For about two years, residents of Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, and the neighboring cities have come to live with and endure the early morning black substance commonly known as black soot.
Each breaking day, residents of Port Harcourt, Obio/ Akpo, Oyingbo, Eleme among other neighboring cities wake up in the morning to discover that their rooftops, cars, floors, clothes and even kitchen utensils have been covered by this black substance.
More threatening is the fact that this substance finds its way into the nostrils of unprotected residents thereby making breathing difficult. Scientists believe that excessive concentration of this pollutant could lead to respiratory impairment.
It will be recalled that at the heat of this health-threatening hazard, the Rivers State Government made several entreaties to the Federal Government for assistance but nothing came from the President Mohammadu Buhari led APC government. This made Governor Nyesom Wike’s administration to look inward for solution to the pollutant.
The differences between the two governments created a cleavage of suspicion between the opposing parties, which fuelled allegations that the soot issue is being spiced up by the Federal Government in particular, since Rivers is a PDP state and not of the ruling APC.
It was later discovered that the international oil companies (IOC) that operate mainly in Rivers State, the administrative headquarters of the oil bearing Niger Delta region that bears the brunt of the black soot, emit much more of this substance than any other source combined.
So, in a move to resolve the soot challenge facing the state, Governor Wike only last week inaugurated the Technical Committee for the implementation of the Recommendations of the Rivers State Government Report on Soot.
Inaugurating the committee last Monday, Governor Wike directed the State Head of Service to also invite the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy and the Nigerian Police to participate in the implementation committee.
The invitation of the Army to the implementation of the technical committee was apt in the sense that the state government has severally come down hard on the Army over its operations in the state in particular and the crude manner it disposes illegal crude from oil thieves.
For instance, Governor Wike has never hidden his feelings about the manner the Nigerian Army destroys the facilities used by criminals in oil bunkering in the creeks. The primitive way of disposing the stolen crude and setting them on fire, constitutes in no less value in increasing the black soot in the state.
Beside this, virtually all the two nearly moribund refineries belonging to the federal government emit dangerous phlegm of fume into the atmosphere constituting the soot and posing acute danger to over five million residents of Rivers people.
Governor Wike said that his Administration was committed to addressing the environmental and health issues raised by the presence of soot in the state.
“I have told the chairman of the Technical Committee to ensure that everybody gets the report for the committee to quickly act for us to see positive changes.
“As a Government, we owe our people the duty to tackle soot in Rivers State “.
Apparently responding to claims by some residents that his government was treating to soot with levity, the Governor said that contrary to such claims, his administration has been working on modalities to tackle the black substance.
He said that the investigative committee worked for five months to discover the causes of the prevalence of soot.
“So many people have complained that the State Government is not doing something to reduce the soot. This is not true. We have studied the situation”.
It took the Rivers state government about five months to identify the causes of the black emission in the state. This is why the implementation committee is made up of environmental experts/scientists, environmental lawyers, doctors, civil society, oil majors and security services. This, to a large extent is a fundamental move to address the soot crisis.
Governor Wike also admitted that the soot crisis was worse than insecurity, because of the long term health challenges that it poses to the people
“As a Government, we are concerned and we will do everything to ensure that it is resolved. This soot does not know the governor. It does not know a poor man or rich man. It affects everyone. Right here in Government House, I see it everywhere”, he said.
Chairman of the Technical Committee, Prof Roseline Konya who is also the immediate past Commissioner for environment assured the Rivers State Governor that the committee would work hard to resolve the soot crisis.
She said that most of the committee members are conversant with the process of identifying the causes of soot, hence they will bring their wealth of experience to address the challenge.
Worried by the health hazard of the soot, the civil liberty organization, CLO, south-south zone said the situation was so terrible that if not tackled now would cause an epidemic in the state and the region at last.
The regional coordinator of the human rights group, Comrade Karl Chinedu called on both the federal government and its related agencies to rally round the state government to tackle the soot menace.
“The federal ministry of environment, NOSDRA, HYPREP, the oil companies must rally round the state government to resolve this matter. This soot thing is not good for humans. It is even very bad with kids. I want to plead with the national government and the oil majors to do something about the soot”, he said.
There are indisputably various sources through which this dangerous black substance occur in the environment. But a greater proportion of both air , sea and land pollution in the Niger Delta is attributed to oil and gas extraction. This understanding gives verve to the pessimistic belief, or otherwise by some aggrieved Niger Delta people that oil is a curse.
Statistic has shown that nine out of every ten persons breathe a polluted air. Dr. Godwin Ojo, executive director of environmental rights action and friends of the earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, believes that air pollution harms the natural environment thereby decreasing the oxygen supply in the oceans, making it harder for plants to grow and contribute immensely for climate change.
“Air toxics are contributing to birth defects, reproductive failure, and disease in animals. The pollution from the Niger Delta on a scale is regarded as one of the worst among the similar such deltas in the world”, Ojo said.
Nigeria holds the highest record of 19.79% of natural gas flaring globally and is responsible for about 46% of Africa’s total gas flared per ton of oil produced. Incidentally, Rivers state plays host to the major oil companies that are engaged in these extractions. Hence, it is not surprising that the black soot finds Port Harcourt nest from such dangerous emission is recorded.
There are about one hundred flare sites that still emit toxic carbons into the atmosphere in Nigeria. Of course, the majority of this number can only be located in Rivers state where one finds the highest number of oil companies operating with relative ease.
It makes no debate that despite the approximately US$600billion proceeds Nigerian government makes from oil extraction over the decades during oil revolution, its citizens especially about five million Rivers people including those doing businesses there for survival, are already dead by installment in view of the polluted air they breathe.
It is therefore advisable that all hands must be on deck to find a lasting solution to the problem of soot in the state and save millions of innocent Nigerians from avoidable health challenge like cancer, respiratory crisis among other life threatening health diseases.
Dr. Ojo believes that “the environment is our life. It is not for sale. The victims of Niger Delta are not only victimized but are also criminalized”, adding that oil and gas prospecting is highly destructive, “hence oil civilization is not a viable venture”.
His postulation is that Nigeria could do so well without oil if going back to agriculture civilization as it was the wont before the advent of oil. This is just the only way through which the danger of soot could be overcome and the danger associated with pollution avoided.