ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS ACTION /FRIENDS OF THE EARTH NIGERIA [ERA/FoEN] Brief follow up report by Murphy Akiri and Alagoa Morris Title:ERA revisitsOne Tsekelewu Community with the Media Highlight: Community leaders confirm ERA’s earlier report Location: Tsekelewu Community,Warri North LGA,Delta State GPS Coordinate: Elev:3m, N05°59.038’, E004°58.990’ Date of Visit: 21/22-01-11 INTRODUCTION: Because ERA’s first visit to Tsekelewu community was very brief due to the distance and time of visit, it was necessary to revisit the community and, this time with a neutral body to independently interview community folks and spend more time exploring the environment. And it was really worth it, as ERA’s field monitors were able to access some oil facilities, like the Opuekeba and Opuama Flow Stations and the gas flare mentioned in our earlier report. It afforded ERA’s field monitors the opportunity to witness the community people fetching water from the Opuekeba Flow Station and paddling back home, distance away. Some photographs were hurriedly taken too, as the Navy and soldiers were manning the oil facilities on the canal constructed from the Atlantic Ocean, otherwise called the Western By-pass, linking the Ilajes in Ondo State and the Tsekelewu people. During this second visit, the silted Creek ebbed as ERA’s field monitors accessed the community, displaying areas that were impassable as a result of siltation, mud covering large sections of the creek making the movement inward a meandering experience; sometimes getting very close to the vegetation on one side of the creek. ERA’S field monitors spent the night in the community and returned left the next morning. The ERA team was led also to meet with the Paramount Ruler of the Egbema Kingdom, the H.R.M. Gold Oro Eyitouyo Tiemo, otherwise addressed as the Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom, Bini Pere 111. He received ERA at his home, Ogbudubudu community. He confirmed the testimonies received from Tsekelewu, going back to the time before the oil companies arrived the environment for exploration and exploitation activities. Below are very brief testimonies of some community leaders who spoke to ERA’s team. According to Mrs. Hellen Ojiko, women leader of Sekelewu…..Since Cheveron constructed that canal and the salt water found its way into our environment, things had never been the same again. Apart from serious impact on our means of livelihood and silting of this creek that was very deep before the canalization, we have been denied of water to drink and bath. Just go round the community environment you will see what has become of an environment that was once very rich in trees of various kinds. Right now we have to paddle far away to get water. Because of the shallow nature of the Creek now, we don’t even get big fishes around here. It never used to be so. Chevron should close that canal; the government should come to our aid and block the canal from the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. That is actually where our problem has come from for now, they should block the canal and stop the salt water and silt from coming to give us problem. With all these difficulties, we still have to contend with health related issues as there are no health facilities…. For Mrs.Cynthia Toruwei… Some of us no longer see good reasons to remain in the village anymore because life is becoming more difficult by the day. Even the government is not helping us. We are only surviving by the grace of God. Those who cannot paddle to the oil platform to fetch water have continued to buy from some who made the trip. We buy a drum of water about N500.00. Mr. Sunday Ogunuku….. Actually, most of us [younger ones] now stay away from home. Even now I only came home to ensure that I register in the on-going voters registration exercise. I stay in Port Harcourt. I must confess, a lot of changes have taken place in our environment. And, our woes started when Chevron constructed a canal, the Western By-pass, link this fresh water swamp environment with the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean. The fresh water has gone bad and, that has affected both aquatic lives and the trees of the environment. It is alarming that this is the very hard reality of our community today. Even the animals we used to see or kill in this environment are no more here. The siltation is another matter. I guess you have seen how things are yourself since you came yesterday. It is very pathetic….. H.R.M .Gold Oro Eyitouyo Tiemo, the Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom,Bini Pere 111….. After receiving the ERA led team to his palace in Ogbudugbudu community, and hearing the purpose of the visit, the Traditional Ruler,who was with some of his Chiefs, urged ERA never to be in a hurry to leave because, as much as the objective of the visit was good, he was willing to respond to any question posed to him on the subject matter. And, when he was ready, the question and answer session began. In responding to ERA’s question, the Traditional Ruler said….The story of what has eventually become of Tsekelewu community environment is a long one. I cannot say it started recently. It all started in the early days when the oil companies came to the environment exploring for crude oil and later commenced exploitation. Now, to tell you that that environment, including Opuama community, was very rich in biodiversity; my people didn’t need to go far in search of livelihood in those days because they got all they needed within the environment. Oil too, not that which destroys, but palm oil was one of our products. Hunters too never need to go far to get animals; they were in the immediate environment. My people also engaged in logging and palm win tapping and local gin brewing activities. I was also a taper and brewer of local gin once in that environment. Now, Tsekelewu and Opuama environment is like shadows of what they used to be. You saw how the environment has suffered degradation; the fresh water forest has being completely destroyed, including the fresh water. The water is now brackish and the Creek leading to the community has silted up. That Creek used to be very deep in those days. That was why we used to have manatees around there. But, today the siltation has made the Creek become very shallow and almost impassable. This, I must tell you, is as a result of the construction of the Western By-pass from the Atlantic Ocean. This canal constructed Chevron opened up the fresh water swamp environment to the harsh salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. The plight of my people is huge. Our demand is that the canal should be blocked from where it links the Atlantic Ocean. They can leave where it links our neighbours, the Ilajes in Ondo State, but the opening to the Atlantic should be blocked to save us further economic, social and environmental punishment. We are not comfortable with the situation and needs help from the government too, to come and help us stop this injustice. We want you to carry this message far enough; that we need help…. OBSERVATIONS/CONCLUSION: For the first time, the ERA led team past right in front of Chevron’s Opuekeba Flow Station situation on the Western By-Pass, the canal that has brought in the salt water and silted up the Tsekelewu creek. The Flow Station was flaring gas and heavily guarded by the Navy and soldiers. A short distance from the Flow Station community people were seen fetching water while some were paddling to or from the Flow Station. Some who were met informed ERA that they left home at about 6:00AM to fetch water, but as at 4:00PM, they were yet to get back home, just on the way back paddling slowing because the canoes were really loaded with drums of water and were in danger of capsizing too. While the situation was as described above, at the Opuekeba Flow Station, that of Shell’s Opuama Flow Station was relatively silent, as the gas flare was off when ERA past by; though there were men on military uniform on the facility. One major observation was that, all those who granted interview to the ERA led team told the same story, whether they were met at the same location or in different spots in Tsekelewu or within the Egbema Kingdom. This was a confirmation of ERA’s earlier report after the first visit. From the observations and testimonies, it was clear that the people of Tsekelewu and Opuama are passing through very difficult times, scenarios that may get worse unless help gets to them early enough to salvage whatever is left in their environment. For, the environment is their life…..