By Bariton Lezabbey
After seven months of temporary work suspension to curb the potential spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bodo Remediation Project remobilized on November 2, 2020 with full worker participation beginning a week later. The suspension of work was in conformance to safety protocol via a force majeure following government restrictions advised by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Remobilization to the work area began with a town hall sensitization on Sunday, November 1, designed to inform the Bodo community on the resumption plans and the Covid-19 precautions put in place. Prior to this official restart date, the Bodo Mediation Initiative (BMI) had organized several other meetings to engage critical stakeholders (Government regulatory agencies, local and international entities) for a smooth and successful re-mobilization, as well as ensuring a common ground for both the Bodo community and Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC), to proceed.
As part of the re-mobilization, over 800 community workers on the project were trained on COVID-19 safety protocol to work. This has enabled them with necessary safety information on how to respond to and protect themselves from potential exposure to Covid-19. Specific protective gear was also provided for all workers on site. Daily compulsory briefings on COVID-19 safety measures are provided before embarking on the task for the day.
Community workers undergoing COVID-19 safety training and guide to work by Health and Safety personnel| Photo: Bariton Lezabbey
Some community workers assigned to the four remediation companies shared their thoughts on the project as it relates to the resumption of cleanup activities in the community.
Mr. Emmanuel Putonor in his comment stated thus “I was very shocked at the news of work suspension in March 2020, and I believed other colleagues were too; although we were informed that it was a measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This project has been a source of livelihood enhancement in the community especially to the over 800 workers from the community. Within the seven months duration of the suspension, there was a massive economic downturn which was obvious in the community. It is my hope, as a Bodo indigene, that the cleanup project should continue unhindered and smoothly so that the workers will get their daily bread”.
Happiness Biragbara in her statement noted that the COVID-19 virus really disrupted the order of things and stalled a major source of livelihood of the people who are working on the cleanup project. “What was also very disturbing was the multiple rumors been peddled around town about the anticipated resumption date. The date, however, took a long while before it was officially announced, and we are happy to have resumed work because we will be expecting our remuneration at the end of the month”. She further affirmed that “the rate of crime will reduce in the community because the youths will be actively engaged once again”.
Bulabari Bright Samah also commented in like manner and said that he felt bad staying at home which resulted in him almost expending his savings. He added that “the cleanup project is the biggest on-site project with the largest workforce in Bodo and Ogoni at large, so its shutdown invariably rendered most youths within the community jobless”. He expressed joy over the resumption and hoped that the project runs unhindered going forward.
Mrs. Clara Dedua while commenting said; “As a mother, working on this project as a Nurse, it has been incredible and joyful to see this army of young men and women involved in the cleanup project and working hard to earn. The work suspension was so sudden and disrupted the expectation of the workers thereby forcing us to stay at home for seven months. During the period, we all anticipated a re-start and here we are again ready for work and hoping it will not be cut short again. The Bodo cleanup project is gender inclusive. Currently, this is the first batch, by the second batch, we also expect that work slots will be equitably shared across gender line as it is evident in this current batch”.
Given the successful post-COVID-19 remobilization of the cleanup project in Bodo, there is relative peace in the community; as about 1000 youths (both male and female) from the community are gainfully engaged on the project. An independent social impact study has revealed that crime rate has reduced by 30 percent, except for few isolated cases of pocket criminality recorded in recent time. This reduction in crime rate, is not solely dependent on the restart of the cleanup Project, but other efforts exerted by the leadership of the community and religious leaders in Bodo, which was aimed at reconciling and disarming the state actors in the community.
The BMI is committed to a successful cleanup of the oil-impacted areas within the Bodo creeks. This will both serve as a positive reference for other communities in the Delta and a means for academic/scientific research and literatures.
In his final remark, the BMI Chairman, Inemo Samiama acknowledged that the mediation process has been very challenging and equally fulfilling. He highlighted few effects of the suspension of the cleanup Project on the community which included but not limited to “the fear of stoppage of the cleanup Project, and the lack of earnings which must have impacted the community workers’ welfare. We are, however, happy to be back to site to continue work from where we stopped due to COVID-19. I sincerely hope to see the restoration of the Bodo ecosystem which will be of benefit to all parties involved”.
The Bodo Mediation Initiative’s (BMI) role is to mediate and oversee the execution of the Bodo Remediation Project. It was initiated in 2013 through the efforts of the Dutch Ambassador to Nigeria, to bring the principal parties together for the remediation of oil-affected areas in the Bodo creeks. The BMI includes representatives of the Bodo Community, federal and state regulatory agencies, The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC) and international experts. It is led by the Chairman, Mr. Inemo Samiama. The BMI Project Office is responsible for assisting the coordination and monitoring of remedial activities.