Acute Public Epidemic Imminent In the Niger Delta Over Fishes’ Mass Deaths, Stakeholders Warn

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  • Groups Call For Action…Ask Buhari To Set Up Panel Of Investigation

The washing ashore of dead fishes en masse along the Atlantic Coast of the Nigeria’s Niger Delta in the last two months could lead to a major public health disaster and cause mass contamination in the region and beyond, the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria (AELN), and Niger Delta stakeholders’ groups have sounded the alarm to authorities.

The groups worry that if not quickly addressed it poses grave danger to Nigeria and communities around the gulf Guinea.

The stench from the dead fishes have continued to make the air go foul in many Niger Delta communities. Residents in the affected communities have been harvesting, consuming and selling these fishes to the general
public, multiple reports confirmed.

Last week, The New Diplomat reported Environmental groups — FishNet Alliance, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Oilwatch Africa — in a findings report said the immediate cause of the incident was yet to be ascertained, but suspected the activities of multinational oil and gas production companies operating in the region, could have had a direct link to the mass death of fishes along Niger Delta coastline.

“This strange phenomenon portends grave danger to the affected communities and all nearby communities and states in the country and in the Gulf of Guinea. It also further compounds the public health and economic complications that the communities are still struggling to grapple with as a result of the covid-19 pandemic,” the groups said in a statement Jointly signed by S. C. Dike, President, Association of Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria; Professor S. A. Abere, Chairman, Bonny Environment Consultants Committee; and I.O.Wills, President, Ijaw Professionals Association (Homeland Chapter).

“Due to limited awareness of the health consequences, rural poverty and slow action by governments at all levels, some community dwellers have been selling and consuming the dead contaminated fishes, some of which may find their way into markets and meal tables in neighbouring communities and cities.

“This marine disaster and the global coronavirus crisis together pose a threat of double jeopardy for Nigeria’s coastal communities and our territorial marine ecology.

“Sequel to consultations between representatives of the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria (AELN), the Bonny Environment Consultants Committee (BECC, the Rivers State Commissioner for Environment, the Akassa Clan of Bayelsa State, and the Centre for Environment Preservation and Development, supported by information from local respondents, it is urgent to make the following observations:

“There is need for quick action by the state and federal governments to combat the strange and continuing incidence of masses of dead and contaminated fishes washing up on the shores and beaches along the Atlantic Coast, including Bonny, Foropa, Sobiekiri, Okololaunch area up to the Light House all the way to Ifoko in Andoni area, numerous communities of the Akassa Kingdom, Twon-Brass and other coastal communities in Rivers State, Bayelsa State, Delta State and Akwa Ibom State.

“There are reports that coastal communities in Ondo, Lagos and
Cross River States may also be affected.

“The disaster is made more puzzling by reports that only one species of fish appears to be affected now, i.e. Croaker fish (known locally as Ona or Broke Marriage). However, the possibility of impact on other species of fish and marine life in due course cannot be ruled out.

“While the exact cause and culprit(s) of the disaster are yet to be confirmed, various communities have been anxious about possible links with different incidents or operations directly or indirectly proximate to them, ranging from gas leaks from petroleum operations in the Bonny area, to indiscriminate voluminous dumping of petroleum production sludge and hazardous chemicals into the sea from Forcados Terminal in Delta State, to massive dredging of sand for construction of a proposed major road, to suspected gas leaks from failed repairs in previous rig explosions,” the statement read.

To avert the looming danger the group urged President Muhammadu Buhari to quickly constitute a multi-stakeholder panel of experts “reflecting the appropriate environmental and marine related agencies (NOSDRA, DPR, NIMASA, Institute of Oceanography, NEMA, etc.) affected communities, relevant state government agencies and credible environmental NGOs” to investigate the mass deaths and restore the environment-cum-ecosystem in the Niger Delta.

The environmental lawyers are demanding that “the concerned state governments should identify all affected communities for proper records, immediate relief, remediation, restoration and adequate compensation.

“That the international bodies with core oversight mandate over environmental and marine pollution, namely the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Development Programme should take active interest in this unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Guinea and provide technical support and monitoring in relation to the Federal Government of Nigeria’s investigations and possible remedial measures.

“That a robust sensitization exercise simultaneous or parallel to the ongoing covid-19 sensitization be put in place by Government, (particularly the state and local governments, along with the paramount traditional rulers of communities and interested private organizations) to enlighten affected communities and the general public of the danger and impacts of buying, selling and consuming contaminated fishes and sea foods from the affected coastal areas.”

The New Diplomat



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