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Niger Delta Fund Initiative - Women, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) And Conflict Issues In The Niger Delta: A Case Study Of Gbaran Oil Filed Communities In Bayelsa State

by Tari Ebimo Dadiowei

Department of Biological Sciences

Bayelsa State College of Arts and Sciences

Agudama-Epie, Yenagoa
Bayelsa State.


Being the text Of A Paper Presented at the National Workshop On Gender, Politics and Power: Overcoming the Barriers to the Emergence of Women Political Leaders in Nigeria, Organised by the Centre for Social Science Research and Development (CSSR&D), at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria.
(July 28th – 30th, 2003)


It is both a pleasure and an exceptional honour for given me this opportunity to speak on “women, Environmental impact Assessment (EIA) and conflict issues in the Niger Delta: A case study of Gbaran oil field in Bayelsa State” in this National conference on gender, politics and power: overcoming the Barriers to the emergence of women political leaders in Nigeria. Your acceptance is enough testimony of your concern for the Niger Delta environment.

It is a cry all over the world especially by civil society groups that peace will continue to elude the people of the Niger Delta and eventually the entire federation of Nigeria as long as the vital ingredients critical to ensuring an enabling environment for sustainability are missing. I must recognize from the beginning that the time set aside for this presentation is very small and it is therefore a challenge to do justice within the stipulated time.

This paper, therefore will not present a long theoretical discourse but will focus on major issues and concerns facing the people of the Gbaran oil field communities in Bayelsa State. The paper will also highlight the importance of people-oriented Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) especially women who should see themselves as full and equal participants in the fight for environmental justice in the Niger Delta.

The Niger Delta is Africa’s largest delta covering some 7000 square kilometers. About one third of this area is made up of wetlands and it contains the largest mangrove forest  in the world (5,400-6,000 km2 ) Afolabi (1988 cited in Nyananyo 1999:44). In addition, it consists of a number of distinct ecological zones such as coastal ridges, barriers, fresh  water swamp forests and low land rainforest. A lot of  activities currently being carried out in the Niger Delta have introduced considerable changes in this delicate ecosystem. Such activities include costal zone modifications, upstream dam construction and urban growth, agriculture (including fishing), industrial development, population pressure and exploitation of natural r esources (Nyananyo 1999:44)      

Gbaran Oil Field is situated near Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State. It is made up of four clans namely, Gbaran, Epie, Atissa and Ekpetiama made up of several communities. It was discovered in 1967, is a swamp land and covers an area of approximately 30 hectares at the land area with OML 28. According to the Shell Bulletin released, in August, 1990, shell Petroleum Development company announced the discovery of an on-shore oil and gas at Gbaran, Rivers state now Bayelsa State. The discovery amounted to some 400 million barrels of oil and over half a trillion British cubic feet of gas, with scope for significantly larger volume of oil being present. The shell statement further asserted that in April 1991, it discovered yet another additional oil reserves of  722 million barrels from two explorations, and eight (8) appraisal wel ls from the same area. The ministry of petroleum resources in a further official statement issued in late April, 1991 confirmed the authenticity of the shell’s discoveries. The Shell Petroleum Development Company’s official statement credited these latest discoveries as “the biggest and largest find from any community throughout its operation in the West African sub-region” Thus the Gbaran Deep Oil Field was developed.


As part of the development of Gbaran Deep Oil Field, SPDC embarked on the construction of the Gbaran link road, about ten kilometer long in 1991.  This road construction which was mainly by dredging and sandfilling with several branch-offs leading to the numerous locations caused the blockage of seasonal creeks, lakes, swamp pools and other water bodies. Before this road construction, hardworking fishermen and women from the Gbaran field communities enjoyed the benefit of catching a lot of fishes, shrimps and lobsters during the flood season to enhance our economic base.  Moreso, travelling from Gbarain to -and –from Ekpetiama Clans and also from Gbarain to-and-from Epie and Atissa clan were made easier by short communication routes provided by the lakes, cree ks, creeklets, swamp pools etc.  But with the construction of this road, the short communication/access routes have been blocked.  Being a major project in a delicate ecological system, construction of the road should normally have been preceded by a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which would have highlighted the possible impact of the project and environment, and also suggest mitigation  measures.  Communities which depend on the forest for sustenance such as Opolo, Onopa, Obunagha, Gbarantoru, Yenizue-gene, Yenizue-epie, Yenagoa, Amarata, Okutukutu, Agudama-Epie, Edepie, Tombia, Bumoundi, Agudama-Ekpetiama, Akaibiri, Kpansia, Polaku, Koroama, Okolobiri, Okotiama, Ogboloma, Nedugo-Agbia, Etegwe, Igbogene, etc have begun to complain about the adverse changes in the environment.


EIA can be defined as “the systematic identification and evaluation of the potential impacts (effects) of proposed projects, plans programmes, or legislative action relative to the physico-chemical, biological, cultural, and socio-economic components of the total environment” Sridhar (2001:1). According to Sridher “the primary purpose of the EIA process, is to encourage the consideration of the environment in planning and decision making and to ultimately arrive at actions which are more environmentally compatible” The EIA decree No. 86 in Nigeria was enacted as a response to the need to ascertain the environmental impact of any project embarked upon by either the private or public sector. Section 1 paragra ph a and c states some of the goals and objectives thus :

“… to establish before a decision taken by any person, authority, corporate body or unincorporated body including the Government of the federation, state or Local Government intending to undertake or authorize the undertaking of any activity that may likely or to a significant extent affect the environment or have environmental effects on those activities shall first be taken into account.”

“… to encourage the development of procedures for information exchange, notification and consultation between organs and persons when proposed activities are likely to have significant environmental effects … on the environment of bordering towns and villages”   

According to Nick Ashton-Jones (1998:140) good EIA of the oil and gas industry in the Niger Delta depends upon satisfying the three essential component of EIA. These are

·                    a thorough understanding of all the component activities of the oil and gas industry, and the potential environmental impact implications of these activities

·                    a through understanding of the environment in which these activities take place in terms … of the dynamics of human ecosystems, the ultimate manifestation of which is human  society: and

·                    a thorough understanding of the dynamic relationship between the activities of the oil and gas industry and the environment, this last component being EIA”            

·        Severe or excessive flooding of forest-and-farm lands destroying food and forest crops seasonally.

·        Permanent ponding of our farmlands reducing the arable portion available to us.

·        Death of food and economic crops as well as other useful Non-Timber forest Products (NTFP).

·        Permanent flooding and ponding of lakes, creeks, swamp pools preventing owners from harvesting them yearly.

·        Reduction in games and wildlife populations in our forest.

·        Blockage of easy and fast communication/access routes between neighbouring clans.

·        General reduction in the economic activities of the people.

“The Niger Delta Phenomenon is a gift Nigerians should thank God for and should be painstakingly managed and not to be destroyed.  A practical example of the adverse effect of disregarding environmental issues in carrying out development projects can be found in the Yenagoa – Tombia Road Project by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).   The whole environment has been destroyed and SPDC is now being asked to pay compensation, redesign and reconstruct the road with due regard to the environment.  The whole area became water-logged all year round because the dredging work for the road construction blocked the streams.  All the trees were destroyed.  The land was degraded and the water was contaminated and sinking, and all the aquatic life was destroyed.  What this means is that the people in this area who depended on these streams for their fishing lost all and were subjected to health hazards.  What amount can you pay for such an inconvenience and economic loss?”  (The Guardian, Monday, June 7, 1999 p.45)

Nwadiaro (1993:101) in a paper “oil mineral production and environmental impacts-some issues for OMPADEC attention in the Niger Delta System identifyied that  Land destruction, deforestation, deprivation and degradation are physical effects arising from land preparations for seismic, drilling and most conspicuously, production facilities flow stations, manifolds, flow lines, trunk line network … arising from the massive access road networks. The huge land requirement for these (as of absolute need), culminates in the inevitable land deprivation to host communities, compensations not withstanding”. He went further “An idea of the extent of this type of impact can be gained by visiting the Gbaran SPDC field now being developed in Yenagoa LGA of Rivers State now Bayelsa State.

Roads and canals built by the oil companies promote the mixed blessing of human access but can be destructive in more ways. A number of roads has been built on causeways across seasonally flooded plains, whose ecology depends on the changing hydrological conditions. This makes it a duty to build proper culverts under the causeways. If not, as often was the case, the drainage of the area is blocked, causing permanent flooding on one side of the road and the drying out on the other. As a result, trees die, fishponds are destroyed and seasonal fishing disrupted, cutting a significant percentage of locals’ income or even the entire livelihood of families.

A typical case is that of Gbaran oil field in River State. In 1991, a causeway to carry a road to the well heads was built on behalf of the SPDC by Willbros West Africa Inc., a US-based contractor to the oil industry.

According to local people, the causeway initially had no passages for water to cross underneath, blocking the drainage channel. Passages were added later, but either insufficiently designed or poorly constructed, so that the drainage of the area is still disturbed. Here too, trees and other vegetation over a wide area have died from water logging, and seasonal fishing grounds have been destroyed, to substantial economic damage for local people. As culverts were cut, the lake that had built up gushed through them; several young people drowned in the arising turbulence. Hrw and Ohia (1999,2002 )

For an oil company, proper base line studies, EIA