Recently, uproars were deafening as residents of Port Harcourt in Rivers State Nigeria took to the street and social media to complain about puffs of dark fumes that engulfed the entire city. The fumes were so thick and persistent, within days, parts of the city covered with soot. Needless to say conditions of residents with breathing difficulties worsened, so did the general wellbeing of majority. As days lingered into weeks, clean fresh air became the new gold.
The city of Port Harcourt, a major city in the oil producing Niger-Delta region of Nigeria already grapples with its fair share of environmental challenges including as improper refuse disposal, oil spillage and persistent gas flaring, all of which impact on the socioeconomic status, health and safety of residents. Thus, the uproar that greeted the reckless release of the dark fumes was unsurprising; the people had had enough.
With the recent massive gaseous discharge into the environment and the resultant air pollution, many age-long questions have re-surfaced about the state of the environment in the Port Harcourt and the entire Niger-Delta region. There are many questions begging for answers: Who are the defaulting companies and who are their owners? Do the defaulting companies have valid environmental permits for their operations? Who issued the operational permits? Have the companies’ operations being according to the terms of the permits issued to them? Who ensures this? And since the permits were issued, have there been adequate follow-ups, audits by State authorities? Assuming these companies are foreign-owned, would such indiscretion be allowed in their home country? Has any sanction be slapped on them by relevant agencies of government in Port Harcourt, Rivers State? And beyond sanctions, what remedial measures have been employed to mitigate the harms and forestall possible future occurrences?
Open data and access to relevant information bordering on the state of the environment should be made available to the public without politics or compromise. An environmental audit should be immediately carried out in affected areas in Port Harcourt and its report made public. Going forward, citizens must be equipped with information on things that could impact on their health, safety and environment. It is the right of governments and residents to know the possible environmental impacts of the activities of companies operating in their neighbourhoods; the nature and quantity of wastes produced and discharged into the environment; the extent of possible harms; as well as preventive and corrective measures being adopted by such companies.
It is time we took our lives, our health, our safety and environment seriously. Environmental protection laws and regulations are for the protection of the environment. We cannot continue to pay lip service to environmental management, nor can we continue to ignore the various effects of climate change.
Knee jerk reactions such as temporarily sealing of polluting plants and the premises of defaulting companies like have been reported in the media are hardly enough. Stiffer penalties must be imposed. More importantly, emphasis must be placed on preventive measures such as training, awareness, right technologies, regular monitoring etc. Government at various levels in Nigeria should stop playing politics with the lives, health and safety of citizens. The Rivers state Government holds its citizens that much, so do other State governments in Nigeria and the Federal Government. The priority must be to citizens first.
Written by: Precious Ozemoya and Idowu Kunlere
In-house Editor: This article was edited on behalf of wastesmart.org by Tosin Idowu-Kunlere.
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