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Dangerous fumes: ‘Government failed to protect us’, Ogijo community cries out

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Some of The Residents Of The Area

To a first-time visitor, Ajose community in Ogijo area of Ogun State would appear as having been struck by the Ebola virus, as residents go about with facemasks covering their noses. However, it is not the dreaded virus that has afflicted the community, rather, it is a dangerous fume from a steel factory— African Foundries Ltd. that is making them behave this way.

According to the residents, the emission from the factory has become unbearable and is wreaking havoc on their health. This, they find hard to understand, as they are aware of the enactment of the 1991 National Environment Protection Regulations, which prohibits the release of hazardous substances into the air, land or water in Nigeria beyond approved limits.

The community, therefore, expressed disappointment that National Environment Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) and such other agencies responsible for enforcing this regulation have done nothing to stop the pollution despite receiving several petitions made to them.

Alhaji Fatai Shekoni, one of the community leaders, said: “We have been on the matter since 2011. We’ve been writing petitions to the effect since 2013. We wrote to all ministries concerned, including Federal Ministry of Works, Ogun State Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environment (NESREA), but we have not got any tangible response.”

A copy of the letter from NESREA South West Zonal Office, dated February 19, 2015 and made available to The Guardian, acknowledged the pollution complaint from the community. In the letter signed by NESREA Director South West, Engr. O. Sode, the community chairmen were invited for a meeting on February 23, 2015.

“We also received similar letter from Ogun State Environmental Protection Agency, among others,” explained Alhaji Shekoni. “All of them invited us for meetings. But after all these meetings, nothing has been done, no action has been taken and we are still suffering.”

So, after years of waiting for government intervention and nothing is forthcoming, the community has finally dragged the company to court. “Since the court is the last hope of the common man, we hope we will get the justice we are seeking there,” Shekoni said.

When The Guardian visited the community, black smoke was covering the area, making it appear as if nightfall had descended on the entire community, even though it was broad daylight. The noise emanating from the factory was also deafening and some of the residents also had protective masks on their ears.

Yusuf Olasunkanmi, General Secretary, Afisuru Community Development Association, Ogijo, Ogun State, said he had to move from his home due to the smoke and noise. He said: “I had to move with my family to a rented room in Ikorodu because of the noise. Those of us living close to the factory fence have deserted our homes. The smoke made my children sick. It affected their breathing and they also complained of eye pain. I had to take them to Ikorodu General Hospital for treatment. There is also heavy noise, the vibration has cracked the walls of our houses.”

Other residents said several of their relatives have been hospitalised on account of inhaling the devastating smoke from the factory.Michael Ikukoyi, a resident, said: “I moved here with my family about two years ago due to the incessant rent increase in Lagos. But I must confess I never envisaged the health hazard the factory constitutes to the people through its lack of human feeling. The smoke from the factory always drifts across the community and it has affected my health and those of other residents. The tunnel, which is supposed to lead the smoke out into the air, is faulty, so the smoke goes into our homes.”

It is also alleged that many residents of the community have contracted asthma and tuberculosis, among other respiratory infections due to the unchecked carbon dioxide emission from the company.

Another resident, A. Ashafa, said: “Once, there was a big blast from the factory, reminiscent of the Ikeja Cantonment bomb blast of 2002. Initially, I thought armed robbers had besieged us, as the vibration shook the houses to their foundations.”

Alhaji Shekoni, continued: “If you come here as early as 7am, you will see things for yourself. As I speak to you now, I have serious cough arising from the fumes. I had to send my wife and children to Lagos, so they won’t contract asthma and tuberculosis. I would really want government to look into this.”

He said after their complaint to the company, its officials organised medical tests for the residents, but has refused to give them the result months after the exercise.“They took our blood samples after series of health complaints about two years ago, but have refused to show us the results. By the time we went to another hospital, we discovered that many of us had developed asthma, chronic cough and other diseases,” he explained.

Another resident said: “The smoke from the factory is supposed to go through the chimney but it does not. Rather, it blows directly into the atmosphere, enveloping the whole town in complete darkness during the day. A visitor to the community would think it is a total eclipse of the sun, but to us residents of Ajose, it is an everyday thing.”

Chairman, Ajose Community Development Association, Akanni Jamiu, said: “This pollution has been going on for about four years now, since inception of the company.“Right now, we are in court against African Foundries because of the nuisance they are causing in our areas. Since 2013, we have been holding series of meeting with them, inviting series of government officials to assist us, but nothing has been done. At the end of the day, we had to take them to court.”

He said the management of African Foundries signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the community in September 2012 to address the pollution, but has not kept the promise. He expressed hope that the court will help solve this issue.

We just want them to take care of their wastes, and if they don’t have immediate solution, then they should leave the place for us, Chairman Afisuru LCDA, Ajiwoye Oluwafemi, said.

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing the community, Barr. Lawrence Ajewole, explained that the first defendant (African Foundries) is considering outside court settlement. He said: “So, if they can reach a compromise, then the case will be settled. If not, the case will continue in court.”

When contacted, the company’s head of administration, Michael Aderemi, said the factory is committed to finding a lasting solution to the menace. “Of all the 26 steel companies in Ogijo, we are the only company that has installed a shredding machine that is fully functional to control pollution. We also installed air pollution machine, which controls all the air pollutants by removing them,” he said.


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