Rhoda Peter is the President, Ibeno Female Youths Association in Ibeno Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. In this exclusive interview with e360 in Uyo, she talks about the plethora of challenges confronting her community which has led to low life expectancy, threat to their continued existence and her struggle to attract government attention to no avail. Excerpts
As an oil producing community what are the major challenges confronting your people?
We have lot of challenges; we have no good water and no electricity. Power supply comes maybe two or three days in a month, and by the end of the month we are asked to pay electricity bills. We are also affected by gas flare and oil spillage. We were a fishing community, but our rivers are now dead. Growing up as a child, I could walk to the sea shore, throw a net and catch a fish, but that no longer happens because of oil spillage and nothing is being done. Neither government nor the oil company operating in the area have been able to help us with alternative means of livelihood.
Now that the waters have been polluted, how are people surviving?
Before now, our people were natural fishermen, we don’t do office jobs or seek employments. But because they have destroyed the livelihood of the community through oil exploration, we are now struggling to get employments from the oil company operating in the community. If you go to my community, there is very low life expectancy, at almost every compound you see posters of young people, with the title “painful exit”. This is because people’s means of survival is no more, they are barely struggling to eke a living. And you know these people are not educated or skilled workers, they were natural fishermen. Now the oil company will ask people to come with CVs for job placement, these are people that are not so educated or skilled.
What benefits has your community enjoyed from the oil company operating in the area?
We have no benefit to show; it is hard for members of our community to get employed at the company, we have only one government secondary school in a community made up of 26 villages. At one point in time, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) came to build a skill acquisition centre, but it’s been abandoned. We have a lot of abandoned projects in that community, we have many abandoned water projects and electricity transformers. Everybody living in that community buy pure (sachet) water for drinking. For washing and bathing, we get water from the well. If you fetch and leave the water it turns yellowish after 30 minutes because it’s all been polluted. We don’t wear white or bright colored clothes in my community, because you can’t wash them with yellowish water. Our clothes are usually dark colored or plain black. Imagine what is happening in my generation, if nothing is being done now, what will happen to my children’s generation or 10 generations to come.
Is your community aware of the various government intervention to the Niger Delta like the 13percemt derivation? And how has the several intervention mechanisms such as the NDDC and Niger Delta ministry helped?
They have not helped in any way. The federal government has to relate directly with the community so that everyone will know what government is doing, not that government should be dealing with one man who claims to represent the community. The more people have information about government intervention, the better for us. Because the few people in Abuja who have this information make it their personal property, they exploit the people. I’m asking that the federal government should have a plan on how the people who are directly affected by oil exploration will survive. Because the oil companies pay taxes to the federal government. Look at where I have come to attend a seminar, from where I am having this interview with you (Ibom hotel); this is the first time in my life that I am seeing a place this beautiful. Since I came here, I have been sleeping in a good and comfortable room, breathing clean air and drinking clean water, but when I finish from here, I’m going back home to continue with our polluted water and air.
What is the health implication of the bad water and atmosphere on your people?
Our health is bad, the gas flare is affecting us, our roofs are bad. Before, we use to get teams of free healthcare workers, I don’t know if it was the federal government or the operating company, Mobil, that was responsible for them, but they no longer come. We have a health care center located in my community but its not functioning. People travel far to access health care. It is worst for the people living in the mainland because, they have to cross water to access health care. Many women give birth at home because they can’t go through the challenge of traveling long distance to give birth when they go into labour, and this has led to many infant and maternal mortality.
If the President is listening right now, what would you say to him?
I’m pleading with the President to put a structure on ground, maybe a special commission that can come to the community and have one on one with members to know what their challenges are. NNDC is not meeting that responsibility, they stay in their exalted offices, and ask contractors to go and construct roads here are there, that are even eventually abandoned, without coming to the community to find out what their challenges actually are. God did not make a mistake to put oil resources in our lands, so why should we be made to suffer untold hardships while the money from the oil is being used to develop other places. Mr. President should help to see that the needs of oil-bearing communities, especially, Ibeno, are addressed. The female youths are left out, even when the men get some compensation or jobs from the company, the women are left out, they are the ones suffering the most. I lost my mum in 2007, I lost my dad also, my siblings and I are left alone. Do you know why they died untimely deaths? because their means of livelihood, which is fishing was gone. Life became very difficult, money was scarce. If we continue like this, what will happen to generations to come? I am pleading with Mr. President to come to our aid. The President should not depend on those who give him false reports. Perhaps sharing money is not what we need, maybe going to school or acquiring skills is what will solve our problems. So, a commission should be set up to liaise directly with the people to help us resolve these issues and ensure our future and continued existence.