“How endless oil spills leave Niger Delta severely polluted, livelihoods ruined and citizens poisoned”

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The Story

“How endless oil spills leave Niger Delta severely polluted, livelihoods ruined and citizens poisoned”
by Kelechukwu Iruoma & Ruth Olurounbi
Ripples Nigeria, March 23, 2020

The Pitch

PROPOSAL TITLE: Assessing the long-term adverse health effects of oil spill exposure in residents of Ogoniland

THE PITCH: First of a kind data-driven, multimedia story seeking to expose the long-term adverse effects of oil spill exposure among residents of Ogoniland and its environs using laboratory tests as evidence.


This investigation seeks to expose the long-term adverse health effects (such as kidney, liver and lungs) of oil spill exposure among residents of Ogoniland and its environs.

Eight months after she lost her daughter to the oil spill at Ogoni land in the Niger Delta, Annkio Kie (not real name) is still struggling to fight off pain and sorrow. Mary was sick for three years after what started as mere rashes turned out to be a severe skin disease.

Between the time she died and now, hundreds of people in Goi community, Gokona local government area of Rivers state, have been buried as well, most of whom suffered from strange illnesses suspected to be an after-effect of the oil spill in the area (Source: TheCable)

Studies have shown that humans impacted by oil spills experience “persistent alterations or worsening of their haematological, hepatic, pulmonary, and cardiac functions” (D’Andrea and Reddy, 2018).

Additionally, multiple research findings documented in medical journals show that oil spills affect: (i) mental health, (ii) physical/physiological (iii) genotoxic, immunotoxic, and endocrine toxicity – that is DNA alterations, compromised immunity and reproductive health in the child, men, and women, among others. Our focus is on the third.

According to Dr. Bernard Goldstein of the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, primary toxic effects of endocrine-related toxicity include infertility, reduction in sperm count, cancer and mutation; and so on.

Nigeria’s first major oil spillage occurred in 1970 at Ogoniland in Rivers State. An estimated 13 million barrels (1.5 million tons) of crude oil has been spilled since 1958 from over 7000 oil spill incidents. An average of 240,000 barrels of crude oil is spilled in the Niger delta every year, mainly due to unknown causes (31.85%), third-party activity (20.74%), and mechanical failure (17.04%).

Given the history of oil spillage in the region its effects on humans, our investigation intends to primarily assess possible genotoxic, immunotoxic, and endocrine toxicity in children, men, and women of Ogoniland and its environs and consequence of these long-term adverse effects on the continued growth as individuals and their communities, population wise.

Oil exploration and exploitation is very lucrative, and a major revenue earner in Nigeria. But, like most industrial activities, it produces environmental hazards that are “slow poisons,” in that they often take months and years to cause disease and death.

The people of Ogoni no longer farm. Their water and foods have been contaminated. Some of the communities are in the riverine areas and due to the hardship, many of them still drink from the contaminated water and eat crops harvested from the farms. These have significant effects on them.

Each year, 100 of post-impact assessment studies are conducted to assess the impact of the hazards generated by the oil industry on the physical and social environment and on human health. But, most of these studies are conducted without any significant contributions from journalists.

The presence and quantity of these constituents are known to be capable of exerting some acute and long-term adverse health effects. The spills contaminated the surface water, ground water, ambient air, and crops with hydrocarbons, including known carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and benxo (a) pyrene, naturally occurring radioactive materials, and trace metals that were further bio-accumulated in some food crops.

The oil spills could lead to a 60% reduction in household food security and could reduce the ascorbic acid content of vegetables by as much as 36% and the crude protein content of cassava by 40%. It is these foods that they eat to sustain themselves. These could result in a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition.

Studies have also indicated that contact with Nigerian crude oil could be hemotoxic and hepatotoxic and could cause infertility and cancer.

This investigation will provide laboratory evidence of how Ogoni communities live with various diseases as a result of oil spills, and what their future may look like even as the government drags its feet on the Ogoni Clean up.

We want to investigate the kind of diseases inherent in the body and blood of people living in communities across Ogoni land. With the help of health professionals, we will conduct laboratory tests of persons in Ogoni to determine the disease they live with as a result of the spill.

Method of investigation

We plan to engage health professionals in the Niger Delta region and an out-of-region consultant to examine medical records and take blood samples of 100 persons in Ogoniland to determine the effects of the pollution looking at the levels of enzymes in the respondents.

Our plan is to gather the findings and tell the story using a multimedia approach. From our research, many journalistic works have been done on the effect of the spill, but none used a laboratory method to gather evidence. This is what we want to do.


  • To investigate the relationship between oil spills and genotoxic, immunotoxic, and endocrine toxicity related diseases among the people of Ogoniland
  • To investigate the long-term adverse effects of the oil spills on the future survival of the people of Ogoniland
  • To present laboratory evidence of the effects of oil spills on people of Ogoniland using a multimedia approach
  • To tell the story of people who have died from diseases as a result of the oil spill.
  • To pressure the government into providing quick solutions and interventions to the people of Ogoniland
  • To present a paper from the report in the international community

Interviews/key sources:

  • Medical records
  • Health victims of oil spill
  • Community leaders
  • NGOs
  • Government officials
  • Health professionals
  • Sociologists
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