The people and governments of the Niger Delta must avoid, knowingly or unknowingly, being parties to the destructions of their people and environment vis-a-vis black soot pandemics. Soot is black/brown dust given off by fire: a black powdery form of carbon produced when coal, wood, or oil is burned, which rises up in fine particles with the flames and smoke (Microsoft Encarta, 2009). it consists mainly of carbon, chemicals, metals, soils, dust etc. in micron-size particles from incomplete combustion of fuels. Soot is also Carbon IV trioxymercury oxalate reported “to intoxicate humans and affect the brain”; the released mercury is quite toxic to human health. The present soot pandemic-problems in PortHarcourt and environs are entirely-caused by governments and man leading to potential communal suicide. The toxic soot smog/smoke attack man’s laryngeal channels including nostrils, trachea/throats and lungs. This may cause coronary heart disease, exacerbation of asthmatic attacks, respiratory illness, eventual cancer and death. It has been established that these noxious black/brown soot are spewed out as burnt gases in many communities of the oil producing areas of Niger Delta. Black smoke oozes out continuously into the sky day and night only later to dissolve into rainwater and fall back as acid/alkaline rain as dangerous pollutants and contaminants on rooftops, lands, soils, waters etc. These have existed in destruction of environment since petroleum and natural gas were discovered in Niger Delta. There are agreements to curtail gas flaring but they are usually-obeyed more in the breach; the Federal authorities hardly-seriously-enforce the agreements. Oil producing countries of Arabia, Europe, Americas enforce strictly their Environmental Pollution Laws but in Nigeria, it is a policy of anything goes. Gases are flared endlessly at will; waste petroleum oil is spilled on land and waters; gaseous emissions from large refineries are poorly-maintained; illegal bunkering and refineries and kpo-fires routinely-go on; oil pipelines are destroyed and petroleum products poured on land and waters etc. Today the situation has gone out of control as black soot is found everywhere. Gas is recklessly-flared by oil companies. Illegal refineries are mounted at odd corners, discharging wastes into environment. Naval/Military officers who hunt for and catch illegal refineries, recklessly discharge barrels of crude oil on land and water and set them on fire. leaving bales of black smoke spewing away, later to fall back as black soot. The oil refineries bale out smoke/gaseous elements as soot. The Niger Delta militants regularly-cut oil pipelines and set crude oil and gas ablaze leaving pals of black smoke/soot everywhere. Oil companies recklessly-discharge crude oil and gas from polluted groundwater in reservoirs that inadvertently pollute/contaminate the environment. As a mega-City, PortHarcourt has over 100 abattoirs where butchers burn off hides and skins of cows using petroleum products thereby setting off black smokes into the city-air. There are many mechanic sheds where they burn vehicle tyres, setting off huge black smoke/soot to collect constituent metal-rings and copper wires. As a result of massive road development and macadamization, asphalt-processing plants for bitumen are releasing black smoke/soot. Excessive use of generators, burning of garbage at waste dumps produce heavy loads of soot.
It is not just happening only in the city of PortHarcourt; the indomitable environmental pollution and contamination from black or brown soot, now endemic all over the place, covers many parts of Niger Delta: Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta States; and may be traced to Abia, Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. The widespread alert on present and potential damages being perpetuated by black/brown soot epidemic has been there all these years of petroleum and natural gas discoveries, exploitation and mismanagement. The heinous problems of black/brown soot pollution have been there; damaging/destroying the lives and property of people as well as the environment and livelihoods. People are now vigorously and vicariously shouting because it has invaded the city of PortHarcourt in such way/manner that even the blind can see the destructive effects; the deaf can hear of the unchecked occurrence; the dumb are shouting over the noxious developments; and the cripples are trying to run away from the effects. Infact almost everybody including the rich and poor are now complaining on the evil effects of soot; and yet desirous actions are not being taken by the three tiers of governments namely the Federal, States and Local. People are being wantonly exposed to and poisoned physically, mentally and spiritually by debilitating soot epidemic to their naked eyes, nostrils, ears and bodies as the plaque-agents of disease, sickness and death. People are now discussing/writing frantically over the devastating effects of soot epidemic on the entire populace but no measurable/concrete actions have been taken to check or ameliorate the situation. Over the years, Environmental Scientists have reported the negative impacts of acid rain caused by flaring of gases and burning of petroleum products in atmospheric environment all over oil producing areas of Niger Delta since 1958. Gas is flared/burnt and constituent carbon, chlorine, sulphur, nitrogen etc. are converted into their gaseous components of carbon and sulphur dioxides, ammonia etc. and released into the atmospheric circulation where they may further combine with water vapour or rainwater to form acidic compounds like carbonic acid, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, Ammonium Hydroxide etc. and fall back as acid rain. The negative-impact is to destroy any structure whether living or non-living that is across their ways. Today the gaseous impacts are quite obvious as seen in PortHarcourt: every open material holding such as rooftops, house-walls, vehicles/cars, human bodies, clothes, beddings, tables, kitchen utensils, bathtubs where doors/windows are left open etc. If one runs one’s palms through/across open surfaces one would collect heavy loads of soot on one’s palm! People breathe-in this deleterious gas-mixture into their lungs day and night when they do not wear masks. Soot also pollutes surface waters and soils. They negatively-affect potable water quality. During the rains, they are dissolved and washed into soils and later leached into shallow groundwater aquifers and pollute them; and yet these serve as sources of water supplies to the rural and urban communities. It is in the same adverse way/manner that these pollutants/contaminants affect human beings; the same manner they destroy plants and animals. In this case, it is worse because while humans try to check the destructive impacts, animals and plants are helpless over the soot-scourge.
Instead of taking urgent control measures to contain the pandemic soot-epidemic menace, unreasonable blames and counter-blames exist across political boundaries. Most unfortunately, black soot epidemic has become a politicized refrain between the PDP and APC leaders even though soot-infection does not discriminate between the two combatants. HE Nyesom Wike, the PDP Governor, blames the APC-run Federal government of not helping Rivers State to contain the soot-plague. The former Governor and Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi accuses the Governor of killing the people of Rivers State by not doing what he is supposed to do to stop the soot-havoc. While both parties are struggling for power come 2019, people continue to suffer from bad ailments namely laryngeal and water-borne diseases, corrosion and corrasion of infrastructure etc. If adults can cover their noses with masks to check soot-inhalation, what of helpless children, patients in hospitals, school children, students, traders, farmers, transporters, travellers etc? The Rivers State government should use its Environmental Laws to mobilize and empower the newly-formed Check Soot Task Force to quickly-move, identify and stop dischargers of black soot Statewide. HE Wike has the powers; he must use them! The Fed. Min. of Environment has got involved but any impact is yet to be felt as soot-plague continues to spread unabated. The Federal and State governments must join forces to effectively-tackle the soot-menace full blast; identify the point sources of soot generation, stop the spread of soot-plague and punish all perpetrators. The Environmental Laws of Rivers State should be fully-enforced! Environmental destructions caused by soot-epidemic are far-reaching and unimaginable! There should be no buck-passing by Federal or Rivers State government; this is NOT acceptable! Both parties are totally and vicariously-liable for misfortunes inherent in the black soot pandemics against the people.
By Boniface Egboka, UNIZIK, Awka, Anambra State; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org