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Environmental Outrage: Nigeria's Black Soot Crisis

Updated: May 17, 2021

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states the following in Chapter II:

20. The State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria.

21. The State shall -

(a) protect, preserve and promote the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity and are consistent with the fundamental objectives as provided in this Chapter; and (b) encourage development of technological and scientific studies which enhance cultural values.

The black soot problem in Nigeria's Port Harcourt region has been a growing public health crisis since 2016. While illegal oil refineries operated by oil thieves have been cited as the primary cause, the government appears too impotent to prevent and prosecute refinery operators with any sustainable impact or, as some suggest, is complicit with the military police altogether due to the invidious problem of corruption and payoffs. This environmental crisis is confirmed in the article, Exposure to Heavy Metals in Soot Samples and Cancer Risk Assessment in Port Harcourt, Nigeria which appeared in the Journal of Health and Pollution, 2019 December; 9(24): 19121. The statement below from the article highlights the essence of the black soot problem:

Port Harcourt is an oil-rich city in Nigeria's Niger delta region. For over two years, Port Harcourt experienced black soot deposition in the environment. In November 2016, residents woke up to black soot covering cars, clothes, houses, plants, etc. Soot concentrations continued to increase until the first quarter of 2017. After public outcry, the frequency and concentration of soot deposition began to decline.

Despite their claim that this problem "began to decline", clearly black soot is still a serious environmental issue in 2020, and the article states as much in their conclusion:

The high concentrations of Pb and Cd recorded in this short – term study are a source for concern as these metals are persistent in the environment and are known to bioaccumulate. These heavy metals have been classified as carcinogens by the IARC. Their prevalence in ambient air puts the population in Port Harcourt metropolis at risk of lung, liver, blood and renal cancer, and children are at higher risk.

Between the government of Nigeria and its Constitution, there is a serious breakdown in the rule of law and any established enforcement mechanisms that have been implemented to carry out the authority of the state to ensure citizens are protected. The State is both accountable to and responsible for the safety of its citizens and the fulfillment of basic constitutional protections. Thus, the citizens of Nigeria have a fundamental right to make claims against the State when this trust is broken. At a minimum, Nigerians in the Port Harcourt region can assert that they have a moral expectation of their government because public safety is clearly circumscribed by provisions in their Constitution.

Years of constant black soot reigning down on the homes and crops of five-million NIgerians daily is a gross environmental outrage that violates human dignity, Constitutional authority, and the moral and legal responsibilities of the State to protect her citizens. Again, and in closing, Nigeria's Constitution makes it clear that, "The State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria." Until it can be shown otherwise, the State is guilty of moral and Constitutional failure, and the citizens of Port Harcourt have a right to act in their interest to secure and protect their environment and their very survival, especially when the government continues to act with apathy and reckless disregard against the health and wellbeing of Port Harcourt citizens.

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