How environmental pollution pits Lagelu communities against poultry operators

•We are dying from pollution —Residents

Though the Oyo State Ministry of Health recently declared that there is no evidence to back claims of a cholera outbreak in Lagun village, there is a continuous health challenge with cholera-like symptoms among people in some communities in Lagelu Local Government Area of the state. As a result, residents of Arikuyeri, Aba Alfa, Lagun and Aba Oke communities in Iyana Offa, the same local government, have asked the government to come to their aid and put an end to the continuous environmental pollution from a poultry that continues to affect the health of the people. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports

For the residents of Arikuyeri, Aba Alfa and Aba Oke communities in Iyana Offa, Lagelu Local Government Area of Oyo State, the land is no longer green, as despite being a largely agrarian community, fresh air is a luxury that eludes them. In these communities, the putrid smell emanating from poultry waste has become the only smell they perceive in the area; many houses including household items, now naturally carry the stench smell. This putrid smell has made it impossible for many to enjoy life.

For many of the residents, the use of nose mask is a way of life now as many of them cannot even stay in their homes without covering their noses as a result of the continuous stench that has permeated their environment. It has indeed become a cause of great concern to them as they believe that their health is continually being jeopardised by the stench that their community is now associated with.

Nigerian Tribune paid a visit to the communities to find out what was happening and the situation of things at present in the communities. And the people in the community were unanimous in their belief that the smell is the cause of the disease rampaging their community and taking lives.  They claim that the smell is from a poultry farm in the community identified as Fortress Poultry Farm, reiterating that they have been sending messages to the farm management to do the right thing or vacate their community as they aren’t comfortable with the pollution it causes.

The people have called on the state government to come to their aid to ensure that this farm and whichever other company it finds as the culprit responsible for the pollution in their community are forced to follow required guidelines laid down for companies operating within residential areas and work towards putting an end to the menace of pollution in their communities.

According to the residents in these communities, there is a strong belief that the cholera-like disease ravaging their community is caused by the pollution from the poultry farm. They expressed the fear that if nothing was done about the issue, the outbreak of diseases would become a norm in their environment.

At present, the strange disease is said to have claimed the lives of almost 10 people while some are still seriously ill; passing stool and vomiting with no end in sight while others are recuperating. Indeed, some families have lost people while still praying that those on the hospital bed survive. However, the state government has denied that 10 people died but confirmed that the communities might be suffering from the effects of terrible hygiene.

Speaking on the issue, the state’s Commissioner for Health, Dr Bashir Bello, says there is no evidence to back recent claims of a cholera outbreak in Lagun Village, adding that the ministry had conducted its investigations and had submitted the report of its technical committee that investigated the claim of cholera outbreak in Lagun village titled, ‘Re: Rumours of suspected cholera outbreak in Lagelu LGA of Oyo State.’

The ministry’s report indicated that investigations by the state’s Epidemiological Team, including the Disease Surveillance and Notification Officer (DSNO) and the LGA teams in Lagelu and surrounding LGAs, showed there was no evidence to back such rumour, adding that the team dispatched to carry out the investigation had also not shown any fresh grave or fresh burial ground to ascertain claims of mass death and they  only found two cases at Faith Clinic, Ejioku, and another two cases at the Lagun Rehabilitation Centre, both private hospitals.

The commissioner said findings from the field showed that the ailment recorded affected only four individuals and not 10 people as claimed in the media, reiterating that there was no evidence to back the claim of six deaths, explaining that the ailment could be ascribed to poor hygienic conditions, adding that the ministry also suspected cases of gastroenteritis or likely food poisoning.

He added that “all four cases are alive and are no longer stooling, therefore, stool samples could not be collected from them for confirmation of the aetiological agent (causative), while they have also been treated and stabilised, “we observed poor sanitary conditions in the village, as the wells are not covered and are in poor sanitary conditions. The reported deaths were neither seen nor traced and, therefore, cannot be attributed to cholera outbreak, as no patient within the community actually reported to any government or local government facility in the said local government,” he said.

This is however not strange as Nigerian Tribune found out that many of the villagers are in the habit of asking a nurse to treat them in the comfort of their homes rather than visit a health facility.

The commissioner, however, added that the state had begun an active case search in affected communities and neighbouring states, as well as community engagement and enlightenment on the prevention of diarrheal diseases, including cholera and had pre-positioned antibiotics and intravenous fluids at the state’s health facility in Lagun to prevent an outbreak of cholera in the area.

There seems little difference in what the people in the community are saying on the challenge in their environment and the state findings. They insist that the cause of their health challenge is environmental pollution. Nigerian Tribune’s visit to the community reveals that there were casualties and some sick people taking treatment at home are indeed suffering from environmental pollution.

It was discovered that a man, Muse Idowu and his mother, Madam Alarape, died from this ailment within three days interval and his pregnant wife, who also fell sick is just recuperating. Also, a man called Araba Sunday Omotoso died while another old man, Baba Sangomole is one of the people that are still ill while 75-year-old Hussani Sanni survived after spending six days in the hospital.

All those that spoke with Nigerian Tribune in the three communities; Arikuyeri, Aba Alfa, Lagun and Aba Oke communities in Iyana Offa, insisted that their community was being ravaged by an unknown disease caused by environmental pollution, adding that if government said it was not cholera, it needs to tell them what it is.

Pa Hassani Sanni, 75 has been living in that community for decades. He told Nigerian Tribune that, “this is surprising because such had not happened before though a similar incident occurred decades ago. We have been vomiting and passing stool excessively; the situation of the environment is a major factor, the poultry stench that has taken over the community is a major source of hazard. I was hospitalised for six days. I am just getting better now. Government should help us,” he said.

Also speaking, Wasiu Hassan, the Akeweje of Arikuyeri community said, “We have never experienced such in our community and we have been making noise before now that this may happen. We have raised issues on this because the smell puts people off from coming into our community. We have written letters twice to the poultry firm responsible for this but when there was no action, we took another letter to the local government chairman and he came to assess the situation. I also came with him and since that time I have not been well, only God saved me, even my wife said I should stop coming into town but that is impossible for a chief to do, I can’t abandon my people. See how I look, I’m just recuperating.

“I don’t know what to say because all our efforts seem not to move them. They aren’t bothered in that poultry, it is like they have confidence that nothing can happen to them.  While there are other poultries, only one is causing this pollution problem. Government should ensure this stops before they kill the whole community. They need to do something; I believe there are guidelines to follow in the operation of such organisations established in residential areas,” the Akeweje stated.

Omotoso Mutiat, the widow of Araba Sunday Omotoso, one of those that died from the disease told Nigerian Tribune that, “the situation is terrible, from stooling to vomiting and then death. My husband was sick for two days, though nothing was wrong with him until the sickness came suddenly. I suspect the smell, it had been there for a while but it became unbearable all of a sudden, it was like something shot up the level of the smell to the highest. The community people have gone to the company times without number to ask that they relocate if they can’t do something about their stench. And nothing was done until the unexpected happened. My husband is a victim. Government should help us and put a stop to this. So many people are still sick and it seems no one is concerned about our plight,” she said.

Fatima, the pregnant widow of Muse Idowu, spoke with Nigerian Tribune in her confused state. The woman who is mourning the loss of the family breadwinner said, “my husband was healthy, nothing was wrong with him, he went to the farm and came back around 5pm. He said he quickly want to get to Iyana Offa and when he came back, he started vomiting and passing stool, like twice, we got a nurse to give him medical attention, he was given 21 injections and nine doses of drip but by morning, he gave up the ghost; his ailment lasted from 5pm to 5am before he gave up.

“Three days after his death, his mother died too, I was also in the hospital for days too before I got better, I was given nine doses of drip and 10 injections. I was discharged four days ago. Now, I am alone with the children and surviving is a challenge; no financial help now because our breadwinner is gone and I have five children to cater for, I have a child in Nursery two, one in Nursery three, one in JSS1 and one in SS1 and you can see I’m still pregnant. I need help. I think the smell is what is responsible for the sudden ailment and death in this community; we can’t sit in front of our houses again because of smell. We can’t even stay inside our house without using nose mask. We have been talking to the poultry as a community but they didn’t do anything. They should help us,” she said.

A community leader, Baba Akande popularly called Baba Oba confirmed had been speaking with the poultry and there were some agreements which might not likely solve the problem. He said “steps are being taken to put an end to the pollution from the poultry and they have said they would do something including building a toilet for us to curb the open defecation commonly practised in the community. They are putting efforts and creating water. So, I can say they are listening to us, but the location they picked isn’t right. So it was condemned but the smell is the one that is a priority. We are making efforts,” he said.

Oye Oladimeji, a 54-year-old business-man told Nigerian Tribune that the community has been suffering seriously from pollution, adding that it was not surprising that people were getting sick considering what they had to inhale every second of their stay in the community. He even said he would have conducted Nigerian Tribune to the houses clustered down the deeper sides of the community but by then, the smell has become too unbearable to manage. Indeed, it takes a strong heart to stay for long periods in that community.

The Baale of Arikuyeri, Chief Bashiru Gbolagade, on his part stated that they reported the disease outbreak to Lagelu Local Government but nothing was done except that the local government chairman visited twice to sympathise with the community, adding that he came with health experts.

He said, “The local government chairman only came for inspection of the entire community and nothing was done since then. We were told that each house should go and build toilets and the health experts also educated residents on the need to keep their environment clean.  The community is facing a lot of challenges as a result of poor government presence in the area of infrastructure.

“The only source of water we have is well water and the wells we have are not even enough for people in the community. No single borehole has been dug in this community. It is more than two years now that we enjoyed supply of electricity,” he said, calling on government to provide the community with a health centre, potable water and restore electricity to the community.

A community leader at Lagun, Chief Lafeef Akinbola, also confirmed that five people died when a disease he could not describe in clear terms struck. He also explained that victims stooled and vomited severely, adding that some victims survived after getting medical attention.

He noted that the local government chairman had visited the community a number of times along with health experts who advised them to improve on their hygiene. He added that they supplied more drugs to the government hospital in the community, adding that they distributed free drugs to residents.

A staff of the Ministry of Environment who spoke with Nigerian Tribune on a condition of anonymity on the grounds that he was not saddled with the responsibility of talking to the media however said, no matter the level of any challenge in a community, such a community needs to make a formal report as the ministry is not aware of the situation.

According to him, if the ministry had been informed, it will definitely had taken steps as the ministry does not take lightly the issue of pollution in whatever form from anybody.  He reiterated that it was unfortunate that people suffered in silence without taking the right steps of letting the ministry know what was going on in their environment.

Nigerian Tribune spoke with the manager of Fortress Poultry Farm, Adetokunbo Buruji, on the allegations made by the resident. He denied the allegations, adding that there was nothing like environmental pollution coming from their poultry. According to him, the farm had maintained cordial relationship with the community for over a decade so it was funny that some people were trying to give them a bad name now.

“Actually, it is true that our farm is located at Arikuyeri village; the farm has been in existence for like 11 years but I joined them around five years ago. And we have been enjoying a cordial relationship with the community and the elders can attest to this rapport. There is nothing like pollution in that community, wherever there is a poultry farm it is normal to have a kind of odour, it is in no way pollution but a normal poultry smell that you have even when you rear chicken at home.

“This allegation is merely a way to give us a bad name and it can be traced to few families who think they can blackmail the farm to get things. So there is really no pollution, any smell anyone perceives is normal and not above what should be around a normal poultry farm. So anyone trying to talk about this as pollution is just being mischievous because there is no pollution of the environment,” he said.

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