Report from the Field
Oporoza: Beckoning for aid
By Tunke-Aye Bisina
Tunke is a journalist from the “creeks” riverine area of the Niger Delta, currently living and working in Warri. He recently made a trip to Oporoza to help research and plan for the Global Citizen Journey Nigeria 2005 trip.
The story of Oporoza, traditional headquarters of the Gbaramatu Kingdom, located in the Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State, is an apt description of the general decay, deprivation and underdevelopment the oil rich Niger Delta has been subjected to in the Nigerian Federation. The Gbaramatu Kingdom, one of the Ijaw speaking parts of Delta State, according to Chairman of the Oporoza Federated Communities, Hon. Matthew Diofelo, besides little hamlets, is made up of 19 towns. “To the sea side we have Tebujor, you have Opodobubo, you have Opuede, Okpelama, Epopo, Sagara, Oporoza. Then if you come towards the Warri end we have Azama, Ibefan, Inikorohgha, Ugoba, Kunukunama, Okerenkoko, Krutie, Kokodiagbene, Ebama, Benikrukru,Abiteye, Kenyagbe.” By the 1991 national population census figures, the area had a population of 23,000 inhabitants, though the figures of the census were disputed across the federation.
Gbaramatu Kingdom lying on the bank of the Atlantic Ocean fortunately is an oil rich land with American and Anglo-Dutch oil giants Chevron-Texaco and Shell having their operations in the area. Diofelo explained that Shell has four flowstations, Jones Creek, the biggest in West Africa, Egwa, Odidi I and Odidi II, while Chevron-Texaco has flow stations at Abiteye (Ikiyangbene Flow station), Makarava (Utunana).
Diofelo lamented however that the operations of the oil companies have not impacted on the Oporoza community in any way. The community, which he said has a population of 5,000, has suffered neglect and deprivation both from the various levels of government and even the multinational oil companies. He noted that there is virtually no government presence in terms of social infrastructures in the community. The village, he explained, lacks hospital, portable drinking water, affordable means of transportation, electricity and other infrastructures.
“There is no single drinking water here. What we drink is this sachet water coming from Warri. The only grace that will make people to drink good water is during the raining season. You have to collect some during the raining season for the dry season… No toilet here, what you do is, you go to the waterside to the canoe, and if you are ashamed you go to the bush… If you are sick you only pray God to survive it. In severe cases, it takes about three hours to run you from here to Warri. There is no hospital here. You see a house there, it is a hospital project from OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission) but it is abandoned. In the entire Gbaramatu Kingdom there is no single hospital. If somebody is sick, what you just do is to hire a speedboat to rush you down to Warri,” the community chairman lamented. In the area of electricity, the community he admitted was fortunate to have a generating plant provided by the local government administration noting however, “We cannot put it on every day, because we do not have the ability to sustain the running cost. It is operated and fuel by community effort.”
Oil operations in the area, which naturally should have brought development to the area, Diofelo said has rather impoverished the people. “As you come in today as a visitor, the next thing you go inside the village is to see that you see fish. People give you freely, you don’t buy. But hardly could somebody give you fish now because with the oil operations, with oil spillages here and there, there have not been sufficient catch for them to be so kind to their next neighbor. So it has affected us so greatly even in our eco-system, it is very bad. The whole thing gas flaring, if you see every roof in the community, the few that are built with zinc, they are all burnt with this gas and heat coming from the gas flaring. It has affected both wild lives, fishing operations, even the forest,” the community chairman lamented. He explained that a pipeline outburst from a Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Chevron facility behind the village almost wiped out the entire population.
Diofelo said that the only government institution in the community is the Gbaraun Grammar School, which coincidentally is the only college in the entire Gbaramatu Kingdom. The school itself transformed from a community school. According to Mr. Pius Soroghaye, principal of the college, the school was established in 1980 as a community school but was later approved by the government in 1994.
This was the principal’s account about the school, “This school, Gbaraun Grammar School, is a school I was posted to in May 2002. And from the record I met on ground here, the school has passed through many stages. As a community school headed by different persons and emerged as a government approved school in the year 1994. It was established in the year 1980. Right now the student population is 300.
“The staff strength is grossly inadequate. Right now I have only four teaching staff. Non-teaching staff I have five. As a matter of fact, this has been one of the seething problems here and that is why I have cried to the community, cried to companies but there seems to be no response. These four teachers are qualified and sometimes they still spend some extra time teaching the students even after school hours. Some of the teachers that are augmenting the short fall in the teaching staff are the community staff. We have about four community teachers augmenting the other four. The least qualification among the staff is NCE (National Certificate in Education). The community teachers, because we just have to make do with what we have, some people are WASC (West African School Certificate) holders with good results teaching the junior secondary classes. We offer all the subjects in the senior school certificate exams. The major subjects.”
He blamed the problem of inadequate staff on the Delta State Post Primary Education Board. The Board he explained was “supposed to post teachers to this school but as I said earlier on, the powers that be seem to have neglected us and so all effort to get teachers posted here has not yielded any result. That is why we are still having this poor staffing here.”
Diofelo provided further insights into the problem. “Most teachers don’t like to come to the riverine to be employed and work for their money, they like to stay in the urban areas. So there is this issue of lack of teaching staff. And majority of the parents prefer taking their children and wards to urban cities, Warri which is very close to us.”
The community he said has not been sleeping over the issue. “As a matter of fact, we’ve not been relenting all this while; we’ve been working with the principal to coordinate the issue of bringing staff to the school. The principal has been so committed and he has not relented all these while. We are making every effort to see that the government sends more teachers to the place,” he noted, adding that the community pays the salaries of teachers it has engaged to augment the government teachers. Besides, the principal of the school said, “We are still crying to the Post Primary Education Board, the Ministry of Education to remember us in this part of the country. That we need teachers because there is no other way you can acquire the knowledge expected of the learner if there are no teachers to teach them adequately.”
Nevertheless, the principal views the absence of library in the school as “one of the greatest problems because we are cut off from the cities were we have state libraries. In a place like Warri, you have the state library were students go in to do some extra studies, or research work but because we are cut off far from the urban centers, no assistance. In short, you can’t get bookshops to buy books. So the need for the library here is a very serious one. In fact if we have a library around here, it will enhance teaching and learning in this place. It will not be of use to only the students but even staff will have reference areas to prepare their lesson notes. So the need for a library here is very important to us here where government and companies operating around the area have neglected us. Because if you look, nothing is coming to aid education here in this part of the country.”
He emphasized, “I think it (the library) is going to be one of the greatest achievements in this community and even not just the school and the community but the entire clan will enjoy the benefit that is coming. If really we have a library here, it is going to serve a very good purpose. Students will spend their leisure appropriately. It is a plan in the right direction. We will appreciate it and we pray God that it becomes a reality.”
His vice, Mr. Godwin Miebi also noted, “Lack of library in Gbaraun Grammar School, Oporoza has immensely caused a lot of damage to the school: interest to read books by the students is defeated; students are not acquainted with the spirit of reading at the appropriate time; students are not well organized in the mode of reading; students lack ability to go ahead with research work; needed books to read at the appropriate time are not there.”
Mr. Sawacha Tamaranpiriye Felix, Physical and Health Education teacher in the school speaking against the background of sports noted, “If library is built here in the school, it will serve a reference purpose for the school in terms of sports, they will know more about sports. What they will read and see will be refreshing in terms of sporting activities and that will help them broaden their knowledge and scope of learning in the various aspects of education.”
Chairman of the community also highlighted the benefits of the library to the school in this way: “It will help a long way to ensure that the students get to know that the culture of studies should be imparted into them. Once an environment is conducive, there are books available, they will always know that it is a good thing for them to gather together to study. It will help go a long way to see that the children are educated.”
To Elekute Macaulay, a library in the school will “increase the standard of learning; give students the ability to work hard; make learning easy; encourage many students who have stopped schooling to come back to the school; and enhance students performance in external examinations.”
A student in the senior secondary II, Guwor Justina, says that the absence of a library in the school was detrimental to the academic interests of students, nothing, “Students therefore are not making good use of their time; thereby making learning to become difficult. The presence of a library will make student to use text books which our parents cannot buy for us.”
Another student Zibimoghan Marvel says, “Since a library is very important to students and teachers, I will be very happy if a library is built for Gbaraun Grammar School, Oporoza.”
The principal of the school stressed that besides, the school was faced with other problems like ill-equipped laboratory. “We have what we call a laboratory but not a standard laboratory. It is just a multi-purpose open hall we just use it as a laboratory. It is below standard but just because we have to prepare our students for the senior school certificate exams we just have to make do with what we have, but as I have said earlier it is below standard.”
Soroghaye lamented further, “If you look around there are no infrastructures in the school. No toilet facilities, no administrative blocks, you can see my office. What you see now here, the roof is leaking through the length and breadth during the raining season. You can see the color of the ceiling. You can see how hot it is. You can see how I am sweating. Not well ventilated. All the corridors are dilapidating; the walls are giving way and no help from anywhere so it is a very pathetic situation. It looks like we are not part of the system in the country we are living in.”
The community chairman on his part attributed the problem of infrastructure in the school to government’s general neglect of the riverine communities. “You have the post primary education board: if you go to the urban cities you see them building primary and secondary schools here and there. But in the riverine, they don’t come to do anything. There is no project of note in our secondary school. The only class room you see existing was built about eight years past by Shell. After then there has not been any development, even the one you see there that is down. It is over about twelve year now and I think there has not been any effort from the government and even the oil companies to assist to build up and make the environment very nice, decent place for studies. It is even the effort of the community to put one and two together to see that there is a little place for the students to study.”
Surprisingly, the principal said the students still make good results in their external examinations through the extra efforts being put in by the teachers. “We’ve been making some good results in the past. We have made nothing less than 60 per cent in our WAEC (West African Examinations Council) and NECO (National Examinations Council) Exams. Students have been passing well. A lot of them have gone into higher institutions on yearly basis despite the shortage of staff. That is to say that we are putting in extra effort to keep up with the shortfalls but we will do better if more teachers are posted to us. Then we will expend less energy to produce what we are producing now.”
Residents of the sleepy town despite the deprivations, like every other community in the Niger Delta, still take life easy, undisturbed. Diofelo says “Basically what we do here for a living is just fishing and a little bit of subsistence farming to gather food, maybe a little of vegetable for family living and that’s all. We are not too much into big farming. Basically our occupation is fishing; that has been the means of livelihood to sustain an average family.” Mr. Nelson Ogelegbanwei also spoke in the same vein. “We are Ijaw people. When we wake up in the morning most of us engage in our daily fishing because most of us are fishermen. We go for our fishing according to the tide. Some go for their fishing by the high tide, some by the low tide. It could be in the night, in the afternoon and so on. When we come from the fishing we have to relax till the next tide that you set for the fishing again” Mrs. Rosemary Omula on her part says, “Women here are into fishing. In the morning you wake up and go for fishing and later we rest.”
Movement from one community to the other and even for their fishing endeavors is usually by local canoe and paddle, except a few on trading ventures who use engines to propel the boats. Men in the community, after returning from their fishing expenditure, find time to gather in groups to crack jokes and take some alcoholic drinks and cigarettes, while the women work almost round the clock. They are either seen weaving fishing gears or cooking or engaged in one domestic chore or the other. Ogelegbanwei summed up the leisure life of male residents this way, “The young ones play football, people of our category we sit down and refresh ourselves.”
Their foods consist mostly of cassava products eaten with either cooked palm fruit or oil soup.
The Oporoza Community is less than 50 kilometers from the Chevron-Texaco Oil tank farm located at Escravos on the bank of the Atlantic Ocean. The community is usually accessed through Warri by means of water transportation, which takes about one hour thirty minutes to three hours depending on the boat being used. The fares ranges from N1,500 to N2,500. Because of its closeness to the ocean, the river water is always salty throughout 365 days, hence they have to depend on rain water for most of their domestic chores as the community chairman pointed out earlier.
Houses in the community are a mixture of traditional raffia with thatched roofs and modern block and cement with aluminum zinc roofs. The traditional houses do not have toilets and bathrooms. Owners of such houses build small structures to take their bath and go to the stream and inside the bush to defecate. Cooking in those houses is usually with firewood. The modern buildings, which are going to accommodate the Global Citizen Journey Team, built by persons who have resided in cities like Warri, on the other hand, are a direct opposite of the former. They have toilets, bathrooms, kitchens, all in-built with modern wooden beds and foams as obtains in the cities.