Unhappy about the fumes in Nigeria

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Unhappy about the fumes in Nigeria

Dirty air in Nigeria takes lives and livelihoods. But civil society has a lot of ideas for change. Michael Simire writes about them.


A boy jumps across boats in oil, water, and sand, near Bojo in the Niger Delta. Oil is a big pollutant there. Petterik Wiggers/Panos

Damilare Akintokun lives in the Ogba area of Lagos State. He is certain that the smoke from the generator outside his house is affecting the air he breathes. But he needs this kind of energy for his home and his frozen-food business.

‘If everyone could afford solar energy, with a good electricity supply, most Lagos people would not need generators,’ he says. ‘Generators are not good at all. The noise and the fumes can be unbearable. But we need light, so we have to have the situation.’

Akintokun suffers from catarrh but he does not know if he has any other health problems as he has not had a medical check-up.

If Akintokun’s health problems are because of the bad air quality, he’s not the only one. Nigeria is a big country in Africa with about 200 million people. It is fourth highest in the world for deaths from air pollution. Air pollution is rising in Lagos. This is because of an increase in population and industrial growth and with a poorer and poorer quality in its public power supply. Bad management of waste and fumes from power generators all make the dirty air. There are over five million cars and over 200,000 commercial vehicles.

The Niger Delta region is another problem for Nigeria’s air pollution. Port Harcourt in Rivers State and the people nearby receive the soot pollution from illegal crude oil refining, gas from oil, and petrochemical installations, and other industry. Another problem is the open burning of tyres in abattoirs to roast cow skin to make ponmo, a favourite local food.

Think of the children

Fynface Dunamene Fyneface is executive director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre. He says that black soot in Port Harcourt has been there for many years. ‘It mixes with air and falls through the windows onto the floors. You can see it clearly in the morning. If you wipe your hands on a car parked outside overnight, they turn black.’

James Harrison works with Prime Initiative for Green Development, a local NGO. He says the soot problem means a lot of people left the city over the past five years. ‘Some of these people have moved their businesses as well. The numbers of tourists coming to Port Harcourt are going down to zero,’ he says.

Health workers also talk about the problems. Illnesses from air pollution are in the top five causes of death in Nigeria, especially among children.

Chiemezie Chikadibia Georgewill is a health and safety officer in the Rivers State Department of Environment. He says that respiratory infections are a problem especially for children. So more children are dying in Port Harcourt.

‘Most parents avoid outdoor activities for their children, especially during the dry season, because of health problems,’ he says. ‘People are not happy as some spend a lot of money on medications.’

The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) started monitoring stations to collect data on air pollution in Port Harcourt. ‘We planned 35 stations,’ says NOSDRA Zonal Director Cyrus Nkangwung. ‘But then the state government showed interest and started their own committee, so we had to stop our plan.’

There are very few equipment and monitoring systems to collect data on air quality across Africa. So it can be difficult to know how big the problem is and to force policy changes. Whose responsibility?

Folashade Adeboyejo is co-founder of PolyBriq Technologies. It works on energy-saving building materials for low-income housing. She says that it is the responsibility of individuals, organizations, and governments. All should make changes to help air pollution, including stopping the burning of household, industrial, and forest waste. She also wants to check the exhaust from generators and plants to meet with environmental standards.

‘It is strange that the Lagos government placed restrictions on commercial motor-powered tricycles or rickshaws. Tricycle engines are more efficient than cars and they take up less space. The space taken by a wagon is enough for four tricycles,’ she says. ‘We need to look for ways to take more cars off the road, for example, more trains, and encourage car sharing and cycling.’ Adeboyejo also wants buildings made from materials that are energy efficient and action for cleaner cooking.

Smoke from open cooking with firewood is a very big air pollution problem in Nigeria. Over 120 million people cook over open fires and the WHO says smoke from them causes more than 98,000 deaths of women and children every year. After malaria and HIV/AIDS, this is the country’s third-largest killer.

Fyneface says that civil society has a role to play but needs support from government. His organization is teaching young people about environmental pollution and how it leads to the loss of livelihoods for fishers and farmers, as well as damage to sea life.

‘The Kpofire Boys are youths involved in refining of crude oil. We train them on alternative livelihoods... We train them in fish and rice farming and climate problems,’ he says. He also says that they have courses on renewable-energy production.

Dominica Una is co-founder of the Sustainable Builders Initiative. He says monitoring effects on the environment is really important. ‘Companies are not truthful or the monitoring is not really “pro-environment”,’ she says. ‘We can only talk about stopping the soot problem when we can trust the monitoring. We need stricter penalties for people who pollute our air.’

Research says that by 2030 there could be nearly 50,000 deaths per year in Africa just from power plant and vehicle emissions. Individual actions can help but political action is what will make the biggest difference.

Until then, it’s a problem that’s not going away.



(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)