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October 12, 1998 Dispatch: Foutorogbene, Bayelsa State
From: Felix Tuodolo


"We were alarmed by the sound from the forest and the smoke rising to the sky.  We rushed down there to meet a big flame, which was spreading very fast.  We took action immediately."
Mr. Alibeba, Chairman, Foutorogbene community.

"Our nets, fish traps and camps were still there for assessment before they burnt down everything so that the community will not have any evidence. We are ready to fight to the end. It was a deliberate act. Shell is killing us."
HRH, Chief Theophilus Ebiama


On Wednesday 25/3/98, SPDC contractors carrying out the cleaning exercise of an oil spill in Aleibiri in Ekeremor LGA in Bayelsa State set about 20 hectares of forest on fire, destroying fish ponds, canoes, farms, economic trees etc (See ERA FIELD REPORT #3].  The suffering people are still crying for compensation from SPDC. In July 1998  SPDC outdid itself when it set another forest on fire, this time at Foutorogene ( afew kilometres away from Aleibiri) in the same Ekeremor LGA.

This oil spill occurred on 24/7/98 along the Beneseide/Opukushi pipeline passing by the Foutorogbene community.  To get Shell into talks with the community a sea truck belonging to the company had to be impounded. After several days of negotiations, SPDC parted with N379,000 (about 4500 USD) before their sea truck was released to them and the cleaning exercise could begin.

As usual, the contract for this specialist task was awarded to unskilled persons who began work with local labour.  They worked under the watchful eyes of Shell staff.

Disaster struck when Shell decided to burn off yet to be mopped crude at about 7.30pm on 7/8/98 the remaining.

According to Mr. Alibaba, Chairman of Foutorogbene community, "we were alerted by sounds coming from the forest and the thick smoke rising to the sky.  We then rushed down there to meet a big flame, which was spreading very fast.  By sheer survival instinct we began to combat the fire."

According to Hon. Silbricks Obricks, the community waged a war against the fire.  Every hand was employed to quench the fire.  The community battled to put out the fire all night and only succeeded in the early hours of Saturday 8/8/98.


By the time the fire was successfully put out by the community, enormous damage had been done.  The spread of the fire was greatly assisted by the rains and flood, which had carried the spilled oil to a large portion of the forest previously untouched by the spill.  Raffia palms suffered the worst damage.  Thousands of the palms were destroyed. Local distilling camps (where local people make gin) were also destroyed. Fishing camps, fishponds, and economic trees, hunting and fish traps were also destroyed.

The area of forest burnt by Shell is estimated to be about twelve (12) hectares.

After the inferno, the community stopped the SPDC contractor from proceeding with the "cleaning up exercise".  This was to prevent further damage to their forestland and property.  HRH, Chief Theophilus Ebiama (the Amananaowei of Foutorogbene) further stated, "we want all work to stop for our safety and protection.  Also, we are requesting for relief materials from Shell.  We have reported the unfortunate incident to Shell and relief materials should be sent to the community before any other work is done or the cleaning exercise continued."

The Amananaowei also believes that the burning of the forest was a deliberate act by SPDC.  Since the spill occurred on the 24/7/98, we have written several letters to Shell.  They have been dribbling us.  Shell only paid money for expenses we incurred in logistical expenses on meetings and has been avoiding the compensation issue.  Now Shell has burnt the area because she does not intend to pay us any compensation.  Our nets, fish traps and camps were still there for assessment before they burnt down everything so that the community will not have any evidence. We are ready to fight to the end.  It was a deliberate act. Let it known that Shell is killing us."


When Shell burnt the Aleibiri forest the Environmental Rights Action (ERA) sent an independent team of Surveyors and Estate Valuers to the site and the extent of damage was valued at about N300million (3.5 million USD).  The Aleibiri community has not recovered from that devastation and is still at loggerheads with SPDC.  But it appears that SPDC has not learnt its lessons.  Shell appears set to begin a new onslaught on the people of the Niger Delta through 'double attack' - spill the oil and burn their forest.


  1. Write protest letters to Shell offices nearest to you demanding that they use acceptable methods in cleaning their oil spills in the Niger delta
  2. Demand that Shell replaces her rusty ancient oil pipes in the Niger Delta
  3. That Shell respects the people's  right to a safe environment as enshrined in Article 24 of the African Charter of Peoples and Human Rights
  4. Use this Field Report in creating further awareness about the deplorable attitude and objectionable practices of Oil Companies in "oil communities".