THE DIFFICULT RELATIONS BETWEEN EXXONMOBIL AND AKWA IBOM STATE IN THE NIGER DELTA
By Friday Udo
Anger has grown wild, tempers continue to rise, accusations and desperate defences have been exchanged between Akwa Ibom and Mobil, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and at a point the State House of Assembly had to summon Mobil to appear on its floor to explain what they had done for the State and the oil producing communities which they have exploited oil and ravaged their environment over the years.
After many refusals and much foot-dragging Mobil decided to appear on the floor of the House with its former managing director, Mr. Paul Caldwell and other top officials of the company. A memorandum of understanding was entered after a series of interactions. In it the oil company, among other things, promised to make its presence felt in the State as well as redress the injustice done on the oil producing communities by compensating them for the monumental environmental degradation they had suffered as a result of oil exploitation.
One of the promises made by Mobil announced that it had
a vacancy for a director of legal service (General Counsel), to which qualified
Akwa Ibom indigenes were asked to apply, in addition to a promise to set
up an office in Akwa Ibom. That was in year 2000 but the whole agreement
turn out to be a sham. None of the understanding was met and the
relationship between the company and the State kept degenerating with more
strident calls that Mobil should relocate its headquarters from Lagos to
Akwa Ibom where it has exploited oil for decades. The people demand that
ExxonMobil should employ
more of its indigenes into top management position and invest in infrastructural development of its host communities commensurate with the amount of crude taken from the area. They also demand a restoration of their environment from the devastation it has suffered from Mobil's drilling activities.
But since all entreaties, appeals and reasons made to Mobil had failed Akwa Ibom was left with the only option of calling the attention of the international communities to these long years of injustice and environmental crime committed against its people by oil companies.
ExxonMobil's evils were exposed at the World Conference of Mayors held in Eket, the hub of oil and gas business in Akwa Ibom. There were no fewer than 40 mayors among-- them representatives of the congressional Black Caucus, National Baptist Convention, Minority Right Groups, and International Environmental Criminologists from America as well as top officials of Akwa Ibom Government in Nigeria. They met to brainstorm on the theme of oil industry environmental pollution: managing women, children and environmental issues.
The devastation site visited stunned the delegates. They couldn't understand how a company "committed" to environmental-friendly policy disgorges through a big drainpipe all its liquid waste, (both human waste and industrial effluence) into the sea. The visitors also saw how the Stub Creek, the largest forest reserve with notable endangered species has been devastated by Mobil's drilling activities.
>From ExxonMobil at Qua Iboe terminal, the visitors came face to face with an erosion site at Iwuokpom beach. They then proceed to Upenekang beach, Usiak Ifia, Iwuochang where an oil spill frantically denied by Mobil was recorded on November 20, 2000.
At Iwuochang, Governor Attah, leading the team braved the rough unfriendly sea and set sail on a four-hour journey to and from Akata beach, a fishing community in Ibeno where the November 20 oil spill dealt a deadly blow on the community. The people's plight is pathetic. You could see, walk with and smell poverty. Disease, sores and rashes as a result of water pollution ravage Akata children.
"We have no school for our children, no electricity, no good source of drinking water. Hunger, poverty and disease are our greatest company", cried Michael Jackson Ede, the secretary of the Village Council who spoke on behalf of the village head, and the entire village. He continued: "Our only occupation is fishing but we can not fish again because oil has polluted our rivers, and even our drinking water", he lamented.
"This is the water we drink", the stunned the visitors who looked into the coloured water with disbelief. "Our drinking water is polluted by oil yet we have no choice. Our people have been dying drinking polluted water, but we're still drinking and gradually we're dying", he lamented.
The villagers brought out fishing nets soaked with oil to show to the visitors insisting that the effect of the November 2000 oil spill and previous ones were still with them. They however, thanked Governor Attah for being the "first Governor in the world" to visit their community and for bringing Americans to come and see things for themselves.
In his reaction, Obong Attah assured them that government was always thinking about them and was prepared to do everything within its available resources to improve their conditions. He blamed the Federal Government and the multi-national companies for neglecting these communities who bear the brunt of oil production.
The Uqua Iso Edoho open oil well, cut in the shape of a cross and filled with water that overflows its flat concrete plain is a notorious death trap. Addressing the visitors, the Chairman of Esit Eket Local Government, Prince Nkereuwem Akwaowo said at least five people have drowned in the oil well and explained that four such wells litter the Esit Eket environs posing serious danger to hunters, farmers and other villagers who may not be aware of existence of the death trap.
Earlier on June 10 through 19, the World Conference of
Mayors, WCM, delegation travelled to Nigeria, specifically Akwa Ibom State,
on an "Environmental Fact Finding Mission", investigating environmental
injustices and crimes committed by ExxonMobil. It is their opinion
that multi-national companies based in the United States must be responsible
to the communities where they do business. The World Conference of
Mayors on that basis believes it is committed to strengthening the bridge
between economic development and sustainable communities by exposing environmental
injustices. The delegation visited several villages and witnessed firsthand, the impact of the ExxonMobil atrocities on the people indigenous to the land.
Elder Okoko reasoned that the Mayors would be well placed
to assess the situation on the ground, vis-`-vis the relationship between
the oil companies and their landlords, saying, the international headquarters
of ExxonMobil and other companies operating in the State should be fully
briefed on the exploitation visited on the State.