On Sunday, a tweet went viral from user @GbemmyG in Port Harcourt showing her AC filters coated in soot, which reignited conversations about the city’s enduring soot problem and its unpleasant effects on the living conditions of residents. First reports of the state’s encroaching soot emerged in 2016/2017, settling over surfaces in a coat of black, including water bodies and entering homes, sticking to clothes and posing a huge respiratory risk.
While the soot is no longer shrouded in mystery, identified as carbon monoxide emissions from the burning of crude oil and other illegal operations arising from bunkering, the Rivers government has barely done anything to curtail the problem. The aforementioned tweet exhumed anxieties and valid concerns from indigenes who feel powerless and helpless, now used to the phenomenon and go about their business with no choice.
But the long term effects of such a crisis, both environmental and health-wise, should be a call for immediate and sustainable action. Rivers belongs to Nigeria’s oil producing regions still reeling from the capitalist exploitation of multinational oil companies, wrecking rural communities with oil spillage that has cost livelihoods and further deteriorating the material conditions of the people. This has snowballed into a militant uprising constituting of the region’s young population, vandalising pipelines and kidnaping expatriates working in the refineries, to name a few of their activities.
Despite utterances by the past and present government to diversify the economy, Nigeria is still dependent on oil to generate revenue and cherishes its global standing in the international energy value chain. The government is also complicit, due to its neoliberal attitudes towards managing the country’s oil reserves with the end goal of profit accumulation.
Tackling the soot crisis at hand will involve citizen action, mounting pressure on the government with protests, strikes, online infographics to create awareness, crowdfunding for communities affected by this looming problem. If past protests and organising has taught us anything, this is an issue for Nigerians as it is for the people in Port Harcourt.
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.