Fishermen in Akwa Ibom State have pointed accusing fingers at the American oil giant, ExxonMobil, for refusing to take responsibility and pay compensation for a series of oil spills said to have occurred in the state between 1998 and 2012.
According to them, they were encouraged to take their case out of the court in the hope that an amicable settlement would be arrived at, but several years and in spite of numerous petitions and reminders to government officials and the company, nothing has come out of their efforts.
The fishermen, acting under aegis of the Akwa Ibom Cooperative Fisheries Association, stated that the oil spills in question, happened between 1998 and 2012, leading to the destruction of their nets and other fishing tools and livelihoods.
The group held a protest in Abuja in July to press ExxonMobil to pay for damages for hardships its members suffered in the last 14 years as a result of oil spills, estimating the compensation at N11 billion.
According to them, in October 4, 2021, they dispatched a petition to the National Assembly through the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, asking for the Nigerian government’s intervention in the push for compensation from the oil firm.
On 24 September, 2021 the group sent a reminder to the lawmakers through the office of Ike Ekweremadu, the Enugu senator.
“We, the board of directors and members of Akwa Ibom Co-operative Fisheries Association Limited wish to remind you of our plight and request contained in our letter of 24 July, 2018 (copy attached) on the above subject and to express our utter disappointment at the way our matter of injustice and spiteful treatment is being handled by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the notice read.
The union said it was forced to go to court in 2005 to seek redress, owing to the oil firm’s nonchalance to their plight, but ExxonMobil quickly approached Eme Ufot Ekaette, a former senator, to plead with them to withdraw the case from court, with a promise that they were willing to settle the matter and pay compensation to enable them to return to business.
In 2010, the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology under the then chairmanship of Grace Bent pleaded with ExxonMobil to compensate the group for the ruin the spills wrought on the community. The company has failed to comply 11 years later, the group said.
In 2015, ExxonMobil replied to a letter from the group, acknowledging that oil was released on January 12, 1998 from its Usari Idaho pipeline after scientific investigation but no damage was discovered in the environment.
It also confirmed that an oil spill occurred through the same pipeline in November 2012 but at the time of responding to the letter, its investigation was in progress.
The group said it has made significant efforts to get the oil firm to pay the compensation since the first oil spill in 1998.
They said a panel set up by ExxonMobil to handle spills-related issues received their complaints but has failed to redeem its pledge to pay them.
The leaders of the group, Johnson Ntegwung and Effiok Essien, said their members were asked by ExxonMobil to hand over all damaged fishing equipment, and that the submitted tools were destroyed by the company on the explanation that they did not want those items to be recycled for further claims.
“That pursuant to the above, the panel of enquiry, therefore, made recommendations that the total sum of N100, 000.00 (One Hundred Thousand Naira) be paid to each of the fishermen whose fishing equipment had been damaged as a result of the spills, at least to cushion the effect of the fishermen’s predicament due to the spills,” the group said.
Efforts by EnergyDay to speak with ExxonMobil’s spokesperson, Ogechukwu Udeagah, failed as call placed on his line did not go through, nor did he respond to text messages sent to his line.