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Oil is Killing Oguta Lake

Oil is Killing Oguta Lake
Text and photos by Paula Uimonen

The majestic Oguta lake is being destroyed by oil bunkering. During a recent visit, I saw oil spills floating on the lake surface, strips of brown liquid. The lake had changed colour, no longer crystal blue, now a murky greenish colour. Chocked by this unexpected discovery, I asked townspeople what was going on. It is a natural disaster in the making.

Oil spills on Oguta lake, 28 December 2021

Young men are stealing oil from the pipelines and processing it into diesel and kerosene. The poisonous liquid is transported on the lake, spilling into the water. People refer to these youngsters as thugs, they come from Oguta and other places in Imo state. Imagine young men without jobs and incomes, resorting to oil bunkering to earn some cash. “What do their parents say about it” I ask someone, “They don’t ask questions, the men bring home money.” Poverty and destitution driving people into destroying the very environment that has supported human life for centuries. Young people destroying their own futures. It is so sad.

Oil bunkering has been going on for a year, with disastrous consequences. “We don’t eat fish from the lake,” a woman told me, “and the fishing business has been destroyed”. That explains why fish pepper soup is more expensive in Oguta than in Abuja, costing twice or three times as much. A man tells me that most of the fish has died, only two kinds are left, and they need to be eaten quickly, within hours they go off. Imagine the poison such fish contain, hardly fit for human consumption. People now rely on catfish grown in fish farms.

People also talked about crime rates going down, a short-sighted logic that ignores the larger environmental crime taking place. Now that the young thugs are earning cash from oil bunkering, they no longer need to rob people. So some townspeople feel more safe. But what about the much bigger crime that is taking place? The destruction of a whole ecosystem? And what happens next? A woman remarked cynically that now the youngsters can afford to buy their own weapons, so in the future they will be even more armed and dangerous.

What is being done about this problem? On 7 October 2021, military forces raided Izombe community in Oguta Local Government Area, resulting in three deaths (one youth and two security operatives) and the destruction of some 70 houses and 15 vehicles, as reported by Vanguard newspaper on 10 October 2021 [ traditional ruler of the community was reported as stating that “This community has been a peaceful community. We don’t deserve the punishment meted to us. The victims never took part in illegal oil bunkering business.” According to the article, the traditional ruler “expressed concern over increasing illegal oil bunkering in the area and urged government to find urgent ways of stopping the activity in the area,” and he also “appealed to government to find ways to meaningfully engage the teeming youths in the area to deter them from the nefarious activity.” The ruler’s pleas to the government should not fall on deaf ears, it sums up the problem in the area.

Vanguard 10 October 2021

Why are oil companies like Agip not doing more to stop this disaster? Surely these rich companies have the resources to deal with the problem in a proper manner. Heavy handed military operations have not deterred the oil bunkering, which continues to destroy the environment. But isn’t Agip and other oil companies legally responsible for safeguarding the environment? And do they not have a moral responsibility to assure the well-being and social stability of local communities in areas where they extract their oil wealth? Nigeria is well known in the international oil industry as the worst case of environmental destruction, with disastrous socioeconomic impacts, such as increased poverty, crime and violence. This negative development has been going on for decades, and it is still going on.

Oguta lake in July 2018 (left) and December 2021 (right)

Oguta is known for its lake and rivers, not least through Flora Nwapa’sliterary creations,which placed Oguta on the world map. Her debut novel Efuru (1966) was the first internationally published novel in English by an African woman writer, earning her the fame of being the Mother of modern African literature. Her last novel The Lake Goddess (2017) was published posthumously and is now recommended reading for secondary schools. Through her pioneering literary work, Flora Nwapa captured the pristine environment of Oguta, showing how people lived in symbiotic coexistence with the majestic lake and adjoining rivers. The Lake People respected the lake, they even worshipped her goddess Ogbuide and her husband the river god Urashi. In return, the water deities ensured the well being of the community, Ogbuide even sank the invading gun boat during the civil war. This story is well known in the Oguta community, regardless of faith. Nowadays, some people may have turned away from traditional values and norms, but surely the lake and rivers deserve to be protected for future generations? After all, it is the lake that makes Oguta possible for human settlement, a lake that some people are now destroying with oil.


Abeg! Stop the oil bunkering in Oguta.

Abeg! Clean the lake and restore her ecosystem.

Abeg! Assure meaningful activities and incomes for the youth.

 About the author

Paula Uimonen is Professor of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University, Sweden. She is the author of Invoking Flora Nwapa. Nigerian Women Writers, Femininity and Spirituality in World Literature (2020). The monograph can be downloaded from Stockholm University Press at

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