By Edu Abade
Residents of Obagi in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Council of Rivers State have been forced to flee their community by January 17, 2024 for some days due to a massive and aggressive fire that has gutted their farmlands and bushes from a leaking gas pipeline belonging to Agip Oil Company.
Obagi has been a host community to the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG), TotalEnergies and the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC) for decades.
While some of the fleeing community persons have returned to their homes, those whose homes are closer to the point of the incident are afraid to do so in order to avert another disaster of unimaginable proportions.
A gas leak had earlier been reported from a pipeline close to the homes of some of the members of the Obagi Community since June 2023. A community youth, Morgan Destiny, following a foul gas odour in the air detected that there was a severe leakage from a gas pipeline on their farmlands.
Suspecting that the leaking pipeline belonged to Agip, the community leaders promptly contacted the company, but management of the company denied ownership of the facility.
The community leaders also contacted the NLNG over the matter and they also denied ownership of the leaking pipeline.
Members of the aggrieved community then reported the problem to the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and after investigations, it was discovered that the facility belongs to Agip.
Agip, however, ignored NOSDRA’s and the community’s call for repairs, and refused to stop the leakage.
This willfully negligent decision not to address the gas leakage eventually led to the disastrous wildfire seven months later, forcing residents of the community to abandon their homes and seek refuge in other communities until respite came.
Lamenting the damage the incident had caused the community, traditional ruler of Obagi Community, Eze Clinton, said: “There was fire everywhere. The ground and houses started shaking and people started running out of their homes. I was at home the day it happened.”
He added that the fire ravaged large expanses of cultivated farmlands, destroying the economic livelihoods of the people of the community who are mostly farmers and fishermen.
The fire was already extinguished by the time a team from the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) reached the affected area on Friday, January 19 with some reporters and community members.
Speaking to journalists, the people expressed concern that Agip was unwilling to meet with them and that a meeting scheduled for the day of their visit did not hold without any information regarding their inability to be present in the community.
The Obagi people also bemoaned the fact that although they have hosted Agip on their land for several decades, they have derived no meaningful benefits from the relationship.
According to them, Agip has made no impactful contributions to the development of the community and the only legacy of the company has bequeathed the Obagi people are their gas flares, destruction of their natural resources and the recent fire that has ravaged the community.
The community, therefore, urged the Federal Government to call the company to order, mandating them to repair, replace and maintain their equipment and facilities in the area.
They also demanded that Agip pays compensation for the damage their community has suffered due to their negligence that caused the fire and gas leakage incident and reparations for the years of environmental degradation its activities have wreaked upon their land.