Citizens Walk Against Soot Pollution in Port Harcourt, Nigeria’s Oil City

Alone joined other citizens groups in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on 19th April 2018 in peaceful Streets Walk Campaign against soot pollution in the city and other areas of the state. The black soot which has since 2016 polluted the city, the capital of Nigeria’s petroleum industry, is believed to result from incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon and related materials. While government agencies have failed to act against the pollution, residents believe that the pollution originates from asphalt companies, refineries and illegal artisanal refinery operators. In particular, the indiscriminate burning of confiscated vessels of crude oil thieves and destruction of illegal refineries by soldiers in the military Joint Task Force (JTF) contribute to air and water pollution. The protestors called for increased and transparent action by the authorities to stop the pollution.Since first noticed in Port Harcourt, black soot has increasingly been visible in and around the city and could be seen on floors and furniture inside homes and things left outside overnight like cars and clothes. The situation is so severe that soot sometimes envelops the city like cloud and had continually become unbearable. Thus, citizens and nongovernmental organisations including Alone started raising concerns and awareness and making demands on the government and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to stop the soot. Hashtags such as “#StopTheSoot”, “#StopTheSootNow” were also developed and have trended on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms to advance the campaign.

Before the April 19, 2018 Streets Walk Campaign against black soot; Alone had been championing media advocacy against soot. Alone made several appearances on local radio stations including WAVE, 91.7FM, TODAY, 95.1FM, QUEST CABLE TV and on WAZOBIA MAX CABLE TV.

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The Streets Walk Campaign against Black Soot on April 19th started from the Isaac Boro Park. Protesters marched to the Rivers State Government House and were received and addressed by the Deputy Governor, Ipalibo Banigo who spoke on behalf of the governor and promised that the soot issue would not be politicized.

The protest continued from the Rivers State Government House to the Zonal Office of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) on Moscow Road, Port Harcourt to make demands on the federal agency. The street walk terminated at the Rivers State House of Assembly Complex after the protesters were addressed by a member of the Assembly, Hon. Christian Anyakwo, Chairman, House Committee on Environment.

The position of the Rivers State Government is that the Federal Government has the responsibility for stopping the pollution. This view is supported by the fact that the Military Joint Task Force (JTF), which destroys and burns facilities of illegal refineries, is controlled by the Federal Government, which also regulates all petroleum activities in the country.

In an earlier reaction to the soot pollution, the Rivers State government through the Ministry of Environment in 2017 raised a team of investigators to study the source of the soot. Recommendations of the study, which was never made public, resulted in the shutting down of some factories and asphalt plants.

Also in 2017, the Federal Government set up a Technical Committee on Black Soot to investigate and make recommendations for short, medium and long-term solutions. The committee was made up of representatives of National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), heads of security outfits, IOCs, air quality experts and climatologists. Despite these efforts, however, the black soot persisted with negative impacts on the health of citizens, especially children.

It was against these backgrounds that the concerned citizens led by Eugene Abel and non-governmental organisations including Alone embarked on Streets Walk Campaign to protest against black soot on April 19, 2018.

Another street protest is expected to hold on May 5, 2018, if no concrete steps are taken by the authorities to address the demands of the citizens as presented to them during this walk.

Report by Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface,
Programme Officer, Energy & Climate