Axim, or Tired of Talk

Nana Kojo Eshun, Chief Fisherman, Lower Axim. Photo by Christiane Badgley

I took a trip to Axim today. Axim is a town about an hour’s drive west of Takoradi. It’s a major fishing port, one of the largest in Ghana. There are 800 fishing canoes operating out of Axim and some of the big canoes have 20 person crews. So from Brewire to Apewosike, there are literally thousands of people fishing in the Axim area.

I met with Nana Kojo Eshun, the chief fisherman of Lower Axim. I wanted to talk to him because I’ve heard some stories from fishermen recently about health problems in Axim that some here blame on gas flaring in the Jubilee field.

Eshun told me that over the last six months there have been a number of unusual eye infections in town. Fishermen have suffered, but so have residents who don’t go out to sea. When I asked if this could be caused by the Harmattan, he told me that they have never seen this type of infection before. When I asked about the explosives that some people use for fishing (a practice, by the way, that fishing community leaders are actively working to curtail), he pointed to the people affected who have never gone to sea. Some in Axim suspect that the eye problems are caused by gas flaring – on a clear night the flaring is at times visible from shore. Fishermen also complain of smoke in the air between Axim and the Jubilee field.

Citizens in Axim have filed two reports with the Jubilee partners and according to Eshun, representatives from the oil companies have come to town twice, each time telling residents they would send someone out to do medical screenings. Company representatives first visited Axim in May. To date, no one has come to do any medical tests. People are waiting, but have no idea when, or if, anyone will show up.

For Eshun, this is part of a pattern: government and Jubilee partner representatives come to town and talk. And talk. And talk. They always have something to say, but it seems that the talk is never followed by action. Nor do citizens get clear, precise answers to their questions. Talking and listening are not the same thing.

Residents have asked what will be done if there’s a spill. Oil company representatives have assured them there will be no spill. But they have never answered the question, “What will be done if there’s a spill?” Is there a compensation plan? No one in Axim knows, because no one has been able to get any clear information.

Some representatives from a Nigerian company came to Axim and talked about oil spill response. They said they would bring in equipment — booms and skimmers — for cleaning up. The company has an office in Axim, but no one has ever seen any equipment.

“Today there meetings and some people do not attend,” said Eshun. “People are tired of going to meetings and hearing talk. They like to talk, but nothing happens. We are tired of talk.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard about dissatisfaction with the communication efforts of the Jubilee partners.  People in a number of fishing communities have told me they want information about oil spill clean-up and compensation, but have not been able to get answers. Oil or tar balls washed ashore in the Axim area in January. Locals suspected a connection to the drilling. They learned from the press that the oil on the beach was the result of increased shipping traffic. Yet the results of the investigation into the source of the oil pollution were not made public and people continue to suspect the oil came from the Jubilee field.

Is the gas flaring responsible for the eye infections?  Any number of things could be causing these infections; there could be no connection to gas flaring. But without tests, without an official response to the problem, there’s no way to know what is responsible for the current health problems.

I will contact the EPA, public health officials and Tullow Oil when I return to Accra and will post new information when I can get any.

One Response to “Axim, or Tired of Talk”

  1. Andrew Addiah-Nickson says:

    Thanks Christiane,
    Axim has been a quiet, serene and peaceful place to live until now! The destroyers are here!
    I was born, bred and schooled in Axim, and for the 5 decades off my life, I have always cherished the memories of good food, abundant fish, good disciplinarian and highly educated elderly community and wonderful unparalleled festive frenzies associated with the all-important annual Kundum festival.
    The Lower Axim chief fisherman (I call him Uncle Kojo), is a very hardworking yet quiet and gentle individual. He is an inspiration to many; eking out a living in the face of the deteriorating world climatic conditions, killing his business.
    And as if not enough, the oil discovery has began to take its negative toll on the citizenry within the catchment area. When the chiefs and people of the Nzema area complained about likely neglect of the area in the midst of an oil boom, they were branded “greedy” and irrational. Christiane, this is just the dawn of the boom, and what we get is talk, talk, talk, talk and talk.

    I can almost feel what is going through the veins of Uncle Kojo; indeed, he speaks for all of us who hail from the area. I live and work in Accra, and would like to offer my voice to the advocacy against the deprivation of the citizenry, the degradation of the environment and the denial of the people their very hope of survival and existence.

    The man complains of a strange eye disease (never seen in the area before) infecting the people, and the politicking begins: “we will investigate”. Without the knowledge of rocket science, one would have expected that emergency medical services would be deployed to the area to arrest the situation, whether or not this is the result of the flaring. Why won’t these politicians learn?… Christiane, you see: this is how “Niger Delta” began!

    But thanks Christiane once again for bringing it to the notice of the international public. I will be interested to know any organization/institution stepping in to help us hold Axim’s serenity and virginity intact.

    – Egya Addiah (Andrew Addiah-Nickson)
    (CEO Jubilee Multimedia Computing a total IT solutions provider – Accra-Ghana)

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