By Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The Nigerian military at the weekend in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, refuted insinuations that its activities involving the destruction of illegal refineries in the creeks of the Niger Delta was responsible for the perennial soot in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Brig.-Gen Kevin Aligbe, Deputy Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF), and Commander of the land component of Operation Delta Safe (OpDS) in the Niger Delta, told journalists that there was no conclusive evidence that the military was culpable.
The occurrence of the black soot which had elicited concerns over its effect on public health is believed to cause respiratory diseases, leading Nigeriaâ€™s ministry of environment to declare an air pollution emergency in the affected areas.
But Aligbe,Â who is also the Commander of 16 Brigade in Bayelsa, argued that if indeed JTFÂ activities were responsible for the pollution, Delta State and parts of Bayelsa whichÂ have a concentration of the operations of the force would have been heavily affected.
He added that the military had graduated from the alleged indiscriminate burning of illegal refineries to the current practice where seized vessels are â€˜mechanicallyâ€™ destroyed.
â€œOur operation continues to evolve and we continue to adopt methods that are environment-friendly, we are doing lot of mechanical operations using sea vehicles, and heavy equipment to destroy these illegal cooking points instead of just incinerating as it were.
â€œWhere these vehicles or vessels are taken close to land, they are taken to designated points, safe areas and they are destroyed in these locations. So, the issue of environment degradation and of course the health hazards pose to the populace is taken into cognisance.
â€œThat is directly linked ton the protection of civilians. In the areas we do surgical operations, narrow down to specifics instead of invading communities and have a blanket rounding up of individuals. We are intelligence driven against designated targets to take out these elements and the equipment they use,â€ he maintained.
The senior military officer added: â€œIt will not be correct to say it is the destruction of illegal refineries that is responsible for soot in Port Harcourt. There are illegal refineries in Delta, in Warri. Have you heard of soot inÂ Warri the way it is in port Harcourt?
â€œThere are industries in Port Harcourt that emit soot. That does not remove. The fact that the activities of these illegal refiners may also contribute to what they are experiencing there.â€
According to him, the military now deploys heavy machinery which also mitigates the effect of the destruction of illegal refineries on the environment.
â€œWe get swamp buggies into those areas and take them where they are destroyed without affecting people. The illegal operators are only able to extract about 30 percent of the content of crude oil.
â€œThe rest 70 per cent is left in the general areas. From the point they steal to the point they cook these materials is several kilometres and they use chains of pumping machines, 20 to 25 sometimes. This is what leads to degradation of the environment,â€ Gen. Aligbe insisted.