Oloibiri, a district headquarters in Ogbia in the defunct Eastern Region, became famous mid-20th century when workers of Shell Darcy swooped on the community in search of crude oil.
Their efforts yielded fruits in June 1956 when they discovered the black gold in commercial quantity, making Oloibirithe first community in West Africa where crude oil was discovered in commercial quantity.
When the Shell Darcy team landed on the shores of Niger Delta prospecting for oil, the local authorities and the natives never took interest in what the multinational was busy working on. This was especially so as the Northern and Southern Protectorates, which Britain later amalgamated to form Nigeria, were mostly interested in their regional agro resources which included cocoa, coal, groundnut and palm oil business. These were he main stay of the Nigerian economy at the time. The agro resources would be relegated to the background upon the discovery of oil.
Oloibiri became the epicentre of commercial activities with people from diverse backgrounds trooping to the area in search of a share of the black gold.
The first crude oil well was named Oloibiri Well after Oloibiri community by the prospecting company.
Unfortunately, the discovery of crude oil, rather than aid the growth of the host communities, turned out to be a pain to the people as Oloibiri could best be described as an abandoned fishing port after the anglers had left with their catch.
The communities, today, lack the basic necessities of life as the black gold, an exhaustible asset, which then made the area to be called Bioforoama, nicknamed “Eastern Congo”, due to its booming social life, has since dried up while Shell has moved on to another location.
The people still face basic development challenges and environmental pollution caused by oil spills.The site of the dried up Oloibiri Well 1 has been overtaken by weeds. Development is nowhere in sight.
Oloibiriis a sad commentary of oil and gas exploration in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s first crude shipment
The crude from the Oloibiri fields was conveyed through pipelines constructed to link Emago-Kugbo waterside jetty from where the black gold was exported in the late fifties and 1960s, making the latter the first crude oil loading bay in West Africa. It was called the Emogo-Kugbo Loading Bay.
It was from the Emago-Kugbo settlement, which though is administratively situated in Abua-Odual local government area of Rivers State, that the first crude oil from Oloibiri was shipped for export on the 17 February 1958.
MV Emago, MV Otuabagi, MV Otuogidi, MV Oloibiri, among other vesselswere used to load crude oil from the pipes laid by Shell to the bay.
All the settlements share the same characteristics of neglect and abandonment by the Nigerian state. There is nothing tangible on ground to showcase Otuabagi/Otuogidi axis landowners of the Oloibiri oil fields as the place where crude was first discovered in West Africa.
Also, there is nothing on ground to show that Emago-Kugbo is the first loading bay, which launched Nigeria into the elite club of oil producing countries.
All the communities still lack basic social amenities.
The Oloibiri oil field communities could be described as a paradox of a resource-rich enclaves remaining so pervasively poor.The effects of oil exploration and exploitation are everywhere.Marine life is extinct. Indigenous occupational industries are comatose. Erosion is widespread. Pollution of the very sources of life for the ordinary people manifests in everything from their fishing equipment to the water they drink.
Epidemic, anger, frustration
“You can imagine that from 1956 till date, this community has no potable drinking water; we drink from the polluted creek and rivers. We cannot count the number of deaths due to epidemic ravaging our community.
“Our people are dying every day due to cholera because we have no good source of drinking water, we are dying in silence. Water is a major problem for us.
“We don’t believe in using violence to attract attention because we are a peaceful people. It is not that we cannot cause crisis, but we are exposed academically. It is unfortunate that Shell and even the Federal Government have done nothing for this community,” EtasiNinato-Love, a retired police officer and an indigene of Otuabagi community said.
The paramount ruler of Otuogidi, King Ibobiri Nicholas, Okpini VI, said the discovery of oil in the area altered the lifestyle of the natives.
According to him, farming and fishing, which were their means of livelihood, were no longer fashionable due to the exploration and exploitation of crude in the area.
He said, “I am sure they told you that when oil was struck here in 1956, Oloibiri was the district headquarters of the Ogbia area.
“At that time, Shell did not name their oil well heads indiscriminately. As a cluster, they will look for a name that befits that place and name it. Also, at that time, the Oloibiri people were the elite and they foresaw what will happen in future. But here in our community, there were no knowledgeable persons; their stock in trade was drinking, merriment, and commerce.
“So, the Oloibiri elite used their status as district headquarters to manoeuver and project their name. Anyway, we still own two oil wells, and 12 on the other side. So, oil was first struck here. The first oil wells are owned by this community, Otuogidi, and Otuabagi.
“All the goodies that Nigeria is enjoying, Abuja is just like London and was built from the money from the oil from our soil, and look at our community. Even in Oloibiri, the then district headquarters, there is nothing.
“But some big people will take pictures of beautiful places and show to the outside world that this is the community. But you can see for yourselves that there is nothing here to enjoy.
“We are at zero level. No federal projects, the only thing they wanted to build was a primary healthcare centre. They were given a site where they started moulding blocks and, before we knew it, the place was abandoned, only for us to hear that the project had been completed.
“We have so many needs; we have a secondary school with no buildings. We want the federal or state government to link us to the major road. We also need electricity, water and healthcare centre. We also do not have a befitting town hall.
“At that time, this place was called Bioforoama, nicknamed “Eastern Congo”, full of life. At that time, all the speedboats and houseboats of Shell workers used to anchor in our place. People from far and near always converged here. It was a booming community till when Isaac Boro invaded this area during his 12 days revolution. It was just enjoyment without development.”
Just as indigenes of Otuabagi and Otuogidi are lamenting their woes, the story is not different at Emago-Kugbo which played host to first loading bay from where the crude oil from Oloibiri oil fields was shipped abroad.
The community is today a sad commentary of the inherent contradiction of the Nigerian state as there is nothing tangible on ground to show that Emago-Kugbo hosted the nation’s first loading bay, which launched Nigeria into the elite club of oil producing countries. The community experienced the first oil spill in West Africa, which occurred at the loading bay due to a valve failure. The spill contaminated the Emago-Kugbo creek.
“Our people were the very first people in this part of the world to see the colourof crude oil, the so-called black gold; when others were only hearing about it,” an indigene said.
The crude reportedly gushed out for about 48 hours and devastated the community’s farmlands and aquatic environment before it was stopped. Fire also raged on the river soon after the spill occurred and continued for several weeks before it was put off.
For Oloibiri and its adjourning communities, the discovery of oil could not have been a blessing by any means as they lost lives, health and their means of livelihoods. The multinational oil company that first discovered oil in the area cashed in big time and moved on while the community struggles with its pains and sorrows.
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