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  Port Harcourt, Rivers State’s most developed city and the home to several oil-exploration firms in Nigeria is practically one of the most unhealthy and hazardous places to live in Nigeria, right now. This is not because the city is troubled by terrorists, bandits, or killer herdsmen as we see in the northeast and middle belt areas of Nigeria, but the city’s air is the most polluted in Nigeria.
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Walking on the busy streets of Port Harcourt, it is common to see the atmosphere blanketed with soot. If you are driving around the city in the evening, you might see balls of smoke afar off, building up a large body of blackness in the clouds. This is as a result of the oil exploration carried out by both legal and illegal state and non-state actors. Aside from this, other factors have been identified as the causes of air pollution in Port Harcourt and adjoining villages and communities within the state. Some of these causes include artisanal refining of crude oil, burning of confiscated crude oil, industrial sources, gas flaring, burning of waste, increasing use of generators, construction activities, motor vehicle exhaust, etc. However, soot pollution has been traced to majorly oil exploration and gas flares. According to previous reports, residents claimed that they often breathed in and breathed out oil soot, and they often sneeze out oil soot from their nostrils. The consequences of air pollution have led to cough, irritation to eyes/nose/throat, skin irritation, worsening of already existing allergies, breathlessness, poor or blurry vision, worsening symptoms of already existing asthma, already existing bronchitis, worsening already existing lung cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution constitutes the largest among all of the environmental risks: 3 million annual deaths are associated with outdoor air pollution exposure. In 2012 alone, 11.6 percent of global deaths, equivalent to 6.5 million deaths were outdoor air pollution-related. 94% of the approximately 90% of air pollution-related deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries are as a result of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and lung cancer. Industrial activities constitute a principal source of air pollution.
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Diepriye Joe, a resident of Buguma town in the Asari-Toru Local Government Area of the state, reported:
“I treat cough and catarrh every week. My children are always developing coughs even in the heat. A doctor told me to always close my door and window at night. How can that work when I don’t have an air-conditioner. That is why I am begging the state government to do something before soot kills us. We have been told that the effects on our health could give us lung diseases but we are helpless.’’
Several residents in the state claimed that illegal oil bunkering is the major cause of soot in the state. In 2016, soot pollution reached an alarming state, and it drew the attention of the world. In a bid to combat the situation, a media campaign was carried out by activists, scholars, and all and sundry. The campaign was carried out under the codename: #StopTheSoot. Since then, the attention of stakeholders has been drawn to the prevailing and constant abuse of the atmosphere by oil bunkers.

The Way Out

Presently, there seem to be so much illegal oil bunkering by community youths in the state, which has, of course, become a social vice. The first way to eliminate and clean up the polluted air is to create alternative and lucrative jobs for the youths. Secondly, there should be an environmental monitoring team that will involve the national, state, and local governments in ensuring that industries engage in best practices of oil exploration. Also, industries that are guilty of polluting the air should be prosecuted by designated agencies and government personnel. Thirdly, those engaged in illegal oil bunkering, whether as local artisans or foreigners, should be tried and prosecuted by the law. Laws for oil theft and oil bunkering should be severe to discourage such endeavours in the future. Fourthly, there is a need for government to mount surveillance on areas where pipelines are located to keep an eye on illegal oil bunkering. The Nigerian army or a special defence force should be saddled with the responsibility of protecting pipelines. Fifthly, there is a need to increase campaigns against unhealthy oil exploration and its impact on the environment. Also, sensitize people on the negative implication of air pollution such as pulmonary diseases, lung and skin cancer, asthma, internal, and external irritation, etc. These campaigns should be carried out in all levels of academic institutions, religious centres, on the streets, in both traditional and new media, and private and public workplaces. Featured Image Source: BBC
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This article was first published on 23rd December 2021


Nnaemeka is an academic scholar with a degree in History and International Studies from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He is also a creative writer, content creator, storyteller, and social analyst.

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