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Rivers black soot: Stakeholders seek clean air bill to end foggy skies

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Clean air summit

Reducing black soot in Port Harcourt and indeed the Niger Delta region would not just save lives, but would also attract investments and boost the country’s economy.

Of late, there has been increased advocacies in Rivers State particularly, all aimed at drawing government’s attention and that of relevant agencies to the

For instance, apart from the “Stop the Soot” protest, which has been going on for a while now, there was also street-to-street sensitisation on the menace.

The coming on stream of the Port Harcourt City Clean Air Movement, was followed by radio programmes, dramas and the emergence of a Whatsapp group to raise awareness on the deadly hydrocarbon.

Penultimate week, a one-day Clean Air Summit held in Port Harcourt, at the behest of Citizens for Information and Development Initiative (CIDI), Enviromental Rights Action, and others.

The summit was aimed at creating and building a template for systematic, coordinated, result-oriented and science-based approach to dealing with the soot.

The summit was also targeted at exploring, learning and adopting best practices and policies that would reduce air pollution.

At the summit, stakeholders in the Niger Delta called for the establishment of Clean Air Bill to address the life threatening emissions.

The bill, according to stakeholders would advance the process of reducing poor air pollution in the region and beyond.

In a paper titled; “The Port Harcourt Black Soot Phenomenon: Causes and Effects on Public Health and Environment,” Dr. Ferdinand Giadom, of the Department of Geology, University of Port Harcourt, regretted the ecological damages, increase in health hazards, rapid deterioration of amenities such as roofing sheets, car chassis, reduction in the aesthetic value of homes amongst others brought about by black soot.

He said, “In the face of the prevailing circumstances, we cannot throw up our hands in the air and exclaim, ‘holala! It calls for immediate action from both government and the citizenry.

First, government should institute and enforce the ‘Clean Air Act,’ which safeguards air quality and targets the abatement of air pollution from all sources.

“There should be deliberate policies at reducing emissions from flare stacks, artisanal refineries, tyre burning, asphalt, abattoirs, vehicular emissions and all other sources of combustion,” the lecturer said.

He continued: “The reality of the times we live in imposes it on us, and the government, the need to establish an Air Quality Management Authority (AQMA), whose primary responsibility should include the development of ways and means of real time monitoring and documentation of the air quality index at various parts of the area.”

An environmental lawyer, Uche Onyeagocha, in his remarks also stressed the need for putting in place, and enforcing the Clean Air Bill, adding that time for this was long overdue.

While pointing out that there was presently no such bill at both the state and national levels, the rights activist warned that the continuous absence of such a bill would continue to worsen the living conditions of people of the area, as well as, facilitate continuous deterioration of air quality and by extension the environment.

Onyeagocha, a former member of the House of Representatives regretted that the state and federal governments have not been playing discordant tunes on issues of clean air and black soot.

“It is disheartening that there is no existing Clean Air Act to help address this pollution challenge, and it is important to note that the act will help tackle every source of air pollution,” Onyeagocha stated.

Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in Rivers State, Dr. Datonye Alasie, described as worrisome, the effect of black soot on the health of the people, calling for synergy and collective action to fight the scourge.

On his part, the Chairman, Rivers State House of Assembly House Committee Chairman on Environment, Christian Ahiakwo, who described the summit as timely, informed that a Clean Air bill was underway.

He assured that the lawmakers would give it accelerated hearing and passage when they receive it.

He blamed the Federal Government for playing politics with the soot challenge, saying “billions of naira was released by the Federal Government at the centre for water project in the North East few weeks after such call was made, but the issue of black soot in the area has been on for over two years and the Federal Government has maintained silence.”

The gradual deterioration of the region constitutes a source of worry to the Zonal Controller, Department for Petroleum Resources, Port Harcourt, Dr. Ibani Frank-Briggs, who said the people of the Niger Delta region can no longer harvest plenty sea foods, including fishes, periwinkles and the rest.

In his submission at the summit, Frank-Briggs called for increased sensitisation and mobilisation towards eradicating the soot, warning that it might go beyond the borders of the Niger Delta if nothing serious was done urgently.

Former Vice Chancellor of Rivers State University of Science and Technology Prof Barineme Fakae, who shared Frank-Briggs’ view, cautioned against seeing the soot as a Port Harcourt challenge, hence the need for collective action.

The Chief Organiser of “Stop the Soot” campaign, Eugene Abels, charged medical practitioners in the state to carry out exhaustive investigation, documentation and collation of data of cases of respiratory ailments, noting that the presentation of such statistics to the government and members of the public domain would elicit some actions.

He claimed that seven out of 10 deaths in Port Harcourt were cancer related.

From Constance Meju, a Niger Delta activist, came a warning that anyone who is insensitive to the plight of the people of the region should not expect their votes come 2019.

She said, the people of the area ought to be a relevant factor in the consciousness of the Nigerian government considering their contributions to the nation’s economy.


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