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Highlights: 14 lives lost in the incident; in a hostile environment. Location: Azuzuama community environment, along Agip pipeline; site of recent explosion/fire Date of Visit: 16th July, 2015
On Thursday 9th July 2015 the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) learnt of the deaths of 14 persons along Agip’s Tebidabe-Clough Creek pipeline at a damaged section of the pipeline during a Joint Investigation Visit (JIV). The incident is not entirely new in the operations of the Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC]. The people of Etieama community in Nembe Local Government Area (LGA) of Bayelsa State are yet to forget the deaths of 18 vibrant youths who were invited to assist during clamping of a ruptured section of NAOC’s Brass-Ogoda pipeline in year 2000. According to community folks at Etiema, that ugly incident was caused by spark from a machine used during the clamping.
On Sunday, 29th July, 2012 a similar incident happened along Agip pipeline within Ayamabele/Kalaba community environment, in Okordia clan, Yenagoa LGA. As captured in an ERA/FoEN field report at the time, while trying to clamp a spill point, there was a sudden fire outbreak and 16 persons who made up the Agip team [including military men] and 4 community youths escaped death. However, a machine brought for the repair job and the bush bore the testimony as they were seriously damaged. Community folks at Ayamabele/Kalaba informed ERA/FoEN that they were lucky to have escaped unharmed though some of them missed their way home as there where no footpaths in the bush away from the site of the fire.
The incident at Azuzuama in Bassan Clan, Southern Ijaw LGA is yet another sad episode from NAOC operations as the testimonies from bereaved families and officials of the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment below indicates.
TESTIMONIES FROM BEREAVED FAMILY MEMBERS:
Mr. Italia Clinton, native of Azuzuama community
One of the young men who died as a result of that unfortunate fire incident was my nephew. He was named Epunumokumo Lynus Sampson Nume. He had two wives and children. One of the wives was pregnant too when he met his sad end on that Thursday. The night of the incident I received a call from one of the wives of the deceased. The deceased was my elder sister’s son. The wife called me around mid-night and informed me that her husband went to work on the pipeline with some persons and has not returned. She also said she heard there was an explosion and fire at the site in the bush. I tried to calm her by saying maybe her husband has run for his life and may be safe somewhere in the bush. Around 2am my elder sister called me again on phone. She told me that they have managed to visit the area but could not do much because of the night and so they will return to the bush in the morning to search. To my greatest surprise, I received a call from my elder sister early in the morning and she told me the sad news; that her son had been burnt to ash from the explosion and fire which occurred as Vowgas Limited, a contracting firm to AGIP was repairing a ruptured spot on the pipeline. According to her, 19 of them went into the bush and 14 died. My nephew was one of the victims because he was working directly with them before the incident happened. So, on Friday morning I had to go and meet my uncle, a retired police officer and we arranged for a speedboat to go down to the community [from Yenagoa]. When we got to Azuzuama, we witnessed nothing but grieving relations, some of them weeping uncontrollably too. The wife of my nephew and my elder sister [the mother of the deceased], were crying. I also joined in the weeping because it was a great loss to the family. It was later we held ourselves because the incident cannot be reversed. We saw the remains of the dead victims before the company took them to Port Harcourt to put them in the morgue. They were burnt beyond recognition.
Asked if the government or Agip have approached the bereaved families or done anything in connection with the incident, Clinton said:
Two days after we returned to Yenagoa, I heard over the radio, Governor Seriake Dickson saying that Agip has to do everything possible to ensure that the victims did not die in vain because they lost their lives while working on the company’s facility. Yesterday (20th July, 2015) a representative of Vowgas called me and said that we should go to Port Harcourt today, for a discussion with the company. They want to tell the family what they can do in respect of the deceased in terms of burial and compensation. So, we are going to Port Harcourt today. On the part of Agip, although it has not reached out directly to the bereaved families, the surveillance contractor in the area has been called and even yesterday we were in a meeting with the surveillance contractor. He informed us that the Security Manager in Agip called him with a view to getting the names of the two wives and children of the deceased. The second wife is pregnant right now. So, the surveillance contractor has sent the names to Agip. We are of the view that Agip is also trying to do something about it but they are yet to invite the family.
Since the incident has occurred and it cannot be reversed and, knowing that the fault came from the company, we are waiting on Agip to come up with what they think is the right and normal thing to do. It is from what the company says that we shall know the next line of action to take. Once Agip does the right thing, we shall have no option than accepting what has happened in good faith. To conclude, I appeal to the human and environmental rights NGOs to also come in to assist because these oil companies are very funny. They know the right thing to do, but may like to dodge. This is why we need the support of NGOs to prevail on them to do the right thing…..
Eperenwei Paris, family member of victim
In fact, the victim we are talking about was my cousin. His father is my uncle. In Ijaw tradition, when such a thing happens we do not use the corpse to trade with any company. But then, what is supposed to be done is that, the company has to come to the aid of the family. I say so because the deceased was a promising young man who was fending for his family. He had children and two wives; as Ijaw culture permits polygamy. Even though our late brother was engaged by a local firm contracted by Agip, the Azuzuama man does not know any other person or company to hold responsible on this matter other than Agip. Agip and the contractor it hired should come to the aid of the bereaved family and the community at large. I say so because even the environment and economic trees have been affected. Up till this moment, Agip is yet to reach out to the community officially in relation to the incident. In terms of what we expect from Agip on the deceased, the company should make adequate arrangement to compensate the family, to take care of his wives and children. We are talking of the future. We do not know the plans of the deceased for his children, how he would have trained his children, talking about formal education. We knew him as a very hardworking young man in the family and he was the first son of his father too. As we speak, the family is in complete grief, very sorrowful moment. What I am saying in essence is that, Agip should try and make sure that these children left behind are adequately taken care of because, for now they are all in primary school and, one of the wives is pregnant. We in Azuzuama, we haven’t encountered this kind of incident from any oil company within our territory before. But now that it has happened, Agip should try and do something positive to show that they are a truly responsible company.
When asked as to what the deceased was doing for a living, Paris replied:
The young man was a photographer. He was a professional photographer and he had a studio. He was always contacted by people even from outside our community and clan for his services. He was invited for his services in Ukubie, Korokorosei, Ondewari, Ogboinbiri, Lobia, Foropa, Koluama, etc. He was known to many people as a photographer and, that was what he did for a living. He was within his late thirties before he met his death.
Mr. Iboro Johnson Biekiri, from Olugboboro community in Olodiama clan, Southern Ijaw LGA
One of the victims of the explosion which happened at Azuzuama was my immediate younger brother’s son. He also died in that incident and his name is Ndukeduomene John Biekiri. I cannot say exactly how old he was when he died but he should be in his early twenties. The deceased had a wife and one child. I was at Amassoma on that day of the incident when my son called me from Yenagoa and informed me he heard such an incident occurred at Azuzuama. He promptly informed me that same evening that my younger brother’s son was also at the site when the explosion happened and that, he has died too. That was how the news got to me. The family has been invited to come to Agip office in Port Harcourt. I confirmed that last night and I am certain some members of the family are going today. Our expectation is that, although it has happened and there is nothing we can do to return the life, Agip should compensate the immediate family for the loss….
From other sources whose names ERA/FoEN cannot mention, we gather that:
A source at Twon-Brass: What I heard from an Agip Official here at Brass was that at the time of the repair work which led to the explosion/fire, the flowline was not shut down. That must have led to the unfortunate incident.
A source at the Ministry of Environment: It appears they did not neutralize the immediate environment with the necessary chemicals/forms before carrying out the job. From what I heard, as they were working fire came up. Although the fire was not a big fire then, instruction was given to the operator of the Swamp Buggie to scoop mud and stamp at the point where the fire was raging around the oil bearing pipe. When the Swamp Buggie Operator brought the mud [which had crude oil too] and dropped at the very spot where he was directed with a view to quench the fire the next thing was EXPLOSION and a huge fire.
Another ministry of environment source:
I learnt the line was not shut down when the repairs was going on. Besides, I also heard the very first day they went to the site too there was a fire incident [on Wednesday]. But, the fireman was able to fight the fire and put it out. Due to the impacts of that on the eyes of the fireman, he refused to accompany them the second day [being Thursday]. And, that was the day of the explosion.
Commissioner for Environment, Barr. Iniruo Wills
It is time to declare a state of emergency on the environment in the Bayelsa State in particular and the Niger Delta in general, in order to save the lives of our people and the future of our communities. For the people of Bayelsa State and especially the families of the victims and staff of the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment, July 2015 will go down as the July of death, on account of the needless deaths inflicted on our beloved ones and colleagues by Nigeria’s environmentally irresponsible oil and gas industry. In the course of a joint investigation/instant repairs visit to an oil spill site in the Azuzuama community area in Southern Ijaw LGA, a fire disaster occurred that claimed fourteen  lives, including an officer each of the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency [NOSDRA] and the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment. We are grieving, but we must now also insist yet again that it is time to take decisive action to stop this perilous hazard that has become a routine threat to life and ecology in Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta. It is time for all that are truly concerned to move from lip service to real action now…..In the meantime, the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment will continue to engage with all concerned parties, including investigatory authorities, the industry operators involved including Nigerian Agip Oil Company Ltd and its contractor, Vowgas Limited and the affected families to ensure that there is comprehensive and speedy investigation, full accountability by all those responsible for the disaster, adequate compensations and a radical change in the environmental standards comparable to international oilfield best practice. Our thoughts are with the families of all the fourteen souls lost in the Azuzuama oil pipeline fire disaster of 9th July, 2015.
DUABO: GENTLE HELPER THAT OUR COUNTRY FAILED TO HELP
(Iniruo Wills, Bayelsa State Commissioner for Environment)
Duabo's departure is the most painful experience of my entire working life.
It was hard to escape Duabo's charm, deep humility, easy friendliness, and infectious enthusiasm. He was such a handsome personality. You just had to like and admire his way. I didn't get to thank him nearly enough for all his support in our work, especially in my attempt to make some impact against all odds, since the nearly one and a half years I was assigned to lead the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment. It teaches us the painful lesson that if we don't say our thank you's fast enough we may never get another chance to say them.
Duabo was one of the quiet but inspiring pivots of our ongoing multi-faceted project of ramping up enforcement of environmental standards, preparing sound grounds and documentation to support a planned slew of strategic environmental litigation by the Bayelsa State Government, and organizing vivid evidence based advocacies aimed at persuading and if necessary shocking all key actors - corporate polluters, community folks, state and federal government authorities, and other influence groups - into according environmental protection its utterly missing pride of place, whether in "Nigerian" oilfield practice, in community norms, or in government budgeting and actual funding.
It was for one of such advocacies that we stayed up together in the office on the 26th of last May, until about 3am the following day, along with five other senior officers of the Ministry, finalizing an "Appraisal of the Socio-Economic and Security Threats of the Ijaw Environment" to be presented by me that next day. It was with the same vigour that, when I so assigned him to do, he coordinated the collation of the first pictorial database of environmental pollution in the Ministry, using over one thousand photos of the wicked forms of petroleum pollution, mostly sourced from the local office of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (Nigeria).
We wanted to be able to saturate any screen with images of this crude beast of pollution that is dangerously deleting life and livelihoods from our communities. One of the last days on which I saw him, he popped in to assure me - beaming with his particular smile - that he was practically done and would hand me the photo trove in a few days. He knew he was making me happy with that. I thought I would show him my full thanks when he would eventually bring it. But those few days have been punctuated by fate.
Earlier on, last March, we went together on a well attended Joint Investigation Visit to a major oil spill at a Shell Petroleum well head. He was the life of that eventful six-hour trip. He was the first to confirm to me, keeping me in suspense for two long seconds, that the cause of the spill was equipment failure. When Shell Petroleum came up with the usual antics to avoid accountability for the impact of that massive spill, it was only natural for us to put him in charge of preparing that case, working subsequently with the Honourable Attorney-General, for legal action.
Duabo's passion might have been at its peak in setting out the initial technical grounds for seeking justice on that particular spill. Amongst many other aspects of that task, he worked hard to produce a calculation that disproved the low spill volume claimed by Shell Petroleum. We remember fondly the times in my office when he would come and excitedly take us through it, with his brainy Director, Engr Japhet Bank, agreeing most of the way. I haven't stopped thinking of that computation as "the Duabo Formula".
But he later discovered he wasn't done yet on that score. He wrote in from his last tour of field duty that he had been making inquiries about that particular spill "since I came to Ogboinbiri on our routine JIV." After saying the fruits of his inquiries, he concluded:
"The 3days [of uncontained crude oil flow/spill] we are even looking at is very incorrect. Then the 15 hours SHELL is claiming is too much of a nauseating lie for us to condone. We should prepare a new report and estimate the spilled crude upwards,sir."
I responded: "Thanks. Proceed with the report ... and present to me."
He didn't get the chance to present the report. Six days later, we lost him and thirteen other precious souls to another crude oil spill management disaster, this time along Nigerian Agip Oil Company's pipeline in Azuzuama Community.
The way in which our gentle colleague and super affable friend, Duabo Theophilus, was taken from us left us in a blaze of shock, a rude confirmation of the worst fears and alarms that we - Duabo included - have repeatedly sounded from the Bayelsa State Ministry of Environment: that as a result of the extremely reckless and callous way in which the Nigerian petroleum industry operates and the zero practical (not verbal) attention paid to environmental protection by Nigerian Governments, Bayelsa State (indeed the oil-polluted Niger Delta region) is a huge series of fatal fires and explosions waiting to erupt.
At current rates hovering around one thousand oil and gas spills a year, to say nothing of continual gas flaring, Bayelsa State's environment and communities are practically immersed in hydrocarbon pollution. The causes range from the operators' direct equipment/operational failure to frequent pipeline vandalism and oil theft by third parties, which are still indirectly the operational or system failure of the oil producing corporations and the Nigerian State - via NNPC, their joint venture partner - for their combined failure to operate safely and effectively protect their facilities, free of harm to innocent host communities and individuals. Poorly resourced Federal and State Government regulators have to put themselves at risk daily to monitor the management of these odd thousand spill disasters a year, as Duabo and his federal/NOSDRA colleague (Osita Ugwu) did on that fateful Thursday 9th of July, 2015. These combined monitoring teams have little or no firefighting or rescue readiness at their disposal.
Tragically, the Nigerian oil industry and successive Nigerian governments have cared too little to dedicate adequate executive attention and funding to environmental and safety management / capacity building. Nine years after the enactment of the NOSDRA Act, the National Oil Spill Control and Response Centre which the Act expressly requires to be established is still a dream, NOSDRA as an agency is still not funded in any meaningful way, and the agency's head office is still in Abuja, thousands of kilometres away from the daily oil spills in Bayelsa State or any other oil producing/oil-polluted state.
Duabo and the rest of the Azuzuama 14 should not be just another set of statistics in the perennial diary of environmental pathologies, the ENI/Agip Group's criminally low standards, the NNPC's pretentious indifference, the Nigerian oil establishment's wickedness in the Niger Delta, the deep dysfunctions of successive Governments and how the Nigerian State continues to woefully fail our environment, our communities and our finest officers like Duabo. We owe our departed colleagues two things at the least. One is to ensure the fullest possible investigations to know exactly what happened that day and ask for accountability. The second is to all raise our voices, regardless of location or origin, to insist on a radical change from the slow genocide or ecocide that our national addiction to oil rents and royalties is exposing us ALL to. It is the only way we can retrieve a modicum of meaning from this needless tragedy.
Duabo, we and our work will miss your diligence, your passion, your intense curiosity, your constant smile and your instinctive sincerity. Rest in the Lord's bosom, our colleague, friend and brother. And thank you for all your support.
15 August, 2015
PICTURES FROM THE EXPLOSION SITE
Some of the victims of the explosion
The main issue here is security of lives and property and, as far as oil industry records are concerned, the Azuzuama incident stands out as a metaphor of oil incidents these days: in terms of loss of lives. Not only has NAOC been implicated in the burning of oil spill sites in the past, fire outbreaks during repair works has been associated with the company. The records are well known to Agip and the regulators. While it is not known whether the deceased families of a similar incident at Etieama community in Nembe LGA in 2000 were adequately compensated or not, it will not be out of place to advocate for something worthwhile for the present victim’s families.
During a recent visit to the site, ERA/FoEN observed that the terrain of the site of incident was really, not the type that can allow anyone to escape such an inferno even if the person had an opportunity. This is made worse by the rainy season and the swampy nature of the landscape. This must have resulted into the large number of deaths. Photos of some of the victims before their corpses were removed showed that they were stuck in the mud; made so immobile by the difficult terrain. Besides, the site was relatively far from the community, thereby making help to be far off from victims. It was sad to hear that the line was not shut down while repair effort was on-going. This smacks of placing production as more important that the safety of those working at the repair site.
ERA/FoEN also observed that clamped spot was yet to be covered with mud and, the Swamp Buggie badly burnt was stationary and, will probably remain there forever to tell the sad tale. The vegetation/trees on both sides of the pipeline around the environment of the explosion were all burnt. Due to the difficult terrain, it was a Swamp Buggie which was used to convey the ERA/FoEN team and others [Agip, NOSDRA, Ministry of Environment and soldier] to and from the site of interest.
Although 14 persons lost their lives; including a soldier, only five of them are identified by ERA/FoEN here and they include:
1 Engr. Duabo Theopilus [Ministry of Environment staff]
2 Ositadima Ogwu [NOSDRA]
3 Mupe Avoh [Agip]
4 Ndukeduomene John Biekiri [from Olugboboro community]
5 Epunumokumo Lynus Sampson Nume [FROM Azuzuama community].
1. Efforts be made by Agip to take all necessary precautionary steps in future repairs; putting safety above every other thing; including production.
2. State and Federal governments ensure that the right/normal things are done in addressing the concerns of the bereaved families.
3. The Oil industry be made safer for all stakeholders; including oil industry workers, regulators, communities and the Civil Society.
4. Agip compensate bereaved families adequately.
5. Agip engage only competent firms as contractors to carry out such jobs requiring high levels of professionalism/skills.
FRIENDS OF THE EARTH AFRICA GROUPS PUSHBACK ON EXTRACTIVE ACTIVITIES, LAND GRABS IN AFRICA
Friends of the Earth Africa (FoEA) groups have decried the impact of extractive companies’ operations across the African region, cautioning that if communities are not adequately empowered to advocate for and defend their rights, more of them will be displaced leading to conflicts.
The groups made the call during a solidarity mission to oil host communities in Bunyoro sub-region (Albertine Region, Uganda) currently grappling with the challenges associated with the developing oil industry in the country. Participants in the solidarity visit were Friends of the Earth International, FoEA member groups from Uganda, Nigeria, Togo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Tunisia and South Africa. Community representatives in Uganda affected by unsustainable development projects were also part of the team. The FoEA team was particularly concerned that residents of Kabale parish who have been asked by government to vacate the place to pave way for the oil refinery have received inadequate or no compensation at all for their lost properties.
Connecting Local Outrage To Global Resistance of Corporate Control of Water.
Friday, 14th August 2015
Nigeria palm oil land grab exposes need for human rights treaty
Thursday, 9th July 2015
Oronto Douglas demise a loss to the nation – ERA/FoEN
Thursday, 9th April 2015
The fall in oil price could be a turning point for Nigeria's economy
Thursday, 12th March 2015
Farmers in Nigeria's Taraba State refuse to give up lands for massive rice plantation project backed by the G8
Wednesday, 28th January 2015
The theme of the World Environment Day 2013 is “Think. Eat. Save”. Each word is loaded and stands alone, separated by unambiguous periods. That should get us thinking indeed. Many people in the world do not really think before eating. They are more preoccupied by the nagging question of where the next meal would come from. There are also a number of persons whose questions pertain to what to eat out of the myriad of choices on their sumptuous dining tables. And, of course, there are people to whom saving food is not a problem while to yet others there is simply no choice in doing that. There are others who wish to save but cannot do so either due to a lack of means to do so, or for the reason of current insufficiencies.
There is a lot of food for thought in just considering the theme.