Oil Spill Devastates Niger Delta Community

By Adetokunbo Abiola

OKPELLA, Nigeria, October 17, 2002 (ENS) - The Niger Delta town of Okpella in Nigeria's Edo state suffered its second oil spill in three years when a pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, a state owned concern, ruptured and spilled an as yet undetermined amount of refined crude oil into the environment.

The incident took place in late September, and threw the more than 20,000 inhabitants of the town into confusion. Local residents responded slowly to the disaster in the face of belated official initiatives to prevent the spread of the spill.

The spill took place in one of the villages that constitute Okpella, 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) from the Nigerian capital, Abuja. The refined crude oil seeped into the underground water supply and then into a stream which provides the villages with water.

oil spill

Spilled crude oil and burned grass blacken the ground around the cement top of a well. This well, along with more than 50 others, were polluted by the oil spill. (Photo courtesy Adetokunbo Abiola)
Investigation revealed that more than 53 wells in the town have become polluted as specks of refined crude float in the water. The villagers have abandoned these wells as they now consider this water unfit for human consumption.

Jumeh Ibrahim is a native woman of the town, a farmer who lives 20 meters (65 feet) from the burst pipeline.

"We have lost a lot of goats from the problem," Ibrahim said. "They die when they drink the polluted water. There are now many cases of dysentary and malaria. Some people have ignored warnings and drunk out of the polluted water."

The oil spill has also affected the farmlands of the community. Crops are now visibly withered due to the presence of toxic materials in the soil, a major blow to a population that depends on farming for its survival.

The inhabitants grow plantains, yams, cassava, coconuts, groundnut, potatoes and other crops, but most are destroyed and drying up in the aftermath of the spill.

Kayode Olowu, a member of the local committee set up to look into the problem, said, "Trees are beginning to die. The wildlife is affected. So are the farms. The damage is so serious that we need immediate response to the problem."

map

The town of Okpella is about 250 miles south of Abuja, in the Niger Delta near the Gulf of Guinea. (Map courtesy U.S. Energy Information Administration)
The Environment News Service has learned that the Nigerian National Petroleum Company laid the pipelines in 1973 and has not replaced them since. Now they have become rusty and prone to burst underground, in the backyards of Okpella inhabitants.

After an inspection, oil company officials acknowledged that the spill was a result of equipment failure and was not due to sabotage. Company officials presented two plastic water tanks to this community of thousands of people who are struggling to deal with contaminated water.

Okpella residents complain that this is a grossly inadequate compensation for the devastation visited upon their community as a result of the spill.