Worried by the environmental pollution caused by soot in some parts of Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike has ordered the immediate shutdown of all illegal oil refining sites in the state.
He also directed local government chairmen, especially Port Harcourt City Local Government, to identify such sites and effect his order. He asked the council chairmen and community leaders to identify and report to his office those behind illegal bunkering and crude oil refining sites in their localities for prosecution.
Wike, who gave the order in his 2022 New Year message on Saturday, said the directive stemmed from the failure of the Federal Government and security agencies to rein in those behind illegal oil bunkering and artisanal crude oil refiners in the state.
The governor’s directives were contained in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri.
He said, “We have drawn the attention of the Federal Government to this problem and requested for its intervention to stop illegal bunkering and artisanal crude oil refiners, which have been identified as the main sources of the soot pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the Federal Government has remained inexplicably silent over our request and even complicit to a large extent, with the security agencies actively aiding, encouraging and protecting the artisanal refiners to continue with their harmful activities.”
There have been concerns over prevalence of soot, a deep black powdery or flaky substance consisting largely of amorphous carbon, produced by the incomplete burning of organic matter, in some parts of the state. The emission was said to have started in 2016.
The areas mostly affected are Port Harcourt City, Eleme, Okrika, Gokana, Akuku-Toru and Asari-Toru Local Government Areas. Others are Ogu-Bolo, Tai and Obio-Akpor.
Many residents of the state have on different occasions called on the state and federal governments to tackle the deadly air pollution, as they expressed fears for their health and well-being.
One of the residents who spoke to our correspondent lamented that despite appeals to the government, nothing had been done. “If you go to many villages, people cannot farm again. The government knows about it, why can’t they stop it? This soot is a big problem.”
Many other residents also expressed concern over the impact of the soot on their health. Some said the situation was affecting their breathing while some said their children had been badly affected.
The state government has attributed the soot to activities of illegal oil refiners, burning of tyres amongst others.
Meanwhile, some residents have started signing a petition to raise awareness about the worsening situation of the soot in the state, with over five thousands persons already secured. At the moment, the state does not have both Commissioners for Environment and Health. They were sacked by the governor and have yet to the replaced.
But in the New Year message, the governor said the state government had appealed without success to the persons engaged in the illegal business to consider its negative effects on the economy, environment, public safety and public health and disengage from it.
He however promised that his administration would continue to do its best to meet the aspirations of the residents. “We will continue to accelerate our development with the sustainable delivery of quality roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other socio-economic infrastructure and complete all ongoing development projects across the state,” he added.
…bans nightclubs, street prostitution
Concerned about nightclubs operating within residential areas, the governor has placed an immediate ban on all nightclub activities, including night-time trading and street prostitution along Abacha Road and surrounding streets in Port Harcourt.
He said this was to stop the harmful effect of such activities on the moral development of children and the society at large.
He added, “No responsible government should continue to tolerate the open display and solicitation of sexual services, drug abuse and public intoxication that takes place along the streets and public areas, in nightclubs, lounges and bars by the youths, some as young as 14.”
The governor sympathised with the victims of the recent fire incidents in the state, especially those who lost loved ones and valuable property. He said government would continue to strengthen the state Fire Service as he urged members of the public to also take responsibility in preventing some of the fire incidents from happening.
Wike also expressed concern over the poor compliance with Covid-19 protocols and the effect on the transmission of the disease in the state. He asked residents to make themselves available for testing and vaccination.
…threatens to replace monarchs absent from state functions
The governor frowned at the absence of some traditional rulers from state functions, saying all government recognised traditional rulers are at all times subject to the authority and directives of the state.
Wike stated, “Therefore, the consistent absence of some first-class traditional rulers, especially the Amayanabo of Okrika, the Amayanabo of Ogu, the Amayanabo of Kalabari and the Gbenemene Nyo-Khana from participating in state functions is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated.
“Should they continue to absent themselves from state functions or in the regular meetings and activities of the State Traditional Rulers Council, we would have no option than to direct their immediate replacement.”
While commending security agencies for working round the clock to make the state peaceful, he said government would from the second week of January commence the demolition of all shanties and makeshift structures in identified hotspots.
He promised that government would take over most vacant plots or uncompleted buildings hijacked and inhabited by criminal elements in the Old and New Government Reserved Areas and that all structures on water channels would be demolished.
The governor announced the immediate ban on the activities of cart pushers who remove manhole covers. He asked security agencies to arrest and prosecute anyone who attempts to violate this ban, including anyone who violates the state’s sanitation laws. ,,