Port Harcourt: Anger, anxiety as soot takes over skyline, environs


The ranking of Port Harcourt as the world’s most polluted city in the world has not just increased panic among residents but has forced some wealthy residents and those who have alternative homes to begin relocating from the city.

In April 29, 2018, air visual, ranked Port Harcourt as the worst polluted city in the world with an  air index of 188, followed by Beijing, China which ranked 182 and Delhi, India at 181 among others.  Closed monitoring showed that the index of Port Harcourt has increased from 188 to 200 and above since then till now.

In fact, all parts of Port Harcourt ,including  some neighbouring Local Government Areas like Eleme, Oyigbo, Ikwere, Obio/akpor, the four Local Councils in Ogoni are usually  covered with dark clouds since the deposition of black soot started. Preliminary test samples showed that the soot was caused by
“incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons, as well as asphalt processing and illegal artisanal refining operations”.

The data for Cities’ air quality index is analysed everyday by Air Visual, a global air quality monitor founded in 2015,  “ on the belief that data enables action and that without air quality data, the hazards of air pollution will remain invisible and unbeatable.

The soot is not like the rain or sun which drops on people outside a shield, but the soot filters in through locked doors and closed surfaces into the rooms, cars, offices, even undergrounds. In fact, there is no safe place for anyone residing in Port Harcourt as its effect is non discriminatory.

Current findings showed that people now fall sick often in the city. Cough, catarrh and sore throat is now common. Most hospitals’ bed spaces are occupied by sick children, women men and the elderly.

Undoubtedly, the black soot portend great danger to peoples lives as its has been associated with asthma, heart diseases , bronchitis and some respiratory illnesses,its toxicity can also cause cancer which may lead to premature death.

The panicking residents who could no longer keep calm took to the street three weeks ago  protesting against the unending black soot in the  once garden city which may now be likened  as a dark  city .

The hundreds of protesters including pregnant women, women, children, youths and the elderly, as well as Labour leaders, Civil society organisations  marched from Iseac Boro Park as early as 8am  to  Government House, Port Harcourt and the State House of Assembly,  demanding for a clean air to breath.

The leader of Stop-the-Soot Campaign, Tunde Bello, in a 14-point protest letter, said, it was time enough for government to priorities the issue of environment, adding that millions of Rivers residents risk cancer diseases among others if the sooth is not urgently stopped.

He also stressed the need for the state government to conduct an environmental audit on all the oil bearing communities and the operations going on in such areas.

Part of the letter reads, “There should be a street to street health campaign, and awareness on the health issue by local governments and various stakeholders.”

He added: “We  want Governor Wike to lead a bi-partisan campaign on behalf of the state and its citizens,requesting that the state assembly and national assembly should change the rules governing the issue of environment and instigate the part of the Petroleum Industry Bill on environment.

Meanwhile, the Chief organiser of the protest, Eugene Abels, said the campaign would be sustained until something concrete is done by the Federal and State government to stop it.

He disclosed that, the group would kick off the public health campaign next week to enlighten and educate the populace about  what to do to stay safe,adding that June 5, this year, another massive protest would be staged against the soot.

Abels said, the soot is injurious to health, which kills gradually. He maintained that serious steps need to be taken to draw the needed attention to avoid it go the way the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on Ogoni land is going.

However, the Deputy Governor , Dr. Ipalibo Banigo ,received the letter from the protesters  and promised to pass the message to the State Governor, Nyesom Wike.

Meanwhile, Governor Wike, while inaugurating the Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency at Government House Port Harcourt, urged the protesters to Chanel their protest to the Federal Government, stating that the government at the centre was responsible for the degradation of pollution of Rivers environment.

Wike said, Rivers government has done all that it suppose to do including advocacy and enlightenment campaigns with no action from the federal government.

He said: “Help us demonstrate against the Federal government because we have no control over the sources of the soot, do I go to shut down refinery, will they not say, it is economic sabotage?

“Do I even have the security, do i control the police and the army to go and stop production at the refinery, not even the navy.”

However, during the Governor’s meeting with the United Nation’s Delegation on the soot, he tabled the concerns of the state government and the people to the international community.

While addressing the  UN delegation , He called on the United Nations to prevail on the Federal Government to act on the soot.

It is however, devastating that irrespective of the warnings by medical experts on the effects of the soot menace, nothing serious has been done to bring permanent solution to it. The Federal Government Agency like the NESDRA, the agency responsible for environment, has remained silent about the soot.

Though, the  State Ministry of Environment in support with the task force set up by the state government has shut down asphalt processing plant operating in the city, and sealed off Chinese company for breach of environmental laws, and  seizing abandoned  tyres but despite all these, thick smoke still filters the air on daily bases and instead of uniting and fighting together  to bring solution, the All Progressive Congress (APC and Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP)  has kept politicking with the health of the people.

The state government has not taken any step further to address the challenge, rather it is blaming the Federal government, while the state  chapter of APC is exonerating the Federal government from the challenge,  Governor Wike is being blamed by them for causing the soot.

When The Guardian visited an Ogoni community last week in Khana Local Government Area of the State, the rain water was completely dark.

No one can wash, drink or bath with such water and since their water and lands are polluted and no provision of water yet, they resorted to buying water from vendors at high prices.

An environment expert, Professor of Applied Metrology and Environmental Management, in Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, Akuro Gobo, has advised the Federal Government to work in synergy with the State government, to bring solution to the soot menace.

He further, stated that a state of emergency should be declared on the environment sector of the state so that necessary funds would be released to tackle the soot problem.

Gobo said, “ there is need to work in synergy, the federal and state government, the National Assembly and State Assembly, the federal ministry of Environment and State Ministry of

Environment, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the State Emergency Management Agency, to work together to enable them  get some review of laws that can bring permanent solution, there should be better approach to it and encouragement in some studies”

Similarly, the Senator representing Rivers South East Senatorial District, Magnus Abe in an interview with The Guardian, said, it was time to declare national health emergency in Rivers State.

He urged all to stop politics, come together to find lasting solution to the soot, saying that should be the real problem bothers everyone in Rivers state.

On his part, the Chairman NUPENG and PENGASSAN joint Committee on Joint National Committee on PIB, Chika Onuegbu, who also joined in the soot protest, said, the more devastating issue is that there is no health facility in Rivers state or any other part of Nigeria to manage the medical emergency that the soot has unleashed already.

He said: “Look my friends, the Soot is like rain. It does not select who will breathe it. Whether you are in APC, PDP, Labour party etc does not matter here, let’s join hands and fight it.

“Just because we are in the gestation period does mean that all is well. That is the way cancer operates. So for me I don’t care what people say. I will continue to sensitize people and put pressure on all concerned to #STOPTHESOOT”.

Also, the National Coordinator of Ken Saro-Wiwa Associates, Chief Gani

Tobpa, urged government at all levels to work together to achieve a permanent solution to the soot menace.

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