By Agbonkhese Oboh
Residents of Akoka, a Lagos suburb, were shocked when they woke up to the sight of workers of a petrol dealer bailing out fuel from a neighbour’s well, on a fateful day in 2017. Then St. Finbarrs’ College Road, Abdullahi Street, Aiyetoro Street, Oyenuga Street, Wulemotu Ajoke Street, Rickett’s Close, Shobande Street and Sholanke Street, all in Akoka, developed a thing in common— fuel-contaminated water flows from their taps. By August 2018, residents were scooping fuel from gutters and when hot coals from a roadside food vendor fell into the gutter at Abdullahi Street, combustion followed, sending the residents scampering for safety.
At about this time, a fuel station, the only such station in the area, admitted at a meeting convened by Zonal Operation Controller, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, Lagos Zonal Operations, that they lost 33,000 litres of fuel in their underground tank. It wasn’t the only mediation meeting held on the matter; Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA, and National Oil Detection and Response Agency, NOSDRA, organised some.
At one of such meetings, then-Commissioner for Environment issued certain directives: that an Environmental Forensic Audit, EFA, be undertaken by LASEPA, the station be sealed pending the EFA outcome, boreholes sunk by the petroleum marketing to be decommissioned, the dealer to work with the State Water Corporation to connect all affected residents to water grid, before then ensuring uninterrupted potable water supply and making the EFA results available to all stakeholders. None was obeyed for any length of time.
The residents were barred from a subsequent meeting called by DPR on October 24, 2018, and when the EFA result appeared a year later, July 25, 2019, it read: “Presence of PMS in groundwater was found to be NIL(0.00mg/L) with suggestions of other contaminants, such as aliphatic hydrocarbon.” The residents screamed blue murder, alleging manipulation. In fact, they accused Mr. Segun Adesanya, Chairman, Akoka Community Development Association, CDA, of being on the side of their enemies.
I can only do so much —CDA Chairman
When Sunday Vanguard reached out to Adesanya, the CDA Chairman, he admitted that it is a complicated case.
“However, CDA is not a regulatory body,” he said. “We have reported to Lagos State government and the relevant bodies are into the matter. It is not for me to tell the regulatory bodies what to do. Sadly, so many residents are not members of the CDA and never attended any meeting. But when this case came up, they expect so much from the body. I still have to be concerned about those affected and do my best. Although it will be very irresponsible of me not to take any action, I am being very careful. I have all the relevant documents with me and I am doing my best.”
On the EFA results, he said: “If the regulatory body says this is the situation, I do not have the power to question them or the resources to carry out a private investigation. I can fight, but I must know what I am fighting for.”
Meanwhile, the petroleum marketing company’s representative in the matter said on phone: “I am neither Mr. Segun Taikomo nor Total’s Environmental Manager. If you want him, come to the reception and book an appointment. Mr. Taikomo must be the person that used this line before me.”
He, however, did not respond to an SMS to his line stating that investigation revealed that the very active line belongs to a Mr. Segun Taikomo, who works with Total.
Besides the looming epidemic of cancerous diseases that activists, NGOs and medical doctors think the residents are brewing by drinking, cooking and bathing with fuel-water solution, some of the victims said they had been threatened, while some said activists were warned to stay off the matter.
Chief Newton Chibuno, conqueror of the Sahara Desert and Founder of Fight Against Desert Encroachment, FADE, shocked those present at a briefing taggedTotal Must Do Right, when he said he got phone calls urging him to stay away from Akoka residents and their fight. “But,” he concluded, “that warning only served to boost my resolve to join this struggle, because it means you are doing the right thing.” He advised residents to seek international accreditation for their movement, so they can ensure transparency and extend their reach. Also allegedly warned against associating with the victims was Mr. Ademorin Kuye (Shomolu Federal Constituency), Vice Chairman, Rules and Business Committee, House of Representatives. He defied the warning, and was physically present at the briefing to receive a petition against Total Nigeria Plc and the concerned dealer, Alhaji Aleem Maruf. Also present was Mrs Ifeamaka Umeike, a Safety, Risk and Reliability Engineer, and a victim. She has been active in the fight to get their water cleaned; then strange faces began to stalk her family. Her daughter had to be sent out of the country.
However, the main threat, experts said, is in the nearest future as the fuel-laden water gradually damages the body. After residents narrated their woes and how their bodies were reacting to contaminated water, the experts spoke. There was Francis Duru, a Professor of Anatomy, LUTH; Dr. Adedapo Oshinowo; Eniola Akintunde of Niola Cancer Care Foundation; and Achike Chudi, among others.
The consensus was that the residents risk developing blood-related cancer, damaged testicles/ova, kidney, liver, and DNA mutations, as they continue to use hydrocarbons-laden water. These diseases do not exist in the world of the resident in whose well the petroleum marketing workers were fetching fuel, as she cheekily told a neighbour: “Oil has been discovered in my well.”
But how long that world can remain free of the disaster experts predict is dependent not on who is wrong or right, but the willingness of all involved to think of what is involved—the health of humans everywhere in Lagos. For, besides the over 600 residents directly affected, there are no fewer than four bottled/sachet water manufacturers in the affected area. “For these reason,” said Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, Deputy Director, Environmental Rights Action, ERA, “this struggle will not die. Lives, jobs and health are involved. We are coming to Abuja to let them know that as it is in the Niger Delta, it now is at Akoka and we will take samples of the water to the best laboratory in the world.”