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Panic as dead croaker fish flood Ijaw river banks

Panic as dead croaker fish flood Ijaw river banks

Every day, thousands of dead fish have washed ashore. Stakeholders are worried about the possible cause of death of the fishes. They are also shocked that only a particular type of fish, the croaker, commonly called, the ‘broke marriage’ in some parts of the region, is dying in large quantity. People are also disturbed at the health hazards of development. They notice that despite not knowing the cause of their death, fisher folks are picking and selling them to unsuspecting members of the public.

What could have led to the massive death of the fish? A delegation of youths led by the interim President of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), Worldwide, Kennedy Olorogun, toured the affected areas and were shocked by the rate of death.

The delegation in a report signed by Olorogun and Secretary of Council, Frank Akiefa, vividly captured their gory discovery. They found thousands of fish killed by suspected pollutants and washed ashore. Some of them were already decomposing and emitting foul smell.

Olorogun said: “If you go to Bonny now and see for yourself; you will be amazed at the extent of destruction that had taken place. You will see dead fishes floating on top of the river. Fishermen in the area can longer go fishing and you know the times we are in; in this season of Coronavirus, you can better imagine what the people in these areas are going through.

“The entire body of water surrounding these communities is saturated with oil spills. Everything in the water is dead. What these communities are facing is also applicable to other riverine communities of Delta, Edo and Bayelsa. If nothing is done urgently, it may lead to an uprising.”

The youths narrowed down the cause of death to the activities of the oil companies. They accused the oil multinationals operating in the region of hiding under the Coronavirus pandemic that had stolen the world’s attention to discharge toxic substances into the rivers. They insisted that the level of destruction was beyond the usual oil spill narrative.

Olorogun said: “The coastal communities of Bonny, Forcados and other surrounding communities are presently facing severe cases of oil pollution and other toxic substances amid the global pandemic.

“At the moment, marine life and the lives of the people of these coastal areas are under severe threat. The entire water body surrounding these communities has been severely despoiled by oil spillage and other toxic substances.

“There are reports that some of the major oil companies operating in these areas may have discharged very dangerous toxic substances into their rivers and creeks; coupled with oil spills which have resulted in the death of marine and aquatic life.

“These multinationals operating in the region care less about the environmental and economic impact of their oil explorative and exploitative activities. Their major goal is to satisfy the insatiable quest for pecuniary gains by their underhand imperialist and local collaborators.”

Following the continuous influx of dead fishes on the shores and waterways, a volunteer team of Bonny indigenes launched a probe into the incident. A Publisher, Godswill Jumbo; members of Finima Youth Congress (FYC) identified as Humphrey Buowari, Kelly Brown and Kindness Brown were among the Bonny team that visited the affected areas.

They visited Finima Town, Amariari, Lighthouse, River 7, Agaja, Uku-Mbi, Mbisu 1, Mbisu 2, and Ifoko communities. The indigenes discovered that the croaker popularly called the ‘broke marriage’ was the only affected fish.

“The fish were seen lying dead and littered along the shoreline from Lighthouse to Ifoko on the fringe of the boundary between Bonny and Andoni local government areas. The fish were also sighted dead and floating on the sea and being washed ashore by waves,”, the report signed by Jumbo said.

They listed Amariari, Lighthouse, River 7, Agaja, Uku-Mbi, Mbisu 1, Mbisu 2, and Ifoko communities in Bonny LGA; Oyorokoto and others as the impacted communities. But Jumbo said they also received and verified reports that several communities along the Atlantic shoreline across the area referred to as the Gulf of Guinea such as Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom States were affected.

The report said community heads and members, fishermen, market women who trade in fish, children living in the impacted communities, among others testified of witnessing the ugly development onshore and offshore.

“The fisher folks further disclosed that the odour of the dead fish was scaring away other living fishes thus depriving them of their daily catches. They informed that the incidence began about the last week of March 2020 and was in large quantities as much as were filling their fishing baskets and boats. Some used theirs for domestic consumption while others dried and sold to their customers both in Bonny and Port Harcourt,” the report said.

The indigenes report some curious observations. Only the croaker was affected across all the observed affected areas. The dead fish were always turning up fresh in the mornings along the shores adding that the fish kept popping up on the surface of the water. Some of them were alive when sighted only to be struggling to stay alive and then they die.

The report said: “Within two nautical miles from Lighthouse the fish were all dead but beyond that and as far as the Fairway Buoy many of the fishes were sighted alive only to die later. On the body of the fish, swellings were sighted looking like a lesion or boil. When pricked something pus would be excreted from it.

“The fish begins to rotten from the tail as against the head. The fish begins to turn green when it begins to get rotten. When spread out on the fire to dry, unlike normal fish, these do not thoroughly dry up, instead, they would disintegrate or scatter.”

The report decried the attitude of fisher folks. It observed that the fisher folks, who first witnessed it failed to alert the authorities but went harvesting them for sales both fresh and dried.

“Despite the injunctions by various community heads that people should not harvest the fish, locals were sighted harvesting in large quantities. Even out there at the high sea, several fishing boats were sighted harvesting the fish. Several people confirmed to us that the fish was in the markets and even in Port Harcourt,” it said.

The team raised a red flag in the report. It called for declarations of the situation as a public health emergency adding that the consumption of the croaker fish should be avoided.

“Law enforcement and security agencies should be mandated to enforce the ban on the fish, especially the harvesting of it onshore and offshore. Law enforcement and security agencies to enforce the ban on the sale of the fish. Engagement of experts to explore the possibility of breeding that species of fish so that it doesn’t go extinct.

“Public health officials should mandate to study and recommend the best approaches to checkmate any outbreak of infection arising from consuming the fish. The results from the laboratory tests of the fish samples should be made public and where there exist dire consequences, the public should be properly sensitised about it.

“The relevant public health, environmental and related stakeholders should be converged to engage in a multi-stakeholder approach to address the issue and find a proper and sustainable solution to it.”

Similarly, the Olorogun-led IYC said the council would not sit idly and watch any community in Ijaw land or Niger Delta destroyed by the avarice and greed of people, who were not contributing to the economic wellbeing of the country.

“The Council is calling on relevant government institutions and agencies to swiftly come to the aid of these Ijaw Communities of Bonny, Forcados, Kula and other riverine communities in the area to mitigate the effect of the oil pollution and the discharge of toxic substances that are presently destroying aquatic and marine life,” Olorogun said.

Olorogun particularly appealed to government institutions such as the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to look into the matter.

He said other human right organizations should rise to the occasion and put an end to the senseless and meaningless destruction of marine life, including the lives of humans and the ecosystem by oil companies.

He said: “We demand that a high-powered investigative panel should be set up by the federal government where appropriate sanctions would be meted out to anyone or organisation found culpable and adequate compensation should be given to the people of the area to serve as a deterrent to these companies and organisations.

“We have a government that has deliberately refused to send palliatives in this period of national and global lockdown to communities in the Niger Delta. And they say we are ‘one Nigeria’. A time will come and very soon when resources found in our area would be used to develop our communities alone.

“Oil bearing communities in the Niger Delta are suffering severely under the yoke of mindless and barbaric exploitation of the resources in the region. Before the federal government declared lockdown in some states including the FCT, communities in the Niger Delta were already in economic and environmental lockdown.

“The people living in these communities no longer see themselves as citizens of Nigerian. Something needs to be done urgently. The extent of environmental pollution in the area is alarming. The death rate from oil and gas explorative activities of these multinationals exceeds what the world now knows as the novel Coronavirus.”

Also, a resident of Bonny, who identified himself as Jothan confirmed the development. He warned people against buying fresh and dried fish at the market lamenting that fisher folks were picking the dead fish to sell to consumers.
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