INNOCENT citizens in the Niger-Delta have for decades lived with all manner of environmental hazards linked to crude oil exploitation. These range from massive oil spills to acid rains from gas flaring and the proliferation of illegal refineries. Federal Government agencies also add to the problem by the manner in which they destroy illegal refineries, thus pumping more toxic substances into the environment.

They have made life less abundant for the people because farmlands, fishing resources and even sources of drinkable water have been severely polluted.

These have led to so many environmental, social and health problems that pitched the youths against the oil companies and the Federal Government especially in the past 30 years. The upsurges of militancy and destruction of oil exploitation infrastructure aimed at forcing the government to yield to the demands of agitators for better life for the Niger-Delta people also inadvertently worsened the environmental challenges.

The problem has now been complicated with the new phenomenon of black soot which started getting noticed a little over two years ago. Residents of Port Harcourt in particular wake up most mornings to find films of black dusty substances all over their rooms, clothes and domestic utensils. These confirmed hydrocarbon substances have been traced to the activities of expatriate companies that operate with machines that emit high degrees of hydrocarbon which comes down as soot rain.

The Rivers State Government set up the Task Force on Black Soot which promptly closed down three Chinese companies for contravening safety practices. Experts have confirmed that black soot linked to hydrocarbons cause cancer and other respiratory problems. Over six million people living in Rivers State and beyond are already threatened.

The black soot threat calls for urgent and combined efforts to bring it to a quick end. It is the primary responsibility of the Rivers State Government, RVSG, to ensure this. The efforts made so far are inadequate since the threat persists. We call on the RVSG to double its efforts and mobilise the citizenry to confront this threat together.

While government hunts down all manufacturing companies that refuse to adopt environmentally-safe methods of production and sanction them accordingly, the citizenry must also assist by providing valuable information to track them down. There is also the urgent need to mount ambitious awareness programmes calling the people’s attention to the inherent dangers of black soot on public health. Government should combine efforts with the media and social advocacy groups to enlighten the people on how they can minimise the danger.

Frequent washing of hands, covering of food and cleaning of surfaces are paramount. Citizens should also be encouraged to use nose masks whenever the soot becomes palpable. The soot rain must be exterminated at source; the sooner the better.

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