Thursday, September 15, 2016

Foul Air for Sweet Nigerian crude

In 1988 an Italian company came under the cover of night and dumped highly toxic nuclear waste in Koko, a port in Delta State. Most of us were mere children then, unaware what that hue and cry was. But it was a good hue and cry, as I began to understand much later.  

In April 1986, two years before the Koko Affair, one of the worst examples of the destructive impact of nuclear power hit Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Till date, the radioactive consequences of that nuclear disaster are still being felt. Then much later I found out as well that one of the reasons the Italians dumped nuclear waste in Nigeria is probably because nobody even now has been able to find a solution to the nuclear waste problem.

At that time that that Koko incident took place, the Nigerian government swung into action. We made the Italians come pick up their thrash and thereafter took preventive measures:  the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, FEPA, was set up to oversee an enforcement and administration of environmental laws in Nigeria. That agency was eventually backed up with the Harmful Wastes Act, 1988, to deal specifically with illegal dumping of harmful wastes. I do not know the extent to which these agencies of government have fulfilled their mandate. But a recent report by the World Economic Forum, WEF, has said that of the 20 most air-polluted cities and towns in the world, twelve of them – Onitsha, Kaduna, Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Nsukka, Enugu, Ile-Ife, Abakaliki, Afikpo, Nnewi and Orlu - 10 of them are in the South Eastern Nigeria.

How did it come to this? Stealthily and through air from dirty fuels - according to a Public Eye, PE, 2016 Report titled: Dirty Diesel – How Swiss Traders Flood Africa with Toxic Fuels, Swiss commodity trading companies take advantage of fragile fuel standards in Africa to deliberately produce, deliver and sell dangerous diesel and fuel to certain countries in Africa. Nigeria is a major dump – one of the companies responsible for this – Vitol - is a major shareholder in Oando Nigeria and controls over 400 petrol stations in Nigeria.  Vitol is one of the nine companies which submitted bids for the construction of new refineries in Nigeria. In a Public Eye fact sheet on Nigeria, another one of these dirty fuel importers to West Africa, Mercuria, expressed strong interest in 2015 to invest over one billion dollars in Forte Oil, and has entered into an exclusive agreement with Forte Oil to acquire up to 17 percent of Forte Oil shares.

According to the PE Report, these Swiss Traders have strong links and connections in the import and distribution chain of petroleum products in many African countries. They use an industry practice called blending, wherein they mix cheap but poisonous intermediate petroleum products – not from refineries - to produce what the industry calls African Quality fuels. TheseSwiss traders typically sell fuels with a sulphur level of up to 27 times the European standard for gasoline and close to 400 times the European standard for diesel’, the report said.  Recall that in 2015 just after the inception of the Buhari government, these same Swiss-based commodity traders Trafigura, Vitol, and Mercuria, together with Glencore and Delaney, were involved in “opaque joint ventures” with the NNPC which ripped off the Nigerian state into millions of dollars - we swapped ‘sweet’ crude for very dirty PMS – and not minding the fact that all other by-products from crude like AGO, Kerosene could have fetched us a tidy income as well.

Therefore, by selling such fuels at any pump and at any gas station in Africa, the traders increase outdoor external air pollution. The results are respiratory diseases and premature death. Believe me, poor air quality from dirty fuels from our cars and power generating sets, already inflict injuries on the ozone and escalate climate change, to the extent that there is already a sharp increase in our chances of dying from stroke, heart disease, lung and liver cancer, and from chronic and acute respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis. Some years ago I was in Kwale, near Asaba Delta State to do a story on air pollution. What I found there is akin to what is going on in Onitsha, Kaduna, Aba, Umuahia, Owerri, Nsukka, Enugu, Ile-Ife, Abakaliki, Afikpo, Nnewi and Orlu. Women and children fall ill easily, and my investigations led me to a gas flaring facility nearby which poisons the air. But recall as well that in recent times, deaths and near-death experiences of very prominent Nigerians – actors, musicians like OJB Jezreel, Felix & Moses, Ngozi Nwosu, Ifeanyi Dike, Leo Mezie (currently down with kidney failure as I write this) and Elder Mia - from kidney related ailments rose sharply from 2014. Investigations reveal that these actors and musicians work close to environments which are densely populated and powered with generating sets with dirty fuels. Most who survive, survive by the skin of their teeth. Another report by the World Health Organisation, WHO, said that most of us in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone who live in low-and middle-income countries will probably die faster from high burden of outdoor air pollution than people in Europe and the Americas.

And apart from the health hazards that these dirty fuels expose us to, we lose in terms of naira and kobo.  Consider The Guardian (Nigeria) Newspaper special Report of Friday September, 2016 titled: ‘Nigerians spend N3.5trillion to generate their own electricity yearly’.  It revealed that over 5million households run on generators powered by dirty fuels from Switzerland. Every small and medium scale enterprise relies on power driven by generators fueled with the dirty fuels. 

Under these circumstances, we cannot continue to pretend that a real and present danger doesn’t exist. Like after the Koko Affair of 1988, Nigeria must act as decisively.  Importation of Dirty Fuels must stop. But how do we do this? Let Nigeria activate her Energy Reform Laws. Let us decentralize power generation from oil, and wake FEPA up. The Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, must rejig its regulatory template and work harder than it is doing at investment Landing Cost of Products, Margins which it releases to its Marketers, Dealers, and Transporters. The new port executive, Mrs Usman must clean up that Lagos Port.

In some parts of Europe where these Dirty Fuels come from, nobody relies on only one source of power the way Nigeria does. They have a plan known as Combined Heat and Power, CH&P, where all manner of energy sources – biomass, hydro, wind and nuclear are exploited – I visited one of them in the old Eastern Germany. It runs like this: harvested genetically modified grains like rice and wheat are mixed with cow, bull, horse, pig and poultry droppings in these extremely massive silos, and the gas from this admixture moves through a network of underground pipes to homes for domestic use. Or they decentralize power generation and support individuals who can afford to, to erect solar photovoltaic panels on their rooftops. What they cannot use they sell to government. The present effort at diversifying our economy and yanking it from dependence on oil is a start in that direction even though very belated. 

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku, communications manager, ANEEJ Benin City, Nigeria.