Battling the scourge of pollution: Oluyole Extension residents seek government’s help

After battling with persistent air and environmental pollution from a soap making factory, residents of Oluyole Estate extension in Ibadan South West Local Government area of Oyo State, have asked government to find lasting solution to industrial pollution. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports.

For residents of many communities making up Oluyole Estate extension in Ibadan South West Local Government area of Oyo State, life in the last one year is one mainly characterised by writing series of letters and running from one relevant government agencies in a bid to put an end to the constant air and environmental pollution that has become a source of major concern in the area due to their proximity to a soap manufacturing company.

Every morning, they wake up to detergent particle covering every available surface and fumes that have destroyed the properties of over a 100 people who think government is not doing enough to intervene in their matter. Drying their clothes in the sun is no longer possible and many have learnt not to take edible items outside the confines of their homes.

It was a galore of lamentations from the residents who having explored all available opportunities to ensure their problem becomes a thing of the past expressed the belief that it is time to take necessary actions if relevant authorities refuse to check the activities of a detergent production company which they believe is responsible for their plight.

From one house to the other, the story is not different as the residents’ show Nigerian Tribune faded cars, stained furniture, surfaces with black spots and soapy floors. Their complaints are stories that are virtually the same; inconvenience, pollution and destruction of properties and plants by chemicals released into the air by the production company.

Olusola Ayeni told Nigerian Tribune that, “I want to add my voice to the issue of environmental pollution caused by Expand Global industries; the company in the course of production has been releasing detergent dust into the atmosphere which settles on our cars, house furniture, glass windows and even water tanks thereby polluting the water that we drink and has resulted to permanent damage on many car paints, put permanent stains on our furniture, bleached  house paints, roofs and steel railings and it seems every effort to get them to address this issue has been treated with levity. Even complaints to relevant government agencies have not been treated with seriousness. I believe that any company interested in sustainable development must hold dearly the issue of environment and safety of staff and the host community. No economic imperative can override the issue of safety and health. We have exhausted almost all efforts talking to relevant agencies and the company. We appeal to people of goodwill to intervene before the pollution begins to kill us.”

Another resident said “I am Olawale, resident of Alaafin Avenue, Oluyole Extension. I am a new resident but within few months of moving into this area, I can say that there is a serious problem; you wake up in the morning and your house and properties are covered with fumes and particle of soap dust. Not only that; when it rains there is soap foam and bubbles all over our house. Why has this continued for so long? Are we supposed to enforce laws by ourselves when we have a government? The only thing cars in the neigbourhood have in common is that all the windscreens are blurred and stained with unknown chemicals that can’t be washed off. If it is doing that much damage to cars, imagine what it is doing to human beings. This is our last call to people in position to do something, rise up and do their job, it is our civil right.”

Also speaking, Oketunji A.O. said, ‘we have been living here for years and we came here before the company causing pollution. The area the company is occupying was not meant to be an industrial area; it is a commercial area in the original plan. Obviously, correct environmental impact assessment was not made before the company was allowed there. Something was compromised to change the place from commercial to industrial. So many lives are at risk and something must be done to stop the pollution. They met us here and they cannot continue poisoning us with emissions.”

Another resident, Ronke Owootomo, said “it is so sad that for almost a year, we have had this pollution from the detergent company. You need to see the hazardous effect this is having on us as human beings and also our properties. My car has permanent stains from this detergent pollution, when they are doing production or when you wake up in the morning, you will see the flakes coming down on your house and properties. My car screen has permanent black dots that we have been unable to clean. When it rains everywhere, even the roads are filled with soapy water. That means when we are outside the house or leave windows open, we are inhaling chemicals that are dangerous for human consumption. I wonder the damage this would have done to our body system. Properties are getting damaged. We don’t even need soap to clean cars or our compound. In fact, if you dry your clothes outside, don’t allow it come in contact with water because it will become soapy. Something must be done urgently, it is killing people gradually without them realising. We can’t be suffering for some people to make profit

Shedding light on the situation, Bayo Scott-Ashley, the chairman of Oluyole Estate Extension Residents Association and chairman of the joint residents association consisting of seven estate associations told Nigerian Tribune that the issue affected all the estates in Oluyole extension and over 100 houses in his zone were affected by persistent air pollution and environmental pollution which moves round the whole area even up to 7up axis, adding that schools around them that have hostel facilities are not spared.

According to him, the situation wasn’t new. “We have been experiencing white particles falling on cars and houses, bleaching some of the roofs before now. This estate which was meant to house light industries like the furniture company owned by the Adebayo’s of Ekiti, a motor company owned by Major General Bajowa and a packaging company named whytac; they all existed up till about five years ago when a new company, Expand Global Industries Limited, bought over those properties and now produces detergents.

“In 2015, we observed this problem endwrote to the company, sent copies of our letter to the Ministry of Environment. The ministry took it up and arranged a meeting between us and the company then. They agreed that they were responsible for the pollution and they promised then that they would fix it and they did. But around a year ago, we started experiencing the same thing, we didn’t relate it with past experience on time until the rainy season started and we discovered that the rain water was foamy and everywhere was filled with bubbles as if they poured soap all over the area.

Other residents noticed the same thing and we narrowed it down to their company and on June 8, we wrote a letter complaining and giving them history of how this had affected us in the past and steps taken for it to be rectified. We copied the Oyo State Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Ibadan South West Local Government and National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) at Eleyele and the Governor of Oyo State. We were expecting a response from all the agencies copied and the company; the only feedback we got was a verbal feedback from the officials of the local government saying they visited the company on receipt of our letter and their investigations revealed that there were other soap companies that could be responsible for the pollution around the area. They mentioned Nourdm Global Company Limited which is a little distance away but on June 14, we wrote a similar letter to Nourdm and copied the same agencies we copied before.

“Ministry of Environment invited us for a meeting on July 2, and before this we did another separate letter to the governor through the office of the Secretary to the State Government to ensure things are above board. Officials of Expand Global came to the meeting with their consultant, Kunle Amoo, officials of Noudm were also in attendance and the Ministry officials were headed by the Director of Pollution Monitoring and Control, Mrs Olaleye. At the end, it was concluded that there would be an all – party’s inspection of the facilities of both companies; Expand Global, a subsidiary of a German Company called Henkel and Nourdm.

“We all went for the inspection; I went with the General Secretary and an 82-year-old resident, Dr Olatunji, who lives directly opposite the factory. During the inspection of Expand Global, we observed a tunnel was filled with particles of detergent soap, we asked if that might not be the reason we are having the leakages and consequent pollution but the officials of Expand Global got annoyed and insulted the 82-year-old man. At that point, I got annoyed and told them I did not bring the man to be insulted for raising a question which was the purpose of our visitation, the ministry officials pacified both parties and we left for Nourdm.

“But on our way, Mrs Olaleye, the Director in charge of control and monitoring called and said her colleagues informed her that I was insinuating that they had been bribed by Expand Global, I explained what happened and explained that the allegation was false but she wasn’t convinced and we moved to Nourdm, did the inspection and did not see anything strange. We continued going to the Ministry and writing relevant agencies, the ministry at a point had no commissioner and I started liaising with the Permanent Secretary, Mr Bashir Olanrewaju who placed the blame on those who created an industrial estate opposite a commercial estate without envisaging that things could develop to the present level. He promised that things would be sorted and we continued  to go to the ministry and meetwith the officials. At a meeting the ministry official told us they had recommended an emission dispersion modeling test on the two facilities and the two companies will bear the cost of the test,” Scott-Ashley stated.

On its part, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in its response to the community through a letter said it had carried out investigation and inspections to the facilities to ascertain the claims and identify the potential sources of pollution and emission, adding that “recommendations have been made to the facilities for implementation to prevent any likely environmental pollution arising from their activities that could constitute nuisance to the host community.

The letter said, “You will be invited to an arbitration meeting alongside the representatives of these companies to ensure prompt resolution of the issue.” However, the community said no such meeting was called and Scott-Ashley also confirmed that NESREA  were yet to call the expected meeting.

He explained further that, “we continued experiencing the pollution until they had an incident of death at the company, the place was sealed up and during this period, though Nourdm and Procter and Gamble were still producing detergents, we had relief because the pollution stopped entirely.  We wrote to ministry to tell them our observation and appealed that they ensure the company puts things right before they commence production. I can’t say when they reopened but we knew they had started work when we started experiencing pollution again.

“There is this obvious stance that we cannot prove that the pollution is from Expand Global even when we said that we stopped experiencing this when they stopped working. We continued writing letters to Senators in this constituency, the Federal Ministry of Environment and even the House of Representatives member. I still continued going to the ministry at Agodi secretariat but the attitude we get is sometimes disheartening and not encouraging. We have been going to meetings and writing letters. We recently held a meeting with the company and they still denied being responsible, yet, if you enter their compound, you will see all cars covered up while our own cars are being bleached.

“There was a time there was a fire incident in Expand Global in one of their towers, I won’t be surprised if it is because they haven’t fixed the things affected by the fire incident that we are experiencing this. We met with them few days back and they promised us they will fix things up and fixed a follow up meeting with us for November 6 but we are saying that we are tired; we cannot continue making complaints without our problem being fixed when the health and properties of many hundreds of people are being affected. The commissioner for environment instructed them to do all they needed to do to get the company producing because they said the test cannot be carried out except they were producing and they were presently only engaging in skeletal services

“We are pleading with government to please ensure that they do what is required because there should be some regulations guiding all these things. They should have some things that should be done because the company didn’t start today; there was a time it stopped and other companies aren’t giving this problem. Why them? They should do what is right because the effect of this pollution can be seen on cars, plants and houses but we can’t see that of our health. We have children in the area getting exposed to this. They should do what is right so we can all live in peace.

“We are aware that as a company, they contribute to the development of the state and give employment to our people. We are not saying they should shut down and render those people unemployed but they should do what they need to do; they can’t do this in their parent company in Germany,” Scott-Ashley said.

Speaking on the issue, the head of Security at Expand Global, Mr Sina Sonekan stated that he would direct Nigerian Tribune to the official that would comment but added that, “Since we received the complaint, we have met the community through the association executives, we met them on October 5, thereafter the Ministry of Environment came and yesterday, the Ministry and residents association came again to our premises. We listened to their complaints and we have promised them that the company would look into the situation. The company is taking every step possible to ensure that as accompany in an industrial area, we do not exceed the pollution level allowed by law. To fulfill our promise, we are about to change the filter to our tower, we have a filter but we are about to change it to ensure we stay within pollution limit acceptable by law.”

As at press time, the Human Resource Manager of Expand Global had not sent the company’s official statement as promised.

On his part, the Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, Barrister Idowu Oyeleke said, “I was there on Friday and action has been taken. I went personally to inspect the facility on Friday and the chairman of the landlords association and some of his members were at the meeting with the management of the company within the company premises and I have given instruction to the company on what to do.

As the November 6, meeting between parties, the residents are waiting to see if truly there will be a change this time  and the issue resolved finally.

 

 

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