On a certain day during my fellowship at the International Institute for Journalism, IIJ, Berlin, I went to a shop to buy a pair of shoes. While there, I found out that nearly all of the shoes in some of the shops were Chinese and of very good quality. In my Nigeria, you are the butt of jokes if you were to be found with anything Chinese or chinko – phones, shirts, shoes, building materials and the like. The Chinese are famous for having one village producing all the buttons the entire universe needs for our shirts and trousers. In 2001 when I first encountered the Chinatown in Ikoyi Lagos, there was nothing you were looking for you’d not find there – from Aso Ebi to lace materials to all kinds of fabric which were supposed to be produced here in Nigeria. Nearly everything there is low-standard or made for the African market. But the Chinese did not stop with the sale of our own textiles. They took over the textile industry, and here’s how they did it: they would simply scan the cloth density and quality from here to Beijing and before you could say ninhao, bales and bales of Aso Ebi and lace would flood the market. The way things are now, there’s virtually no market or shopping mall you’d go to in Nigeria today which isn’t flooded with inferior Chinese apparel, electronics and building materials.
So before I paid for my Chinese-German stiletto, I asked the shop attendant why all the shoes in his shop were Chinese. He told me the cost of shoe production in Germany is high, and that such items were preferably imported rather than manufactured. So I told him that our people import these items as well; what guarantee was he giving me that I wouldn’t be buying the same inferior shoe I would pick up in China town in Ikoyi in Germany anyways? ‘Our governments and the EU set the standards for any commodity entering here. If the commodity does not meet the taste and standard set by the EU, there’s no way in hell that those items will enter Germany’, he told me. I picked up the shoe, paid for it and left. It turned out to be very good quality stiletto.
That is the reverse of what happens here. While the EU stipulates the standard of good and commodities which should enter Europe, our people, not the government, travel to China and tell the Chinese to produce inferior goods and commodities for the Nigerian market. They tell the Chinese that Nigeria is the largest market in Africa, and if they produce goods of value, their business interests in that large market will suffocate and die. That is why the textile markets in both Kano and Edo states have died an unnatural death.
A World Health Organization Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database (update 2016) says that four cities in Nigeria – Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna and Umuahia – are the most polluted cities in Nigeria today. Lagos and the Niger Delta were not mentioned and I wonder why. But really, why is this happening and why are our brothers in Kaduna and the East going to suffer air pollution from fumes from vehicles and machines for manufacturing? To the first question – why, is that our people are colluding with certain unscrupulous commodity traders in the European Union to deliberately import cheap and toxic fuel to Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Those involved make money at the expense of the health of Nigerians. A report by the WHO has said that more than 3 million people died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD in 2012, which is equal to 6% of all deaths globally in the year 2012. According to that report, 90% of these deaths occur in Africa and mostly in Nigeria. These diseases are caused by fumes from tobacco and inhalations of fumes from vehicles in urban areas which use toxic fuels from some EU countries. The report says people living in these cities are prone to acute respiratory diseases like asthma and are more likely to suffer from stroke, heart disease and lung cancer. The second thing is that it is in these cities that you are more likely to get Nigerians going to meet the Chinese and their EU collabos to sneak in these gooey fuels. It is in these cities you experience a lot of manufacturing and dense economic activities needing cheap fuel.
But I believe that the issues of air pollution are by far weightier in the Niger Delta where gas has been flared for more than three decades non-stop. When the first agitations by the Niger Delta militants fighting over ‘environmental degradation’ during the Yar’Adua ensued, I visited Kwale in Delta State to see the extent of the degradation that the militants were fighting about. What I saw and experienced sobered me, what Franny Armstrong captured in her movie, The Age of Stupid (2008). First, because gas was being flared on a consistent keel, the heat in the afternoon was nearing 160 degrees. Houses and communities living any closer to the pipelines bearing gas or crude were daily subject to a certain evil stench that made me dizzy. Then I looked in the faces of the women and children who lived by the flares and the lines – the effects of air pollution was there but nothing prepared me for what came next. Suddenly it began to rain. Nobody brought out pots and pans to collect the rain water as we in Africa mostly do. ‘Why?’ I asked the lady nearby. Without a word, she picked up a basin from her hut where I was hiding from the rain and put it outside. In no time it was filled. Then she pointed at the basin as if beckoning me to look closer and I did. Just by the rinds of the basin, I could see something looking like grease, which had coagulated on the sides of the basin…and it had come from the clouds.
Part of the reason the Nigerian and state governments must move swiftly to begin to regulate the kinds of fuels which find their way into Nigeria is the health implication. But above all we must realize that climate change is realer than real. We may assume that agitations in the Niger Delta have an irrelevant undertone but the underlying dangers of allowing dirty fuel into Nigeria, and continuing to flare gas in the Niger Delta is one of the reasons the Paris COP 21 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC, reached an agreement recently. In words and in deed, we must accelerate and intensify actions and investments that would lead to sustainable low a carbon future.
Etemiku, IIJ Berlin Fellow, is communications manager, ANEEJ.