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In this report, Arinze Chijioke takes a look at how skyrocketing prices of cooking Gas is increasing the dependence on firewood, leading to deforestation.

This January, Chinasa Sunday wheeled logs of wood into her family compound in Isiagu, one of the communities in Enugu State. As soon as she got home and unpacked the wood, she called a young man who would always help her break them into smaller sizes to make it easier for her to prepare meals.

Weeks earlier, she had gone to farmland, just behind her family house, where she cut down tree branches, brought them home and packed them on a spot close to the kitchen.

On days when she cannot go in search of firewood, she buys from those who sell.

“I don’t want to run out of firewood,” she said. “When it begins to go down, I quickly find where to fetch more”.

Logs of wood at Helen Onu’s compound

Sunday and her family are just one out of millions of Nigerians who have returned to the use of fuelwood for domestic cooking following the consistent increase in cooking gas prices, a development which is increasing the deforestation rate linked to erosion, drought, flooding and desertification.

What NBS data says

Available data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the average retail price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Cooking Gas increased by 4.25% on a month-on-month basis from N4,218.38 recorded in June 2022 to N4,397.68 in July 2022. On a year-on-year basis, the price rose by 105.35% from N2,141.59 in July 2021.

On state profile analysis, Adamawa recorded the highest average price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Cooking Gas with N4,966.67, followed by Plateau with N4,650.00, followed by Kwara and Gombe with N4,625.00 each. On the other hand, Kano recorded the lowest price with N3,981.25, followed by Yobe and Bauchi with N4,000.00 and N4,071.03 respectively.

The NBC data also shows that the average retail price for refilling a 12.5kg Cylinder of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas) increased by 3.56% on a month-on-month basis from N9,485.91 in June 2022 to N9,824.07 in July 2022. On a year-on-year basis, this rose by 122.15% from N4,422.32 in July 2021.

On state profile analysis, Ebonyi recorded the highest average retail price for the refilling of a 12.5kg Cylinder of Cooking Gas with N11,212.50, followed by Delta with N10,926.92 and Ekiti with N10,883.67.  Conversely, the lowest average price was recorded in Katsina with N8,355.71, followed by Yobe and Kano with N8,383.31 and N8,614.29 respectively.

Before the increases, Sunday was alternating between gas and fuelwood. But now, she only brings out her gas cylinder when she feels a need to clean up, after which she takes it back into her room where it has been for the past year.

“I was not buying much when the price was low,” she said. “Now that it has gone up, I don’t know why I should buy it when I can easily get firewood and cook whatever meal I want”.

Cooking Gas cylinders.

She knows too well about the health implications of cooking with firewood. But she cannot stop depending on it.

Firewood and increasing deforestation 

The use of open fires and solid fuels for cooking remains one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems, directly impacting close to half the world’s population and causing nearly four million premature deaths each year, according to data from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership that seeks to promote clean and efficient household cooking solutions.

A 2014 study on domestic energy usage patterns of households in selected urban and rural communities of Enugu State also estimates that Nigeria consumes over 50 million metric tons of firewood annually, a rate which exceeds afforestation efforts.

Logs of wood loaded into a truck in Enugu

This is even as Revised deforestation figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show that Nigeria had the world’s highest deforestation rate of primary forests in 2005.

Between 2000 and 2005, Nigeria lost as much as 55.7 per cent of its primary forests — defined as forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities, with the collection of fuelwoods cited as one of the leading causes of a forest clearing in the West African country.

In Isiagu, Sunday’s community, fuelwood has become a serious business for many families. While some of them convert tree trunks into charcoal, others break them into smaller sizes which are arranged and sold for N500 and 1,000, depending on the size. A paint bucket of charcoal goes for at least N200.

Health implications

Data from the United Nations on climate change shows that the smoke from cooking fires accounts for eight deaths every minute globally, impacting mostly women and children.

In Nigeria- and other developing countries- health problems arising from smoke inhalation, including respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer, have been discovered to be responsible for many premature and preventable deaths annually.

Reports by the World Health Organization and the International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED), estimate that as many as  95,000 Nigerians die annually as a result of smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood.

Smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood has also been proven to be the fourth leading cause of death in the world after heart and lung disease, and respiratory infection, with women and children under five worst hit. The WHO report shows that if a woman inhales smoke while cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is equivalent to smoking between three and 20 packets of cigarettes a day.

Dr Nnaji Chibueze of the Centre for Energy Research and Development at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka says that biomass fuel use has been found to be associated with cataracts, low birth weight in babies of exposed expectant mothers and women who trek up to 7-9 kilometres to source for plenty of firewood, thereby increasing their stress levels in doing other house chores.

Dependence on imported gas reason for steady rise

Despite sitting on a huge resource base of gas, currently hovering around 206 trillion standard cubic feet, Nigeria depends on the US and other African countries such as Algeria and Equatorial Guinea for the importation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

The rate keeps soaring because it is determined by the fluctuations in the dollar to naira rate. This means that the more the naira is devalued, the higher the prices will be.

A tipper conveys logs of wood in a community in Enugu

In September 2021, Executive Secretary, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Abdulkadir Saidu, disclosed in a report that 85, 264.803 metric tonnes of cooking gas were supplied across the country in August 2021.

Of this volume, as much as 47,224.346 MT was imported while about 38,040.457 MT was sourced locally. This means that 55.39 per cent of the LPG consumed in the country was imported, leaving 44.61 per cent for local producers.

The report further showed that 21,606.301 MT was imported from the USA, while 13,044.266 was imported from Algeria and 12,573.779 MT was brought into the country from Equatorial Guinea.

While deficits in terms of infrastructure have kept production at a low level, economic indexes, especially high inflation, naira devaluation and unsteady exchange rate continue to send the prices of cooking above the reach of the poor who live on less than one dollar a day.

Like the PPPRA, the Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers (NALPGAM), in October 2021, attributed the rise in the price of LPG to inadequate supply of the product into the domestic market and the Federal Government’s re-imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) on imported LPG.

NALPGAM’s Executive Secretary, Bassey Essien, in an interview in Lagos, said that the supply of LPG had fallen below the demand, adding that the current consumption level is over 1,000,000 metric tons, but that the quantity available locally is in the range of 450,000M

“The first issue to address is how we can ensure there is constant availability of cooking gas in the country,” Essien said.  “The cumulative domestic supply accounted for 40 per cent while the balance 60 per cent was imported”.

He also noted that the proposed reintroduction of VAT at 7.5 per cent and customs duties applicable, which are to be applied retrospectively, would worsen the price.

Nigeria’s increasing gas reserves: Where’s the impact?

At the Nigeria International Petroleum Summit which was held In June 2021 in Abuja, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) said that the Proven gas deposits in Nigeria have moved up 206.53 trillion cubic feet.

Director of DPR, Auwalu Sarki disclosed that indigenous oil and gas companies are now contributing as much as 33 per cent to the nation’s crude oil reserves and about 30 per cent of gas reserves.

In Isiagu, a log of wood goes for between N500 and N1000

While the company’s contribution to the reserves was less than 10 million barrels in 2005, it has grown significantly to about 62 million barrels in 2020.

Speaking on the gas reserves, Auwalu attributed the growth to recent efforts being made on gas exploration in the country, especially the “Decade of Gas Initiative’.

The Nigerian government had in 2020, put Nigeria’s total gas reserves at 203.16 trillion cubic feet (TCF), representing a marginal increase of 1.16tcf or 0.57 per cent from the 202tcf recorded in 2019. The recent increase implies growth of over 3 trillion.

“Nigeria attained the target of 200tcf of natural gas reserves by the Reserve Declaration as at Jan.1, 2019, before the 2020 target,”. “Thereafter, the government set a target to attain a Reserve Position of 2020tcf by 2030,” Auwalu said.

He noted that independent companies are driving value addition to gas, adding that acquisition of divested assets, as well as accelerated appraisal and development efforts, are other driving factors.

To him, the country is already gaining from the deliberate national efforts to boost indigenous participation in the sector.

The question, however, remains what the impact on the average consumer is. As many Nigerians have argued, the reserves must translate to more availability at affordable prices.

Like Sunday, Others do not care about health implications

Before the price of cooking gas went up, Helen Onu was using fuelwood to prepare meals. Although the heat coming out from her three-stoned open cooking fire usually leaves her wheezing badly from firewood smoke, Onu does not care.

She has a gas cylinder she fills from time to time. But after she heard that the price of gas had increased, she decided to completely depend on fuelwood for her daily cooking.

She knows too well about the many health implications inherent in cooking with fuelwood. But she cannot stop using it for her cooking.

Logs of wood arranged for sell in Enugu

To deal with the stress of having to trek long distances in search of fuelwood, however, she gets in touch with motorcycle owners and commercial bus drivers who help her buy in large quantities and bring them to her house.

Now she has a location close to her kitchen where she packs her logs of wood covered with sacks to prevent rain from beating them.

“When I buy it in large quantity, it takes months before it finishes”, she said, pointing in the direction where she arranges her fuelwood. “I hardly run out of it”.

Increasing global warming and the UN warning

Beyond its health implications, when fossil fuels are burned for energy, they release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, thereby intensifying the greenhouse effect.

The United Nations on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, warned that more than 100 million “extremely poor” people across Africa were threatened by accelerating climate change that could also melt away the continent’s few glaciers within two decades.

In the report, it was estimated that “by 2030, up to 118 million extremely poor people will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat in Africa, if adequate response measures are not put in place”

Commissioner for rural economy and agriculture at the African Union Commission, Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, said that in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to 3 per cent by 2050.

“Not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing,” she said in the report’s foreword.

Nigerian government pledges reduction of LPG price

In January 2022, the Nigerian government announced that it was ramping up measures to ensure a drastic reduction in the cost of cooking gas.

General Manager, external relations and sustainable development for the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), Andy Odeh, in a statement said the company would supply 100 per cent of its liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to the Nigerian market.

Logs of woods in a community in Enugu

Odeh was quoted as saying that the NLNG had developed a scheme to sustainably supply propane for usage in cooking gas blending as well as in Agro Allied, Autogas, power and petrochemical sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Chibueze says that the government must improve access to cheaper alternative energy sources for cooking if the challenge of over-dependence on fuelwood must be addressed.

“Availability of woodlots and access to alternative, affordable, renewable energy systems would reduce the pressure on the forests and the amount of time and efforts women devote to obtaining fuel wood,” he said.

Countries commit to reversing deforestation

At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, more than 100 countries pledged to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by the end of 2030. A joint statement backed by the leaders of countries including Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which collectively account for 85 per cent of the world’s forests, shows that the pledge is underpinned by $19bn in public and private funds to invest in protecting and restoring forests.

According to a statement from the British prime minister’s office on behalf of the leaders, the Declaration on Forest and Land Use are expected to cover forests totalling more than 33 million square kilometres (13 million square miles).

While calling it an unprecedented agreement, Boris Johnson, who was the PM at the time said “We will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian”.

As rousing and assuring as this may be, for many Nigerians, however, far-reaching concrete action will be needed to get them on board.

 

 

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In this report, Arinze Chijioke tells the story of how communities in Rivers and Bayelsa States are benefitting from the federal government’s solar power projects under the Nigerian electrification programme.

Prior to 2020, residents of Oloibiri, one of the communities in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa State – where oil was first discovered- depended on a generator that was donated by an illustrious son of the community for power.

While the donation brought relief to them after they had spent over 15 years without any form of power, their joy was incomplete, because the men paid N2000 and the women N500 monthly for diesel and they hardly had enough supply. It only lasted for 12 hours, from 6 pm to 6 am.

Renewvia energy solar system in Oloibiri
Renewvia energy solar system in Oloibiri

“We felt It was a burden to us because even after donating, we only enjoy power at night to conserve diesel,” Asa Asa a member of the community said.

The only time the generator works all day and night is whenever there is a wedding or burial ceremony which often lasted for one week. Those celebrating had to provide enough diesel.

Soon, community members stopped contributing diesel and the generator was abandoned. The community was engulfed in perpetual darkness, except for families who had their personal generators.

In 2020 however, the narrative changed after a solar hybrid mini-grids with a capacity of 67.32KW was installed in the community by Renewvia  Energy Corporation under the Nigerian electrification project, (NEP).

The goal was to provide clean, safe, and affordable electricity to residents of the community who had been unconnected to the national electricity grid as well as Increase business productivity by replacing generators, lanterns and candles with reliable electricity.

Renewvia energy’ Country Manager for West Africa, Chris Ebiware said that the company did a feasibility study of 25 communities in 4 states, including Bayelsa in 2016.

He noted that it was during the site identification that the company came across Oloibiri and discovered that the community had been without reliable power since its inception.

“So, with cooperation from the community we built our first mini-grid here,” he said. “Construction started in 2019 and the system was turned on in February of 2020,” he said, adding that the company also did the test run in the same year”.

The Nigerian electrification project (NEP)

In 2018, the federal government designed a scheme known as the Nigerian electrification project- to increase access to electricity, through renewable power sources, for households, public educational institutions and businesses that are not connected to the national electricity grid.

To support the implementation of the NEP, the Nigerian government, through the Rural Electrification Agency, REA- the implementing agency, secured financing from both the World Bank ($350m) and the African Development Bank ($200m).

Among the programmes implemented under the NEP is the Solar Hybrid Mini Grids Component which aims to support the development of private sector mini-grids in unserved areas across Nigeria with a target to electrify 300,000 households and 30,000 local enterprises.

Under the Solar Hybrid Mini Grids Component,  there was the Performance-Based Grant (PBG) sub-component which had a total available fund of US$48 million disbursed to qualified mini-grid developers/firms on a first come first served basis, up until the available funds are exhausted.

Oloibiri was one of the communities that benefitted from the PBG which was expected to connect an estimated 364 households while developing the infrastructure, creating jobs in both the construction phase and permanent jobs.

According to REA, Renewvia Energy Corporation, like other companies handling the various components went through the four-phase of the application and approval processes of the PBG programme, including the qualification stage, site-specific technical application stage, grant agreement signing and the verification and disbursement. 

Two years down the line, residents of Oloibiri cannot have enough of the solar system. The supply is 24 hours. The company had provided metres for households who have to always recharge to get power.

From welding to dry cleaning and other businesses, the project has made Oloibiri a beehive of activities. Nobody talks about the community generator anymore. Asa had to sell his personal generator because he did not have a need for it anymore. Every month, he spends between N2000 and N3000 on recharging his metre.

“I have been enjoying the light ever since it came,” Asa said. “I wish the government can extend the same project to other communities in order to tackle the challenge of poor electricity supply”.

The solar system particularly excites Anthonia Deezua who owns a provision store in the community where she sells cold beverages. Now, she makes more profits than when she used her generator.

“Every day, workers and students come to ask me to help them look for accommodation and that means more people patronising my business,” said Deezua. “Formally, I was using a generator for business. But the noise was unbearable, and I did not always have it on because fuel was expensive”.

While business owners such as Deezua spend as much as N4000 monthly, others recharge their metres with as little as N300 and N500 which often lasts between three days and one week.

The Oloibiri site manager for Renewvia Energy, Azibasamari Amadi said that the number of days each subscription lasts depends on the consumption levels of the households.

He explained that after the project was commissioned, the company organised sensitisation workshops for community members on how to conserve energy such as switching off their electrical appliances, including fridges, fans, air conditioners and bulbs when they don’t have a need for them.

On how users pay, he said that the company entered a partnership with Paga, a mobile payment company which enables people to digitally send and receive money.

“Paga has an application that allows users to pay for power by selecting the company name and inputting their metre number and the amount they want to subscribe after which they send and have light “he explained.

Challenges within…

Although the solar system in Oloibiri has been effective, Amadi said that electricity theft and low rate of subscription by some community members disrupt their services. He explained that on several occasions, community members who do not want to pay have tried to bypass the system.

“Our system is smart enough that whenever it notices such moves, it shut down,”Amadi said. “Also, when there is a line bridge or a burnt metre, the system shuts down instead of allowing things to develop a fault,”

He explained that whenever such situations arise, he quickly informs other members of his team and together, they try to find out what the problem is, adding that they also inform members of the community, via WhatsApp whenever they want to embark on maintenance.

Whenever the sun does not produce much energy to power the systems, he switches over to their generator which serves as a backup system.  He however noted that recently, they had a delay in the delivery of diesel, because of the poor returns and hike in the price of diesel and because of that, there were disruptions at night.

“Sometimes, our expenditure is higher than what comes in because there are those who cannot afford to always subscribe and even when they do, it’s poor,” he explained. “Sometimes, when we have the money, diesel is not readily available for us to buy,”

Renewvia energy solar system in Akipelai
A mini-grid solar system in Akipelai

In Akipelai, breach of agreement scuttle solar system

With the PBG, Renewvia Energy Corporation also installed a solar system in Akipelai, another community in Ogbia LG.  Like the project in Olobiri, that of Akipelai which also had a capacity of 67.32KW provided sustainable power to the people.

But it did not last long after Renewvia shut down its operation in December 2021, following the decision by members of the community to renege on an agreement they had with the company at the inception of the project.

Chairman of Akipelai Community Development Committee, Davidson Omonkori said that the company had an agreement with the community to provide it with 24 hours power supply for 20 years. The said agreement was okayed by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC.

Omonkori explained that households subscribed to the system after it was installed but stopped after the Nigerian Agip Oil Company started supplying diesel to enable the community to power its generator.

Agip had in 2014, donated a generator to Akipelai which is one of its host communities. However, its supply of diesel was inconsistent. Sometimes, community members had to wait for three months before the 500KVA generator comes on and that led to the wide acceptance of the solar system.

“But recently, they started supplying diesel frequently and our people stopped subscribing to the solar system,” Omonkori said.

Omokori noted that leaders of the community had suggested to Renewvia energy that they should have the generator at night-since they cannot reject the free diesel- while the solar system runs during the day, but the company said it was not part of their agreement.

“When they came, we offered to pay 400,000 because we felt it was going to be a post-paid system where we will pay at the end of the month, but they said it is prepaid and you pay as you use”.

He explained that they had also met with Agip and suggested that rather than provide diesel to power the generator which only lasts for 12 hours daily, they should pay directly to Renewvia Energy so they can provide 24 hours power supply to the community. But the company was yet to respond.

Akipelai site manager for Renewvia Energy, Kingsley Nestor, said that the company was beginning to run at a loss, hence the decision to shut down the operation. He said that the company needs funds to pay staff salaries and maintain the system for it to be sustainable.

While Omokori said that leaders of the community had agreed to allow Agip to pay for the system, Nestor alleged that some of them have severally refused to accept the suggestion because they sell some litres out of the over 14,000 litres they get monthly and keep the money.

Nigeria and commitment to energy transition

At the Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari pledged that the country will cut its carbon emissions and reach net zero by 2060.

While the target lags 10 years behind the recommended deadline which the UN along with many climate scientists would like to achieve to stop global warming, Nigeria’s commitment to energy transition is clearly visible within the government’s project, which aims to electrify 5 million households and 25 million people with solar energy.

Chief Executive Officer, Renewvia, Trey Jarrad, said that the impact of the solar projects extends beyond providing access to cleaner, reliable, and affordable energy, to helping Nigeria actualise her global energy transition mandate.

Like Nigeria, other countries are looking to invest in renewable energy which could supply four-fifths of the world’s electricity by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change.

In Egbeke, residents can finally heave a sigh of relief

After Green Village Electricity implemented a 6.8kw PV solar-based pilot project which according to the company was aimed at field testing the technical and commercial viability of adopting renewable energy for off-grid rural electrification in Egbeke, one of the communities in Rivers State in 2012, it was not serving the entire five villages that together make up the community, the people stated.

Community members could not use it to pump water, power their fridges or use electric iron. It only worked during the day and powered streetlights. At night, it always went off.

Among the villages that were completely cut off from power was Umuode which owned the land where the solar power was installed. Umuagwu, the village whose people were said to have had first contact with the company decided who to give light and who not to give. There were no metres.

“Because of that, many of us did not have access to power, except those who wanted to do the illegal connection,” Chucks Nkwo, a leader in Umuode told The ICIR, “Irked by the perceived marginalisation, our people protested and shut down the site”.

Six years later, in 2018, the company came back, after it received the PBG under the FG’s NEP and upgraded the project, moving it from the site where it was before to the community’s market square where there is enough land to accommodate the upgrading. It provided Egbeke with a 55KW minigrid.

Now, residents in the five villages, including UmuagwuUmuode, Umuayim, Umuokwu and Umuoko have a power supply that they use for all kinds of businesses. Households were provided with metres which they always recharged.

Egbeke solar system
Egbeke solar system

Allegations of corruption

Years after the solar project was upgraded, residents of Egbeke have not had any challenge with the usage apart from allegations that Egbeke site manager for Green Village Electricity, Amadi Evans has not been transparent in his duties.

According to Nkwo, Evans who handles the subscription for customers always gives different megawatts for the same amount. He alleged that one of the times he recharged N3000, he got 330 megawatts instead of the usual 440.

“After it finished, I complained to him and the next time, he made it 440 megawatts,” Nkwo said, adding that sometimes, it appears the power they get is not commensurate with the amount we pay.

He regretted that while other communities who have benefitted from solar systems pay as little as N200, Umuode and other communities in Egbeke pay a minimum of N1000.

“We have complained to the site manager who said he has told the company, but nothing has been done, “We bear it because we get constant supply”.

When confronted with the allegations, Evans confirmed that the tariff stopped at N1000, adding that community members have complained about the rate which they described as outrageous.

While denying that he had anything to do with the rate, he said complained to the company management who said they will have to discuss with the NERC and other stakeholders involved before taking any decision on cost reduction.

“They promised that they will look into the complaints with time, “he said, adding that the company also felt it was best to keep the money at N1000 so that people don’t always complain that their power ends quickly”.

While community members complain about the cost of power in Egbeke, they say it is better than any other power source.  Ikechi Jim who owns a provision store said that although he spends N6000 every week, he prefers the solar system because it is always available except when the money finishes and you must recharge again.

“If you are using a generator, and It gets spoilt, you have to go and repair and that affects your business, “he said. “Sometimes, those who are connected to the power grid go for weeks and months without supply,”.

Where the problem often lies, an expert’s point of view

While the solar projects are providing sustainable energy in benefitting communities, Chief Operating Officer at Manamuz Electric limited, a Nigerian Electrical and Renewable energy company, Chigozie Enemoh, said that some mini-grid projects do not last beyond 1 year after commissioning because companies often fail to do a load and energy analysis of communities and other areas before they deploy solar systems.

He explained that the company must try to understand the load pattern and do an extensive load analysis as well as a futuristic master plan to know what is expected in terms of load demand in the next two or more years.

“The problem we always have is that sometimes when you deploy, you find out that the energy demands outweigh the system that was deployed, “he said. “Once people see light, they tend to buy more appliances, which increases the energy demand and creates problems for the system”.

Additionally, he said that there is usually the challenge of lack of maintenance of solar panels which have the tendency of attracting dust- because they are open-air which reduces their efficiency and output over time.

He explained that some mini-grid developers are only concerned about deploying and commissioning of solar power projects in benefitting communities without embarking on operation and maintenance which is very key to the sustenance of any project.

“After deploying and commissioning, the next stage is the O and M which should last for as long as the project lasts, “he said. “Depending on the capacity of the project, you could schedule maintenance every four or six months”.

He said that mini-grid contracts have operation and maintenance costs and that is where companies are expected to train community members who will maintain the project while they are away and always report back when issues they cannot handle arise.

Story was originally published by the ICIR.

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In keeping with the mission of Eco-Nai+ to report on the impact of climate change on the environment and its implications for livelihood and sustenance, we embarked on a field project to a farm in Nigeria where the impact is a growing concern.

In this report, Ijeoma Ilekanachi shares insightful encounters with farmers who bared their minds on the marked changes the farm has seen owing to climate change impact.  The Eco-Nai+ team embarked on a field tour of Agbeloba farms located in Abeokuta of Ogun State to examine the effects of climate change on agriculture.


A love of farming drawn from heritage, challenged by change 

For Peter Olorunsheyi who grew up in a family of farmers, the idea of cultivating the soil for food is bliss. With the rising sun illuminating the morning sky, he makes his way to the farmland to check on the crops and workers. As a head farmer of Agbeloba farms, he knows the layout of the farm like the back of his palm, and while showing the reporter around, he moves with immense skill.

The 71-year-old regards this passion as a requirement for growth in agriculture. It has long been known that farming requires hard work, grit and commitment for good yield. However, one major setback is that sometimes the maximum effort put in can be hindered by environmental factors like the weather. He describes it as a shift in the normal working of things.

He put it plainly, “All those years ago, it was easy to predict when the rain would fall on crops which would help determine planting time and harvest time. However, now it’s harder to tell; it’s either we have too much rain or not enough rain”.




Agbeloba: A glide through nature’s bosom

The journey to this grassland involved entering the heart of Abeokuta in Ogun state. A small village and narrow bush path greeted the team as they made their way into the entrance of the farm which is marked by a well-constructed fence with the Agbeloba brand. Although the drive there seemed unnerving at first, with narrow bush paths, branches tapping the windows and rustling trees, the feeling later settled with that of marvel at the expanse of land.

Agbeloba derives its name from a Yoruba saying that means “the farmer is king”. The vast 33-acre farmland is home to at least ten crops and different livestock. It started with seven acres and went on to expand, now with customized boundary points to mark ownership. According to Mr Peter, Agbeloba farms were established in 2020, not only with the hope of improving food production but to integrate digital technology into agriculture.

According to the Chief of Operations for Agbeloba.ng, Kolade Yemisi, the platform aims to build a community of agropreneurs who support smallholder farmers to increase crop yield. The business boasts amazing return rates and near-perfect non-default on payments.

Pepper bushes at Agbeloba farm



However, the cost of building such an innovative venture in Nigeria keeps rising, a dampener in this otherwise blissful story of disrupting agriculture. Added to the fact that the dwindling economy of Nigeria is heightening the cost of production, climate change also poses a severe threat to the regular output of farm produce for sale. Some studies have shown that issues like rising temperatures, drought, flooding and more frequent extreme weather events can ultimately hinder food and livestock production.

Feeling the bite of extreme weather conditions 

Speaking on the farm’s experiences with climate change, Mr Peter noted that the increase in temperature and scorching sun are some of the weather conditions that gravely affect the crops. Maize cobs are smaller in size, yams are not as big and other crops take later times to sprout.



With a disappointed nod, Mr Peter points to a yam plant that fell to the ground, stake and all. He explained that the yam is now a very difficult crop to cultivate with the yam farm accounting for only 2 acres on the whole farm.

“Yam is one of the most difficult crops to cultivate. Unlike other crops where you clear, heap and plant, yam requires planting when there’s no rain and mulching (covering the heaps with leaves to prevent decay) to protect it from the scorching sun”

“At their emergence level, you have to lead them to the stake you want them to climb. You find out that some leave the stake you put and start growing elsewhere. This is why monitoring the crops is necessary”

“Although the local programme of planting yam is okay. You are planting maybe around November, or December so that by August, or September you can make your first harvest which is called new yam. That same yam you harvested in August, we reproduce seed again in December. However, when there’s no balance in weather conditions, we can’t get good results.”

Looking on the bright side, he stated that the irrigation systems set on the farm have improved the growth of the yams. Another milestone achieved is that the farm no longer buys the yam seedlings but now produces seedlings even for sale.

Threshed Corn left in the sun to dry



According to the Working Group II Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), crop yield losses even after adaptations are projected to rise rapidly above 2°C global warmings. For food production, climate change impacts include up to a 5.8% mean reduction in maize productivity due to increased temperatures in Sub-Saharan Africa.

o his farmMr Peter corroborated this by saying, “I still want to argue that we cannot compare irrigation with rainfall. The rain will not only water the soil but regulate the temperature of the leaves.”

Pointing to the plantain plantation, Mr Peter revealed them to be giant size and noted that the mode of cultivation involves transplanting an already nursed sucker. This particular plantation is the most viable one on the whole farm with one tree sprouting as many as four different suckers.

“When you transplant the sucker during the rainy season, by the next rainy season between nine months to one year, they should start fruiting”, he said. Although the other plantations such as the cashew and banana looked very young at the time of the visit, he pointed out that they were doing well even though the rains stopped early last year.

Beaming with pride, the head farmer also showed the visitors the new pepper farm planted in early 2022. Both unripe and ripe pepper plants were already showing good signs of development. He recounted an event in a neighbour’s pepper farm which started way before Agbeloba’s but was later destroyed by the sun.

“If you visit that farm now, it has become a wasteland”, he said.

Plantain and Cassava trees inside Agbeloba farm



Fruits and vegetables also known as wild-harvested food plants are vulnerable to current and future climate changes. At Agbeloba, some of the fruits are not for commercial purposes and are mostly inherited from the land. One species of rare tangerine, the tangelo— a hybrid citrus fruit made by crossing a tangerine with a grapefruit— was seen. The snake tomato and walnut is also known as Àsálà in Yoruba were other food plants seen to be growing on the farm.

Rotimi Wilhelm, another trained farmer revealed that the increased temperature was a major factor impacting livestock production. The poultry birds usually suffer from heat stress which in turn affects egg production.

“Usually one chicken can produce one egg a day and we can realise four crates and a half. Even with the right feed, sometimes not all of them lay eggs”, he explained.  “We are hoping to expand and get more males”, Mr Peter added

An unmistakable stench after further trekking revealed that we had reached the piggery; the three females and one male pig strutting in their pens were bought in May. There were more pens than pigs because the animals give birth in the litter. Their dung is deposited in a hole in the soil for organic fertilizer.

Econai+ team with Agbeloba farmers.



“We erected tanks for the pigs for them to drink and also for their baths as a means to combat heat”, we were told.

For the rabbit rearing, Mr Peter narrated that most of these rabbits died due to their fragile nature and were moved out of their houses to somewhere closer to the workers for monitoring.

“We have some of them around the farmhouse to monitor them. Some months ago, we lost some. We are trying to see what went wrong”, he said.

The catfish numbered about 675 excluding the ones already smoked and dried for sale.

A new shift to climate change mitigation

A UN Climate change study states that for global temperatures to stabilise, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will need to reach net zero as early as 2050. To achieve this, new renewable energy options and lifestyles must be adopted. For agriculture, farmers have to amend their practices and be prepared for weather changes.

When asked about the interventions used to salvage the climate situation, Mr Peter explained that the irrigation systems and solar panels for electricity were a few of the steps taken already. The solar panels were placed on the roof of the farmhouse.

“It powers our inverter and subsequently, the farm. We also have a three kilowatts generator with a fuel capacity of 25 litres. The 2000 litre tanks are used to take care of our fishes in the pond, for the poultry birds and the pigs”, he stated.

The farm is cleared regularly to enable better practices and to get rid of weeds. “Especially during the rainy season, you’ll see more weeds than crops on the farm, so you have to ensure that these weeds don’t kill the crops”, he said. To prevent ozone layer damage, the farmers try to avoid bush burning as a means to clear the farm of weeds. They have made it a point of duty to educate themselves on the worsening effects of climate change.

Poultry farm inside Agbeloba farms



With planting styles such as transplanting and mulching, the crops can stand a chance against unpredicted change. Crops like cocoa, oil palm and yams have a higher chance of survival. In the aspect of business, the farmers sell raw produce or process other types of food with crops. There’s a garri processing plant, fish smoking machine and corn sheller(removes corn kernels off the cob) for this purpose.

Nigeria has an estimated population of 206.14 million people (2020) with an annual population growth rate of 2.5%. Nigeria’s population is projected to reach 262.9 and 401.3 million people in 2030 and 2050, respectively. With more mouths to feed in the coming years, innovative farming practices are needed to ensure food security.



Rotimi believes that if nothing is done about the emissions and frequent weather changes, agriculture in the whole country will suffer. When asked if the farm will be willing to partner with Eco-Nai+, he was elated about the idea.

“Of course, not just us, other farms suffer from this climate situation. We would want to partner with a platform that helps us track climate change”, he said.

Yemisi equally affirms that partnering with a digital platform like Eco-Nai + to track and report the impact of climate change will foster agricultural growth and food security.

The team was led by Dare Adekoya, Eco-Nai+ Data Analyst, while the audio-visual coverage was done by Oluwatosin Oladimeji, the multimedia lead. 

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In this report, Arinze Chijioke looks at how delays in the evacuation of waste in Enugu State encourage indiscriminate waste disposal, its health implications, and how the practice impacts the environment.

As Benjamin Eze walked towards a waste dumping site in the Asata Area in Enugu State, South-eastern Nigeria one afternoon in early January 2022, he discovered that the five waste dumpsters were filled and overflowing and that residents were beginning to drop their waste on the ground.

Quickly, he threw the two nylon bags he had used to pack his waste close to the dumpsters and left, covering his mouth and his nose. The stench emanating from the dumpsite was unbearable.

“I had intended to use the bin but when I got here and discovered that they were all filled up, I decided to drop it like every other person, “he said. “I could not have taken it back home”.

It had been four days since the dumpsters were filled up with heaps of littering wastes around. But the workers who would always come with trucks to clear them had not come. The situation makes work difficult for Okafor Chiemelie who offers graphics design services close to the dumpsite. He says it’s difficult to work inside his office whenever the wastes are left unpacked.

“Whenever it rains, it is hard to pass through the area, “he said. “Most of the time, rain pushes the wastes into water channels, making it hard for water to freely flow to its destination”.

Overflowing dumpsters at Ebelane

Heaps of waste at Enugu’s main market

Like Chiemelie, residents living close to the dumpsite and business owners, particularly food sellers who shared their experience with this reporter said they have had to endure days and weeks of unbearable stench. They say it affects their business because those coming to eat would always complain about the smell and find alternatives.

But the situation is not peculiar to the Asata area of the state. Today, It is common to walk around Enugu State and find wastes generated from households, eateries and offices strewn everywhere, on both sides of some roads, some of them making their way into water channels.

From streets to motor parks and from markets to schools and hospitals, the indiscriminate dumping of refuse- occasioned by delays in evacuation has increased to a devastating and uncontrollable rate, contaminating the environment and exposing residents to serious diseases.

Heaps of waste at Obeagu

An overflowing dumpster at Okpara Avenue

Health and environmental concerns

Improper disposal of waste particularly plastic waste, typified by overflowing dumpsters, and mountains of open refuse dumps, remains a major environmental and public health concern prevalent in most developing countries.

Apart from causing damage to the eco-systems and accelerating the destruction of the environment, the situation exposes humans to widespread diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid fever.

Waste inside the University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Waste inside Parklane, Enugu

Gboyega Olorunfemi, Principal Consultant, EnviromaxGlobal Resources Limited, Ibadan, said that improper waste disposal also causes malnutrition and stunting in children as well as respiratory illness, risk and exposure to contaminated water and food.

“Waste dumped indiscriminately clogs the drainage channels and leads to flooding during the wet season and could also lead to fire outbreak,” he said.

Apart from institutional weaknesses on the part of the government, as is the case in Enugu, uncontrolled population growth and lack of awareness increase the rate of Improper waste disposal.

Marine species under threat

About 300 million metric tons of plastic waste are produced each year globally. But out of the more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic estimated to have been produced since the early 1950s, about 60% has ended up in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.  About 12% has been incinerated, according to a report by Science Daily.

Much of the world’s plastic- an estimated 8 million metric tons every year- has ended up in the world’s ocean. Of major concern is the fact that these plastic items do not fully disappear.

Although they have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, they often contain additives that make them stronger, more flexible and durable, persisting in the environment for at least 400 years, a national geographic report shows.

As they get smaller and smaller, they are swallowed by farm animals or fishes in the river who mistake them for food.  Millions of these animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms.

The report shows that nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. It is feared that If the current trend of waste mismanagement continues, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

A more worrying concern

Apart from delays in waste evacuation in Enugu State, there is a more worrying concern about the open burning of wastes. It is common to walk across streets and find dumpsters burning, posing serious risks to the environment and public health of residents. Those being burnt close to buildings are beginning to affect them and there are fears that some of them might begin to fall.

According to Olorunfemi, the open burning of wastes releases substances into the air that are toxic, many that are carcinogenic and are also called short-lived Climate pollutants e.g.: black carbon, dioxins, Mercury, Furans and PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls).

He said that these substances lead to cancer, asthma, heart diseases, skin and eye diseases, causing damage to nervous and reproductive systems, although it is difficult to determine the true level of impact of open burning of waste on public health because not much data is available in Africa.

“The black carbon contributes to climate change by warming the earth through direct and indirect interactions with clouds and rainfall patterns “he added.

Overflowing dumpsters at Asata

One of the rickety trucks used to evacuate waste

When contacted, the former Commissioner for Environment in the state, Chijioke Edeoga said that the government was aware of what was happening, describing it as an act of mischief.

“It is usually done at night and we are not happy about it,” he said. “But we cannot police all dustbins in the state and even when people see the bins burning, they don’t care to put it out”.

Edeoga who resigned following his interest in contesting for the governorship position said that the government had tried severally to end the burning, yet it continues. But while the former commissioner claims the government is not aware of those setting the wastebins on fire, many residents claim they have seen those in charge of evacuating the wastes burning them.

Where the Enugu problem lies

The reason for the recent wave of delays in waste evacuation is said to be linked to the decision by the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to create a committee on waste evacuation out of an already existing waste management body, Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) according to a source who would not want his name mentioned.

While the government stopped ESWAMA from carrying out its primary responsibility of evacuating wastes, it handed it over to the committee which went ahead to hire trucks-which break down regularly- and workers who take weeks to clear wastes.

He explained that while ESWAMA- which is under the ministry of environment collects levies from households, it asks the committee- which is now directly under the governor’s office- to evacuate wastes, which they often fail to do.

One of the rickety trucks used to evacuate waste does not have a fuel tank

“After the levies are collected from households and given to the government, the government, in turn, hands the money to the committee and they are still not working,” the source said. “And there is no form of collaboration between ESWAMA and the new committee”.

He told Econai+ that the State House of Assembly had invited the two bodies after it received several complaints of delays in waste evacuation. But the chairman of the committee refused to say what the problem was and insisted that he was only answerable to the governor.

A former senior staff of ESWAMA, who prefers not to be mentioned confirmed that the delay in waste evacuation began after the state government decided to strip the agency of its responsibility for waste disposal and handed it over to a committee.

“I cannot exactly say why the governor asked us to stop doing our work,” the former staff said. “ He is aware of what is happening to waste management in the state and what ESWAMA does not is to basically supervise and generate revenue for the state”.

Now, households who are paying levies at the GRA, New Haven and Independence Layout areas of the state are complaining that even after paying N10,000 to 15,000, there is a delay in waste evacuation.

Impact on climate change

Several reports have shown that unmanaged dumpsites are major sources of Green House Gas emissions (GHGs) and emission of water/atmospheric pollutants as well as odours in developing countries.

About 80% of solid waste in African countries, for instance, is dumped indiscriminately in open spaces, streets, stormwater drains, rivers, and streams thereby, contributing to an estimated 29% of the global GHG emissions which is expected to increase to 64% by 2030.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had warned that if actions are not taken to prevent the continual increase of GHG emissions, the Earth’s temperature will increase by 6.4 °C in the 21st century. Without improvements in the sector, solid waste-related emissions will most likely increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050, according to a world bank report.

What happened to Enugu’s waste compactors?

When the administration of former governor Sullivan Chime came on board in 2007, it introduced a modern scientific approach to refuse collection, disposal and solid waste management by procuring more than 15 waste disposal compactors and over one hundred dumpsters which were deployed in all parts of the state capital and Nsukka Urban.

In collaboration with other departments and agencies, the Environment Ministry, which had the responsibility, introduced programmes and projects for the promotion of regular environmental sanitation and pollution control in Enugu state.

The Ministry had been established in Enugu State in 2004 to improve the beauty and aesthetics of the physical environment and adequate protection of the ecosystem and effectively manage solid wastes in the state.

A building affected by open burning of waste

The Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) an establishment under the ministry also introduced monthly sanitation exercises and street by a street collection of refuse on daily basis.

In 2011, the administration took a delivery of 285 refuse bin holding pads, built 283 conventional refuse bin slabs and fire motorized bin slabs on major urban roads in the state capital and Nsukka.

The governor also approved the purchase of earthmoving equipment for ESWAMA, including three tippers, two bulldozers and pail loaders each, reportedly worth three hundred and twenty-two million naira (N322 million).

According to Chuks Ugwoke, who was the State Commissioner for Information at the time, the decision to purchase the equipment was in keeping with the resolve of the Chime administration to ensure and maintain a very clean and healthy environment in the state.

Sadly, seven years after the Chime administration left power, the current administration has failed to effectively manage waste in the state, depending on rickety trucks which take days to clear waste.  The administration has also failed to maintain the waste disposal compactors which had been provided for waste management.

Burnt dumpsters at Independence Layout

Beyond Enugu, there is no commitment to tackle plastic waste in Nigeria

A 2018 report by the World Economic Forum estimates that Nigeria for instance, generates some 32 million tonnes of waste per year, out of which a staggering 2.5 million tonnes are plastic. While the country’s annual plastics production is projected to grow to 523,000 tonnes by 2022, it is estimated that the country discharges 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste into the Atlantic Ocean each year.

But In 2018, the minister of State for Environment, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril, said the federal government was working on a national policy on plastic waste management to regulate the use and disposal of plastic waste in the country.

At an event to mark the 2018 World Environment Day, Jibril said the ministry had collaborated with stakeholders and developed a national strategy for the phase-out of non-bio gradable plastics as well as developed a national plastic waste recycling programme, to establish plastic waste recycling plants across the country.

The facilities were expected to complement the efforts of various state governments at facilitating a clean environment and preventing environmental pollution from solid waste disposal in Nigeria.  Jibril announced that a total of eight plants had already been completed and handed over to the states while 18 others were at various stages of completion.

However, investigations have shown how some of these plants reported having been completed in Osun, Ekiti, Lagos and Kaduna or ongoing were wasting away despite the government’s huge investment in the project.

With inefficient disposal, recycling, and waste management system, an overall 70% of plastic and non-plastic waste produced in Nigeria end up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies.

Nigeria’s plastic bag prohibition bill

The House of Representatives in 2019, passed a bill banning plastic bags in the country. It was intended to address the harmful effects of those plastic bags on the oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment, wildlife as well as human beings and to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had also approved the Solid Waste Management Policy for Nigeria to provide a framework for a comprehensive integrated solid waste management which the federal, state and local governments, MDAs, institutions and NGOs will be part of.

The bill provided for: “An act to prohibit the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging in order to address harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment as well as human beings and also to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management and for other related matters.”

Littering waste at New Haven

It described as an offence the failure to provide customers with paper bags, manufacturing plastic bags for the purpose of selling, and importing plastic bags “whether as a carryout bag or for sale”.

Any person found guilty of the offences shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment, according to the bill which also prescribes a fine of N5 million to companies guilty of the offences.

But two years down the line, the Nigerian Senate is yet to consider and transmit the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. If drastic measures are not taken, It is estimated that Nigeria would be the nation producing the largest amount of mismanaged plastic waste in Africa by 2025.

Another waste dumpsite in Enugu

Need for Investment in the waste recycling value chain

A 2018 World Bank report projects that rapid urbanization, population growth and economic development will push global waste to increase by 70% over the next 30 years to a staggering 3.40 billion tonnes of waste generated annually.

The same report showed that successful interventions are needed to improve waste management which will help cities become more resilient to the extreme climate occurrences that cause flooding, damage infrastructure and displace communities and their livelihoods.

Responding to this, Olorunfemi said that state governments must realize that waste recycling is one of the numerous value chains in waste management and it is one of the ways materials can be recovered, reused and repurposed.

“Waste recycling enterprises will bring about improvement in air and reduction in carbon emission”, he said. “When you recycle, there is a reduction in the volumes of waste that gets burnt or goes to the dumpsite, reduced stress on the exploitation of natural resources. It creates the prospect for wildlife and ecosystem protection and it provides an opportunity for generating employment”.

He said that the Federal government must review existing policies to accommodate global best practices with the integration of native intelligence and innovation, and provide tax incentives to entrepreneurs who are willing to commence or augment their enterprise in the sector to scale.

“This may not create a waste-free environment immediately, but it will build a foundation to which its success will depend, he said, adding that consistent and sustained advocacy and engagement with the government will make them realize the need to fund the sector that is currently suffering for lack of creativity and capacity on the part of the regulators.  

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A once booming venture, Nigeria’s coal industry has been stripped of life and laid bare with its potential for wealth creation greatly diminished. A cursory observation reveals thousands of job losses caused by a failed  privatization scheme that has left everything in tatters and made nonsense of the nation’s mouthed diversification plans. Investigative reporter, PATRICK EGWU, visited the Enugu coal mines, which is now a shadow of its old self.

 

On a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, Ray Chime sits at the balcony of his home located at Colliery Avenue in Enugu. Colliery Avenue is the residential quarters for coal miners working at coal fields in the state.

Chime was the former Colliery manager of the Nigerian Coal Corporation [NCC]. When he started working with the NCC in January 1972, it was a booming industry which served as a major source of foreign exchange for the country with coal being exported to the UK, South Africa, Egypt and Ghana.

“The coal industry is now moribund and all efforts to revive it have failed,” Chime tells Ripples Nigeria. “There was politics in it,” he says. “I am sure that if the coal corporations were situated in the north, the federal government won’t allow it to die like this.

The government is not interested in trying to get it resuscitated and the machines need to be constantly revived.”

For Chime, the once booming industry has become a shadow of itself following the privatization policy of the federal government in 1999.

With the privatization taking full force, workers were retrenched, the NCC properties were sold off and a deal that killed the fortunes of the industry was sealed.

The good-old beginnings

Aerial view of the deserted Onyeama mine field in Enugu. The mines tunnels are located few kilometres away. Photo by Patrick Egwu

Before the discovery of crude oil, coal was once treasured as a jewel, powering the national and regional economies in the country. Presently, experts are worried that an all-important money-earner like coal could be so abandoned. This is considering that coal is still a money-spinner and keeps industries running in other economies of the world. Coal-powered stations reportedly generate about 40 percent of the world’s electricity.

Much of the materials used in making steel, coke, is derived from coal. The beauty industry also finds coal extremely useful in producing such items as shampoo and dandruff-fighting creams or powders. Fertilisers are by-products as well. Even concrete is derived from coal.

Coal was discovered in Enugu in 1908 by a team of British geological explorers led by Albert Kitson, but actual mining did not start until 1916, a year after the then British colonial government and several Udi warrant chiefs led by Onyeama of Eke signed an agreement for its exploitation.

However, with the discovery of oil in 1956 in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in commercial quantity, the coal industry started dying off gradually. According to the Enugu State Tourism Board [ESTB], up until this point, the Nigeria Railway Corporation [NRC] was the largest consumer of coal in the country, but with the discovery of oil, the NRC began to replace its coal burning trains with diesel-powered engines.

Another negative impact on the industry was when the then Electricity Corporation of Nigeria began converting its power generation equipment from coal to diesel and gas.

Further chronicling the challenges of the industry, the Board notes that “the Nigerian Civil War negatively impacted coal production; many mines were abandoned during the war. Following the war, production never completely recovered and coal production levels were erratic. Attempts at mechanizing production ended badly, as both the implementation and maintenance of imported mining equipment proved troublesome, and affected production. After the civil war, the Nigerian coal industry has not been able to return to its peak production of the 1950s.”

Nevertheless, Nigeria still holds large coal reserves, estimated at about 2 billion metric tonnes which is said to be low in sulphur content and in high demand in international markets. Experts are therefore worried over the poor state of the industry which they say if properly harnessed, will not only restore the nation’s long years of epileptic power supply, but also contribute to the nation’s forex earnings and employment generation.

The Kopex and Bul-Nig take-over agreements

Ohagwu, the former Colliery manager of the Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC). Photo by Patrick Egwu

In an attempt to revamp the industry, the Nigerian government signed an agreement with Kopex, a Polish company based in Warsaw to take over mining and boost productions with the NCC playing supervisory roles. Efforts to retrieve the documents of the agreement was not successful. However, what many Nigerians hoped would be the best deal to revive the industry, became unsuccessful after a few years.

“They came around 1977 but they couldn’t do much because their activities weren’t reliable,” Hyacinth Ohagwu, a former engineering manager at the industry said. “For instance, they brought in obsolete equipment when new ones were paid for.”

“Kopex left because their system of mining and ours was different, hence, the privatization didn’t work for them,” Ohagwu said.

After Kopex left and couldn’t continue coal exploration, some foreign companies were consulted to run and manage the industry as a way of making it work optimally again. The first country that won the bid to revive the industry was a company from Bulgaria. The agreement was later known as “Bul-Nig” to reflect the name of the two countries. According to the agreement, when produced, the company was expected to take 40 percent of the gains while the NCC takes 60 percent.

“They bided and the agreement then was that if the coal is produced in Nigeria, it would be exported to Poland, Ghana, Egypt and South Africa among others. They competed with other companies and won the bidding,” Chime said of the agreements. “They even sent some of us abroad to learn their mining practices.”

In 2002, in what appeared to be the last efforts of the President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration to revive the industry, Nigeria and South Africa signed an agreement for the development of the coal industry in Nigeria by exploring specifically, the Onyeama, Okpara and Owukpa coal mines. However, mining development didn’t commence as was promised and little is known of the outcome of the deal today.

Privatization that finally terminated the industry

What looked like a ray of hope came for the coal industry in 1999 when former President Obasanjo initiated plans to privatize it, alongside other national assets. With the development, the NCC lost its monopoly over the Nigerian coal industry, as the government allowed private companies to begin operating coal fields in joint ventures with the NCC, with an eventual goal of completely selling off the NCC’s assets to private investors. The government planned to sell 40 percent to private investors and 20 percent to the Nigerian public while retaining 40 percent.

According to ESTB, in 2003, the federal government announced plans to create a technical advisory committee that would be tasked with reviving the industry. However, by 2004, the technical committee had not issued their report and the NCC found itself almost bankrupt. To raise funds, it began selling off some of its assets to pay off mounting debts, including salaries owed its staff.

The Enugu state government under former governor Chimaroke Nnamani, had protested the planned privatization and demanded for consultation with the federal government on any planned sale.

Having lost the mining fields to private investors, the Enugu State Government under former governor Sullivan Chime succeeded in taking over two properties of the NCC purchased from the Bureau of Public Enterprise [BPE] under the federal government’s privatization of its landed properties. The two properties are the headquarters of the Corporation located along Okpara Avenue and the Colliery hospital also in Enugu.

At the handover ceremony, the then Director-General of BPE, Benjamin Ezra Dikki had stated that the privatization of the Corporation which started in 2007 was aimed at handing over the coal blocks to credible investors that would invest money and expertise to mine the coal blocks to create jobs and boost the economy of the state and Nigeria at large. It is yet to be seen how those goals have been achieved, as companies with mining licenses are yet to begin coal exploration.

Unfortunately, the headquarters of the NCC in the state has also been sold off to a private investor by the state government. When this reporter visited the premises, the signage of a company contracted to construct a perimeter fencing around the premises was seen at the entrance gate. An attempt to enter the premises was blocked by a security man at the gate. But the miners want it back.

Former NCC headquarters now sold to a supposed private investor

“The place has been sold by government and non-government groups,” Ohagwu, said. “We have repeatedly made our feelings known that we want that structure back even if every other thing is sold. Because it is a very costly monument for the nation and not only the state. The industry played a very important role in Nigeria’s independence and if not anything, can serve as a museum for the young generation.”

“People thought the privatization would revive the industry,” Ohagwu who voluntarily left the industry before the privatization said. “They are yet to complete the payoff for workers.”

Failed promises

Over the years, the people of Enugu state had hoped for the revival of the once-booming coal mining activities in the state which they believe would provide electricity to the region, power industries and provide direct employment. However, successive administrations have come and gone without as much as a passing glance at the mine.

Hope appeared to have been reignited last year when the Minister of State, Mines and Steel Development, Uchechukwu Ogah visited the state and revealed the federal government’s plans to revamp the moribund industry.

Ogah said his team was on a fact-finding mission with regards to “what is already on ground, what the Federal Government has done and what we can do to revive the coal mines in Enugu State so that they can help grow the economy and generate jobs.”

Earlier in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had during his election campaign, pledged to revive the coal industry. Buhari had promised that the abundant coal deposits in Enugu would be harnessed to grow the Nigerian economy, and also generate employment opportunities for youths in the South East and other parts of the country. Specifically, he said that coal deposits would be used to revamp the Oji River Power Station which generated electricity for the defunct Eastern Region and has the capacity of generating the nation’s 30 percent energy needs.

But nearly five years after, nothing has been heard of that promise.

In 2016, a group under the aegis of Buhari Support Organization [BSO] once again, drew attention to the condition of the mine by including it in their list of demands for the president to address alongside projects planned for other geopolitical zones with the $30 billion loan being sought from multinational institutions.

Ex-workers’ continued protests 

Former workers of the Corporation are wondering the type of privatization carried out in Nigeria’s premier solid mineral industry that has completely deflated the industry. As far as the ex-staff are concerned, what took place was outright devastation of equipment and properties of the industry, with no intention to revitalize the Corporation as was the original philosophy of the federal government’s privatization policy.

According to them, it is pathetic that the industry has gone under with no hopes in sight of ever mining coal. This is even as they claim to be owed wages and entitlements with all the properties of the Corporation sold to individuals.

Aggrieved workers had already petitioned President Buhari over their plight. The issue they raised included; non-settlement of all arrears owed the disengaged staff of the NCC amounting to about N315 million; destruction of coal mining property by the BPE through a property consultancy firm, corruption through purported monetization of houses of the NCC, allegedly committed by the consultancy firm, among other allegations.

In one of the petitions, the workers claimed that the “BPE and their agents sold off heavy plants and machinery of the NCC at very ridiculous prices and declared peanuts to the BPE and even the lands too. This is a clear case of corruption.

“Example of such sale made is the gigantic and highly sophisticated coal washery plant housed in an entire seven-storey building built by Kopex contractors, Poland, together with the vast land housing the edifice worth over a billion naira was sold at N160 million.

“Other examples are two capacity coal briquette plants at Enugu and Ankpa, Kogi states which were sold in the same manner as plants and weigh bridges at Enugu, Okaba and Owukpa, among many others.”

They, therefore, urged the President to scrutinize all transactions made by the BPE, their agents and NCC officials, maintaining that due process was not followed.

They further prayed the President to “ask the BPE, NCC and their agents to make available a comprehensive list of all NCC office properties in the country, whether leased or not; whether sold or not as a lot of lease documents were manipulated while a good number of leases that expired were secretly and hurriedly re-negotiated, back dated and removed from government files.”

Chime, a former miner, witnessed the Iva Valley massacre of 1949 where more than 20 miners were killed. Photo by Patrick Egwu

Amidst the raging controversies, with some of the matters already in court, Dikki stated that it was not the business of the BPE to question what buyers of properties do with them as they have become the properties of the new owners.

On the issue of sold processing plants being used for other purposes other than for coal matters, Dikki said the plant was vandalized before the BPE sold it to the new owner, which he said was the reason he could not hold the new owner responsible.

He however, said all hopes were not lost for the revival of the industry through privatization, stating that there is an existing committee drawn from government agencies with the mandate to draw a road map for the immediate coal mining revival.

“We were supposed to go to the five coal blocks to make diligence recommendation but the rainy season disrupted it because you can’t go to the mines in rainy seasons but now that the rains are getting over, we will soon commence the assignment,” he said.

“The welfare of workers was very poor. No worker enjoyed his services as a coal worker. They were not well looked after like other workers in other establishment,” Ohagwu said. “So for now, it has not been settled anyway. And they are still owing many of us our welfare packages like for me I have not received anything since I left in 1994. So many workers were underpaid. Some were not paid at all.”

Inside the Kopex quarters. Photo by Patrick Egwu

On December 30, 2019, some Kopex properties where some of the miners presently live were put up for bidding and sale in the national dailies on January 14 and 17. For instance, a Kopex quarters with 16 bungalows in it at Iva Valley in Enugu where Ohagwu and his family and other miners live were put up for public bidding on January 16.

“This is not fair. They put up the advert when people must have travelled for the Christmas holidays,” Chime said.

Future expectations

The governor of Enugu state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has on many occasions, expressed sadness over the inability of the state to tap from the economic benefits of coal and other solid mineral deposits in the state.

He urged the National Assembly to amend the Nigerian constitution towards transferring the prospecting and exploitation of solid minerals from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list.

This, he said, would enable the states participate in the issuance of mining licenses.

The governor also asked the federal government to compel companies with mining licenses in the state to commence operations, or have the licenses revoked.

He regretted that companies with mining permits had failed to commence operations, saying that the situation could have been avoided if the governors were involved in the issuance of licenses.

Stressing the importance of mining to the federal government’s economic diversification agenda, Ugwuanyi noted that Enugu state had not benefited from coal and other solid mineral deposits in the state.

He underscored the need for mining to commence immediately, saying “We have to say that this is even more important for Enugu State, a state that is richly endowed with solid mineral resources but which paradoxically, has gained so little from their existence, especially after the collapse and the eventual winding up of the NCC due to the nonchalant and uncooperative attitude of the owners of mining leases and licenses in the state.”

In 2018, during a trip to Poland for the COP24 – the United Nations 24th annual climate change conference, he had a discussion with the Polish government on how to partner and revive the coal industry in the state. Nearly 90,000 Poles are employed in coal mining, and for decades, they have enjoyed high wages and benefits from the industry. However, the outcome of that meeting is yet to be seen in real terms.

Geometric Power shares hope for revival

Geometric Power, an independent power generating and distribution company in the country says it is currently working on the development of 1000MW coal fired power plant [500MW in the first phase expandable to 1000MW in the second phase] in Nigeria.

According to the GENCO, the inspiration for this project is based on its founding philosophy of developing power projects which will result in immediate commercial advancement and development of the host community while making economic sense for the investors.

Giving further reasons for a coal powered plant, Geometric says “with a generation type mix of 70 percent gas and 30 percent hydro, Nigeria is unduly dependent on gas, including the Aba IPP, for power supply. With the underdevelopment of gas infrastructure for domestic use, gas supply is even more precarious. The country now has more installed generation capacity than can be adequately supported by available gas.

“Secondly, though the hydro is a renewable source of energy and in fact the cheapest source, it is seasonal and the country cannot be said to be hugely endowed with hydro potentials. A situation where it is constantly used as a peaking source whenever the gas plants are down, perennially places the country in short supply even when the gas stations are up during seasons of low water levels.

“Coal as fuel for the proposed power plant gives a triple edge advantage; it provides the needed diversification, cheaper overall electricity and its abundance locally effectively mitigates the fuel supply risk factor that has bedeviled gas as a source of fuel for power plants in the country.”

It added that this project is envisaged to supply power to the national grid and all classes of consumers within the country and also diversify fuel source for power development for both Geometric Power and Nigeria at large.

In the early years before its decline in the 1980, coal for instance, was used to power the Oji River Power Station in Enugu which generated power for the region and beyond. Industries in Enugu like Premier Cashew industry, AvopVegetable Oil, Sunrise Flour Mills, Niger Gas and Niger Steel were all powered by coal.

“The construction of a coal power plant provides multiple benefits to the nation especially the people of the state where the plant will be located. A key benefit is that it provides immediate employment opportunities [for both skilled and unskilled labour] as well as infrastructural development in the area. Given the integrated nature of the project, it is expected to attract an influx of allied businesses that support both the coal mining and power plant operations. Thus, the most significant benefit when the project is commissioned, will be a major economic transformation of the area,” it stated.

Despite promises expressed by Geometric Power in generating power using coal, residents in the state famously known as “Coal City” because of its large coal deposits, think the federal government is not sincere in fulfilling its promises of reviving the industry. Former workers are still living in solitude of working for an industry that never cared for their welfare.

Chime’s father who was a former miner, witnessed the Iva Valley massacre of 1949 where more than 20 miners were killed by the colonial police for demanding better welfare packages. In 2006, Chime retired from active service and is yet to be paid all his full benefits.

“It is all window dressing because the government was not serious with it else they wouldn’t have allowed it to collapse like that because the country was making lots of money from it,” Chime said of renewed interest of the government at reviving the industry. “We have seen this before and we are here to see what becomes of the industry”, he concluded.

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By Sunday Orji…

“…Before the end of the third day, all the animals that took the water died“.

The flares at Obrikom in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of RIvers State, never die. Fumes from high vertical flare stack stay steadfast in the air; darkening the day and brightening the twilight. The plants and shrubs and weeds are lean and stale and drained. The soil is thick and stony. The surface of the muggy rivers wear a veil of dark slowly floating black powders like a boundless sheet of dark cloud. The bunch of fire from the flares wag off vivid dark smokes into the sky.

Over the years, with gas flaring in full effect, only few plants and palm trees have survived the scourge coming from the heat and noise. And except for their green stained leaves, every vestige of the fertility in Obrikom and neighbouring Okwuzi –communities once great for its robust farm yields and rich waters – is fading off. The rain now comes late and acidic. And the farm yield is scare and poor. Obrikom is as hot as the edge of hell and the people wear sweat all day.

Thirty nine years after first outlawing gas flaring (since 1979) – the burning of natural gas during petroleum crude oil extraction – in Nigeria has continued. Defiance against environmental regulations and advocacy in addressing gas flaring has been high as communities within the Niger Delta region including Obrikom continue to face severe health out-turn. The multi-national oil companies – Total Nigeria Plc, Texaco, Shell Petroleum Development Company, Oando Group, NAOC, etc. – burn off gases, with the perils settling on host communities.

“From your first day on earth, you begin to inhale poisoned air until you are thirty, forty or fifty. Air is the source of life and if the air you take is poisoned, how would you live? Death is very rampant in the Niger delta. Mysterious sicknesses. A whole lot of miscarriages occur here. Our pregnant women are not in good health. The foetus in the womb is already endangered” Moses Ijemene (not real name), an engineer with Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC], says.

Ijemene was born in the Niger Delta some forty years ago. He was among the last generation that saw the green fields of the Niger Delta and the fruitful clean ponds and rivers. He grew up eating everything fresh and healthy from the farms and waters. His father was a great fisherman. As the years rolled by, Moses watched the fading way of the past. But only one aspect of the disappearing vestige struck him.

“While growing up in the Niger Delta” he says, “I saw great fishes and aged men. The oldest men in our community were 140, 130, and 120. We lived long and healthy because we eat only natural foods, fishes and vegetables. There was barely a need for hospitals because we enjoyed fine health. As the years rolled by, death became rampant, and young men and children started dying. The oldest man in my clan today is just about 70 or thereabout. That was when I knew that my people were in trouble.”


River Orash,  the biggest but poisoned source of livelihood for the people of Obrikom and other neighbouring communities

Today, Ijemene lives away from the community. He found another home in the city of Port Harcourt so that his family and children would be safe from the threats of the toxics from flares. Yet, George Bennet, another engineer with Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC, has lived almost his entire life in the rural community.

He has watched for the past three decades the unblinking flaming of gas stack, he has watched the rising of dark fumes from the tongues of the flare fire, he has watched the blanketing of his community with dark smokes and now he lives with great fear for his people’s health at Obrikom.

“In the communities around here where gas flaring is taking place, you find a lot of persons that are disfigured but in Obrikom our eyes are almost going blind. A lot of little children need glasses to read from tender age. Those who are most affected by threat of blindness are workers or retirees in the gas plants. Anybody that works in the gas plant for a long time, the person must surely use glasses before he can read” George said.

The gas flaring experience for the residents of Obrikom has been a story of memories and nostalgia. Sadly, the memories are not positive memories. They are negative memories. George, like every other adult shakes his head to throw off tears when he talks about a past buried in sorrow and regret. Obrikom and neigbouring Ebocha, Okwuzi, Mgbede, and Egbema are host to two giant multinational oil companies – Total Nigeria Plc and Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC – with about eight gas flaring stack around them.


Night-time flares by the oil companies in Obrikom 

“There was a time the community complained to Agip that the sicknesses amongst our people was too much”, he states. “They brought white doctors to confirm if indeed the community was facing severe health challenges from the flares. The white doctors came with different species of animals and birds and fishes to run an experiment on the health situation in the communities. They fed the animals with the rain water that some of us in the Niger Delta drink. Before the end of the third day, all the animals that took the water died.

“The company, that year, offered free medical services to the community. After that year, it never happened again till today and its way over 10 years”.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the total volume of gases flared by oil and gas companies rose by 17.46 percent in the past year. The report by the country’s apex state oil corporation claims that flared gases rose from 244.84 billion standard cubic feet in 2016 to 287.59 billion standard cubic feet, SCF, in 2017.

In Nigeria, the penalty for gas flaring, according to Nigeria National Gas Policy 2017, is quite soft and the Federal government plans to “increase gas flaring penalty.” The document establishing the policy says that “the current gas flare penalty of N 10/Mscf (equivalent to $0.03) of associated gas flared is too low, haven been eroded in value over time….Consequently, the low penalty has made gas flaring a much cheaper option for operators compared to the alternatives of marketing or re-injection.”

Away from the penalty being too small to deter the oil companies, George says, the oil companies have not been showing any concern to the health of the communities.

“If you are sick, you go for your own personal treatment. And there are a lot of persons in this community who are poor and can’t foot their own health care bill” he retorts.

“Nobody in the oil producing communities is excluded from the hazards but what can the people do? The communities sometimes try fighting for it but those at the top would close it. People are suffering and no one compensates these communities for endangering their lives. But if I write about the rot in the land with my pen, where will it go? There is nothing the communities can do” says Eze Okaru, the paramount ruler of Okoronkwo village in Okwuzi, River state, Nigeria.

The tragic twist is that the people have been silent and terrified. The terror of volatile response from the oil companies or elements within the communities that benefit from their activities is fierce says Moses. A word for their fate is costly and only a few have the courage to unveil the secrecy. Getting interviews is difficult. Sources chew their words and pick carefully their phrases. To their heart, every pain and agitation is buried and silence is a common response.

In the next 15 years husbands may not be able to impregnate their wives

Obirikom is a two hour drive from the city centre of Port Harcourt. Disappearing farm lands mingle with cluster of palm trees; presenting a crossroad between fertility and impotence. The zincs are routinely dark-grey. The old are frail with a touch of white kink hair and stripes of folding skins that leave strands of many years of exposure to the affliction of flares and the infirmities of poverty.


White vehicle packed at Okwuzi few months back painted black by soot

For the past three years, Patience – a community health worker at Obrikom – has watched the drastic drop in the number of new born infants and pregnant mothers in some of these communities starting from Obrikom to Okwuzi, Ebocha, Mgbede – all in Ogba – Egbema – Ndoni local government area m of the state.

Cases of young ladies missing their menstruation is high and yet the pregnancy level is dropping. She says the experience is terrible but she doesn’t know how to explain the root of the problem to the locals.

“In the last three years if you come to the health center on Thursdays – usually the anti-natal days or Tuesdays –usually the post natal days – you find a huge number of women, say around 60-80. But now, you find just a few women who still come with a whole lot of health complains. Every now and then, someone is complaining of missing her menstruation” she said.

She says that in the future, say ten to 15 years from now, most male in this region would be suffering from infertility and prostate cancer. And they would be unable to impregnate their wives. The population of these communities would diminish and the male would suffer most.

Dr. Leelee Zitte, an environmentalist and neuron-physiologist at the Department of Animal and Environmental Biology, University of Port Harcourt reveals that the radiation and chemicals inhaled during long exposure to gas flaring can result in defect in the sperm cell. He states that this problem can affect the mobility of sperm cell such that a man may really find it difficult producing children.

“Something you wear has been polluted. Something you breathe has been polluted. Something you drink has been polluted. Something you eat has been polluted. Gases come from the numerous flare stacks around us and there is no free zone,” says Eze Okaru, who adds that it would be an extreme miracle to find a resident of any of these gas flaring communities that’s not facing one form of health problem or another.

A study by Professor Georgewill of the department of Pharmacology, University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital demonstrated that infertility can be triggered by hydrocarbon poisoning – a common byproduct of gas flaring. While specialist consultant surgeon, Dr. Furo Green claims that lung cancer associated with gas flaring-driven air pollution could affect over six million persons in the city of Port Harcourt, one of the core oil producing states of the Niger Delta.

My Child moves in the Womb

Its twilight on Tuesday in Obrikom. Glowing bulbs rise from every door post one at a time until the darkness in the community fizzles out. The flare – which is the king of all lights – sparkles from a distance above. It’s an amazing sight for aliens and awful time for indigenes and residents especially nursing mothers and pregnant women.

Pregnant mothers like Uchechi Micheal have several complains about the flare. She says that it’s usually very difficult to sleep at night because of how heated and noisy the environment turns every evening. This situation overtime creeps into systematic insomnia. Insomnia – medical studies have shown – leads to mood swings, irritability and higher risk of developing chronic diseases and general decline in both mental and physical health.


When the people protest, soldiers are sent after them

“My fear is that once the flare is heated, the heat in the community increases and the child in my womb begins to move about. This happens almost every night” she said.

Other pregnant mothers around surrounding communities confirm Uchechi’s experiences; aligning with her confession on sleeplessness and the movement of their babies at night and constant illness.

George Bennet, a father of two, says that children in the community are sick freak. George who is also resident in Obrikom says that the only way to keep the younger ones safe is by placing them on drugs once they are 4-6 months. The children here are often down with illness especially cough and malaria and fever, he complains.

Three years ago, Patience was transferred to Obrikom to work as a doctor in the community health center. She was born here some forty years back but she never lasted in the place as a child. She had gone off to the city to study. In between those years, she only breezed in and dashed off again. Her employment was a homecoming of a sort and optimism was huge.

She had returned with her five children. They arrived healthy and happy. After the first day at Obrikom, one of the kids was down with illness. Within the next one week, the other four kids came down with cough, malaria and fever. She had known from her studies that gas flares were terrible, but she had no idea it was this dreadful.

“My son who is less than two years has always been falling sick. Sometimes it’s cough. Other times its fever, and malaria. These ailments are always around the children here. The lungs of the little children are also seriously affected in a bad way”, says Patience.

The pollution in the Niger Delta has been linked to high infant mortality in the region. In the Nigerian context, researchers suggest that gas flaring can result in deformities in children.

Dr. Zitte, reveals that long term exposure to gas flaring results in damages to the brain cells and the central nervous system. He reveals that gas flaring effect is, however, more pronounced in infants and the unborn children in the region.

“Children developing in the womb under this flares are likely to have malformation and deformities”

Technically, gas flaring is illegal in Nigeria. The Articles (20) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides that ‘the state shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.’ Nigeria is signatory to the Africa Charter and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) – both containing provisions that outlaws the violation of the safety of the environment.

Yet, government early this year revealed that there are 178 gas flare sites in the country.


Gas flaring reduction chart by NOAA/GGFR

Only few local researches have been directed at revealing the cause-effect studies on gas flaring and child health but strong speculations – drawn from general medical researches – prove that the effect do not just exist but they are dire.

Relatedly, the study by Professor Roland Hodler and his colleagues primarily provides a direct connection between pollution and child health in Niger Delta. Using spatial data from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor and the Demographic and Health Surveys, and relying on the comparison of siblings conceived before and after nearby oil spills, the researchers discovered that nearby oil spills doubled the neonatal mortality rate.

Its findings reveal that of the 16,000 infants killed within the first month of their life in 2012, 70 per cent – that is around 11,000 infants – would have survived their first year in the absence of oil spills.

Generally speaking, life expectancy in Nigeria is 53-55 years but in the Niger delta, life expectancy averages around 40 years; almost 15 years less. This is due to lifetime exposure to contaminated air, water sources, soil and sediment resulting from oil spill and gas flaring amongst other pollutants, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) after carrying out a two-year study in the Niger Delta region.

The black powder that kills

Its 9a.m in Nigeria’s oil rich city of Port Harcourt. Moses, an engineer at Agip, was driving down the route to the University of Port Harcourt. The distance ahead of him is buried in black tiny moving powdery substances called soot. The entire city wore a dark air and everything was touched. The soot made waves in the media few months back and passed away and things remained the same.

“It has been around for the past two years and we never can tell where this substance would place the future of children and the unborn”, Professor Gobo of the department of Meteorology and Environmental Management, Rivers state university, Port Harcourt Nigeria said.

Gobo says the scale of the problem that the soot is placing on the entire Niger Delta may not be clear until scholars channel their studies to that field. “We may not see the entire consequences of the soot today though we are sure the effect is dangerous”, he told Ripples Nigeria. “In the future there may be more illnesses especially with our lungs. The little children would suffer most but everyone who takes in the poisoned air of the region is under health risk”

He adds however, that the government and the oil companies don’t want to encourage research into this area because it would expose the scale of the inhumanity done to the peoples’ health already.


The effect of gas flaring has been brutal

When the powder of the soot started dropping on Port Harcourt few months back every roof was touched and the windows and doors pierced. The airy cloud of dark pigment enmeshed the bare floors and settled on kitchens and pots and plates. When the soot, dark as the devil, settles on white clothes, it becomes bleached and its whiteness gives way for blackness.

“Some days, you wake up and discover that some part of your house is dark and if you walk through the tiles, you would discover that your footprint would be carved on the floor because of the dark droppings in the room. Beyond the increased heat in the city, you equally notice that a lot of persons are going down with throat cough” says Chioma Eze, a resident of Port Harcourt.

Soot are tiny black particles that can travel very far in the air and is chiefly composed of hydrocarbons produced as a result of incomplete combustion of largely oil and other forms of fuels. Health researchers explain that soot can consist of acids, chemicals, soils and dust. Soot results from the burning of fossil fuels, coal, manufacturing.

Gobo says that the blanketing of the Niger Delta by soot is traceable to gas flaring and the setting ablaze of illegal refineries by the military operations against bunkering in the creeks. These two, he says, ruins the air quality standard.

“Breathing in this tiny particles can cause coronary heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, and many other respiratory illnesses” wrote Zachary Keefe, a Senior Indoor Air Quality Consultant at US-based Cashins & Associates.

Researches in the United States of American reveal that exposure to the particles of soot-related air pollution results in around 20,000 premature deaths yearly. Relatedly, a study by Donald McCubbins shows that, in the United States, 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma, 35,700 premature deaths, 2,350 heart attacks, 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis were avoided annually by implementing the soot pollution reduction.

There might be a more terrible situation in the Niger Delta but there are no studies to reveal this, Gobo believes.

Particles from soot – studies have shown – like the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides mingle with moistures in the clouds to form acid rain which undermine the water quality resulting in damages to the soil and crops, and poisons food and waters. The tiny particles of soot can penetrate the lungs and the cardiovascular system posing huge health threats, the World Health Organisation reveals.

Some die in less than one minute.

For nearly three decades, Okoro Isaac, worked in the gas plants with one of Nigeria’s multinational oil companies, Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC]. Being a griot, he talked about the days in the oil companies and in those stories, death, and crumbling health were common characters. While Okoro talked, cycle of coughs snatched short phrases from his lips. His breath was lousy and deep. And when the cough sounds are made, it seemed as though he would vomit his heart.

Yet he refused to talk about his health, insisting that it was personal and that his healing was spiritual. Anyways, a community health worker in Obrikom says that such signs of failing health was common amongst retirees of the oil companies and residents who have been around long enough.

“They don’t usually last after retirement. They are often moving from one clinic to the other because their entire immune system has been destroyed over the years. The oil companies give them huge salaries because they know they won’t be alive to enjoy the wealth. The road network in this community is superb, the electricity is constant but what about the health of the people?” she retorted.

Over the years, discussions on gas flaring and the associated health dangers have been restricted to the communities, but reliable sources from the oil companies told Ripples Nigeria, that primary staff face more dangers than is known. The sensitive nature of the gas plants and petroleum exploration require that companies keep certain safety standard in order to protect the health of the oil workers who are directly exposed to all sorts of dangerous gases.

Engineer Moses argues that every discussion on the dangers of gas flaring should start from the health of the workers. He says that the personal protective equipment required for safety are grossly inefficient and many workers die in silence. He adds that the companies threaten those who fail to comply with sack.

“The white man would tell you that you would not find any job elsewhere if you are sacked from this job. Honestly, the fear of losing your job forces many of us to continue this work.”

In 2014, Moses recalls, he lost his closest colleague in the company to brain tumor and he has seen more workers suffering instant or delayed deaths. As he talked, his fingers wagged in the air, his voice was slowing and deepening and tears formed around the red clouds over his eyeball.

“For years my friend suffered from failing health. He won’t be able to say he is weak because the management would sack and replace him. He continued visiting those sensitive places unprotected. Upon his death in 2014, the result of the autopsy showed he died of brain tumor but the company concealed it.”

He lamented, that “Dying here is gradual but steady, as men take in these gases every day. Little by little we die off as one inhales the poisoned air for twenty, thirty or forty years. Our lives drop every second. As we inhale this acid into hearts, and livers and lungs, my people rot on the inside” Isaac bewailed.

Isaac and Moses who have a combined 34 years’ experience in the gas industry claim that most of these occupational hazards would have been avoided if the companies made adequate provisions. They, however, agree that the handful of accidents and impairing health can be traced to the carelessness of the oil worker.

“While the oil companies have their standard for protecting the health of workers, the field managers may not have the full equipment to follow this standard especially during emergency. The instruction may tell you not to enter a particularly place without wearing a nose mask but the worker may not have it and in certain conditions, a worker is forced to go in and work unprotected irrespective of health risks” Isaac said.

But there is an exception. That exception is not positive. The top managers who manage operations rarely face these problems. So the primary workers are most endangered and those who flaunt compliance lose their job irrespective of the health hazards.These primary workers are largely Nigerians.

Sadly, Isaac said that in the course of operation some workers go down for it. He recalls the death of a young oil worker – few months back – from his community who was exposed to an extremely concentrated gas that takes a person’s life in less than one minute.

Ordinarily, the oil companies make medical provisions available for health checks which in some cases takes place once a year for active workers. There is also a free medical clinic services for retired oil workers. But the complex health situations that oil workers develop, Moses claims, far exceeds what this routine checks and clinic can handle.

Wasting wealth, harming health

The NNPC disclosed that oil and gas firms operating in the country are currently flaring 700 million standard cubic feet (SCF) of gas per day, resulting in loss of N868 million daily.

According to NNPC Group Managing Director, Mr. Maikanti Baru, this 700 million SCF per day of gas flared daily, is capable of generating an equivalent of 5,000 megawatts of electricity per day.

The tragic twist is that 75 percent of Nigerians lack electricity. According to the Nigerian Association of Energy Economists, NAEE, despite statistics indicating that 45 percent of the country’s population is currently connected to the national grid, regular supply is still restricted to just about 25 percent of the population.

Nigeria’s power problem has lingered for years, forcing the government to privatize the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in hopes of achieving at least a moderate supply of electricity.

Though Crude oil accounts for more than 80 percent of Nigeria’s foreign earning, internal utilization of the many potentials of the sector have been undermined by wastefulness and shortsightedness, and the continued waste of the country’s wealth in gas flaring is sadly, a strong pointer to this scenario.

For instance, the energy problem in Nigeria can be addressed almost at no cost by resorting to gas generated energy, as the country has over 187 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of proven gas reserve (comprising 97 tcf associated gas and 90 tcf non-associated gas). Nigeria has the 7th largest natural gas deposit in the world, and holds the 4th largest reserves worldwide.

The country flares nearly eight billion cubic meters of gases annually. This flared ‘eight billion cubic meters of gases’ the World Bank’s GGFR reveals, is enough to “generate electricity for over 75 million of its population that lack access to electricity.”

Data obtained from local reports show that oil and gas companies operating in Nigeria burn over $3.5 to $5 billion yearly from the over 257 flow stations in the Niger Delta. Nigeria, interestingly, flared about 17.15 per cent of the 95,471 metric tonnes of gas produced in June 2015 alone, a report from Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) revealed. This too is very sad in a country where more than 70 percent of its 180 million population live below the poverty threshold.

For over three decades, Nigeria has been shifting the deadline for gas flaring starting from 1979. The government’s newest deadline was 2020. That date too has been technically shifted by 10 years. That’s because Nigeria recently became signatory to the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” Initiative by the United Nations, meaning that the government has shifted attention to 2030. With this new goal post, Nigeria is set to lose about 50 billion dollars in the next decade to gas flaring.

Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, in a piece published in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, Bulletin for December 2017-January 2018 revealed that gas flaring led to “the burning of money that would have been used to generate wealth, create employment and also generate electricity for the people”.

“In this country, right now, we have 178 gas flare sites… Daily, we flare around 755 million standard cubic feet per day. You can imagine how much we lose as a country, the carbon credit we would have gotten from this, the electricity we would have generated, the LPGs (liquefied petroleum gas)…” a representative of the minister at the Gas Buyers’ Forum, organised by the Gas Aggregation Company of Nigeria in Abuja was quoted as saying.

In 2008, Nigeria launched the Gas Master Plan (“NGMP”) which provided a roadmap for the exploitation, rapid development and effective distribution of Nigeria’s robust gas reserves. Nigeria has so far made relative progress since the inception of the NGMP, with the gas supply market increasing from 300 million to 2 billion cubic feet per day (cfpd).

But gases even have greater and growing domestic value. There are millions of Nigerians who are reverting to the use of gas cylinders and 1 kilogram of gas in Nigeria local market sells at 300 – 400 Naira (nearly 1 dollar). The potential of gas in Nigeria is great but no one may say just how great until the right policy and strategic planning meets opportunity and potential.

Last line

The era of crude oil is gradually fading away. The recent fumbling of oil prices is a pointer. Even more, the attention to renewable energy is getting higher, as the original markets for crude, whether in Europe, Asia or America are doing everything possible to sideline oil at most in the nearest future, whereas the era of gas is just emerging.

A lot of European nations are either liquidizing their gases or conserving them through re-injection. Nigeria might not liquidize or re-inject gases but the country has lingered too long with the dangers of gas flaring, which harms health as wealth is wasted.

 

This story is supported by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism.

 

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Several years of living with a polluted land and spoiled environment, the people of Ogoniland finally breath a sigh of relief when the federal government several months ago announced it would embark on a clean up of their land.
Sunday Orji was in Ogoniland but discovered that hope has been turned to rage, by a promise that only left a nightmare untouched.

 

The Morning after

On an overcast morning of August 2008, Christian Kpandei rushed off to the creeks to survey his fishing net placed all night in the river. His eyes, in memory, blisters with hope. In the past, it was common to visit the shore and find trapped slick black-headed catfishes on the net or the spiny fin of scaly tilapias.

Surprises were scarce.

Routinely, Kpandei would unstrap the cluster of fishes with a craftsman’s expertise and pull them off the net and drift home with a smile hanging on the edge of his lips. But with the Bodo crude oil spill in 2008, and a follow up spill in 2009, nothing ever remained the same, even when the people bury their suffering in pretence.

The spill experience was the defining moment in the life of Kpandei as much as the lives of about 832,000 inhabitants of Ogoni land according to the 2006 National Population Census Figure. Available data reveal that 70 % of the 15,600 Bodo people – traditionally fishers and farmers – live below poverty line and the London High Court claims that about 600,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled over many communities.

Yet, he manages to disremember the details of that day. He only remembers leaving his home hugely optimistic and returning from the water front with depressive pessimism. These were the extremes between his feelings.

His Majesty, the leader of Goi, Tomii S, Tomii, said spills were not new, neither were creek fires uncommon. He downplays any shock and recalls “the destruction of 38 fishing canoes packed in the mangrove by crude fire in the 1970s.” That notwithstanding, he concedes that 2008 and 2009 spills were “terrifying.” Christian said it was “massive.” And Dominic Saanaa, the Acting Youth Leader of Bodo, Rivers state, thinks it was “unprecedented.”

The United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, says that indeed oil industry operations were suspended in Ogoniland in 1993, “widespread environmental contamination remains.”

His Majesty, Tomii… The leader of Goi,

After the spills that covered the creeks, stifling, without discretion, every living thing in the coastline of many communities in Ogoni, the people initiated consultations and planned on the next line of actions. They watched the lips of the government and the body language of Shell Petroleum Development Company (Nigeria) Ltd, SDPC, whose facilities triggered the spills. Deciding the means of taking up the case was delicate for some reasons.

For one, dragging Shell to court was ideal and receiving compensation from the polluters – that’s pulling Shell into the Polluter Pays Principle, PPP – could be consoling but payments don’t heal the land; it feeds, rather trivially, the mouth in the interim. The people resolved to approach the court proceeding with two demands. One, demand compensation for damages. Two and vitally, clean up their coastline so as to restore its rich and fading vestige.

Historically, the position of most Ogoni communities, King Tomii claims, has always been on these two premises. In previous instances, receiving compensation was attainable but cleaning up was, ordinarily, far-fetched. In fact, Christian says that “Shell are more willing to pay for compensation in the issue of damages but Shell will never clean up.”

But there was change in 2009. That change was a positive change. Yet the change was not from Shell.

While the call for cleaner Ogoni land dates back to a couple of decades, the Ogoni clean up or to put it more dead-on, the government’s allegiance towards cleaning the region, was aroused by this two major spills.

Prior to the spills, mutual suspicion had grown between the company and the communities. Truce was scarce. And even in the midst of this riff, Christian thought Shell took their “inhumanity to the extreme. For seventy-two days, oil oozed like water. Flying upwards from the leaked pipes and Shell did nothing,” he says about the 2008 spills. “The second spill in 2009 lasted for seventy-eight days before Shell intervened”

The president Olusegun Obasanjo administration seemingly wanted to heal the tortured relationship between the government and the multinational oil companies and Ogoni people. The death of Ken Saro Wiwa. Unpaid compensation. But much more, the clean-up of Ogoni land, fractured the reconciliatory process and UNEP, though relatively alien to the Ogoni people, concedes that “trust” was a major undermining peace between the stakeholders in Ogoni land.

Oil-spilled land in Bodo community

Tomii measures the suffering of Ogoni in moments. He said long stories that zeroed down on the people’s fear and betrayal, and the death of Ken Saro Wiwa in 1993 was “a delicate moment of sorrow and resignation” for his people but the relief that came on June 2016 when the Ogoni clean-up was flagged off seemed “special and healing.”

The government pledged itself to two crucial task when it flagged off the Ogoni clean up mid 2016 as well as the 2009 commissioned assessment of Ogoni land; One, to investigate the level of damages done to the Ogoni or what UNEP described as “comprehensive Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland.” and “an environmental clean-up to follow, based on the assessment and subsequent planning and decisions.” The bigger task, more narrowly, was the clean-up.

The government deceived us

Accordingly, the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, under government funding, in two years concluded and submitted their assessment of the impact of oil pollution in Ogoni land. With this, the first stage of the government’s bargain was delivered.

The second – remediation based on the impact of the assessment – was adjourned despite warning by UNEP that “restoring the livelihoods and well-being of future Ogoni generations is within reach but timing is vital. “Failure to begin addressing urgent public health concerns and commencing a cleanup will only exacerbate and unnecessarily prolong the Ogoni people’s suffering.”

June 2, 2016, the government of president Muhammadu Buhari flagged off, finally, the implementation of the Ogoni clean up. At the Sivibiragbara water front, popularly called Patrick’s Water front in Bodo community, Ogoni, and perhaps sensing the thick weariness in the faces of the ordinary people, the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the programme with many promises.

UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner, said the flag off was a “historic step toward improving the situation of the Ogoni people. He added that the scale and nature of the project means that the “clean up of Ogoniland will neither be easy nor fast, but it needs to be done.”

It was nice that Steiner placed a clause on the project. And to prove government willingness to genuinely savage the situation, the report provided a starting point. The starting point, no doubt, was the implementation of “emergency measures” detailed in the report. And when the Vice president spoke to Ogoni people during the flag-off ceremony, he calmed, wordily, frailed nerves and revealed that he knew that the “lives, socio-economic and political interest depend, to a great extent, on the quality of our environment.”

“When you hear the politicians speak, you can easily be misled into thinking that it’s from their heart to help you” says Chief Jude Baritema, the spokesperson of Bodo city, one of the largest cities in Ogoni, comprising of nearly 35 villages in Gokana Local Government Area, Rivers state. He admitted seeing rich flagging off ceremony at the waterfront but he adds equally that “nothing more than that has happened after the flag off”, and “from day one, we have never seen any sincerity from the government.”

Baritema is reserved. He is such a man that kept his voice even in moments of irk. It’s only in the redness of his eyes and the shaking of his head that his anger is laid out.

Jude Baritema…The spokesperson of Bodo city

Old Tomii wasn’t. His age and anger contradict. His fingers, raised to drive a point, was tenuously dancing in the air. But his words were clear. He took each word with elderly patience. Such that his bottled up anger, came out precise and fierce against the subject matter. “The government has deceived us” he said. “And we know Nigeria has a dead government and don’t care if we live or die. Their attitude towards the clean-up proves this.”

After months of expectations, the government pleaded that it needed more time to sort out vital issues related to the assessment report received from UNEP. It revealed that the report had flaws. Ibrahim Jibril, Minister of State for Environment, in 2017, told newsmen, that they “discovered this document was faulty to a large extent” and “had to review it.” He says this review was “the reasons we are slow.”

Kenteber Obirador, Project Officer Energy and Climate Change, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) says the minister’s comment was “shameful and pathetic.” And proves that he is more keen on “paying lip service to his master, the president. We invited UNEP in the first place because we didn’t have the technical know-how to carry out the assessment”, he says. The report, by every standard is a vital starting point, though it is not necessarily “perfect.”

Ripples Nigeria called up Kpandei for a talk on the Ogoni clean up. He was there when the trench for installing Shell’s pipe was dug 50 years ago. And he worked in that field, in what he describes as “unknowingly digging his people’s grave”. Christian pulled a black suit over a traditional old British jacket and had a blacksmith’s kind of dark glasses. He talked a little about the ongoing Bodo court case with Shell in London and Ken Saro Wiwa. And those small side talks gave way for the huge Ogoni clean up matter.

Christian Kpandei

But Kpandei didn’t talk that day. No, the term talking undermines the thick anger in his voice, and in his eyes, as he speaks. “There is nothing like clean up in Ogoni land. The Cleanup you see is only a television and radio clean up. The government is not honest! “ he summed and stayed silent.

Dangerous Delay

The Ogoni clean-up is pretty fragile. It has always had that shade of emergency. It has always had the taint of tussle. And UNEP, thoroughly, recognised this delicateness. The report revealed that the “loggerheads” between the people and politics and the oil industry created a “landscape characterized by a lack of trust, paralysis and blame, set against a worsening situation for the communities concerned.”

Upon this observation, the agency, advocated quick emergency actions to restore, partly, the lost trust and much more, the environment. The agency says that “even though the oil industry is no longer active in Ogoniland, oil spills continue to occur with alarming regularity…any delay in cleaning up an oil spill leads to oil being washed away, traversing farmland and almost always ending up in the creeks. When oil reaches the root zone, crops and other plants begin to experience stress and can die.”

Nevertheless, there are facets to the clean-up and the delay in Ogoniland especially UNEP recommendations. Ideally, the “emergency measures” in the wisdom of UNEP required radical and immediate actions. These emergency measures are eight and should have been implemented as a quick follow-up on the report. According to Fegalo Nsuke, the spokesperson of Movement for Survival of Ogoni People, MOSOP, the delay is dangerous for “many reasons.”

“One, the people are dying in their numbers every day. Recent community survey shows that Ogoni buries nearly forty persons weekly. This is particularly sad because majority of the diseased are young persons of between 20 – 30 or 35 years” he says.

Still, the Vice President, like other members of the government, undermined this threat. He would rather prefer that all stakeholders understand that “there is a lot going on. And that the government can’t address all of the problems at once.”

Life expectancy in Nigeria, between 2006 to 2016, increased by seven years to over 63 and 67 years for men and women respectively yet in the Niger Delta region, life expectancy, within the same period, dropped to 40 – 43 years says United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP. This disparity, experts agree, is due to early exposure to heavily polluted environment.

There have been, ordinarily speaking, a lot of round bruising with the clean-up and the Ogoni people, in resignation, seem to be stooping below the storms. The delays, it’s been widely reported, is as a result of funding or more appropriately the controversies of funding. To trigger the clean-up exercise, UNEP, suggested an initial capital of 1 $billion dollars be set aside as part of Ogoni Restoration Fund.

In the beginning, in the days of Amina Mohammed as a Minister of Environment, she was quoted by a local media report, that “funds for the Ogoni clean-up are intact…There is no politics here. The facts are clear. The Ogoni environment has been degraded and we need to restore it. That is what we are doing.” That was August 2016.

Subsequently, the government’s New Niger Delta Vision reported that the “Vice President presided over the ceremonial signing of the Ogoni Trust Fund escrow agreement. With this signing, $170 million is to be provided imminently from the first tranche of the $1 Billion for the Ogoni clean-up that was recommended by the UNEP,” the vice president assured. That was April 2018.

Much earlier, Guardian, UK, reported that Shell was holding off the payment of their part funding for “the long delayed clean up” because nothing was in place to show that the clean-up has begun. The spokesperson of Shell said that “the money will be made avalaible when we are sure that the structures are in place, are robust and will be overseen correctly. It is very much the responsibility of the Nigerian government.” That was August 2015.
Few months forward, Shell reportedly provided $10 million dollars for the project. In a widely circulated report, SPDC General Manager, Internal Relations, Mr. Igo Weli, revealed that “SPDC JV has made available the $10 million take-off fund for HYPREP as part of its contribution towards funding its share of the Ogoni Restoration Fund.” She added that the delays in the clean-up had nothing to do with lack of funds. That was August 2017.

However, the government did not see the honesty in Shell’s position. Maybe, Shell wasn’t lying but the government was having a different view on the grounds of her probable extreme financial constrain. And when the vice president addressed the issue months later, he said that “contrary to claims that government has been docile on the issue” that the government, in the nearest future – next meeting in a week time -, would discuss “budget” for the clean-up.

You cannot do anything without money and you cannot collect the money without budgeting for it so you have to show the work that it is meant for. We are on the right track and very soon we would all see the work being done,” he said. Osibanjo admitted, contrary to the position of Shell, that “funding was a major constraint for the seeming delay in the project and the clean-up exercise.” That was November, 2017.

Prior to the government’s self-satisfying position, the Governor of River state, Nyesom Wike says the government was not serious with the clean-up. He told the Senate Committee on Environment led by Senator Oluremi Tinubu that the “The federal government is not serious about clean-up of Ogoni land. We are tired of telling our people that the project would start next year. Let it not be a political project. Look at the North East, a commission was established and $1 billion dollars was released.”

Probably touched by the agitations raised by Wike, Chairman of Senate Committee on Environment, Senator Tinubu, imminently, articulated a new line of action. “We are concerned about the issues, “she started. “We will use face masks when we get to the location. Face mask would draw attention of the message to the world on the essence of the clean-up”.

Fegalo of MOSOP said “It’s difficult to trust the Nigerian government on this. They have not kept their words at all. In seven years, the government has not been able to provide water for a single person in Ogoni land. The standards recommended by United has been flawed. In the end, this clean up would not result in a clean Ogoni land”.

In all these, Ibrahim Jibril, the Minister of State for Environment, feels that the “rush” to clean up Ogoni was needless. Seven years and counting, he thinks, is a short time to implement at least the emergency measures. The clean-up, in his view, could harmlessly take a longer time. His tone suggested that the people, after all, have been on their suffering for years.

He says that “accusers” should know he is not in a haste to fail.

“You may say we are slow, yes we are slow and these are the reasons we are slow and the accusers who say we are doing it for politics and now that we have won, that is why we are not doing anything again. For so many years, these things have been going on and nothing happened and now that we are on the verge of doing something, everybody is impatient” he stated.

Quite honestly, the minister was on point. The government have done nothing. For the past three years they are still on the “verge of doing something.”

Again Kentebe, an environmental activist, feels this is sad. The fact that the people have been on this suffering for decades should make the government sympathetic and humanly quick. The government should understand that cleaning up ogoni land is not a gift to the people, it’s their right irrespective of the number of past administrations that had skipped that task, he argues.

One of many polluted lakes in Ogoniland

UNEP, foresightedly, warned that delays could escalate the magnitude of the damages done to the Ogoni land and in some ways emphasized this view lightly when it indicated that “while no oil production has taken place in Ogoni land since 1993, the facilities themselves have never been decommissioned. Consequently, the infrastructure has gradually deteriorated, through exposure to natural processes, but also as a result of criminal damage, causing further pollution and exacerbating the environmental footprint.”

This delay has consequences, Amnesty reported in 2018. It shows that the government has taken only limited steps to do things rightly and ordinary people keep paying the prize. But beyond rights, Fegalo, the spokesperson of MOSOP says that the government is “provoking Ogoni people to violence but the people have remained peaceful.” And the government is creating the impression that “only violence is rewarded.”
“The government would be happy if we take up arms so that they can wipe all of us out in one day like they killed over 4000 indigenes of Ogoni when we stood up for our rights between 1993 -1999” he said.

HYPREP Has Failed

Kpandei who said he was trained by three British masters, lamented, “There is a lot of propaganda on the radio and television that a clean-up is taking place in Ogoni land but when you go to the site or communities, look into the creeks, make your research and find out from the people, you would know whether the reports on the media are true or not,” he revealed.

Sadly, Kpandei was saying this in low spirit. His voice was clear and fragile but his face was far too troubled.

To understand the context of Christian’s complains or contempt, the suggested modalities for the exercise would be revisited. The Hydrocarbon Remediation Project, HYPREP, was established to implement the recommendations of the UN Environmental Programme report. The task of HYPREB, experts say, was pretty clear. Even if the UNEP report was, in some instances, imperfect, only few adjustment would be required. Much more, the roles of HYPREP was divided into phases.

First off, HYPREP primarily ought to start the implementation of the reports from the emergency measures. To skip this modality would have consequences. And this consequences would be ugly. The report argues that those recommendations were structurally interconnected such that altering the steps or side-lining some would undermine the progressive success of other stages and of courses, the entire process.

The United Nations Environmental Programme says the document provided the “foundation upon which action (can be) undertaken to remedy the multiple health, environmental and sustainable development issues facing millions of people in Ogoni land,” adding that the report “can provide a firm foundation upon which all the stakeholders concerned can, if they so wish”

Whichever way, the starting point was to imminently execute the emergency measures. The emergency measures were eight and vital and fragile. The UN agency said that these measures “warrant immediate action.”

Generally speaking, a health audit of the entire region was suggested, in addition to providing adequate drinking water for impacted sites plus initiating a survey of all drinking water where hydrocarbons were observed. These three, alongside health awareness campaign deterring communities from neither engaging in artisan refining or living in communities having contamination exceeding intervention values and warning families not to drink, swim and bathe or walk in place and rivers where hydrocarbons were observed in the surface.

“When HYPREP asked us to leave our homes and livelihoods, they gave us nothing. Our people are aliens in different places and many people have died. I may not be alive to see Ogoni clean but the government should heal our land for those who would survive” Tomii said.

With those words, Tomii went silent.

Abandoned house….. The people were sent away from their houses without any support

Observers, from the duty of care point of view, argue that HYPREP had no reason sending people away from their lands without any support to resettle away from their livelihood. And till today, communities within Ogoni land still drink contaminated water because “HYPREB did not provide a single well for us here” says Fynface, The Executive Director of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre.

But there are other reasons, more narrowly, to which the failure of the HYPREP has been ascribed. The discriminatory isolation of select communities in Ogoni land from the exercise; creating more troubles than it rolled away according to local sources. For instance, Bodo, one of the largest and most polluted communities in Ogoni land has been isolated from the faulted, medical outreach. And has in fact “lost touch with the clean-up” according to Baritema, the spokesperson of thirty-five village Bodo.

Kpandei says “the average man doesn’t know anything about what HYPREP is doing. The agency doesn’t have the charisma to carry out this clean up. They have failed. HYPREP has lost their credibility. The people in HYPREP have no vision, they have no focus.”

Swamped by this round bruising, HYPREP, rather shockingly, has no reason to panic. The government, whose tone it must dance to is pretty pleased with its job. The president, Muhammadu Buhari, speaking in the three years of his administration said that “the environmental clean-up of the region (Ogoni land) is progressing satisfactorily.”

The government too, to put it bluntly, must have been impressed, or better still, seduced by the aired efforts on television or radio most times in respect to the clean up. After all, the president has never been to Ogoni land in his administration. He has never seen the oil upon their waters. He has never seen their crude sailing on their soup or the dark boundless sheet of soot on their waters or the dark overcast over them at twilight. And when the rare opening of launching the clean up in 2016 came by, he was pleased to pass on it.

A rusty sign-post prohibiting movement due to contamination

When Ripples Nigeria reached out to Dr, Marvin Dekil, the Project Coordinator of HYPREB, he was courteous at first, but as soon as our correspondent introduced himself, and the reason for the call, that it has to do with the Ogoni clean-up, his demeanour changed, and everything turned from unassuming courtesy to subversive antagonism.

“You can’t talk to me just like that. There is a due process. In fact, I am in a crucial meeting. And if you want to talk to me, go to the website and apply for the opportunity” he hollered and hung up.

A trusted source close to Dr. Marvin offered some explanation for his attitude. He pleaded that we ought to empathise with him. “Everybody is beginning to find out that he is doing nothing. It has been frustrating for him and it is difficult facing one media organisation after another. With all these reports, he feels the government may axe him”.

The source suggested that the presidency could have been misled into believing that the clean-up was working. His view is not an outcast. And didn’t differ in perspective from Fegalo’s who revealed that “a lot of propaganda was going into the clean-up.”

Based on Marvin’s assertion, our correspondent sent an email HYPREP, aligning with his expectations towards “due process,” and indicating that the request was urgent, relatively.

Seven days later, there was no reply. A friendly follow-up was sent across. After another seven days passed with still no feedback, our correspondent again called Dr. Marvin. Several call to his number went unanswered.
“To have said that cleanup was progressing satisfactory, for us is something that came very surprisingly,” Conflict Adviser of CISLAC, Mr. Salaudeen Musa, said at the meeting of civil societies in Port Harcourt late May. “Tendencies are there that the Advisers of the President are not advising him properly. Tendencies are there that they are feeding the president very wrong information.”
Beyond the inadequacies of the present efforts, locals accuse HYPREP of deliberately running an isolative and selective clean up, ignoring many deeply affected communities in the process.

The spokesperson of Bodo, Baritema says “HYPREP doesn’t have program, it has never had and it’s better scrapped. Bodo is one of the largest community affected by the spills in the Niger delta.” He continued, “but we have been completely isolated from the clean-up exercise.”

A polluted river

But he has no regret because, according to him, his people “don’t need a jamboree health outreach where people would be fighting for paracetamol and multivitamins and mosquito nets. HYPREP picked better grounds where they can be worshiped and fool the people and sell their lies. My people are wise.”

If Ken Wasn’t Killed

Seeing the situation of the people, and the strength of the pollution, it’s natural to feel terrified and provoked. One remembers the words of the elders, many of whom may die before another visit to Ogoni, many of whom may go blind too. One remembers the sick bones of weighed souls wearing wizened skins, the black spring and the thick dark waters. And it’s not easy to forget, the slow tear coming down the cheek of Tomii when he said his own death could be few months away.

Needless to say, the distress of the people, as well as the suffering of the widows of pollution, and the legion of early deaths recorded weekly, is as vivid as the sun rising from the neon-yellow cloud during the first visit to Ogoni.

“If Ken wasn’t killed,” Tomii said, “we would have been saved.”
Tomii stayed silent now. He was facing his own portrait, taken probably in his thirties, his broad chest pushed forward, and his face vacant. There is such anguish in that silence, one could easily commune with his people’s suffering.

Maybe Ogoni land and the rest of Niger Delta deserve more. Maybe Nigeria has been unkind in the past. Maybe, it’s time to heal their land and water. Maybe, it’s time to set Tomii free from his despair. Maybe, it’s time to calm the rage of this people.

 

This story is supported by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism.

 

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With over 2,800 active erosion sites in Nigeria’s Southeast Region, the risk of people losing their homes and means of livelihoods loom larger than ever before, even as funds to tackle the menace seem to have been diverted. 
Gideon Arinze was In Nsukka, and captured the misery and pain staring victims in the face.

The menacing showers
Each time the clouds begin to gather, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa naturally fall into spates of happiness, but for the residents of some communities in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu and other states in the South Eastern Region, it is a clear sign that they need to get prepared for the unknown.

It was a blistering Tuesday afternoon, and the clouds had started gathering strength before this reporter left the house of 60 years old Leonard Ngwu. Soon, the rain started and on a return to Ngwu’s house after the cry of nature, the once dry environment had become damp, difficult to walk on and potentially wrecking.

By the time the rains stopped, Ngwu who is a teacher had been subjected to turmoil, standing by one corner of his house with his hands wrapped around his chest and his eyes wide open. Anger clearly written all over his face.

At one end of the house, members of his family were removing water and other debris out of their rooms. His compound had just been submerged again. The flood went away with some of his property as usual.

“This erosion has dealt with us,” he said pointing towards the direction by which the erosion channel passes through his house. “This is not the first time we are experiencing this situation. It has caused a lot of damages to me and my family. We have lost many of our property. We don’t even know how to recover them again,” he said visibly trying to stifle his anger.

Ngwu: My personal efforts have not worked

Over the years, Ngwu had devised a means, or what seems like a means, of mitigating the erosion by building a wall around his house. But this does not often work. The situation is even more terrible now as he and his family are almost forced out of their home.

NEWMAP to the rescue?

Ngwu is a member of a 10-man committee that has been selected by the Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) to look into the issue of erosion which till now, has become a major source of concern for the people of Onuiyi, a Community that sits sedately in Nsukka Local government of Enugu in South Eastern Nigeria and other surrounding communities.

A World Bank assisted project aimed at addressing the Nigerian gully erosion crisis in Southeastern Nigeria and land degradation in Northern Nigeria on a multi-dimensional scale, NEWMAP is supported by the International Development Association (IDA), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Trust Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF). The project was borne out of the request for assistance made by President Goodluck Jonathan to the World Bank in 2010.

“We have lost about 34 people” Ngwu speaks of the erosion which has existed in Nsukka for over 35 years. “Every year, it causes destruction at least four to five times before the dry season sets in and this usually happens between the months of June and September. Sometimes, we even wish there is no rain,” he said with all manner of seriousness.

‘These monstrous gullies can eliminate whole communities’

Erosion which usually starts off with the relatively uniform removal of the soil surface by excess runoff aided by steep sloping topography, soil/rock types, removal of vegetative cover and poorly designed construction works, becomes concentrated with time, forming channels and rills and if not properly checked, progresses into the monstrous gullies which are found scattered all over the south eastern region of Nigeria.

Across the globe, the number of reported weather-related natural disasters has more than tripled since the 1960s. Every year, these disasters result in over 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries.

A report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reveals that Africans especially Sub-Sahara Africans, are more vulnerable to climate change effects- among which is erosion- and unfortunately they have the least capability of adapting to its deleterious effects.

Prof. Francisca Okeke, the Director, African Climate Change Adaptation Initiative at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka said that the most prominent and dominant erosion category in the South East region is the gully erosion as the geology of the region has a lot to do with the propagation of gullies.

Among the effects of erosion in the region, she listed: Farmland destruction, vegetation loss, disease outbreaks that affect humans, loss of property and effect on life.

“If we refuse to address this crucial issue overtime, roads would be totally inaccessible, there will be no social, environment and economic balance. There would also be loss of facilities and infrastructure for research, hence, non conducive atmosphere for learning, teaching and research would not work in the nation” she said.

It also takes lives

So far this year, three people have lost their lives to the erosion, following heavy downpour between July and August. The first victims were a motorcycle rider and a student whose bodies were discovered in Alor Uno community, about one kilometer from Onuiyi. The second victim was a little girl who was carried away as she tried to cross a water channel on her way back from school.

The death of the three victims threw the entire community into pangs of fear, not because it is the first time the erosion is washing away lives but because they feared who the next victim would be.

Each time it rains, especially at night, Ngwu, like every other villager, does not sleep a wink. He usually stays awake to keep watch and know when the rain will overflow, leaving the erosion channel and finding its way into people’s homes.

One of the erosion channels in Onuiyi

“For me, that is a way of making sure that the rain does not swallow me and my family when it comes. As soon as I hear the sound, I quickly carry my wife and children away,” he said.

Mr Ngwu and his family are part of over a hundred households whose livelihoods are constantly being affected by the menace of erosion in Nsukka and the South Eastern region of the country.

Houses have been washed away by erosion

Seated in front of his house nestled somewhere at the backwoods of the picturesque Alor Uno rolling hills is 76 years old Simeon Omeje who Intermittently looks in the direction where the house he had built for his children now lies in ruins.

“My son,” he says as he tries to recall when the house was destroyed. “It happened on a Tuesday in July. Myself and my wife had gone into our own room after a busy day when the clouds started gathering strength by 8 p.m.”

Omeje who now shares a single room with his wife and children was fast asleep when the rain began. At exactly 12 midnight when the rain had become intense, he heard a reverberating sound and when he came out to see what was happening, he discovered that the house he had built for his children had been raised down by the rain which had completely submerged his compound.

“At first, I did not know what to do. But when I saw that the rain was gradually finding its way into our own room, I quickly rushed in and took my wife and our little daughter out and carried them to a place where they slept till the next morning,” he said.

By the time Omeje came back in the morning, his room had also been filled with water. His property- chairs, motorcycle, food items and other valuables had all been damaged. Not even his livestock which he reared at one end of his house was spared.

He recalled that sometime in 2016, a part of his house was also lost to the erosion. “I was still trying to see if I can put that one together when this one was destroyed. Now, I don’t even know where to start rebuilding the house again.” he said.

Omeje who said that his older children had all travelled when the rain came that night explained the why the erosion continues to ravage his community.

‘How it finds it’s way to our houses’

He said that the drainage through which rain passes each time it comes is too small compared to the amount of rainfall. As a result, each time it gets to that point, it does not move further anymore. Often times when it overflows, it starts finding its way into people’s houses.

“We are the worst hit because we live very close to where the bridge is located. Many people who were living here have all relocated due to disturbance by the erosion,” he lamented.

Eight people- Just one room.

For 35 year old Sunday Uguoke who is only struggling to survive, life has literally lost its grandeur. He does not know where to begin as he has almost lost every of his belonging to the erosion that is ravaging his community. At one end of his house, Ugwuoke, like Omeje formally reared livestock which he always sold to provide food for his family and take care of other needs. But now, all of them are gone.

Ugwuoke and his family are not staying in their house anymore, as the rainwater, each time it overflows, finds its way into their house. He is married and has 6 children. But they all share a single room in another house he secured in his community.

Ugwuoke beside the structure where he reared chickens before they were washed away by erosion

On this day, Ugwuoke had just returned from working on one of the water channels to prevent more erosion. He explains his situation with his face forlorn while his shirt hung around his neck “I am tired of everything. I have been trying to see what I can do so I and my family can at least return to our house because we are not comfortable in the one room we are staying now.

“As you can see, he said pointing in one direction, “my wife is bringing out things that the rain packed into our room the last time it came. We are back and trying to fix things again. Maybe before we finish, it will rain again and destroy everything we have repaired” he said.

Because of the menace of the erosion in Alor Uno, Ugwuoke’s brothers have all left the community with their families. But he does not have money to go anywhere. So, he and his family are forced to remain and suffer the menace of the erosion.

No help from the government

When asked what the government has done in address the problem of erosion in his community, Omeje said that there have been successive governments in the state, but regretted that none has tried to address the issue which has always had devastating effects on the community.

“The government has always come here to make promises each time they hear that the erosion caused destruction. They have talked about it on radio and written about it on newspapers. Each time they come around, we become happy that our problems are over. But as soon as they leave, we don’t hear from them anymore” he said.

He recalled that operatives from the Local Government paid him a visit when they heard that the erosion destroyed houses in the community and made promises thereafter. “But after then, no one heard from them again,” he stated.

He also remembered that operatives from World Bank came last year and even two years ago and surveyed the erosion site, taking pictures and measurements in the process to reassure the community of their readiness to deal with the issue. Yet still, nothing has been done.

“Now, we are completely helpless. We don’t have anywhere to go to. The erosion is almost forcing us out of our home. We have lost almost everything and the government has refused to help us out”

Confirming the words of Omeje, Ngwu said the problem of erosion has existed in the community for a long time and that they had written past authorities several times, yet no positive result was recorded.

Our home now make shift kitchen

Chinwe Eze believes that her community is suffering the menace caused by erosion because those who claim to represent them in government are only after their personal gains.

Chinwe explaining the menace of erosion in her community

Eze and her family are presently finding refuge in a nearby house following the heavy downpour that entered their home in August and rendered most of their property useless. That was not the first time the rain is entering their house. But it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. They could not bear to stay any longer.

When this reporter got to Eze, she was sitting on a chair just in front of the house with her frustration showing on her face. She had only come around to prepare what her family would eat for the day.

In front of the house that had now become uninhabitable, Eze and her family usually set a small fire where they prepare meal each day. “That is the only thing we come here to do now as everything has been destroyed” she said pointing in the direction where a portion of their house now lie in rubble

When asked what the community is doing to help remedy the situation, she said that nobody has done anything yet. “Nobody cares. They are all minding their business since it does not affect everybody in the community”. she said.

The remains of Chinwe’s house, after it was destroyed by erosion

Constituency development Fund: A tale of corruption and misuse

The neglect of the erosion site in Nsukka and others spread across the South Eastern region, like many other constituency development projects has become .a recurring decimal in this part of the world.

Across the South East, from Enugu to Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo and Abia states, erosion has led to the loss of many lives, cut up and washed away roads, destroyed farmlands, pulled down houses and sent residents fleeing their homes.

First introduced during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 after the leadership of the National Assembly approached the executive for approval claiming it was in response to frequent demands of their constituents for the dividends of democracy, constituency development fund, otherwise known as zonal intervention fund, has been widely criticized as a drain pipe employed to perpetrate fraud in the budgeting process and secretly channel public funds into the pockets of Federal legislators.

Ngwu’s house when submerged by heavy rainfall after the water overflowed

Specific details on the projects such as cost and target sector are usually kept secret because the lawmakers allegedly engage in self-enriching deals in the implementation of the projects. As a result, constituents hardly know what should statutorily accrue to them.

Though implementing the zonal intervention projects does not involve cash payments or any other form of payment to legislators, as their duty is simply to identify the location and the type of project to be sited; only contractors nominated by the lawmakers are often awarded the contracts. As a result, they still have a say on what happens to the project.

This year, the Senator representing Enugu North Senatorial District at the National Assembly, Utazi Godfrey Chukwuka, nominated a total of N460 Million as constituency development project, out of which N36 million was set aside for erosion control at Onuiyi Nsukka/ Adani Road, Enugu North Senatorial district.

An erosion site

Sadly, a physical inspection of the erosion sites by this reporter shows that no work has been done yet. The sites have remained the way they used to be and the erosion continues to have devastating effect on different communities.

Whereabouts of funds allocated unknown, senator shuns enquiries

Several efforts made by this reporter to contact the Senator to explain how the fund for erosion control in the affected communities have been used did not yield any result as he was neither picking calls nor responding to text messages sent to him.

In September, the West Africa Reporter (WAR) reported how the lawmaker also failed to account for the sum of N104 million he nominated for constituency development project in 2017.

A senior official with Tracka, a non- governmental organization that works to ensure quality delivery of government projects across Nigeria said that the organization has written the lawmaker in the last two months, using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act asking for explanations on the project he nominated last year. Yet, he has not responded

In 2017, The Federal government approved the sum of N5.567 billion for the 3rd quarter erosion control Accelerated Intervention in six states of the federation, including Enugu, Kano, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Ondo and Osun. But ever since, nothing has changed.

Hope for better days

Over the years, successive governments in Enugu and other states in the South Eastern region have only paid lip service to the menace of erosion. But Ngwu hopes for better days ahead. He believes that the present government in Enugu State will take bold steps to address the situation, as it is so far the only government that has truly realized the extent of damage erosion is causing in rural communities.

One of the many erosion sites littering the south east region

In August, the state governor made available the sum of N500 million to demonstrate its political will to qualify for the additional financial programme of the World Bank and also approved the Anyaurum Ohom Orba, Onuiyi Nsukka and Enugu Ngow gull erosion sites as priority of his administration.

Ngwu called on the state government to speed up measures to deal with the menace of erosion in the communities affected so residents can heave a deep sigh of relief.

Eze and her family are afraid of returning home. She believes that if nothing is done to deal with the threats posed by erosion in her community, the government may wake up one morning to discover that everybody has been swept away.

 

 

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A six-month long investigative story, with laboratory tests, by RUTH OLUROUNBI and  KELECHUKWU IRUOMA reveals how contaminants in the air, water and soil, as a result of the oil spills in Nigeria’s Ogoniland are affecting the health of people and how the slow cleanup exercise is putting more people at risk of dying.

Eric Dooh, 60, had just returned from Goi, a community in Ogoniland, within Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. He had visited his family’s property in the community he left a few years back due to air pollution. Near the property is a large river where men fish, but it has been contaminated as a result of oil spills, causing unending pollution that pervades the air.

He was exhausted. He sat on a red couch in his sitting room wearing a red traditional shirt and cap. His eyes were red like fire due to the poor quality of air containing harmful gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide he was exposed to.

Dooh had hung a plain trouser he wore to the community the previous day on a wall. He stood up, went to the place the trouser was hung and dipped his right hand inside one of the pockets. He searched for a sachet of franol —  a medication that relieves breathing difficulties — he usually took after returning from the oil spill site but could not find it. Goi is one of the affected communities ravaged by oil spills.

Chief Eric Doo sits on a couch in his sitting room in Bodo. Photo by Ile Umoru

“Our people suffer very seriously; they inhale chemicals,” lamented Dooh. “My mother and father died in 2005 and 2012 respectively. They were diagnosed with respiratory disease and could not survive it.”

Nigeria has the largest oil-producing mines in Africa with the bulk of its crude laying beneath farmlands and rivers in Ogoniland with oil companies like Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) extracting about 100 million barrels of crude every year.

Crude oil is very important to Nigeria’s economy. The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that crude oil export accounted for N3.74 trillion or 70.84% of total exports in the third quarter of 2019, making it the most exported product in Nigeria while its contribution to the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) was 9.77%. Despite this, the oil-producing communities suffer from numerous oil spills.

Between 2003 and 2014, there were devastating oil spills from the Bomu manifold, a Shell facility at Kegbara Dere (K-Dere) located in Gokana local government area of Rivers State. Shell has been pumping oil from the Niger Delta since 1958 and it remains the largest multinational oil company operating there.

Although Shell has not pumped oil from its oil wells in Ogoni since 1993 when Ogoni activists led protests against the oil company for destroying the environment, halting its operations, its pipelines still carry crude oil worth 150,000 barrels daily through the region to its export terminal at Bonny Island on the coast.

The pipelines were reported to be ageing and poorly maintained, prompting multiple splits as a result of internal pressure, spilling thousands of barrels of crude oil. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, in its 2015 report said about 352,000 barrels of crude were spilled between 2007 to 2014.

But the major oil spill occured in 2009 when fire from the Bomu manifold burned for 36 hours and spread to neighbouring Goi and Mogho communities, causing damages that destroyed the people’s livelihoods.

Contaminated River at Bodo community. Photo by Ile Umoru

Loss of livelihood 

That cold night, 35-year-old Dorgbaa Bariooma kissed her children and husband good night, turned off the light switch and went to sleep. Neither she nor thousands of people at K-Dere knew the event would change their lives forever. The first thing she woke up to was the heat from the explosion.

“It was as if our house had been set on fire. Later came the smell of crude oil. It was so bad we could not breathe well for the first few months,” said Bariooma.

The oil spills had devastating impacts on the forests and fisheries that the people depend on for their food and livelihoods. Many K-Dere residents grew up near Kidaro Creek, where they fish. Fishing was one trade they excelled in but the harvest is poor as the creek is now contaminated with crude oil.

“Growing up, I would watch my father fish from this very creek and on sunny days like this, many of us will come to the creek to cool off. Here, there was once luscious vegetation and the sound of laughter and happiness was infectious,” said Erabanabari Kobah, an environmental scientist from K-Dere as he pointed towards the oil on the creek.

Oil spill contaminated Barabeedom swamp in K-Dere community

Reaching the intersection leading to Goi, the smell of crude oil pervaded the air and deserted houses were seen around the community. As the car conveying the journalists screeched to a halt and its windows wound down a kilometer from the spill site, everyone covered their nose as the smell of benzene spreading through the air intensified.

Mounted near the riverbank which thousands of people depended on for food was a public notice inscribed “Prohibition! contaminated area. Keep off.” The river has been contaminated with crude oil crawling on the water. Fishermen could no longer catch healthy fish but a few unhealthy crabs.

Displayed public notice stopping people from performing activities at Goi community. Photo by Ile Umoru

Raphael Vaneba, 47, still goes to the river to fish despite the environmental and health risks involved. He came out of the river carrying a fishing net on his right hand and an open gallon containing five crabs he had caught. His body was soaked in crude oil. Soon he dropped the fishing net and started to itch every part of his body.

“I scratch my body whenever I come out of the contaminated river after fishing. We do not catch fish here anymore because the spilled crude oil has killed them and we don’t get money,” he lamented as he opened the mouth of a crab to show crude oil inside.

Caroline Gbogbara sells food items at the community market in Bodo, one of the affected communities that experienced major oil spills in 2008 and 2009. She goes to the river to pick periwinkles to sell but since the oil spill happened, she was not able to pick periwinkles. As a farmer also, her  farmlands were affected by the oil spill but she still farms on the contaminated farms. When it’s time to harvest her cassava and vegetables, she smells the stench of crude oil.

The reporters and a fisherman soaked in crude oil who had returned from the contaminated river in Goi. Photo by Ile Umoru

“We don’t have anything to eat. Farmers farm on lands filled with crude and have no choice but to eat the contaminated produce. Families are forced to eat the chemicals from the spills,” she said.

According to the Center for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), oil spills could lead to a 60% reduction in household food security and is capable of reducing the ascorbic acid content of vegetables by as much as 36% and the crude protein content of cassava by 40%, which could result in a 24% increase in the prevalence of childhood malnutrition.

Besides the contamination of rivers and farmlands, the communities’ sources of drinking water, which are mainly underground water and streams, have also been contaminated. Goi has a stream where the people collect water to drink. The stream which pathway is now bushy no longer receives visitors to fetch and drink from.

Contaminated stream where people go to fetch drinking water at Goi. Photo by Ile Umoru

“If you fetch the water and pour in a glass cup, you will see crude oil inside. We are drinking poison here,” lamented Dooh.

Exposure to toxic substances

Petroleum hydrocarbons can enter the body through the air, food, and water, or when one accidentally eats or touches soil or sediment that is contaminated with oil. Crude oil contains a significant amount of aromatic compounds including Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene, and Xylenes (BTEX), which are the most dangerous gaseous elements of crude oil and poses the risk of acute or chronic toxicity in humans during its production, distribution, and use.

In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report on the impact of the oil spill on the communities in Ogoniland after the federal government hired its services to assess the extent of the oil spills.

The report revealed an appalling level of pollution, including the contamination of agricultural land and fisheries, drinking water, and the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people to serious health risks.

It revealed drinking water from wells in communities in Ogoniland was contaminated with benzene, a known carcinogen at levels over 900 times above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline.

Before oil was discovered in Bodo community, Emma Pii, chairman council of village heads, said the people were living a peaceful life and the economy was buoyant. But with the discovery of oil, they started living in bondage.

Fishermen inside the contaminated river at Goi. Photo by Ile Umoru

“Instead of oil to be a blessing, it became a curse to us,” said Pii. “What Shell has done is to take our oil and make money from it while the people who own the oil are suffering.”

It’s a terrible moment for the people of Ogoni who now live with the consequences of mistakes that were not their doing.

Eleven years after the major oil spills that rocked the oil-producing communities, their health is now failing them. They complain of symptoms, of which they do not know the underlying cause.

Oil spills release certain harmful chemicals such as benzene and toluene. Benzene is a known carcinogen while toluene can cause kidney and liver damage. Many spills also cause fires, which release toxic fumes that can cause respiratory problems.

Blood Tests

Each year, hundreds of post-impact assessment studies are conducted to assess the impact of the hazards generated by the oil industry on the social environment and human health due to oil spills. The reporters decided to do blood testing to determine how oil spills impact the health of the people of Ogoni.

Blood samples taken for laboratory investigation on the effect of oil spill in Ogoni. Photo by Ile Umoru

The reporters consulted Dr. Olawale Shipeolu, a medical doctor in Port Harcourt who recommended we carry out blood tests to check the kidney and liver functions of the people.

Chukwunonso Okoye, a clinical lab scientist with the Union Diagnostics and Clinical Services, traveled with the reporters to Ogoniland to take blood samples of 50 non-smoking and non-drinking volunteers from Bodo, Goi, K-Dere, and Mogho communities. The collected samples were then taken to the lab’s headquarters in Lagos for analyses.

Full Blood Count (FBC), electrotype urea and creatinine (e/u/cr) and Liver Function Test (LFT) were conducted on 50 blood samples drawn from 26 males and 24 females, including youths and adults.

Based on the results generated by the Union diagnostics and clinical service, no electrolytes were deranged, indicating nothing was happening with the kidneys. However, the results showed some level of derangements of liver enzymes.

The laboratory scientist drawing a blood sample for investigation. Photo by Ile Umoru

Out of 50 people sampled, 38 people representing 76% of the total number were found to have elevated Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and 18 people representing 36% of the population had elevated Alanine transaminase (ALT).

The United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2008 put the reference range for Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), an enzyme found primarily in the liver and kidney at 11-47 U/L for males over 20 years and 7-30 U/L for females of the same age.

CDC in 2012 also put the reference range of Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) at 13-38 U/L for 10 to 20 years of age and 13-33 U/L for 20 years and above for both genders.

Based on the results, more than half of the volunteers had their unit levels higher than the CDC reference range.

The laboratory scientist drawing blood samples from the people of Goi. Photo by Ile Umoru

With their consent, Stephen Kpea had an elevated AST of 253 U/L and ALT of 107 U/L while Clement Glogo had an elevated AST level of 164 U/L.

Young people within the age of 18 – 25 also had elevated liver enzymes. 19-year-old Gbogbara Barriduula had an elevated AST of 60 U/L while 20-year-old Happiness Sunday had an elevated AST of 62 U/L and ALT of 79 U/L.

On the other hand, results for direct bilirubin showed that 22 people representing 44% had elevated direct bilirubin; 11 people representing 22% of the population had elevated total bilirubin while none had an elevated alkaline phosphatase.

According to the Union Diagnostics, total bilirubin normal levels fall between 0.3 and 1.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Anything above 1.2 mg/dL is usually considered high while direct bilirubin level is less than 0.4 mg/dl.

For example, Lucky Yira’s total bilirubin and direct bilirubin were 8.0 mg/dl and 3.9 mg/dl respectively.

“Such elevated liver enzymes may indicate damage to the liver cells and such patients might be prone to liver disease,” said Dr. Festus Davies of the Sapphire Health Group.

The test results showing the effect of the oil spills in the liver cells. Credit: Olaseun Oladosu

A study published in the Journal of Hepatology by Dr. Kezhong Zhang of the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics and his team discovered that exposure to airborne particulate matter in fine ranges (PM 2.5) has a direct adverse health effect on the liver and causes hepatic fibrosis, an illness associated with metabolic disease and liver cancer.

Also, research by Kesava Reddy and Mark D’Andrea of the University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers, Houston, Texas, linked elevated AST and ALT to exposure to toxic substances due to oil spills.

“That is the effect of the environment,” said Dooh, when he learnt he had an elevated AST.

“Any young man who wants to [continue to] stay here will definitely not see tomorrow.”

Migration looms

At 60, Dooh still remembers how his parents suffered and died due to diseases caused by the oil spills. Dooh’s anger was felt through his voice as he spoke.

Houses in Goi have been deserted as residents run for survival. While some migrated to Port Harcourt, others migrated to neighbouring communities.

Dooh now lives with his family in a small bungalow in Bodo having been asked to leave Goi by UNEP to protect themselves.

“We are migrating,” said Pii. “We are refugees because when the means of livelihood of the people have been destroyed and you do not have what to sustain you, you have to migrate to where you can do something to survive.”

89-year-old Tudor Tomii is from Goi community but now lives in Bodo due to the oil spills that ravaged his community.

The laboratory scientist drawing a blood sample from a sick woman in K-Dere. Photo by Ile Umoru

“Here I am living in diaspora because of oil pollution. We can’t eat anything we plant there. We order anything we eat from Port Harcourt. We buy water from outside Ogoniland. Normally we drink from streams. Since the stream is polluted, we don’t have anywhere to drink from,” he lamented.

Compensation to the communities

The people of Bodo have been compensated by Shell after they filed a case in the United Kingdom, where Shell is incorporated. Shell accepted the responsibility for the oil spills in Bodo. The parties settled in 2015 and US$83.4 million, 82 percent short of their original demand of US$454.9 million was paid to the people of Bodo.

Pii said every indigene of Bodo who was 18 years or above received N600,000. But they are still not satisfied because the oil spill is yet to be cleaned.

Goi, Mogho, and K-Dere are hoping to be compensated by Shell for destroying their livelihood. K-Dere had filed a case for compensation in a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt against Shell for the havoc caused on its land.

But Shell said it can only pay compensation to communities whose oil spills occurred as a result of operational failure and not spills caused by sabotage and vandalism.

“The majority of the spill recorded in the Niger Delta, including in Ogoniland were as a result of sabotage and vandalism,” said Shell’s spokesperson Bamildele Odugbesan.

“Every operational spill with impact is what we pay compensation for and if there is no impact, we don’t pay. Our pipelines have continued to suffer third party interference.”

A contaminated oil spill site at K-Dere community. Photo by Ile Umoru

Slow cleanup exercise

UNEP in 2011 said the environmental restoration of Ogoniland was possible but could take 25 to 30 years if a comprehensive clean up exercise could begin immediately. It recommended the creation of an Environmental Restoration Fund (ERF) for Ogoniland with a capital of USD 1billion, to be co-funded by the federal government, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Shell for the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland and restoration of livelihoods of people in impacted communities.

A year later, the Nigerian government established the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project (HYPREP), an agency under the ministry of the environment with the mandate to implement the environmental clean-up programme in Ogoniland.

In 2016, the government then launched a USD 1 billion clean-up and restoration programme of the Ogoniland, with $200 million to be released every year. But the cleanup exercise did not kick off immediately.

UNEP said continued delay in the implementation of the recommendations will not only undermine the livelihoods of the Ogoni communities. But it will also cause the pollution footprint to expand, requiring a fresh investigation to rescope the place and determine the extent of the contamination. Ogoniland is a high rainfall area and the spill has been carried across farmlands and into creeks and the root zone to other areas.

The cleanup exercise later took off in 2019, eight years after UNEP’s recommendation. So far, the sum of $360 million has been released to HYPREP out of which less than $30 million has been spent.

But the cleanup exercise has been slow. 

“The cleanup may not be successful,” said Kobah.

“The speed of the cleanup is so slow that the desired results will not be achieved. Since 2011, this place has remained contaminated. This is what the people have been living all through their lives with. This is suicide. The people have been crying and complaining.”

Crude oil moving on water at the river in Goi. Photo by Ile Umoru

HYPREP said it is only following due process to have a successful cleanup exercise. Being quick without observing the rules, according to HYPREP, will be the reverse side of the slowness bad coin and that will be counterproductive.

“The Ogoniland cleanup project is not slow, it is on course and going at a pace that standard remediation practice allows,” said HYPREP’s spokesperson Joseph Kpoobari Nafo.

Sam Kabari, an environmental expert and a lecturer at the Nigerian Maritime University, Delta State, disagrees. He sees the drag as a bureaucracy every government agency experiences in the procurement and civil service processes. He believes HYPREP will only achieve its mandate if it functions independently.

“We wanted an independent HYPREP that would own its processes and take critical decisions towards achieving its aims and mandates itself. HYPREP should be in charge of its funds, decisions and day-to-day running,” he suggested.

Dooh accused HYPREP of only cleaning less impacted sites, leaving the highly impacted areas. But HYPREP said the highly impacted sites are not being cleaned yet because they are complex sites, which will be difficult to clean by any of the Nigerian contractors.

According to HYPREP Project Coordinator Marvin Deekil, “We are coming to the highly impacted areas. We need more detailed and extensive work in delivering those sites. That is why we had further strategic meetings in Geneva with UNEP so that we can come up with a better way of addressing those sites. We need international contractors.”

Declare state of emergency in Ogoniland? 

The people of Ogoni want the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the region to cleanup the entire affected areas.

“With what we have seen here, what we have passed through, what has happened to our children, the elderly and pregnant women, we want the government to declare a state of emergency in Ogoniland,” Pii said.

He said the emergency measures such as the construction of hospitals and providing alternative sources of water for the affected communities have not been done, putting the health of the people at risk.

Emma Pii, Chairman, Bodo Council of Village Heads at the spill site. Photo by Ile Umoru

Kabari, who is the Head of the environmental and conservation unit of CEHRD described UNEP’s inability to implement the emergency measures as unacceptable. He said the emergency measures were supposed to have been implemented before the actual remediation activities began.

“Stakeholders are yet to see the provision of portable drinking water in communities where the groundwater was significantly impacted. Stakeholders are, however, doubtful of HYPREP’s understanding of the UNEP report given the misplaced priority of sequence of the UNEP report implementation,” he said.

“Water for Ogoni is almost there,” said Deekil.

“This year [2020], we told you there will be water in the communities. That is the commitment the government is keeping and we are working very hard to ensure it happens. We are going to be seeing the [water] contractors in the communities very soon.”

To avoid future oil spills, Shell said it has taken effective steps. For the last seven years, Odegbesan said Shell has replaced 1,300 kilometers of its pipelines, including in Ogoniland.

“We also monitor the pipelines to ensure nothing is happening to them. If something is happening to them, we can respond swiftly. We have helicopters with high definition aerial cameras hovering over our assets daily to capture the illegal activity of our pipeline. We have intensified our campaign among the local people not to go near oil facilities and engage the public on the danger of pipeline vandalism”, he said.

Dooh is sad the cleanup exercise has not been effective as expected. He believes until the people are compensated and HYPREP follows UNEP recommendations as instructed, Ogoniland cannot be restored.

“If the cleanup becomes effective, people will go back to the communities and start living well,” said Dooh. But if the cleanup is not successful, Ogoni people will continue to suffer.”

 

This investigation was supported by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and Microsoft Modern Journalism.

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