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The Double Air Pollution Burden in Port Harcourt, Rivers State; An Evidence of Age Long Environmental Regulatory Failure in Nigeria

Port Harcourt, a Metropolitan city in the Niger-Delta of Nigeria and the capital of Rivers State. It has a land size of an approximate 1811.6 km2 with a population of about 1.5 Million. Its otherwise referred to as “Garden City” because of its greenery landscape. Sadly, that is now a thing of the past.

The residents of the city are currently facing what could be referred to as “Double Air Pollution Burden”. In simple term, it means the presence of prevailing condition of unaddressed expansive air pollution together with the new additional surfaced problem of particulate matter pollution.

The latter problem of particulate matter (soot) led to more concern by the residents and this started in the last quarter of 2016.  Scientific evidences based on air quality analysis in the Niger-Delta of Nigeria. It showed the presence of air pollutants like (CO, NO2, SO2, HC) in composition above that of WHO specification and also the study showed that Port Harcourt specifically has the highest Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) load in the whole of the Niger-Delta, which can be associated with anthropogenic activities like oil exploration, gas flaring, construction and other industrial activities.

The resultant deterioration in the level of air quality has brought concerns to the residents who are complaining of black soot settling on surfaces which include bodies of cars, house floors, roofs, furniture.

They also complained about contamination of drinking and domestic water. Also, they would have to put up with cleaning of their nostrils from the mess of soot in them.

The residents further complained of lack of visibility in the atmosphere due to haze of soot that have clouded the supposedly blue sky.

The associated health concerns are that, there is an evidence of a positive correlation of poor air quality/particulate matter pollution with numerous occurrences of morbidities and increased risk of death to the exposed population. There is a significant risk to the residents to suffer from respiratory tract diseases such as Asthma, Acute Bronchitis. Also, the resulting impacts on the public health which include strokes, lung cancer, pneumonia, child deformity and premature deaths.

It is worth mentioning that the associated environmental consequences are; Lack of visibility due to clouding of the sky by the haze of soot, soil and water contamination and huge biodiversity loss.

The question on our lips should be, how did we get into this mess? What is happening in Port Harcourt can be likened to the so called “Tragedy of Commons” by the Environmental Economists.

The atmosphere is a global public good, if we humans use it in an unsustainable way and above the critical threshold, the result would be fatal. Back to my question, how did we get into this mess? In the 1999 Constitution, Section 20 of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There is a provision which mandates environmental preservation and improvements, that particular section laid the foundation for the successive environmental policies and regulations in the country.

The creation of the Federal Ministry of Environment in 1999 and the Act establishing the Nigerian Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in 2007.

All of these point to a laid down structure to safeguard and protect the nation`s environment.

We got into this mess as a result of plethora of unimplemented environmental laws and also due to poor enforcement of the existing environmental standards and regulations.

We are a nation full of laws but with poor implementations and enforcements.

In Port Harcourt, people are pointing accusing fingers at the Chinese Government Company (CGC), H&H Engineering Company, AVC Asphalt Company which were later shut down.

But the question is, how did these companies commenced their operations without an EIA appraisal?

As a guideline, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) ought to be carried out before they commenced their operations in line with legal directive for public and private projects that may have a significant potential impacts on the environment.

Are they exempted from such directives? What about the obligation of carrying out routine checks on companies which NESREA as a regulator has mandate to do?

Did they not observe non-compliance of these companies with environmental regulations?

So, no excuse for the regulator. I make it bold to say that the Port Harcourt soot problem is a result of age long regulatory failure and institutional corruption that exists in the Nigerian Public Service.

In a saner clime, the regulator would have to think about the social cost of the operations of these accused companies to the innocent residents before granting them permission to commence their operations.

Hence, this is an issue that needs to be talked about as millions of lives are at risk, if this environmental problem is not adequately addressed and solved head on.

I would like to implore all lovers of environment, nature and humanity that we need to lend our voices into this conversation, for the Nigerian Government and Rivers State Government to tackle this carbon soot problem in Port Harcourt, Rivers States and other places in Nigeria.

Issa Lookman

Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany