The Bodo City Diaspora Resettlement Fishermen Association (BCDFA), in Rivers State, has dragged Julius Berger Nigeria Plc to court, demanding the sum of N500 million for damages over the blockade of its fishing channels.
Julius Berger is the contractor handling the construction of the N120.5billion Bodo/Bonny road and bridges projects, which traverse the entire Bodo City in Ogoniland up to the home of Nigeria’s Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) in Bonny.
The association alleged that all the channels leading to the various creeks where its members carry out their daily activities through fishing had been blocked by the construction company in the course of the ongoing road project, thereby subjecting them and their families to untold hardship.
In a petition by their solicitor, Higher King Chambers in Port Harcourt, the fishermen claimed that their only source of drinking water known as Sivibilgbala River had been blocked by Julius Berger due mainly to its dredging activities and white sand excavation to construct the Bodo/ Bonny road.
Other fishing channels also blocked by the company in the course of the construction, according to the petitioner included; Keiigio, Baakova Bali, Eelebanni , Teenebolke Koor and Keteh-Vou creeks, which they claimed were their main sources of fishing over the years.
Besides, the fishermen association said it would love to know if the construction giant had actually carried out environmental impact assessment, EIA, to ascertain the validity of the project.
The chair of the association, Gregory Pronen, told journalists that shortly after the disastrous oil spills that occurred in 2008 and 2009 from Shell operational facilities, many fishermen from Ogoni relocated to the neighbouring Republic of Cameroon, where they hoped of continuing in their trade.
“We actually spent some years in Cameroon doing our fishing business. It was in 2015 when we heard that Shell had agreed to pay compensation to those who were affected by the 2008 oil spill which prompted us to return home with the hope that we will be accommodated in that compensation package. But that did not come to pass.
“We merely started fishing in some of the creeks in Bodo to keep body and soul together. We were doing that until government decided to award the contract of the Bodo/ Bonny road project to Julius Berger. That was when the company now blocked all the fishing channels that connect the fishing creeks and settlements.
“We have not been doing anything meaningful since the construction started. We don’t have access to the creeks and we are all suffering as a result of this construction. Our membership is made of 2300 members and that tells how many families have been subjected to untold hardship by the company”.
He recalled that the peaceful protest staged by the association last December was to draw the attention of the Julius Berger Company and that of the Federal Government to the plight of the members of the association and called on the government to as a matter of urgency, proffer a lasting solution to the problem.
He said that several correspondences to the construction outfit had not yielded any result, adding that the company was yet to show remorse to the challenges it had exposed the people too.
He lamented that despite several letters sent to the company to find a way of opening the channels so that the fishermen could access the creeks, Julius Berger turned deaf ears at every point.
“This defiant attitude prompted us to stage the peaceful protest last December to draw their attention to our plight and that of our families,” he alleged.
Apart from blocking the channels, wastewater from the company, which is diverted to the farms, the company has also destroyed our cash crops, thereby subjecting farmers to equal hardship. “Our demand for compensation of N500m is to cover the cost of damages and suffering inflicted on us by the company.
Chief Teeh Aalo, 67, with a family of seven children lamented that life has been unbearable for him since he stopped his fishing business. He pleaded that government should intervene and save them the trauma of being “deceived” by the construction company.
“I have seven children. It is now very difficult to keep such a huge family when you don’t have anything doing. This fishing is what I have been doing over the years. That is why we want Julius Berger to help us open the channels so that we can continue with our business. But for the meantime, they have to compensate us.”