By Blessing Ibunge, Port Harcourt
Fishers in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria have complained of tormenting hardship following the pollution of the coastal areas by illegal oil activities and invasion of Nipa palm which have taken over the mangroves that protect the sea and aids the production of fishes and other sea foods.
The fishers both women and men, believed that the negligence by the government to tackle the issue of illegal refinery popularly called “Kpofire” and invasion of nipa palm a strange specie, may cause more harm to the rural people whose source of livelihood is fishing.
The Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, in commemoration of the World Earth Day celebration at the weekend visited some of the fishing settlements to hear the stories of the fishers, if there have been changes in the past years on the benefit of their activities.
Our correspondent who was on tour with HOMEF and other environmental defenders, gathered that the lives of the fishers at their different ports and settlement is miserable, following the challenge of pollution they face.
At Kono fishing settlement in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State, fishers who have worked hard to ensure that their rivers are not polluted by crude oil, either from illegal oil refining activities or activities of the multinationals, said they are faced by the challenge of the invasion of the strange specie called Nipa Palm, which has taken over the space for local mangroves.
The fishers disclosed that they no longer catch fishes and other sea foods, since the mangroves where the fish breeds have been driven away by the nipa palm.
Some of the Fishers at Kono, Anderson Nathaniel, Richard Nwiikina, Lawrence Yorzem, Lenwinee Nuka and Mrs Mercy Deedam, that spoke with The AUTHORITY lamented that nipa palm have overgrown and pushed the mangroves away, thereby making catching of fish difficult.
Deedam lamented: “I started picking periwinkle 25years ago but presently, the Nipa palm will not allow us to have the quantity of periwinkle and other sea foods we need. I used Periwinkle to train my children in school but because of this Nipapalm that was brought by the white men; we are not gaining anything from periwinkle”.
At Bundu-Ama waterfront, a fishing settlement in the Port Harcourt LGA of the state, Kpofire activities and plastics have affected easy catch of fishes and other sea foods in the rivers. The pollution has also damaged mangroves in the area, making the fishers to go a very far distance away from the community to earn a living.
Leader of the Fishers, Nnadi Marcus, a native of Andoni LGA, revealed that the situation is causing serious hardship in the community. He called on the government at all level to come to their aid and stop the ongoing illegal activities in the area.
He said “We are suffering because Kpofire has driven away all the fishes in the water. We are dying of starvation because we cannot catch any fish to eat or to sell. The situation has made fishes to be very expensive, even buying of net is very expensive.
“Government should help us. Kpofire is disturbing us, the river is polluted with oil”.
Telling her stories, Mrs Miebaka Solomon, a fisherwoman and a native of Okrika LGA, disclosed “Before now we used to catch different species of sea food but now we can hardly get fish in our river. Even if I don’t have boat, when the water dries I can swim and cross to the other side to fish or pick periwinkle or oilstar. But these days we cannot get one because of the oil pollution in our river.
“The illegal refinery activities happening in our river kills the sea foods and just left us to starve knowing that fishing is our trade for livelihood. Presently, I am doing nothing relying on the little salary my husband gets for the upkeep of our families.”
Saviour Franklyn, a fisher and resident of Bundu community, narrated “I was born in 1987, as at 1991 when I was 5years old I have been fishing with my father till today. Because of the trade I could not go to school, I am a primary school certificate leaver.
“As a boy, I used to go fishing with my father, then we catch alot of fish from the river and we sell it to take care of our family. But today because of the illegal refinery activities in the Niger Delta, everywhere is polluted, there is oil in the river. When we go to the river we hardly catch fish as we did earlier.
“We are pleading on the Federal Government and State government to stop the illegal refinery activities in our Niger Delta. Another challenge we have is that some people use dynamite in fishing, it is dangerous; it can kills so many fishes in the ocean leading to waste.
“We again have the challenge of plastics in our river instead of our net to catch fish what we get is plastics and nylons. There is need to discourage people from throwing such wastes in the river instead should heap at a designated place and burnt”.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of HOMEF, Rev Nnimmo Bassey, has said that the protection and sustainability of mangroves has been noted as a viable way of tackling the issue of global warming, adding that it has been proved that mangroves absorb carbon, thereby promote a clean environment.
Bassey stated that the essence of the organisation’s conversation with the fishers was to find out what their stories are, the challenges they gave, what have changed since over the year and where they will like to see things improve or changed.
He noted that “One of the major factors affecting their fishery has been the invasion of the Nipa palm across the creeks. Everyone who spoke complained about the Nipa palm.
Although they use some of the leafs for their thatch homes and boats, basically, it makes it very difficult for them to fish as well as to get other things that relate to aquatic ecosystem.
“When the mangrove is protected in this Kono area, you could really see how the environment is, safe for the fishers to do their activities. You will see that this is where the fishes breed, where the juveniles grows, this is a place where the women will just go pickup periwinkle and other sea food.”
Bassey added that “This invasive species, Nipa palm is dangerous to our environment and something should be done to curtail the spread as is growing widely across most of the Niger Delta Rivers. They want government to remove the invasive species, they want their mangroves system be protected, and they want the community protected.
“If the peoples imagination is captured in a properly way, we can get them to the direction that will help them but if they forget where they came from, forget the stories that have been guiding them over the years, then they will not see clearly, they will just fold their hands watch external factors come in to help them; that may not happen”.
In the case of Bundu-Ama, Bassey advised “If too much pollution is not done on the river, there will be better livelihood sources”.
Also speaking, Prof Nenibari Zabbey, Professor of Betic and Restoration Ecology in the University of Port Harcourt, noted the need by stakeholders to come to the aid of the fishers and stop the spreading nipa palm pushing away the mangroves from the creeks.
Zabbey who is also the Coordinator, Centre for Environment and Human Rights Development, CEHRD, explained “Today’s (Friday) event is very significant because today is World Earth Day. When we reflect on the whole essence of declaring world Earth day, is all about the fact that the environment is the foundation of our existence. Is all about the fact that without a healthy environment we cannot have a sustainable life, we cannot live a quality life.
“So, we came here today to interact with the Fisher folks, including fishermen and women in this fishing Port, to talk with them about their challenges in this serene and also to hear from them the changes they have seen overtime, changes in the ecosystem structure, changes in this environment. The fishes they used to depend on all the days for their livelihood that they don’t see any more, the quality of life they used to live that is no longer existing because of inversion of the Nipapalm.
“The fishers have told us that the Nipa palms have taken over their local mangroves ecosystem, that they no longer catches the quantity of fishes they used to catch in the past and that the money they make from the fishing business is now pretty low, it cannot even sustain them and their families. They want necessary stakeholders to come and restore their mangroves.”
Celestine Akpobari, an environmental rights defender in the Niger Delta, reprimanded the management of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for not working to expectation in the protection and development of the region.
He said “Quite alot of things have gone extinct, the fishers had to show some crabs, oilstars, etc that are no longer available. Infact for them to get these foods they had to go through very far of the area.
“One of the stories they told is that in the past, when people goes to fishing they came back to share to the larger families and neighbour but today, a father will find it even very difficult to catch fish to feed the children because things have really gone bad. Nipa palm have taken over the mangroves where fish breeds.
“The Nipa palm is very dangerous, it has no usefulness. This was one of the reasons they set up Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to address things like this instead of staying there to share money and buy guns and all that, these are the things NDDC should do. They stay in their offices builds into people’s account”.