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Oloibiri, Nigeria - Fifty years after Anglo-Dutch Shell struck oil in the southern Nigerian community of Oloibiri, residents say the discovery of this "black gold" has been a curse rather than a blessing....
Oloibiri, Nigeria - Fifty years after Anglo-Dutch Shell struck oil in the southern Nigerian community of Oloibiri, residents say the discovery of this "black gold" has been a curse rather than a blessing.
Oloibiri in southern Bayelsa State is at the heart of the troubled Niger Delta, the epicentre of Nigeria's multi-billion-dollar oil and gas wealth.
But the sleepy rural community still lacks potable water, good health facilities and stable electricity.
Ebitale Dansan Igoin, chairman of the Oloibiri Community Development Committee, still remembers the day crude was found.
"As a young man of 10 in June 1956, I was among the people who ran to the scene of the discovery. We saw some oyinbos (white men) using their equipment to drill crude from the place," he told AFP.
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"The excitement was electrifying. We were happy such a thing was happening on our soil and right before our very eyes.
"But today, I am not too sure any person who witnessed that event would want a repeat of it. They have come, pillaged our soil and left us in ruins," the 60-year-old retired civil servant said, pointing at dilapidated buildings dotting the community.
Oil exploration and exploitation has destroyed Oloibiri's farmlands and polluted its waters, making fishing impossible, residents said.
"Fishing used to be the mainstay of our forefathers before the discovery of oil. But look at the rivers now. They are polluted, the fish are dead," said 47-year-old civil servant Nadari Banigo.
He said the locals earn peanuts from the subsistence farming and small trading they do since fishing is almost completely destroyed by pollution.
"There is no clean water. My people drink from the streams, which is not hygienic to their health," he lamented.
Banigo said the community has been deserted by young people, who throng to the cities in search of jobs.
"We appeal to Shell to set up micro-credit schemes to empower the people. With money in our pockets we can think of something reasonable to help our community to develop," he said.
Oloibiri blames both Shell and the government for its desolation.
But "more blame should go to the government for killing the goose that lays the golden egg," said Igoin said, accusing the country's leaders of diverting the region's oil resources to build "mega cities in Lagos and Abuja."
He conceded Shell had injected money into the community, building schools, hospitals and a road.
"This road that terminates here in Oloibiri was constructed by Shell in 2004. More than 10 villages are linked by the road," he said, pointing to a 40km stretch that starts in Imiginri.
And "every year, Shell doles out money to assist university students from our community" and others, said Igoin, who represents his village on the scholarship committee.
But "it is true that Shell has not done enough," he insisted.
Local resident Etuamoru Puanoni also pointed the finger at the government.
"Successive administrations have failed to do anything for us. When President Shehu Shagari visited Oloibiri in the early 1980s, he promised to build a monument in remembrance of the first oil well," he said.
"Up till now, nothing has been done on that project," the 45-year-old businessman lamented. He said President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has been in office since May 1999, has not fared better.
"He laid the foundation for the building of an oil and gas research institute in 2001, but the place is now overgrown with weeds and taken over by reptiles," he said.
Bayelsa governor Goodluck Jonathan said it was regrettable that 50 years after oil was discovered in Oloibiri, the state was not yet connected to the national grid.
For 29-year-old Duwine Ozu, an unemployed father of three, the neglect of the Niger Delta was the cause of current unrest in the region.
"Government has to live up to its responsibilities by creating jobs, building schools, hospitals, roads and providing amenities that can directly benefit the people," he said.
In recent months, separatist militants seeking local control of the country's vast oil resources have taken up arms against oil firms and personnel in the region.
At least 31 foreign oil workers have been kidnapped since January, the latest being the two Filipinos abducted on Tuesday.
In previous cases, the kidnapped men were released unharmed after spending several days in captivity. The violence has claimed the lives of two Nigerian workers and some 30 security officers.
Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and the world's sixth exporter with a daily output of 2.6 million barrels, most of which is derived from the Niger Delta.
But a quarter of that figure has been cut because of the unrest. - Sapa-AFP
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