The predicament that played out on Friday, 1st March 2019, in Bayelsa is indeed a disaster like the others before it in the different parts of the country.
The Mile 1 community and others within earshot were in the wee hours of the morning, reeled off their beds by an explosion said to have come from the Nembe Creek Well 7, belonging to Aiteo Eastern Exploration and Production. Within hours of occurrence, stories were churned out with headlines that threw Nigerians into pandemonium.
While both manicured and pruney fingers point at the company with a zillion blame for the incident, let’s not ignore the small finger pointing to the accuser. The case of a breach cannot be overruled especially due to past escapades and ensuing crisis and case of militancy in the Niger Delta.
In a 2018 survey, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the nation recorded 194 cases of pipeline vandalism between January 2017 and the corresponding period of last year.
It is impossible to overlook vandalism because not only has statistics placed Nigeria at the top of pipeline vandalism and illegal oil bunkering, it has also shown that out of every three explosions in this part of the world, one is a sabotage for economic gains.
Considering also that according to the company, facilities at the Creek were shut down on 28th of February due to NCTL outage and judging from the point of explosion which was not from a pipeline but from a flow station in the oil well whose valves were intact, only a third-party infraction could have been responsible. An IOC which stands to lose hundreds of dollars in Aiteo’s new project and one of Nigeria’s banks have been fingered to be behind the incident.
There is also the issue of yellow journalism to decry. Did scores really die? Just how much of what was published is true?
First, they put death toll at 100 persons – seriously? Who conducted the census, how did the story find its way to EIN, a paid news wire in less than 24hours?
Then, International publications latched on to the lie that the NCTL was on fire – what NCTL please? And how is it that New York Times, Daily Mail and Jeune Afrique could stoop to the level of carrying unverified stories?
Next, they declared 50 persons missing only to turn around and publish a follow up saying missing persons have been found. What search party found them? This is a clear case of lack of professional integrity which is why rather than shamefully admit to have been cleverly used to publish a fake story and retract same, they crafted a different headline to say the latter.
They also said the company did not report the explosion to NOSDRA and appropriate authority and accused them of concealing a high level of leakage and a gas explosion at their facility at Nembe Creek.
When that failed, they said Aiteo prevented NOSDRA from accessing the incident scene.
This chain of lies cascading in the guise of media reports are barely intelligible rhythms with staccato aphorisms.
Aiteo’s official statement debunked the stories peddled: “Preliminary investigations confirm that there were no fatalities; human incidents or damage to community property. All the wells and facilities in the immediate vicinity have been inspected and secured. This incident did not occur at or involve any part of the NCTL or other pipelines. It is important to note that prior to this incident, all facilities have been shut down since 28 of February 2019 due to NCTL outage. Accordingly, any account suggesting that this incident arose from or affected any pipelines is wholly inaccurate and misleading.”
Contrary to the ugly and destructive lies, available documents of the notification of spill reported that NOSDRA, NAPIMS and DPR were informed and ipso facto, the Joint Investigation Visit (JIV) will Thursday, 7th March, visit the scene of event. Pipelines are expected to be open immediately after.
Also, a picture sighted saw the well head intact except for an external slash on one of the linking pipes to the well head. Anyone who saw the puncture would agree that there was a breach. If this is not an act of wilful sabotage, an act that will have catastrophic effects on everyone, mostly the poor people of Nembe community, then, I wonder what it is.
Further, the story about Aiteo denying NOSDRA access to the facility, just like others, is a publication targeted at dragging the company’s image to the mud. Judging from an angle of corrupt practices that has bedevilled the country, we can understand that a hungry and dishonest journalist is given cash in exchange for a self-serving story; we can understand that a hare-brained journalist writes reports without first verifying its authenticity, and we can understand that when something of this nature happens, it is the company that gets the first blame. But what cannot be comprehended is why a government agency would effortlessly relay information soiled with dishonesty to the media.
It makes no sense that a government agency would be denied access to a property that also belongs to the government; it is in fact, a campaign harangue with meaningless underpinning. Edification is not needed to realise the deliberate falsehood being peddled here or the creating and withdrawing sensation targeted at heating up the polity.
When unverified facts and baseless stories are published, if it is not to mislead the public, it is to drive the country into the realm of a reality show conspiracy and when better to do this if not now that the country is starting a new dispensation. Some publications even hinted that the incident is going to affect production with the loss of 2500 barrels of oil that Well 7 produces per day. Exactly what kind of effect will a minuscule 2500 bpd have on a country that produces 2.5million bpd?
People need to wake up and realise the real lies in these stories flying around. This is simply a case of cash for stories with the sole aim of discrediting the company because from every indication, the stories are all traceable to one source.
(Fadahunsi writes from Ekiti State.)