23 March 2009

Bodo community report

From six in the morning on March 21st, residents of Bodo in Gokana Kingdom of Ogoniland sieged an SPDC oil manifold in their community. The protest, attended by some five hundred men and women was held in response to the ongoing neglect of Shell and the government to attend to a large offshore spill affecting their community since September.

From atop the oil manifold, the Youth Council president exhorted the crowd, shouting that they were going to blow up the manifold in a week if Shell didn’t bring relief materials and come with a clean-up plan. When asked if taking this action wouldn’t give the police an excuse to brand them as militants and come and kill them, he answered: ‘Let them come. We are ready for any consequence. If some of us must be killed to make our point, then so be it. We will die just like other Ogoni martyrs before us.’
Shell quit Ogoniland some time ago, but many of the oil pipelines have natural pressure which pushes the oil through, as is the case in Bodo. In essence, Shell gets this oil and has no need to do any maintenance or be available to the community. The burst pipe in question was originally installed in the 1950’s. There have been intermittent leaks in Bodo since 2003, and either nothing had been done, or the company had hired scarecrow remediation companies owned by local strongmen who had no expertise whatsoever and did nothing.

Oil companies have been known to complain that local communities sabotage pipelines to get valuable clean-up contracts. This certainly happens in some places, but in Bodo, they are calling for a professional, foreign company to come and clean up the mess.

Behind the oil manifold enclosure, some 500 yards down a path is the marsh. Total destruction. There is a line a foot up the grass where the oil has risen to. Everything is dead for as far as the eye can see.

After the protest, a group of over fifty women gathered and began shouting their grievances in Ogoni. Via an interpreter from the Youth Council, two matriarchs were chosen to represent the group. They detailed how there was widespread hunger and thirst in the community: all the fish had been killed, the water contaminated, access to the creeks blocked and the ground-soil polluted and crops poisoned. One woman presented a meager basket of cassava meant to feed her family for a week. It was only enough for one person. Another woman pushed forward and said her eight year old son had died of hunger.

A higher up in the Youth Council, the same one who had been interpreting, told of his frustrations and how he felt control slipping out of his hands. He said it was getting impossible to calm the youth in the town and that he was sure some of them would slip into militancy and armed action. ‘A hungry man is an angry man,’ he said. If they blow up the oil manifold next week, it might be one step in this dreaded direction.

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