This is the first place that oil was struck in Nigeria. It’s a small village nestled in the creeks, islands and mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta, Bayelsa state to be precise. It took use 2 and half hours to drive down there from Port Harcourt in a hired vehicle that cost us N6000. Oloibiri’s story is a great testament to how both the governments of Nigeria, it’s leaders and the Oil companies have done a disservice to humanity. The story is complex but once upon a time a valuable deposit of crude oil sat undisturbed and untapped in the undergrounds of Oloibiri, but today not only has Oloibiri be sucked dry of its valuable resources, the people have literally had life sucked out of them as they have been left to wallow in abject poverty and underdevelopment. The same can be said for many regions. The story goes like this, Dutch company Shell D’arcy, after being granted an exploration license in 1938, found its way into the small village. That was in 1953. Why did it take them so long to go into the creeks you might wonder. As I learned from a well spoken 73 year old man Pa Foster Inengite, the explorers thought the oil deposit was higher up the Niger and had been searching in the lowlands near Owerri, Oguta and Onitsha and were making their way further south. They came to Oloibiri in 1953, built a well (which is one of the only other source of water aside from the river just behind the house at which the well was built). There are several taps and a water tank that were built in 1973 by the government of Rivers State at the time but according to the villagers not a single drop of water has come out of those taps. At first the locals thought they had come to buy Palm oil, which was their major resource (still is). In 1956 Shell finally discovered the first commercial oil field in Oloibiri. That location is called Oloibiri 1 and it is located along the only operating highway in Bayelsa State, that goes straight from Yenegoa into Ogbia local Government. In1958 Nigeria officially became a world exporter of crude oil and the village of Oloibiri made history as the first place oil was struck not just in Nigeria, but also in West Africa.
At the exact spot where explorer first discovered oil, there’s a rusty funny looking cross-like pipe rising from a field of very tall elephant grass. I believe this contraption (word of the day) is called a Christmas tree. Eerie this was because of the fact that this thing looked like a cross. A cross that was supposed to answer prayers or the poor and bring them hope. Rather this place was over run with shrubbery and raggedy signpost and an aesthetically unappealing stack of marble slabs dedicated by former President Obasanjo, that’s supposed to be a monument identifying Oloibiri Well 1 as an historic site.
Just to give you a mental picture of what Oloibiri looked like…CRAP!! Mud huts, termite ridden thatch roofs, thick jungle, and uncompleted or falling buildings. They finally had electricity because of the new hydro generated power plant, but that’s all the community can say they’ve gotten. It’s hard to believe that a place like that is where oil, black gold that’s building places like Lagos, Abuja and even nearby Port Harcourt. It was supposed to be a gift from Mother Earth that was supposed to bring hope and a future to the town but instead it has become the death of the place.
Pa Foster narrated the story of how he felt the day they found the oil deposit. He said he had worked closely with the explorers, learning from them and running errands as part of his job. He was only 22 at the time and wanted to work with the dockyard, on the ships that transported the oil. He said he was on the rig the day oil was struck and when it gushed out everyone cheered and was drenched by the oil. After the celebration they went into the Oloibiri River and had a bath and then went on with the celebration. He had very high hopes that his community would change and look like the ones he’d seen in the pictures and books that the white men brought with them. Big white houses, schools, clinics and better jobs. Although disappointed in his shack of a mud house, he still feels it is never too late to change the lot of the region because there are still young children in Oloibiri and Oloibiri self exiled youths who need to see a new light shone on their home land. The frail and fragile old man was a great interview, not only could he speak very good English and pronounce correctly (unlike many young people) he was like a library with so much stories about so many things including oral tradition of how Oloibiri was established. (An offshoot of some soldiers that had been on the run from Benin Kingdom). It was so sad because there were hardly any children in the village to listen to his story (I can see days of sitting at his feet listening to tales by moonlight…by the way has anyone seen the new Tales By Moonlight on NTA. Talk about tales under the fluorescent, they are now in some poorly decorated and air conditioned living room. No moon light, no mosquitoes to chirping cricket sound)
Anyways our continued tour of the village revealed too many abandoned projects including a huge general hospital that was finished in 1973 but never commissioned, staffed or even furnished. Then a mortuary that’s never been used. One woman we met lamented that they have to drive the dead many kilometers to a place called Koloibiri, but the roads are so bad that cars get into accidents and the dead bodies end up dying again (her words). It was really sad and I tried so hard to fight back tears. I could also see and understand why so many people in the region could be angry and make unrealistic demands like resource control (we all know that’ll probably never happen) and take matters into their own hands. I guess I just had to see things for myself and know what all the fuss is all about. I eventually went back to PH tired and worn out. The next day I made my way to Asari Dokubo’s fortress like home for a sit down interview with his wife. Unfortunately, I sat on that interview because it was rejected for the particular show that I had pegged it for and couldn’t find a platform for it. But once I can figure out how loading videos work, I’ll load that interview and this documentary online. This post doesn’t give a clear picture but hang tight and I’ll load up the pictures I took while in the Niger Delta very soon. My sister took the Laptop with all the pictures to Asaba for her NYSC (to watch pirated 16-in-1 movies) and won’t be back till the 6th of December. The pictures are also in my email account but don’t load up very fast. May be Internet in China will facilitate that. Anyways, I’ll keep you posted on that Great Wall Climb/ Trek.