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Ondo monarch leads protest in oil-rich community over Ocean surge

Some of the protesters.

Displaying placards with inscriptions such as “Reclamation is not impossible”, “Oil corporations are smiling, local people are crying”, and “Save our Souls,’’ they lamented the recurring sea incursion that has claimed over 85 per cent of their land

By Valentine Amanze

The people of Ayetoro community in oil-rich Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State have protested the alleged government neglect following a ravaging ocean surge that rendered over 5,000 homeless and destroyed schools, health centres and other critical structures in the community.

They held the peaceful protest on Wednesday May 29, 2024.

Led by their traditional ruler, the Ogeleyinbo of Ayetoro, Oba Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi, the protestors – including women, youths, children, and the aged – bemoaned their alleged abandonment by Ondo State and the federal governments.

Displaying placards with inscriptions such as “Reclamation is not impossible”, “Oil corporations are smiling, local people are crying”, and “Save our Souls,’’ they lamented the recurring sea incursion that has claimed over 85 per cent of their land.

They regretted that despite the community’s status as a cultural heritage, oil extraction by multinational corporations and the resulting spillages from extractive activities have not only contaminated their waters but also contributed to the worsening sea incursion.

Also read: How Nigeria’s oil, gas communities united against environmental polluters

They pointed out that past efforts by the government to address the situation have not yielded any results.

The initiatives, they said, included a shoreline project contract worth billions allegedly awarded to one Gallet Nigeria Limited to protect the community from the devastating ocean surges in 2003, and an allocation of N6.5 billion to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for the construction of a shoreline protective wall in 2006, but that none of them worked.

For the alleged Gallet Nigeria Limited contract, all that was seen were temporary geo-tubes set across the shores’ boundaries, which yielded no meaningful use or impact.

 Subsequently, the project completion was abandoned by the contractors due to an alleged lack of technical know-how.

“We only hear of these promises to intervene, and the billions of Naira awarded for reclamation projects in the news, but nothing has happened so far.

“None of the people or companies in charge of these projects have ever shown up in the community.

“Those who did come only made our situation worse by digging holes without follow-up measures,” said Oba Ojagbohunmi.

A female protestor lamented the loss of economic livelihoods for many in the community whose primary source of income came from fish processing.

She explained that following the disruption of fishing activities by the ocean surge, fish processing as a primary economic activity for women in the community has almost disappeared.

Another woman complained of the increasing health risks associated with daily exposure to petroleum-contaminated water.

Hundreds of schoolchildren at the protest voiced concerns about how their schools have had to be relocated several times due to the challenges posed by the ocean surge, causing many of them to drop out due to mobility problems.

They described how the often-unexpected surges have disrupted their learning process and calendar.

The protesters called on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the National Assembly, and the Ondo State government to save their community from extinction by building embankments to halt the ocean surges.

 They also urged the NDDC, the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and other relevant agencies to come to their aid.

They demanded a comprehensive audit and urgent probe of the multibillion-naira funds voted for the community’s coastline protection and the immediate return of contractors to the site.

They also requested a massive, fit-for-purpose embankment along the shoreline, informed by the community’s recommendations and scientific research conducted by universities and environmental experts both within and outside the country.

The residents further expressed willingness to support the government’s rebuilding efforts by providing manual labour, if needed, to expedite the process.

They appealed to state authorities to speedily mitigate the burden of the ocean surge on vulnerable residents, particularly the elderly, who have now reached the limits of their coping capacities.

The protest was observed by civil society organisation, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA).

valoa2000@yahoo.com

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