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‘Government agencies, others fuelling air pollution in Port Harcourt’

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Konya

Rivers State Commissioner for Environment, Prof. Roseline Konya says Federal Government agencies, including the military are contributing their quota to polluting the air in the state. She told ANN GODWIN in Port Harcourt that despite this, the state government is willing to work with it to solve the problem.

How worried is the state government about the unending black soot that has enveloped Port Harcourt and its environs?
The Rivers State government is definitely not happy that the soot has persisted, but you know it is not a thing that is controlled by man, it is a thing that is in the atmosphere and I have always insisted that all pollutions evolve from human activities. The only pollution that is not from human activities is that, which comes about as a result of natural disaster, even though some could have been remotely caused by human activities. 

Having said that, let me add that as a government, we are not relenting in investigations to unravel all the sources of black soot. We are now taking samples in more stations as part of the exercise.

Let me place on record that the state government has been sensitising the army, navy, and the civil defence by telling them that they should stop setting ablaze the products seized from illegal bunkers, because when they set those things ablaze, you need to see the smoke that comes from it. It takes about three days to clear, and not that when it clears it is clearing from the atmosphere. No. So, we have been to all of these agencies and have discussed the methods they should employ in getting rid of these stolen crude. We have been to Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and even to the refinery. The smoke that comes out from the refinery has been so much. Presently, even the Federal Government and oil companies have not taken a decision when they are going to stop gas flaring because a lot of obnoxious gases are also coming out from the flare. Clearly, it is not the best to inhale these emissions. 

Many are of the view that the state government has not done enough to stop the black soot. Do you think otherwise?
The state government has not done enough, that is why we are taking such samplings and are also measuring the air quality index of Port Harcourt right now because when we measure the air quality index, we will be able to inform the public what the value is, and to know exactly where the pollution is coming from. We have started a new phase in this endeavour.

On April 26, the Minister of State for Environment came to Port Harcourt and we had a meeting. Right now, we are waiting for the names of those that will be in the inter-ministerial committee on black soot. The Federal Government should also rise and assist the state government in its efforts to rid the state of black soot. It should also combat effectively, the issue of stolen crude.

On April 29, Port Harcourt was declared the most polluted city in the world, does that worry the state government?
Is Port Harcourt more polluted than Beijing in China that is widely known as the most polluted city in the world? I don’t know the measurement those that passed that verdict used in carrying out their assessment, but I don’t think that experiment is correct. You know in these days of social media and the Internet, there are lots of false information being passed around, but I don’t see any city that is as polluted as Beijing in China. However, currently, we are doing an air quality index measurement. Apart from the one that we are doing this rainy season, we will do another one in the dry season to ascertain the quality.

You have called on the Federal Government to assist in getting rid of the soot, but how will state government partner the Federal Government when the need arises?
If the state government was not willing to work with the Federal Government, it would not have invited it because I know the Federal Ministry of Environment had a conference in Abeokuta last year and this issue was discussed extensively, and after the discussion, the minister said that an inter-ministerial committee would be formed. Governor Nyesom Wike has consistently said it that this matter must involve the Federal Government because all the parastals and agencies causing these black soot are all its agencies, so they should come to our aid. In other words we are ready to cooperate and work with the Federal Government to tackle the soot.  

The former governorship candidate of the APC, Dakuku Peterside, recently blamed the state government for causing the problem because it has failed to create jobs for youths.
We all are old enough to know that unemployment has always been there and so we cannot say everybody is justified. It is just like someone being caught stealing and another trying to justify that it is because he is jobless. The Federal Government came in to say that it is going to legalise modular refinery so that bunkers will be migrated into an organised sector, where they would operate legitimately, but we have not seen anything like that till now.  So, we cannot justify that polluting the environment is good because the youths don’t have jobs. That is very wrong. I am in sympathy with the youths, who do not have jobs because all over the world youths when they do not have jobs react in one way or the other, but this administration is concerned, and Governor Wike is doing a lot to ensure that youths are empowered and engaged.

What options did you discuss with these security agencies as against burning recovered products?
What they should do is whenever there is such seizure of illegal crude, the military should take it to the DPR for it to analyse the content and return to the original source. But the military said that each time they call on the DPR, the agency would complain that their vehicles have broken down among other excuses, and there is nowhere to keep the products. We went to the DPR and they admitted that sometimes their vehicles break down. They also noted that they are ready to analyse these recovered products. So as it stands, we do not know who is saying the truth. We have told the military our position about setting ablaze these products, as against what was being done before, but unfortunately, we still see them setting these products ablaze around, and that is the problem. If all of us can cooperate, we will not have a problem.

It is not just the illegal bunkering, or the refinery that are causing this, the setting ablaze of recovered crude; the international oil companies (IOC’s) are still flaring gas, and even the burning of tyres even though we are not seeing much of the burning of tyres again because we have been going round arresting those that are into it. This is part of our efforts and we are not relenting.

Experts are of the view that the declaration of a state of emergency in the environment and health sectors in the state, at this point in time, would not be out of place?
Well, I don’t think I am in a position to take that decision, but all I know is that in this political era, once anybody says state of emergency anywhere, you see somebody will rise up and make a meal of it and convert it into something else. My appeal is that everybody should cooperate, we have even met with the traditional institution, and urged them to discourage their people from getting involved in illegal oil activities and they promised us that they will do that.  

How does the state government see protests by interest groups and residents over the soot issue?
Well, this is a free world, if you are aggrieved about something, you are free to protest against it, so long as your protest is not violent. There was a protest and it was a peaceful one and they made their demands and their demands are being looked into. The state government is working on their demands and also appealing to the Federal Government to assist. So, residents should be calm and rest assured that we would do our best, and are working hard to ensure that it does not continue for long. And I want to let our young men that are into bunkering business to know that they too are inhaling the same air that is killing people gradually and prematurely.  
 


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