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Erhobaro's Vanishing Prosperity: The Dark Side of the Oil Industry


Erhobaro's Vanishing Prosperity: The Dark Side of the Oil Industry

Obaro, a remarkable 120-year-old woman and a mother of three who has spent her entire life in Erhobaro community. Fondly known as Mama, she reminisces about her childhood in the village, a time long before the arrival of Shell Petroleum in Erhobaro.

"Growing up in Erhobaro was a joyful experience. During those days, our community had a reputation for cultivating robust okro, peppers, lush vegetables, and cassava. The gaari we produced from our cassava was exceptionally delicious, and our okro was consistently green, slimy, and with flavour. Every morning, you'd witness fishermen and women heading to the waters, while farmers tended to their fields without any hindrance. We drank from the river, bathed with its water, and life in the community was simply beautiful."

However, today's Erhobaro community bears little resemblance to the vibrant place Mama describes. Situated about 45 minutes from Waari town, the community lacks essential amenities. There is no health center, no school, and no access to electricity. A drive through the village on a rainy day reveals a common sight: buckets and bowls placed strategically to collect rainwater for drinking and house chores, plants with brown leaves amidst a rainy season, cassava farms with no produce,  highlighting the community's struggle for basic necessities.

Mama vividly recounts how the arrival of Shell in Erhobaro transformed the once joyful life she knew into one marked by chaos, fear, hunger, and thirst. She also laments how the community has lost all that it was once renowned for.

"One day, the earth began to tremble, a frightening occurrence that sent everyone in the community, be it children, youths, or the elderly, scrambling for safety. It was later revealed that it was an oil company conducting drilling operations. Soon after, their drilling activities started to spill oil into our river – our primary source of drinking water. Slowly, we all noticed that our once lush farms were losing their vibrancy. For all the diligent farmers in the community, the cassava wouldn't grow beyond a certain height, and the yields were significantly smaller than what we used to harvest. On some farms, cassava trees grew, but there were no fruits to reap. Peppers and vegetables became scarce commodities because they could no longer thrive in the community. It was at this point that our fears were confirmed: the oil company's presence in Erhobaro was poised to destroy us.

The delightful flavors I once savored from our native meals have all but disappeared. Our cassava and okro have become tasteless. Financial burdens have escalated because we now have to purchase satchet water and bear our losses from poor and low harvest. It's disheartening to note that despite having an oil company right here in Erhobaro, there is no evidence of basic amenities. They have taken so much from us and given us nothing in return."

In the face of adversity, the people of Erhobaro remain resilient, holding on to the hope that someday their farms and water will regain its former glory. Until then, their struggle continues, a poignant reminder that behind every barrel of oil extracted lies a story of human lives, dreams, and sacrifices.


Oluwakemi Akinremi-Segun is a Development Communications Specialist, Brand and Fundraising Communications Strategist. Kemi is also a good Storyteller and currently leads the Communications Hub at ActionAid Nigeria.