He had never been at sea. Infact, prior to his present experience, he dreaded sailing or anything that had to do with water. He remembered the times he swore that rather than sail on a ship, he would die. He chuckled. How times changed one’s perception and attitude. Afterall, ‘na condition make crayfish bend’. Cargo ships, navy vessels and even ferries came and went from Onne port. It was a busy day. He noticed that the speed of the rig was much slower than the ships. Someone pointed out that the rig was being pulled by tug boats, which made their movement much slower.
The rig movement was a convoy of some sorts, the rig, five barges containing diesel, water, chemicals, pipes and equipment. There were four tug boats moving the barges and two military gun boats, one in ahead of the convoy and another behind. Soon the lively green waters gave way to quiet brown rivers. The only noise were from the humming of the tug boat engines and birds that flew. Everyone – almost everyone was out of their beds, each person wanting to have a feel of the movement and feed their eyes. People took pictures with their phones, and those on shift looked for any available opportuinity to enjoy the flow. As the voyage went further, the colour of river gradually turned brownish, with rainbow patterns.
Pockets of crude oil popping up to the surface of the water. Chimezie had always heard of the dangers of enviromental pollution in the Niger Delta; how the activites of the oil companies had robbed the people of their favourite pasttime – fishing. Now he was seeing it first hand. The pollution was berserk, the roots the trees on the river banks had turned dark brownish and dried off. Some had already fallen. He also noticed that there was no form of aild life. Not the fishes, no birds flew overhead or animals hooting in the bushes in the banks. Rather, he saw speed boats stacked with jerrycans and drums of adulterated fuel and diesel flying past.
“Bunkery,” said Jairus the safety officer as if he read his thoughts.
Chimezie could not muster a word; he just shook his head.
“Very dangerous and highly inflammable. In some communities, people die as a result of this.”
He was referring to the condition of the river and its propensity to catch fire.
“They cut the pipes supplying crude, and from there it spills into the river. This is the result,” Jairus continued, pointing to the river for emphasis.
“Then why do they cry wolf?” Asked chimezie
“What?” Asked Jairus, unable to decipher the meaning of the question thrown at him
“I mean, they shout about marginalisation, and poverty in the region, but yet they are the ones killing themselves. Just look at what they are doing, the money they are getting from bunkery is nothong compared to the disaster they are creating. They blame the oil companies but they are also adding to their improvished condition.”
He hardly finished the last sentence when two other speed boats, one stacked with drums, the other transporting commuters sped past with all occupants raising both hands as the rig.
“Why do they do that?” Chimezie asked.
“To show that they are not militants or attacking us.”
“How do people here survive?”
“This is their place. They survive however they can.”.
The surroundings before him was a huge contrast to his familar surroundings of Lagos, the city of hustlers and electrifying energy where everyone was in a rush. Here looked like a scene from the North Pole, except that there was no snow. Very dry, empty and isolated. The ‘no network’ icon displaying hinted about being out of touch with civilization. He silently said a prayer for his parents and thanked them for the life they gave him; education, exposure and all. Though he had felt dissatisfied with their status, wishing they were more opulent, the scene before him humbled him. Here, the people were not bothered about the vain things and material desires. Just to survive, to eat, clothe and make a decent living from fishing. But still the evils of multinationals and capitalism had robbed them of that. Now to achieve those basic needs, no matter how simple seemed futile.
He saw some mud houses with two canoes ahead lopsided on the river bank. The female paddlers were desperately using sticks to poke the holes in the ground, desperately searching for crabs. The horn of the tug boats alarmed them for a moment, but it seemed to bring them a certain respite. They paddled towards them, begging for food and water. One of the canoes had a little girl, about 3 years old. Their clothes were stained with mud from a day’s long hunt for crabs which Chimezie doubted if any would be alive in the polluted water. Their hairs had formed into locks, due to lack of washing and maintenance.
They paddled harder, the anguish in their shouts for help increased. Someone threw biscuits, can drinks and bottled water. That would probably last a meal or 2, depending how many dependants were in the small village. Then it would be back to the same shit, same reality for these people. This was the story of Niger Delta where the oil is gold, but the people are crap. And yet, someone, a foreigner for that matter was supplying arms to the youths to butcher themselves, while they had easy access to their oil. Some folks in Abuja sat in their offices and used pens to loot the proceeds. There was no injustice greater than this. This injustice had to be dealt with. Chimezie swore to find those weapons, even if it cost him his life. From what he had seen, he had lived a far better one so far.