Suit against Soot: Group files Right-to-Life suit at Federal High Court in PH

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* Medical evidence shows danger to reproduction, breathing and skin

By Gladys Nweke

Extra Step Initiative, an environmental non-governmental organization, has filed a suit (FHC/PH/FHR/140/19) at the Federal High Court Port Harcourt Division for the enforcement of the fundamental right to life and to a satisfactory general environment favourable to the development of people of Rivers State.

The group, in a statement by its chairman, Eugene Abels, said that the prevalence of particulate matter, also known as ‘Soot’, has persisted for the last four years.

They explained that they have done all things legally possible, but government at all levels has failed to act and bring the scourge to a stop and save the flora and fauna.

He said: “We have been forced by the scary ‘medical opinion’ arising from a survey of 22,081 medical records by the Rivers State Government and a paragraph states thus: “In reference to respiratory, skin and reproductive conditions related to soot, clearly shows a significant rise in some of the assessed health events following exposure to the putative factor, presumably the soot incident in the state.”

The group explained that in light of the scary report, and buoyed with the fact that Nigeria is a signatory to the ‘Africa Charter on the Right to a Clean Environment which has even been domesticated, it had to act by approaching the courts for enforcement of the rights.

”We wish to commend the former Rivers State Commissioner for Environment, Prof. Roseline Konya, and her team for generating the report on Soot, even though it took too long when placed beside the many years of inaction.

”We hope our step will compel all the state actors to declare a health emergency in Rivers State and get the residents screened for cancer and respiratory ailments.

”Also, this action we hope will lead to a major door-to-door public health campaign through the length and breadth of Rivers State on emergency measures such as: bathing in our polluted rivers, eating seafood from these polluted rivers, outdoor exposures for people within the vulnerable spectrum, and the consequences of illegal artisanal refining on our kith and kin.

”Also, it is our desire that the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, in partnership with stakeholders and development partners of interest, set up air quality monitoring stations across the state. Daily Public Health Advisory should be issued, based on the daily air quality readings.

”We also hope that this action will instigate further studies on health impact to track emerging health trends that may be linked to prolonged exposure to particulate matter.

”We desire a reorganization of the security architecture for purposes of accountability and transparency whereby dedicated tank farms and jetties be created for the reception of exhibits seized from non-licensed persons or groups.

”This reorganization should include the office of the Auditor-General to account for the seized assets, NOSDRA, DPR, EFCC, the state authorities and NESRA to geotag spill sites and appropriately place liability.

”We believe that the current activities of non-state actors in artisanal refining have made the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) become ‘reactive’. They need to be retrained, re-manned and equipped with mobile testing equipment to enable them to prevent the infusion of adulterated products into the nation’s supply chain.

”We believe that the time is right for an internationally-driven Environmental Audit to be conducted in Rivers State, bearing in mind that the state has been the ‘kitchen’ for the hydrocarbon industry for the past 60 years. It is our firm belief that it is time to assess the state of our flora, particularly in the areas with a high incidence of artisanal refining”.

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