Cash Brings Relief, But Not Recovery, to Oil-Polluted Nigerian Community

March 04,2015

BODO, NIGERIA— A pair of oil spills in 2008 and 2009 polluted the waters around the town of Bodo, in Nigeria’s southern Rivers State. A settlement between the Shell oil company and the affected community that was negotiated in January put cash in the pockets of townspeople, but it did not undo the environmental damage to the area around Bodo.

Just about everyone in Bodo is building something. But on the banks of the creeks that surround the community, oil laps at blackened ground. Therein lies the reason for the building boom.

Two oil spills years ago dumped thousands of barrels of crude into the creeks of this community, which depends on fishing for its main source of income. Bodo claimed the Shell oil company’s Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for the spill, and took the matter to court in Britain. Earlier this year, Bodo accepted a cash settlement that put money directly into the pockets of more than 15,000 people.

But Sylvester Kogbara, high chief of the community, said money cannot make up for a way of life that was destroyed.

“It is not enough, and it can never be enough. I have mentioned it here and in terms of [money], no, they can't pay enough. And what of the generations unborn?” said Kogbara.

Residents received about $3,000 each from the settlement. Fisherman Giadon Aagbara Timothy is using the money to build a brick house to replace the mud home his family lives in.

But with the waters around Bodo saturated with oil and the fish either dead or too polluted to eat, he said his future looks bleak.

“From the moment the oil spill occurred, we now live with no choice than being in that abject poverty. That, where we cannot go fishing, we cannot go anywhere to get anything to help ourselves. The oil spill really cost us a whole damage,” said Aagbara.

You can still buy fish in the market in Bodo, but it is imported from elsewhere, where the water is cleaner. Some fishermen still tough it out. Marvelous Bonny bought a new fishing boat with the settlement money. He now travels far from Bodo to catch the croaker and salt-water fish popular in its markets.

Shell has also agreed to help clean up the oil that spilled around Bodo. Its residents say things will get back to normal only when its waterways are clean.