The Ibeno host community people in Nigeria have received with alarm and sadness current happening around the proposed sale of the oil extraction assets of Exxon Mobil to Seplat, as the former plans to leave the Ibeno community where it has extracted crude oil from for the last 60 years. In the last weeks, the Ibeno people and their hydrocarbon deposits have been at the centre of a drama involving the federal government and regulators in Nigeria. While the federal government recently announced that it had approved the $1.3billion acquisition of the assets of Exxon Mobil by Seplat, the Nigerian oil sector regulator countered the claim and the authority of the office of the President to sanction such sale, especially in the context of the Petroleum Industry Act. The Presidency immediately backed down, deferring to the powers and responsibilities of the regulator as provided by the PIA. In response, the expected beneficiary of the sale, Seplat threatened to drag Nigeria authorities to court for stalling their acquisition of the said assets. While the drama continues, the sub national government of Akwa Ibom state where Exxon Mobil is located has also thrown spanner in the works and decried their exclusion from conversations relating to the sale of the assets.
While the controversy rages, it is noteworthy that there is absolutely no reference to the indigenous people of Ibeno. At no time has their opinion been sought, or have they been consulted. The company and the government have not deemed it appropriate to ask; what do communities think about the planned departure of Exxon Mobile after being their forced guest for 60- years? Divestment moves are happening all over the Niger Delta region in the shadows and without the knowledge of oil producing communities. On several occasions, the Ibeno community has protested and made representations to the company and the Nigerian government demanding the restoration of their environment and livelihoods lost on account of oil pollution.
Traditionally, the Ibeno people depend on fishing for their livelihood, creating a vast trade in fish and other aquatic food across most of the Niger delta region. In fact, the whole of Ibeno was previously a fishing settlement, one of the largest on the Atlantic coast of Nigeria. But when oil extraction began in the area, other businesses and investment opportunities took a downward spiral on account of pollution and declined yields. Not only has the company been flaring associated gas in the Ibeno area since its began operations in 1961, the company is also complicit in regular oil spills. Community members report that precipitation in the area is more acidic than elsewhere, and corrodes metals including roofing sheet, as well as causing skin irritations. They also report alarming health impacts of gas flaring including cancers and various diseases of the respiratory system. According to fisher folks in the community, gas flares from the company’s offshore facilities has significantly reduced the fish yields. Fishes have drifted farther offshore towards the rig platforms where left-over food and other waste are dumped in the water, attracting the fishes to those locations and farther away from the shores. Unfortunately, not only are community members prohibited from approaching those platforms, their boats are rarely equipped for such currents.
It is ironical that divestment of Exxon Mobil is happening at a time that global concern is focused on the devastating climate impacts created by the fossil fuel industry, and the need to hold fossil companies accountable for their negative footprints on the planet and communities where they operate. The Ibeno community is highly exposed to the negative impacts of climate change. The coastline of the community is experiencing rapid sea level rise which is already destroying homes and businesses; and threatening the entire community. Settlements located along the Ibeno coast have experienced rapid sea level rise causing many persons to abandon their homes. The sea has encroached inland about 40 metres in the last 2 years, displacing several businesses lying along the coast.
It is disturbing that while the community people have hardly benefited from the proceeds of oil extraction, they suffer the negative impacts tremendously.
We are particularly disappointed that Nigerian authorities have not deemed it appropriate to establish frameworks for a just divestment which protects communities by restoring their environment, livelihoods and dignity. The unfortunate reality is that as companies divest and run-off, oil producing communities will be left with the mess created, with almost no chance of restoring their environment, their health and their livelihoods; or reversing the already obvious impacts of climate change on them.
If there was ever any doubt about the devastation impact of oil extraction, it was put to rests in 2011 when the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP concluded an assessment of some oil impacted areas in Ogoniland. The report which followed showed irrefutable evidence of the devastating impact of oil pollution on lives, livelihood, health and the ecosystem. The scientific assessment showed that pollution had contaminated drinking water sources, and exposed communities to severe health risks. We are certain that similar impacts will be noted if Ibeno community it assessed after 61 years of extraction.
The resilient Ibeno people are not bothered if Exxon Mobil decides to leave, but they are concerned about their legacy of sicknesses, lost livelihoods and pollution. For the people, no divestment should be discussed without restoration; and no divestment should happen without the due consultation of the people. After 61 years of reckless oil extraction, it is criminal for the company to just walk away.
Men cannot perform any long, and women cannot bear any longer. We cannot drink water from rain, stream or boreholes
To extract accountability and justice, we demand the following;
- An immediate and comprehensive audit of the Ibeno community. This audit should cover environmental, livelihood, health, social and economic impacts of crude oil and gas extraction, and should be immediately followed by the remediation of impacted places, restoration of the human and ecological damages caused by extraction activities, and reparations for the irreversible damages caused by oil extraction.
- That the federal government immediately produces a framework and guide for how oil companies disengage from areas where they have operated. This should be done in collaboration with the Ibeno people and all other oil producing communities of the Niger Delta. Adequate and due consultation must be initiated with the Ibeno people as critical stakeholders in decisions related to the hydrocarbon deposits located in their community.
- That before ExxonMobil must divestment all outstanding memorandum of understanding with host communities, undertake post-operation environmental and health assessment and restoration, settle outstanding judgement claims and compensation obligations to host communities, and implement a detailed decommissioning and abandonment plan, or show evidence of savings in dedicated accounts for the Decommissioning Fund, before the conclusion of any sales.
This statement is endorsed by Ibeno Host Community Women, Youths and Men.