The people of indigenous Gele Gele Community in Edo State in Nigeria have called for an end to oil and gas exploration in their community, and payment for the loss and damage to their environment that they have endured for seven decades of extractive activities.
The representatives of the community spoke in a meeting organised by Zero Waste Ambassadors, in collaboration with Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth, Nigeria and the African Climate Justice, as part of the #PeopleAssemblyAction towards the #AfricanPeoplesCounterCop, which held in Benin on September 29, 2023.
Sharing stories of the people of Gele Gele and the extractives, the President of the Host Communities Network (HoCON), and member of Gele Gele Community, Prince Barbs Pawuru, said that years of oil and gas leakages, environmental destruction and neglect caused by the operating companies must be accounted for.
He said that these companies have extracted from their community for years and even built a gas flaring plant in the middle of the community, exposing the people to toxic acids and gas emissions that have polluted the lands, waters and the air they breathe. He stated that the people of the community suffer diseases at different levels, ranging from heart conditions, skin diseases, loss of sight, etc.
According to him, several efforts have been made to seek redress on these airing companies but have failed because the companies have employed a divide-and-rule system by awarding contracts to a selected few in the community, pitching them against their own people and against the well being and development of the people.
Barbs also noted that the companies in Gele Gele community have exploited their lands and the people without any benefit to them, therefore, they are demanding for an end to oil and gas exploration in their community, to clean up the environment, and a compensation of N500 billion be paid to the people as compensation for the damages they have caused in the last five to six decades.
Also speaking at the programme, the Women Leader of Gele Gele Community, Mary Fedigha, pointed out that the women of Gele Gele have spoken, cried and begged on different platforms and with various civil society organisations, calling for an end to oil and gas exploration in their community.
She stated that he women of Gele Gele depend on fishing and farming for their survival, but have been left in poverty, hunger and starvation because the extractive activities have destroyed their sources of livelihood. She explained that despite housing oil and gas industries, their children cannot have access to good education, neither have the few graduates in the community been offered employment opportunities, despite the pleas of the community.
On her part, the Secretary of Gele Gele Women Group, Grace Emakpose, pointed out some of the health issues experienced in Gele Gele community. She stated that there have been multiple cases of Miscarriages in the community, which can be connected to the acidic contents of gas.
She added that the people have fled the community because of the heat and lack of development. According to her, because the oil and gas activities have done so much harm to the people, with nothing positive to record, there is no reason to continue with oil and gas extraction. The companies should be asked to leave the community.
The Youth leader of Gele Gele community, Ebikena Milton, who also spoke at the meeting, clarified that the company in Gele gele has refused to engage the services of the youths of the community that has hosted their business operations, despite making billions from them.
He opined that oil and gas is a lucrative business and thus these companies can provide soft loans to empower the youths, or scholarships to advance their education. According to him, the companies have rather teamed up with a few people who they use to cause disunity and chaos in the land, to advance their business agenda.
According to the community representatives, the years of oil and gas extraction from their community has only brought poverty, suffering, ailments and disunity to the people, rather than the promised development and growth, they hereby called for an outright end to oil and gas extraction in the community, relocation of the gas flaring plant to other areas, Five hundred billion naira compensation for the loss and damages and clean up of their environment.
The Communication Officer of Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth, Nigeria and member of Zero Waste Ambassadors, Elvira Jordan, who spoke on the People’s Assembly Action, stated that the action is in line with the objectives of the African Peoples Counter COP, towards the coming 28th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP28) scheduled to hold in Dubai.
She revealed that previous COPs have only seen world leaders who attend the COP without addressing the predicaments of the host communities, as regards to the level of environmental hazards and human rights abuses brought by oil and gas exploration activities. She added that the action was geared towards hearing and documenting the experiences of the people and their demands to the oil and gas industries.