The Archbishop of York, The Most Reverend John Sentamu described the pollution occasioned by oil exploration and exploitation activities as a slow environmental genocide that is destroying lives and property in Bayelsa State. Archbishop Sentamu who is also a member of the British Parliament slammed the international oil companies operating in the state for failing to uphold best standards as they do elsewhere in the world.
He made the remarks while presenting an Interim Report as the Chairman of the Bayelsa State Oil and Environmental Commission at Dappa Biriye Conference Centre in Yenagoa. Sentamu who noted that the Commission had spent the past 7 months in conducting researches in all the eight local government areas of the state, described the level of degradation as serious and lamentable. He said apart from losing lives and its ecosystem, the Commission’s findings revealed that communities in the state are deprived economically and lack access to justice. While assuring the state government of his commitment to telling the Bayelsa story, Archbishop Sentamu stressed the need for collective action against the excesses of oil companies in the area. “Environment knows no national boundaries. We all have a responsibility to care for the environment and it is for this reason I accepted to chair this commission.
“Oil and gas exploration has had an adverse impact on Bayelsa’s lives, water systems, biodiversity, and its people. Over the past seven months, the Commission has been investigating and gathering evidence about the activities of oil companies. “The Commission has spoken to hundreds of people across the eight local government areas of the state on the impact of environmental degradation and the wide-ranging effect on the people. “I believe that what we have seen amounts to a slow environmental genocide taking place here in Bayelsa and this has been allowed to go on for over fifty years. “First of all, I don’t want to call it corruption but organized theft, regionally and nationally on an unprecedented scale. Corruption for me is too thin a word to describe what is going on here. “We need a sort of moral outrage; we ought to express what is happening to the people of Bayelsa. Companies have done an incredible level of damage and they can’t just be allowed to get away with it any longer. “Our interim report details the environmental and health degradation, economic devastation, disestablishment of communities and lack of access to justice by the people. “So, it is our hope that as a commission, we can exert increased pressure on multi-national oil companies to operate through the same legal and moral responsibility in Bayelsa State and they do in the UK, US and elsewhere,” Sentamu said. In their separate remarks, the Secretary, Dr Kathryn Nwajiaku and member of BSOEC, Prof Engobo Emeseh expressed shock at the findings of the Commission in all the communities the expert team visited. According to them, the people are not only subjected to penury and health challenges but that even their survival is under threat as the ecosystem of the area is gradually going into extinction. According to Dr. Nwajiaku, the final report which is expected in January next year will help in galvanizing international support for the struggle for a better Bayelsa environment. Her remark, “Some of us have been watching what’s happening in Bayelsa over the past 20 years. My observation is that things are getting worse, not better. I was shocked by noticing in many communities along the creeks that we visited. “In some areas you don’t even see a single bird. You don’t hear bird song. And when you don’t hear a bird’s song in a place like the Niger Delta, you know that the situation is very serious. It poses a lot of worry. “But I’m not hoping but committed to making sure the Commission Report will not be like any other report about the Niger Delta. The difference I’m hoping and working for is that we will galvanize and mobilize internationally. Bayelsa lives matter and that’s the reason we will continue to do our work.” In his response, Governor Seriake Dickson expressed gratitude to the Chairman and members of the Commission for doing a thorough job, which he noted would help in telling the often neglected Bayelsa story. He also thanked the team, particularly Archbishop Sentamu for committing to mobilize international support against what he described as environmental terrorism in the state and the Niger Delta region. While calling on people of the state to be conscious of their environment, he directed the Commissioner for Environment to create a website to beam information concerning environmentally unfriendly activities such as oil spills and illegal refineries. He said, “first, on behalf of the government and good people of our state who a victims of the ongoing genocidal environmental degradation so aptly captured in this report, I will like to thank my lord, the Archbishop and members of the Commission and all who have been part of this documentation of the most tragic but often ignored stories of our state. “The interim report among other things talks about a silent health crisis and which is why I have always referred what the oil companies are doing in our state, the Ijaw nation, and the Niger Delta as environmental terrorism. It is real, insidious but very silent. “It kills people by installment and in advance. All our people are affected. If you take our blood levels and those who are not living in this our area, you will be shocked. “But I’m glad the Chairman and members of the Commission are not only committed to this document but also to galvanize international opinion and action and to continue to prick the conscience of the world to know that beyond making money and seeing crude oil as a part of international diplomacy, that there is a real-life story of our people and that in the end Bayelsa lives matter.”