Posted by News Express | 26 May 2020 | 679 times
Most Nigerians suffer from Collective Amnesia. Light-hearted folks easily attribute this to the welter of socio-economic problems weighing down on the citizenry due to the cumulative impact of bad governance by self-serving political leadership. Unfortunately, the same leaders take advantage of this failure to make them accountable for past errors in governance. This is what is playing out in the Niger Delta region now as one director-general of a government agency has assumed the role of a Prosecutor, Judge, Jury and Advocate in explaining the mysterious poisoning of fishes, leading to their death in thousands, rotting in heaps and floating along the coasts with attendant pollution of the water and land: Quite an unnerving and pathetic sight unacceptable to any humane society, besides its predictable health hazard.
Every right-thinking Nigerian ought to be worried because the destructive environmental repercussion could be far-reaching. Every consumer of fish should be concerned. And this is why the master spokesman role of the NOSDRA boss is questionable because it is not an oil spill issue. It is 100 per cent environmental and should be treated as such. Besides, it brings to memory the echoes of the celebrated Koko Toxic Waste dump issue of 1988. Until the media raised the dust, after a tip-off from Nigerian students in Italy, the inhabitants of Koko never knew their lives were in danger.
A dubious Italian importer deceived an innocent villager to rent his land for the Italian government to dump harmful industrial waste in Koko, a tiny port town north of Warri in the old Bendel State. It is the ancestral home of the famous King Nana Olomu of Tsekiri. It’s rather sad that the Nigerian print media has lost its verve, for obvious economic reasons, anyway. It’s also more painful that The Guardian, which championed the toxic waste story 32 years ago, though still in circulation, is now a shadow of the erstwhile Flagship of the Nigerian press.
Sometime in May 1988, Nigerian students in Italy filtered the information to the local media about the shipment of toxic waste material to the rural Nigerian port of Koko. The media houses then responded as per their individual skills and perception of the tip. Unlike today when Federal government’s propagandists have messed up the air and painted the media in a bad light, the defunct Federal Military Government under Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babagida believed the evidence-based media reports; followed up with its own investigation, confirmed the media findings and took necessary actions locally and internationally. As a result, the powerful European nation, after initial denials was brought to its knees.
Another reason for concern is that a similar evidence-based ecological peril has occurred in the oil-producing, fishing/farming coastal communities of the Niger Delta, threatening the people’s health, their lives and livelihood. Woefully, the press today has been crippled and could not go beyond publishing Musa’s statements hook, line and sinker. No media enquiry or simple suggestion of forensic laboratory analysis, outside Musa’s. “The main purpose of forensic analysis is to analyse, recover, document and preserve evidence in an investigation.” The affected states could individually or collectively have submitted samples for such analysis. But they have not, so far.
As a result, the Director-General of the National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) Mr Idris Musa, gave the initial reaction, which was to explain that there was no recent oil spill to have caused the deaths, which is within the bounds of NOSDRA mandate. But he went further to clear the oil companies of any responsibility, which is wrong because oil spill is distinct and separate from oil exploration activities. He went ahead to select government agencies relevant to maritime and set up a committee for investigation and laboratory analysis. He also announced the result. The whole objective, which he makes clear, is to exonerate international oil corporations of any complicity in the fish-kill. One considers this evangelism suspect.
As captured by Enviro News of May 14: “The National Oil Spills Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) says findings on the dead fishes on the Atlantic Ocean coastline indicated high levels of toxicity caused by toxic wastes discharge. The agency noted in a statement on Thursday, May 14, 2020, that the discharge of toxic materials into the Atlantic may have come from land as the wastes from domestic and industrial sources often empties into the water body.”
Recall that NOSDRA had on April 22 told the press it was coordinating a multi-agency investigation, aimed at unravelling the cause of the reported massive death of fishes within the nation’s territorial waters. The NOSDRA boss said that the high toxicity of the dead fishes and water samples was caused by pollution from heavy metals from industrial and domestic wastes.
The question arises: Do we have more industrial activity in Niger Delta than Lagos and Ogun states? Not by any means.
In what played out as an enquiry with a pre-determined result, the NOSDRA boss enthusiastically pontificated: “Results of the tests conducted confirmed (his) preliminary findings that the death of the fishes were not linked to oil leakages as the levels of hydrocarbon in the samples tested were within regulatory limits. The agency noted in a statement on Thursday, May 14, 2020 that the discharge of toxic materials into the Atlantic may have come from land as the wastes from domestic and industrial sources often empties into the water body. The results of the laboratory tests were perused, and we make an explanation on the parameters of concerns that were analysed for the purpose of clarity and understanding.”
Dear people and governments of Niger Delta, why must you rely on the postulations and “findings” of one federal agency boss whose outfit has no direct responsibility to the cause of your collective environmental tragedy?
For example, since he also chose “relevant government agencies” to participate in the enquiry, why did he exclude the only Federal agency with direct responsibility for Food, Water and Chemical analysis – the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)? This is a cause for deep reflection. Yet, no one, including affected states, seems to be worried.
Above all, such massive death of fishes floating on the Atlantic coast since February, polluting the water and land is wholly an environmental issue. And, don’t forget that the defunct Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) morphed into the Ministry of Environment. So, the ministry owes Nigerians a duty to explain the immediate and remote causes of the monumental death of the croakers. It is completely outside NOSDRA’s operational mandate.
Let’s flash back to June 1988 in Koko, now in Warri North Local Government of Delta State. In response to the tip from Italy, the Nigerian press rose to the occasion. And, although The Guardian On Sunday did not break the news, it led the pack with its deeply investigated and evidence-based in-depth and analytical report backed with photographs.
Findings confirmed the existence of drums and containers, some of which were identified with the letter R (the international symbol indicating ‘toxic and harmful industrial waste’). The team also identified the owner of the vacant plot of land, Mr Sunday Nana, who confirmed that he had agreed to let foreign importers use his land for $100 monthly rent. Unknown to the prince, he would never have been alive to enjoy the money.
The lesson is that the government responded positively to the media reports and even followed it up with action.
The synergy and the proactive response of the press and government on the waste dump brought global benefits to mankind. With General Ike Nwachukwu (retd) as Nigeria’s Foreign Minister at the time, the issue was authoritatively articulated at the United Nations level. According to America’s Timeline, the following emerged from Nigeria’s efficient prosecution of the case at the international arena:
1. “On September 3, facing increased pressure from international press and advocacy groups, the Italian Cabinet approved a decree that banned the export of toxic chemicals to developing nations and limited future reliance on European Union countries for processing.
2. “Nine weeks after leaving Koko, the Karin B finally received permission to land from Livorno, Italy. The voyage had become ‘a question of national dignity,’ said Italy’s Environment Minister Giorgio Ruffolo.
3. “In 1989, the U.N. designed an international treaty known as the Basel Convention, intended to prevent shipment and disposal of hazardous waste from industrial to developing countries, via a procedure of strict requirements and consents. Italy is a party; America never ratified the agreement.”
All these were achieved because the media lived up to its responsibility and the government believed their report and worked in tandem. This is precisely why the current complacency of the Federal Government, the media, state governors and people of affected states is very disappointing. Covid-19 pandemic war cannot be blamed for failures of the political leadership.
Perhaps, unimpressed with Musa’s evangelism, the Delta House of Assembly has urged the Federal Government to investigate mysterious deaths of fishes along the shore lines of River Forcados and Escravos River in the state. This followed the adoption of a motion by Mr Emomotimi Guwo, representing Warri South West constituency during plenary on Thursday in Asaba, the state capital. Speaking on the motion, Guwor said that Forcados and Escravos Rivers and their tributaries were believed to be under the siege of a yet to be identified disease presently killing fishes along the shorelines of the rivers in Warri South West.
He said that the areas worst hit by the ugly development included Ekemetagbene in Bomadi Local Government Area (LGA), Akparemogbene, Oyangbene and all communities in Ogulagha and Iduwini kingdom in Burutu LGA of the state.
“Other areas affected are the entire Gbaramatu kingdom, all Ugborodo and Orere communities in Warri South West and Ogheye and other communities in Warri North LGA,” he said.
Guwor urged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the federal authorities (Ministry of Environment) to protect the biodiversity, conservation and sustainable development of the natural resources and the eco-system of the affected communities from total extinction.
Unlike Bayelsa and Rivers, the Delta House of Assembly has risen up to the challenge. But in addition to calling on the Federal Government, the relevant state governments should be able to collect samples for independent forensic laboratory analysis. The dead fishes are floating on their coast, and their biodiversity, people’s health and livelihood are threatened.
•Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express/Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: email@example.com; +2348029334754.
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