Environmentalists under the umbrella of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) and Young Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN) has said they are considering instituting legal action against the Federal Government for its inaction over the incidence of soot on the Rivers environment.
They said the move was one of the many in a series of advocacy programme planned to get the government and other relevant authorities to immediately arrest the incidence of soot and other forms of environmental pollution in Rivers State.
Programme Manager, Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria, (ERA/FoEN), Port Harcourt, Mike Karikpo, gave a hint of the move yesterday during the presentation of the report on “Monitoring Ambient Air Quality/Particulate Matter” in parts of Rivers State.
The report was presented by the Young Friends of the Earth Nigeria with technical support and guidance by Prof. Tubonimi J. K Ideriah of the Institute of Pollution Studies, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
He regretted that government has not listened to all efforts to get it to attend to issues causing the soot saying “We will get to that point where we will consider going to court because this is an issue around the right to life; the right to breathe in clean air is a fundamental right.
As we are doing this, we are escalating and we will get to that point where we will say look, the government has not listened after we have gone through the process and what is normally required of us, we have done studies, got stakeholders’ views and we have submitted the report.
Yet, the government has not and therefore, to safeguard our lives, we will take the government to court to do the same thing we did on gas flaring. They may not obey, but it will be part of an advocacy strategy”.
Karikpo said; “This gathering is to launch the soot report. Many people have said a lot about the soot report, but nobody has done anything about the soot. So, for the first time, young people in the Niger Delta, who live in this community, have taken it upon themselves to do a scientific study of the impact of the soot.
They looked at the impact of particulate matter on communities; they measured the level of particulate matter in the atmosphere. They did not just do this in their houses; they went to the swamps, they went close to the refineries, close to the petrochemical plants for 24 hours every day. For every hour, they were collecting ambient air quality samples and testing what the level of pollution is in the atmosphere”.
He observed that sometimes people misinterpret who the government is. “We are government,” he said adding “we voted for them and it is important that as a people, we start organising, mobilising and coordinating ourselves to ask for action to be taken”.
He explained that it was exercise was the first step. “We now have the scientific basis for saying what we are saying. We are hoping that we can build a critical mass of young people in our communities who will be able to use that as part of their negotiating strategies with political parties and politicians”.
He stressed; “We should be able to tell them that this soot is killing us; what is their strategy to deal with it? We should tell them to get us renewable energy and make sure that there is a constant electricity supply. All of those cars that are not good for our roads, especially the emission level of those cars; deal with it. These are things that countries all over the world have taken up”.
Speaking on the report, Executive Director, ERA, Dr Godwin Ojo observed that over the past two years people of Rivers State, especially, Port Harcourt, Elementary, and other adjourning towns and villages have observed the daily blanketing of the atmosphere by oily soot.
He said; “Health professionals around the state have reported an uptick in cases of acute and chronic respiratory diseases, skin lesions especially in infants and young children. They have also noticed a higher mortality rate in individuals with pre-existing ischemic heart problems or obstructive pulmonary diseases”.
He also regretted that though residents have taken some steps to inspire the action of the government and other stakeholders and that the Rivers State Ministry Of Environment set up an expert panel to investigate the composition of the soot and its sources that there has not been any publicity available report from the committee on the scary soot.