By Collins Onunwo
It is no longer news that the entire air space of Rivers State has been enveloped and overlayed by SOOTS resulting from the unfortunate and condemnable illicit activities of oil Bunkers. The negative health implications of this on the residents of the State remain obvious.
As the residents of the state continue to suffer and battle with the chronic health challenges posed by inhaling this dangerous black powder which has become the largest component of the air within the state, the Federal Government whose statutory responsibility it is to curb this menace has remained seemingly unshaken, taciturn and indifferent about the plight of the residents of the state in this regard.
Need it to be said that the Federal Government has the statutory and legal responsibility to safeguard and protect the environment and by extension the air within the Nigerian territory. This is the interpretational implication of a community and combined reading of Item 60(a) of Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and section 20 of the same Constitution.
The Federal Government and its agencies such as the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency
(NESREA) have failed in this statutory responsibility, by remaining disinclined to speak and neglecting the ravaging air pollution in Rivers State. Rather, it has continued to mine, explore and sell the oil from the State without giving credence to the sufferings of the people and residents of the State.
Rivers People are eternally grateful to God for giving them Governor Nyesom Wike, who is proactive and committed to their welfare and wellbeing. This is evidenced by the recent proactive steps taken by the Governor to mitigate the sufferings of the residents and people of the State as well as to end the activities of illegal oil bankers in the State.
Governor Wike did not wait for the federal government whose statutory responsibility it is to ensure quality and safe air for Nigerians through its agencies such as NESREA, rather the Governor swung into action to initiate strategies on how to nip the menace in the bud. The Governor did not end here, he has gone ahead to name the kingpins of oil bunkering in all parts of the state and is also leading the battle against soots himself even into the bunkering sites in the bushes and creeks.
It is a pity that while artisanal mining and refining of crude oil are criminalized because oil is largely found in the Niger Delta, this is not the case for solid minerals which are mined largely in the Northern part of Nigeria. People engage in illegal mining of gold and other solid minerals in States like Zamfara without threats or actions by either the Federal government or the government of the state in question. This is to my mind great injustice because while the Nigerian Mineral and Mining Act of 2011, makes provision for an artisanal mining license, neither the repealed petroleum Act nor the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021 did.
I, therefore, call on the Northern Governors to swing into action and end the excesses of the illegal miners of Solid minerals in their states just like Wike is actively upholding the provisions of the Constitution and the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021 by ending illegal oil bunkering in Rivers State.
Nysom Wike’s quick and visible steps towards eradicating soots in Rivers State is an indication that he is a true nationalist, capable of being entrusted with greater responsibilities. He has shown that he can rise up to whatever challenge that may confront Nigeria as a nation.
Nyesom Wike is a patriotic Nigerian who has proven to be more Nigerian than others.
Prince (Hon.) Collins N. Onunwo JP, FCIA, writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.