Stakeholders Describes Soot as Ecological Time Bomb in Niger Delta
Blessing Ibunge in Port Harcourt
Rights activists, lawmakers and medical experts have described the soot pollution experienced in the Niger Delta as a time bomb awaiting explosion in the region.
The stakeholders raised the alarm on the increasing rate of artisanal refining of petroleum products and deaths recorded from such illegal business in the area.
They also alleged that law enforcement agencies are involved in the environmental pollution going on in the Niger Delta region.
The stakeholders spoke yesterday at a policy dialogue meeting on the “Artisanal Refining: Strategies for Addressing its Environmental Pollution in the Niger Delta and Environs,” which was organised by the National Association of Seadogs (Pyrates Confraternity) in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The activists, who included environmental experts, attributed the source of soot experienced in Port Harcourt and its environs to the myriad of illegal refining activities across the Niger Delta region.
In his keynote speech, the Chairman of Emohua Local Government Area and former Leader, Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon. Chidi Lloyd, observed a decline in the activities of illegal oil refinery popularly called “kpofire.”
Lloyd said that the decline followed a marching order given by the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, to the 23 council chairmen to curb the “kpofire” menace.
He decried the indiscriminate and disturbing involvement of security agencies in the kpofire business, alleging that some law enforcement agents lobby to be posted to Rivers State because of artisanal refining activities.
He said that it is unheard of that a security agent, who is saddled with the responsibility for fighting vandalism, would turn to be a vandal.
Also speaking, Professor Sofiri Peterside, said that soot would soon become an ecological time bomb in Niger Delta region.
Peterside stressed that the clamour for granting license to operators of illegal refinery should be discouraged and artisans should be addressed in a language they would understand.
He declared: “Our community governance system has collapsed. It is a business (artisanal refinery) and a problem. That means the local government has to function optimally.”
According to him, building of modular refineries would require professional and technological advancement, drawn from the skilled professionals.
Also, Ken Henshaw, decried the disturbing scourge of soot which has reduced the life span of people living in the state, particularly in Ogoniland where environmental pollution was of high magnitude.
Henshaw stated: “More recently, the government of Rivers State set up a committee to look into soot scourge. And it noticed that the soot has increased the respiratory and cancer cases in Rivers State. And the report of the committee said that there were over 27,000 cases of respiratory illness in five years in Rivers State traceable to hydrocarbon soot.
“The soot is specifically comes as a formal compounding of the problems of an already devastated ecology of Niger Delta region.
“For 64 years, this region (Niger Delta) has come under profound environmental pollution and environmental attacks.
“In Niger Delta region, a new phenomenon has emerged and it is the artisanal refinery. This has not only devastated the region, but has compounded the ecological disaster we had to endure for 64 years. It is because of this new phenomenon of artisanal refinery that we began to see this soot.”
He, however, noted that the artisanal refining activities ravaging Niger Delta has become a multi-million Naira business involving not only people from the region.