘After I return from work in the evening and enter my house, I always notice a strong smell of gas in my living room. That apart, the noise from their machines affects me. This place used to be a residential place but PRUDENT Oil has turned it into an industrial ground and we are suffering’.
Mr White Natighome 56, a farmer and father of six children and Oghara is his ancestral home. Last year 2019, he claimed that he lost his youngest child, a daughter, to a strange illness. She had coughed and coughed endlessly the night she died. According to Mr. White, he had planned to take his daughter Ejiro to the hospital in the morning but she died in the midnight. Mr White told Wadonor that prior to setting up the tank farms in Oghara, an oil firm PRUDENT bought the land it uses for the tank farms from residents on the land.
Thereafter, they paid some kind of compensation to members of the community. But after PRUDENT began to lift crude off from their tank farm, his life was disrupted. His children could no longer play outside, and his wife too was forbidden from lighting firewood outside for cooking.
Anytime she did, PRUDENT management sent soldiers to beat him up, and throw away his food. ‘PRUDENT oil conducts regular medical checks for its staff every two weeks. We know too, that because of the fumes from gas and fuel from PRUDENT, they give them milk and beverages. Even though we who live close by suffer from the effects of the fumes from their company, they ignored us. We have written many letters to them but they refuse to act’, Mr Natighome told WADONOR.
Mr Natighome also said that doctors have advised him to relocate from that vicinity because water for fishing, drinking from the river close by and that from boreholes for drinking and domestic chores is likely already contaminated. But he cannot move. ‘They bought the land from some of my family members, Babasa and Agbamaido, and they relocated. Why can’t PRUDENT buy our land so that we can leave this place?’
There is also the case of Chief Lucky Ubieribo who has lived in the UK for about 40 years. He said he bought the land in 1976 and built upon it in 1980 in Oghareki. This was before PRUDENT Oil Company began operations there in 2014. He travels home every year to spend time with his family, and in 2015, he said he began to experience breathing problems.
After he went back to London from his last visit, he said he began to feel weak, tired and dizzy ‘My GP referred me straight to the hospital and I was admitted in London for one month after an initial diagnosis that my lungs were not working properly. The doctors wanted to know where I live in Nigeria whenever I visit and I described it to them that it is close to a tank and gas farm.
Even though the doctors were able to prescribe certain drugs that took care of my lung problem, they told me that living in that area where gas and tank farms were located poses serious health risks in the short and long terms. What is happening here is going to cause a disaster in future’, Chief Ubieribo said to WADONOR.
Chief Obodoko Emmanuel is a businessman and a landlord in Oghareki. Together with some members of his community, he approached the owners of the PRUDENT oil company to highlight their problems – health issues from inhaling fumes from fuel and gas from the tank farms. According to Chief Obodoko, there were assurances from the oil company that in due course they were going to acquire any piece of land close to their gas and tank farm. He said PRUDENT enumerated certain areas close to the farms and valued them based on her capacity to acquire and pay compensation to effected residents.
Some collected a compensation while others who felt cheated from the low value placed on their lands rejected the compensation allegedly paid to them by PRUDENT. Chief Obodoko said that he has also made attempts to broker an understanding between residents and PRUDENT but to no avail. Part of his efforts of the community include a re-valuing of the affected property initially valued for compensation by PRUDENT.
Residents want to be evacuated from the community and paid medical compensation. Because that has not happened, they sought to take matters before the law. In a letter dated 10th September 2019, they wrote to the PRUDENT management through their lawyer SC Okehielem & Associates over ‘constant exposure to dangerous fumes from the tank farms in their community’.
They also wrote to the Honourable attorney general and Commissioner of Justice. In the letter to the commissioner of Justice Delta state, the Oghareki community reminded him of an earlier visit to his office on March 28, 2019 where they sought his help with stopping PRUDENT resume operations bearing in mind the implications of siting an industrial gas and fuel plant in a residential area.
In all of these, the community members have been left in the lurch apparently. Their lawyer, through his law firm told WADONOR that after the community wrote to PRUDENT, they were unable to further the case because of financial constraints. WADONOR called representative of PRUDENT, Mr Oladimeji Oladoja for comments on the allegations of the Arakpa
Community members in Oghara but he has not returned our calls. Staff of the General Hospital in Oghareki also refused to make any comment. Chief Lucky Ubieribo’s GP in the UK, Dr Jeffrey has not responded to our requests for comment on the state of health of his patient.
Information gleaned from Prudent Energy website says that they are a wholly-owned Nigerian company with its core area of specialization in the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil Industry. Prudent Energy say they believe that prosperous economies are built on a solid and robust network of actors who command the delivery of value from the point of creation to the point of expense.
This network is only as strong as the level of trust these economic actors have among themselves. Prudent Energy says it aspires to be a trusted growth partner for economic actors to depend on as they quest to deliver value. In only a decade of their existence, Prudent says that it has developed their operating assets and capacity in remarkable fashion, extending their impact in Nigeria’s energy value chain.
According to Prudent Energy, they have a trade and distribution capacity of over 1.2 million tonnes of various hydrocarbon products annually. They say they are best in class, fully automated petroleum products storage tanks with 54 million liters capacity. Prudent says it has marine vessels with a combined capacity of 85,000DWT to facilitate petroleum trade in Nigeria.
Further information on the Prudent Energy website says that they have grown their LPG downstream distribution capacity to 12,000 cubic meters. They say that they want to be the preferred energy provider with a mission to satisfying energy demands in their chosen markets. Prudent Energy says that they value include Teamwork,
Reliability, Integrity, Prudence, Safety. The Management Team of Prudent Energy Services include AbdulWasiu Sowami (Chief Executive Officer), Abiola Babatunde-Ojo (Chief Commercial Officer), Oladimeji Oladoja (General Manager, Depot Operations), AbdulLateef Abioye (Head, Supply And Trading), Yetunde Oyolola (Treasury And Investments Manager), Kamil Adebumola (Head of IT), Shamsideen Ayo Adeyemi (Head, Sales) Adepeju Qudrah Olaitan (Head, Human Resources), Olumuyiwa Okunola (Management Accountant), Adeola Bello (Head, Internal Audit And Risk Compliance), Aina Sururat Sowami (Head, Admin).
On Friday December 4 2020, WADONOR called the Lagos head office of Prudent Energy Services. We sought to get an update on the 10th September 2019 letter which the Arakpa Community members wrote to them, highlighting the plight of the community. In that letter, the Arakpa Community residents and landlords request Prudent Energy Services to buy their lands off them so that they can leave.
In addition WADONOR, sought to find out if Prudent Energy services inter alia, had satisfied requirements in sections 3.1 (i & ii) and 6 (i, ii & iii) of the Guidelines for the Establishment of Hydrocarbon Processing Plants (Petroleum Refinery And Petrochemicals) In Nigeria Department Of Petroleum Resources 2008. Section 3 of the Guidelines concern a certain Approval to Construct, ATC, and is valid for only 24months.
It involves issues of procurement and construction of tank farms. The other section 6, concerns Environmental and Safety consideration in hydrocarbon plants design and construction. Subsection d of the safety parameters that Prudent Energy Services should supposed to have carried out is an investigation on the effect of borehole water withdrawal on ground water table.
Under the guidelines highlighted by the Department of Petroleum Resources, Prudent Energy Services is expected to provide a detailed (a) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study of the area as provided for in the National Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industries in Nigeria (EGASPIN) as issued by the DPR before commencement of construction.
b) The general layout of the location and provisions for all waste disposal in the refinery/ plant shall comply with the applicable specifications in the EGASPIN c) The refinery / plant shall be equipped with adequate provisions for containing and handling spills and accidental discharge of potential contaminants. d) All the systems and components of the plant / refinery shall be designed to withstand any anticipated extremes of environmental phenomena on location.
e) The provision of effluent and recipient water quality monitoring shall be in accordance with the EGASPIN. A high-ranking official of Prudent Energy Services who was supposed to provide responses to these issues was said to be unavailable, and therefore we were told to call back. WADONOR repeated the call but was told the official was still unavailable. At the time of going to press, Prudent Energy Services did not reach WADONOR to respond to the issues raised by the Arakpa landlords and residents of Oghara, Delta State.
Apparently, Prudent Energy Services is not the only energy company in Delta State allegedly contributing to the cases of environmental and health challenges of Deltans. Information from the Nigerian Ports Authority indicate that in Oghara alone, there are about six other tank farms – Cybernetics Nigeria Limited Jetty, Rain Oil Nigeria Jetty, Blacklight Energy Limited, Fradro International Limited Jetty, O’thniel Brooks Limited and Dutchess Oil Nigeria Limited Jetty. Located in several other and parts of Delta State – and carrying out similar energy services like Prudent Oil Services are companies like Chevron Tank Farm Jetty (Escravos),
Shell Jetty (Ogunnu, Warri), Matrix Energy Limited Jetty, (Ifie, Warri), A&E Petroleum Limited Jetty (Ifie, Warri), JAD Engineering Construction (NPA Warri), Pinnacle Petroleum Limited Jetty (Ifie, Warri), Total Nigeria PLC Jetty (Koko), Taurus Oil and Gas Jetty (Koko), Ringardas Nigeria Limited Jetty (Sapele), Sapele Power PLC (Sapele), Bendel Feeds Jetty (Sapele), Fenog Nigeria Limited (Warri), Premium Steel & Mines Limited (Aladja, Warri, Awarise Nigeria Limited (Koko), Optima Energy (Koko) and Refinery Jetty 1&2 (Ifie, Warri).
There is nothing wrong in having these energy companies legitimately carrying out businesses in the Niger Delta. However, if such businesses are conducted in the manner that Prudent Energy Services seem to be conducting itself, a health and environmental disasters looms.
In a research article, Effect of oil spills on infant mortality in Nigeria, (March 19, 2019), published with the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, PNAS, Anna Bruederle and Roland Hodler of the Swiss Institute for International Economics (SIAW-HSG), University of St. Gallen say that When crude oil or other petroleum products leak into the environment, the different compounds (depending on their physical properties) evaporate into the air, are absorbed by the soil, or enter ground and surface water.
Oil spills also often lead to fires, which release respirable particulate matter (PM) into the air. Hazards to human health may result from dermal contact with soil and water; ingestion of contaminated drinking water, crops, or fish; or inhalation of vaporized product or PM and partly burned hydrocarbons produced by fires.
In addition, onshore oil spills may have indirect health effects via damage of livelihood resources, such as diminished yields from degraded agricultural land and fishing grounds. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, each year 9 million people die prematurely because of Pollution. Clearly, unregulated activities of tank farms spread across Delta State contribute to some of the mysterious deaths in the Niger Delta.
They contribute to making Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs of the UN numbers 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and 15 (Life on Land) unreachable. WADONOR calls on the Delta State government to investigate the activities of these tank farms, and hold them to the highest standards of operations.
We call on the statutory bodies responsible for the regulation of operations of these tank farms to form a task force to look into the claims of Arakpa residents on the culpability of Prudent Energy Services on their health and environment challenges. The peoples of the Niger Delta continue to suffer terrible consequences of oil spills and pollution from the activities of oil and gas prospecting merchants and multinationals.
Etemiku is editor in Chief of Bob MajiriOghene Communications, publishers of WADONOR…Niger Delta Cultural Digest.