By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
It is over two weeks since an oil spillage was discovered in a well belonging to one Mr. Adedeji Ogunba on Aminatu Ilo street, Ejigbo area of Lagos, followed by an infantile clampdown on residents by officials of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
Owing to the infiltration of spilled oil into the underground table water, the lives of the over 500,000 residents of Victory Estate, Ejigbo and environs are at great risk.
Chairman of Victory Estate Community Development Association (CDA), Prince John Akinubi, said communities close to oil pipeline installations in Ejigbo, Ijegun, Amuwo-Odofin, Ipaja, Ilado and Baruwa are in the same situation as those in the polluted Niger Delta communities, while contaminated water pose severe danger to the lives of many Lagosians.
His words: “Lagos is not an oil-producing state, but the lives of so many people living along oil installations in Lagos are in danger. We have been living on contaminated water in this area for years and we made an official report to the NNPC six years ago, but nothing has since been done to address the situation.
“In the whole of Ejigbo, if you fetch water from a well, you can perceive the strong smell of fuel. For those who can afford it, they dig a borehole, since the surface water has pushed up oil. That was in the past; the bad news today is that half of the boreholes in the area are now affected by the oil spill. This is why we are crying out to government and the international community to help us.”
According to an oil sector analyst, Victor Ohai, pipelines have a lifespan of 15 years. This means there should be periodical change of pipeline installations across the country.
He went on: “These things are not meant to last forever. I don’t know when but I am sure the pipelines have been there for much longer. The danger is that there is a lot of corrosion that goes on over time leading to some perforations on the pipes.
“Any time oil is being pumped, the product leaks and goes underground. When it rains, the underground water level rises and because oil will always float when mixed with water, the oil will seep through into neighbouring wells. With the present situation, residents of this area are already victims of the negligence of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), who are the owners of the pipelines. Apart from the health implication, the hazards of exposed pipelines cannot be quantified.”
Aside the risk of contaminated water, which studies confirm could cause cancer and physical or mental disability, Akinubi noted that the area’s exposure to highly inflammable materials could result in a fire outbreak like the disaster that occurred eight years ago in Ijegun.
Reacting to the incident, chairman of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, has called for an immediate investigation into the spillage.
He said: “The situation at hand is beyond NNPC just confirming the incident. As a responsible organization, they must investigate the extent of leakage with a view to replacing the leaking pipes and providing new sources of water for the over 5,000 members of the community who can no longer use their wells.
“They should be held responsible for negligence in monitoring the pipelines and replacing them when due. It is expected of the NNPC to monitor their pipelines and alert the physical planning authorities of host states each time the area is being abused so that such attempts would be promptly curbed.”
One of the grave dangers of consistently drinking water contaminated with petrol is the presence of MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) in refined products, which studies have shown to cause cancer. The additive MTBE was supposed to help air pollution by making gasoline burn cleaner in cars, but it fouls underground water supplies.
Some of the effects of the toxic chemical exposure to the body include carcinogen, which is capable of causing cancer, gastrointestinal or liver toxicant, kidney toxicant, neurotoxicant, respiratory toxicant and skin or sense organ toxicant.
Recently in California, United States, city officials shut down a well after it was discovered to contain trace amounts of the potentially cancer-causing gasoline additive MTBE. The well, located near the Old Hot Springs Dance Hall did not contain harmful levels of the contaminant, but it was closed as a proactive measure.
Speaking at the opening of a one-day Public Hearing on the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Amendment Bill 2012 in Abuja, Senator Olubukola Saraki said stringent measures against oil companies have become necessary considering the devastating effect of spills on the environment and livelihood of the people of the affected areas.
Describing the statistics of oil spills in the country as shameful and thier impact on the environment as offensive, Saraki said the amendment to the Bill was aimed at redressing the legal loopholes in the existing Act.
“Oil spill is ravaging our environment and has become one of the greatest threats to our sustainable development. This amendment Bill is a clarion call to us all to put a stop to this,” he stated.
According to him, it is obvious that the Act setting up NOSDRA is too deficient to meet current challenges posed by oil spill, making it necessary to put a better legal framework in place. He added that internationally, when there was a spill, the polluter pays for the cost and damage.
However, that of Nigeria has been characterized by lack of legal framework or structure for determining mode of payment of compensation or recovering damages.