Senate Orders Probe as Concerns Grow over Mysterious Deaths in Bonny Island

The Senate on Tuesday launched a probe of mysterious deaths on Bonny Island in Rivers State after no fewer than 13 persons died.

It directed its Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases to meet with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to unravel the cause of the deaths.Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said the health crisis in Bonny Local Government Area indicated that the oil-rich island was becoming the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor expressed delight that the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and ExxonMobil collaborated to set up a COVID-19 treatment centre in the council.

The Senate urged the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), to provide relief materials to Bonny Island residents.

It also mandated its Committee on Environment to meet with the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) to ensure the reduction of marine pollution of all kinds.

These resolutions followed a motion on the urgent need to intervene in the mysterious deaths in Bonny Island sponsored by Senator Betty Apiafi (Rivers West).

According to her, in the last week of March, there were incidents of dead fishes around the Bonny-Andoni shores and other coastal communities along the Atlantic shoreline in the Niger Delta, stretching from Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom to Ondo states.

“Less than six weeks later, mysterious deaths have been occurring in Bonny Island in Rivers State and is reported to have claimed about 13 lives.

“Officials of the Rivers State Ministry of Health and Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) have collected samples in Bonny Island to determine what is responsible for the strange occurrence, the symptoms of which include loss of the sense of smell, taste, fever, weakness, vomiting and stooling,” she said.

She noted that while Bonny is home to various multinational oil companies, “reports have shown that 60 per cent of COVID-19 patients in Rivers State are oil and gas staff.”

 She said that Bonny Island is a major export point in the oil and gas industry, as it hosts the single largest gas investment in the country – the NLNG plant.

“Despite the significant contribution of Bonny to the national economy as a major revenue source for the nation, the island can only be accessed by boats and ferries as there is no link road connecting the island to other parts of Rivers State and Nigeria. The island also lacks adequate medical facilities.

“Due to the challenge of transportation and communication, it is usually difficult to get help or even access medical facilities in Port-Harcourt or other parts of the country.

“If the health issues are not contained, it could affect the residents and workforce of the International Oil Companies (IOCs) as well as the economy of the country, and could spread from there to other parts of the country especially in this global pandemic,” Apiafi said.

Wike emphasised that the highest number of COVID-19 positive cases were oil workers, who he said accounted for 60 per cent of the victims.

He spoke during a meeting with the oil majors at the Government House, Port Harcourt, where the stakeholders undertook to upgrade the Bonny General Hospital as a COVID-19 treatment centre.

The governor said briefs he received from the state Ministry of Health “paints the picture of the area becoming an epicentre of the pandemic”.

He said the situation vindicated his position on the need for oil companies to cooperate with the state to implement the COVID-19 preventive protocol.

Wike said: “Nobody is against anybody carrying out oil exploration activities. All I have always argued is that if you are bringing people from outside the state which is like an interstate movement, there is need for us to know so that we are able also to take precaution and make sure that they follow the protocol put in place by the NCDC.

“Nobody will want to stop oil exploration because that is the mainstay of the economy of this country. But people have to be alive before you can use the revenue.”

The governor urged the oil companies to provide hand sanitisers and water at strategic places in Bonny communities.

He promised to engage the traditional institution and community development committees to enlighten the people on the reality of the pandemic.

Wike said the government might consider locking down of Bonny after due consultation with the Amanyanabo.

He decried the lack of interest shown by the Federal Government in releasing its counterpart funding for the Bonny-Bodo road project despite the NLNG fulfilling its part of the agreement.

He said such treatment of issues concerning the Niger Delta that sustains the country financially was unacceptable.

The governor vowed to complete all his ongoing projects in the state despite the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic.

He said though COVID-19 pandemic compelled a review of the state’s 2020 budget, he would not use it as an excuse.

Source: The Nation

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