The gas explosion which occurred on Sunday in Obotim Nsit village, Nsit Ibom Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, left shocked villagers with various degrees of injuries.
But by Tuesday, two days after the incident, the victims were yet to receive medical attention. The community only received drinks and cash worth fifty-one thousand five hundred naira (one hundred and sixty-three dollars only).
No help came from the local or state governments, or Seven Energy International Ltd, owner of the destroyed pipeline, a PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter who visited the community confirmed.
On Tuesday, the company’s representatives merely presented two cartons of Malta Guinness malt drink, two cartons of Star beer, and a gin to the community. The drinks are worth N6, 500 (about $18).
The village head, Okon Ukpong, confirmed that the community had not received anything before Tuesday.
Seven Energy’s representatives declined to speak to the PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter who met with them at the scene of the explosion.
The company’s officials – three young men – spoke with the Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government, Etekamba Umoren, and the Special Assistant on Security Matters to Governor Udom Emmanuel, Iniobong Ekong, who also visited the scene.
The pipeline explosion, which the militant group, Niger Delta Avengers has claimed responsibility for, occurred around 11.30pm Sunday.
The impact of the blast – burnt palm trees, destroyed cassava farms, razed economic trees – could be seen within a 1,000 metres radius.
“I think those who doubt the effect of gas flaring, should come and see this. This is less than 24 hours, and yet the impact is so enormous,” the SSG, Mr. Umoren, said in a sad tone, as he walked back to his car. “No amount of fertilizer can help the soil here.”
Some residents of Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom, which is about 20 kilometre from the explosion scene, said they heard the sound of the explosion, and saw thick ball of fire illuminate the skyline.
Justice Udousoro, a sports journalist who lives at Obot Idim which is about five minutes’ drive from Uyo city centre, said the explosion shook his house and others around the neighbouring villages. “I initially thought it was a plane crash,” Mr. Udousoro said.
People living in Obotim Nsit village said they thought the world had come to an end that night.
Terrified by the loud bang and ensuing fire, the villagers said they fled into the bush, falling upon trees and whatever objects stood on their path. Some, including children, fell into pits and wells.
“Some of us ran naked into the bush. It was total confusion,” said an aged woman, Emma Bassey. “I am not sure there is any family which has not suffered one injury or the other.”
Emmanuel Monday, a 35-year-old carpenter who lives with his wife, Enobong, and five children, in Obotim Nsit, said he almost lost his two-year old girl, Joy, who ran out into the bush with others, and fell into a freshly dug 9 -feet deep latrine in a neigbouring compound.
“The fire was running towards our home, we all thought that the world had come to an end,” said Mr. Monday, whose house is more than 700 metres away from the scene. “There was intense heat everywhere.”
Mr. Monday said he was able to grab only one of his five children. Together, they ran through the backdoor into the bush, while his wife grabbed another and ran behind them. The other children followed.
“We heard the cries of a baby near our house that night, and we went into the bush to investigate where it was coming from, and there we saw the little girl inside the pit latrine,” said a middle-aged woman who narrated how Mr. Monday’s daughter was rescued.
Mr. Monday was alerted that his missing daughter had been found, and he went over to pick her. This was around 5am.
The little girl had been crying all day since the incident, the parents said. They suspected she may have sustained internal injuries.
“I don’t have money to take her to hospital,” the father said. “I have bought paracetamol for her because that’s what I could afford.”
Idongesit Okorie, a 45-year-old unemployed father of five, suffered a similar fate. His three-year-old granddaughter, Idorenyin, fell into about 8ft-deep well, filled with water. Luckily, the child was rescued quickly.
She too had not received any medical attention as of Tuesday because the parents and the grandparents could not afford money for the hospital.
Mr. Okorie’s 10-year-old son, Iniewonghoabasi, dazed by the explosion, ran as fast as he could away from the village. He ran past two other villages, before finally stopping at Afaha Ofiong village where he was rescued and brought back to the village.
“I know the injuries and the pains my family and I have suffered because of what happened, I am only looking up to God for help,” Mr. Okorie said. “Nobody cares to know how we survived the incident and how we are coping with our injuries. Nobody has even told us anything about the explosion.”
Malt and gin
Seven Energy owns a gas processing plant in Uquo, Esit Eket Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State.
The company supplies gas to the 560 MW Calabar National Integrated Power Project, Cross River State, the Ibom Power Company, Akwa Ibom, Notore Chemical Industries Limited and the United Cement Company of Nigeria, in Calabar.
The company says it has invested over $1 billion in the south east region of the Niger Delta in the last 5 years.
The essence of its meeting with leaders of Obotim Nsit was to plead with the community to allow them repair the pipeline.
Seven Energy officials arrived the community on Tuesday in a white Toyota Hilux truck with registration number APP 986 AG, and a white Ford truck, with registration number LND 19 XS.
As community leaders gathered, they presented them with the drinks: malt, beer and gin.
The officials of the company soon became fidgety when a PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter walked into the meeting. An official who was counting some naira notes, obviously meant for the community, suddenly paused, while another walked up and whispered to the village head.
The village head, Mr. Ukpong, halted proceedings of the meeting and asked the reporter to introduce himself. Convinced who the visitor was, the chief politely asked the journalist to leave the meeting.
“We are meeting today with the company, we will meet with you tomorrow,” he assured.
But he immediately added: “But let me say it here, that nobody from the local or state government has visited this village since that incident happened. We have not received any relief material from the company (Seven Energy) or government.”
Some locals at the meeting who protested the decision to expel the reporter, could not change anything. They had argued the community needed an independent observer to help check whatever Seven Energy was doing.
The village head, Mr. Ukpong, promised to get in touch, but he has yet to do so.
Mum is the word
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the headquarters of Seven Energy, Lagos, on Wednesday, a staff in its media unit, who identified herself only as Chioma, said the company’s Senior manager, Administration and Corporate Affairs, Patricia Akinlotan, would get back to the reporter. The company did not revert.
The Akwa Ibom State government too has yet to make an official statement on the gas explosion.
The Commissioner for Information in the state, Aniekan Umanah, referred PREMIUM TIMES to his counterpart in the Ministry of Environment, Iniobong Essien.
But Mr. Essien did not respond to phone calls and text messages.
The youth leader of Obotim Nsit, Emmanuel Wilson, told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday that things went from bad to worse after the meeting between Seven Energy and the community.
Mr. Wilson said in addition to the drinks, the company gave the youth N15, 000, the village council N15, 000, and the women N10, 000.
Mr. Wilson said Seven Energy refused to talk about payment of compensation to the community, and because of that the village head went and placed a traditional injunction, forbidding the company from entering the site.
“They (Seven Energy) went and brought soldiers to the community to protect the site, there is so much trouble now in the community. We need help,” Mr. Wilson said.