By Adeola Oladipupo
During the 9th regulatory dialogue on the implementation of national environment regulations, the DG of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Professor Aliyu Jauro, said that the global report by the Health Effect Institute (HEI) showed that Nigeria has the highest burden of fatalities from air pollution in Africa and ranked the 4th most polluted country in the world.
In this part of the world, life is cheap and longevity is not guaranteed. In Nigeria, everybody is at the risk of being kidnapped, robbed, attacked by bandits or hit by the stray bullets of either cults members, violent protesters or government security forces. If by luck you escape any of the aforementioned, you are at the risk of being killed by the polluted air you breathe. The other death trap is polluted water and the permanent damage noise pollution can inflict on a person.
While water and noise pollution can be individually controlled, air pollution is the most difficult to control. Both the rich and the poor breathe in the same air and everyone is responsible for its pollution.
The rich man who cannot endure heat and darkness switches on his generator whenever PHCN disappoints (they always do) and the fume from his generator goes into the atmosphere. The wealthy industrialist pollutes the air by flaring gas. With his factory’s chimney pointing towards the sky and blowing all sorts of gases and microparticles into the atmosphere, he makes money while degrading air quality. While he admires his achievements, he inhales the poison that is a product of his economic activity. His employees inhale it too. The transportation of such poisonous gasses and particles in the atmosphere makes it more likely that somebody related to him somewhere would inhale it too.
The poor man burns refuse either because he wants to avoid the payment for refuse collection or there is no effective waste collection system in the area he lives. He cuts down trees whose job is to purify the air to make firewood to cook his food. As if that wasn’t enough, he exposes himself to the smoke from the fire while cooking. Over a period of time, he falls sick and has to squeeze out the money he barely has to care for himself.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million. More data from WHO show that one-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution.
No one can escape from air pollution and its effect. With Nigeria being the fourth most polluted in the world, 180 million lives are in danger. Lagos prides itself as the commercial capital of Nigeria. With its booming economic activities and dense population comes the daily generation of millions of tonnes of waste that are poorly disposed by residents and ineffectively collected by those responsible. Anyone who wants to know how dirty Lagos is should visit the Mile 12 market. The odour and the sight of dirt will trigger a nauseating feeling. Surprisingly, close to the market are food vendors who prepare and sell food and snacks that are not covered and left exposed for micro-organisms to settle on. A few kilometres after the market is the Olusosun dumpsite. With the visible refuse heap and the disgusting odour, one does not need to be told that the air quality of that area is subzero.
The issue of polluted air is the same all over the country. Residents in Port Harcourt are battling with soot. All over the country, cars, tricycles and motorcycles pollute our atmosphere. The statement by the former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu that for Nigeria to sell its oil, sale of electric vehicles should be frustrated is a typical example of how Nigeria is moving backwards while other countries are moving forward. The recent statement by the UNICEF that only 11 out of 774 local government areas in Nigeria are free from open defecation indicates that we need to take our environment seriously.
The broken Nigerian system compounds air pollution issue. Unstable electricity will make people switch on generators which will result in the atmosphere being loaded with carbon monoxide. When refuse collection is poor or non-existent, residents will be left with no choice but to burn refuse or dispose in places where toxic materials find their way into the soil that we depend on to produce food. An ineffective regulation and monitoring of factories will encourage factory owners to disregard the environment and flare gas and dispose waste haphazardly. Capitalists are always after profits and they will not take the government seriously until an example is made of one of them.
Somehow, everyone contributes to the pollution of the air. Both the residents of Nigeria and the government will suffer should an outbreak of disease or a climate disaster occur. No one will escape when the environment decides to fight back.
Adeola Oladipupo is a researcher and an intern at the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.