For the past 20 months, resident of Port Harcourt Nigeria’s oil and gas capital have witnessed the emergence of black hydrocarbon soot falling from the sky and contaminating everything it descends on as well as the air people breath. The emergence of the soot further compounds the serious environmental devastation suffered in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. Over 5 decades of oil and gas exploitation has left the region with one of the most devastated ecosystems in the world. A long history of oil spills and gas flaring has left the lands, water bodies and air in the region unsafe and unproductive.

The soot is the latest in an unending story of environmental disasters people of the region are forced to endure daily. While the government is yet to definitively state the origin of the soot, it blames principally the escalation of illegal artisanal petroleum refining in the creeks of the region and the manner security forces deal with it. Artisanal refiners fabricate homemade refineries where they refine stolen crude oil into petrol, diesel and kerosene. The business has essentially thrived because it fills the periodic gaps in the government controlled system of petroleum products distribution. The makeshift process causes alarming soil and water pollution as well as produce thick black smoke which descends as black soot. To further compound the problem, Nigeria’s security forces simply set fires to the refineries wherever they find it, and all the hydrocarbon products alongside, causing unimaginable environmental devastation including soot. The military boast that it has destroyed thousands of makeshift refineries in this manner.

Also complicit in the emergence of the soot is the government owned refineries which have been terribly maintained for decades and now emit thick black smoke, the flaring of associated gas by big multinational oil companies including Shell, Agip, Chevron and Mobil- an avoidable pollution which has been inflicted on the people of the region for decades; and Petrochemical company located in the state.

Scientists believe that the hydrocarbon soot contains cancer causing and respiration affecting chemicals which is daily poisoning the people of the state through inhalation, food and water contamination and absorption through the skin.

The response of the government has been at best lukewarm without any concrete action to end the menace. The federal and state government as well as agencies tasked with the statutory responsibility of regulating the oil sector and protecting the environment are complicit in this inaction.

On the 19th of April 2018, We the People joined other citizens and organizations in the state to organize a protest march calling the attention of the government to the situation and demanding immediate action to end the soot. The protest which was attended by over 1000 persons delivered petitions to the governor of River State, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation and the Rivers State House of Assembly.

Amongst others, the protest march demanded an immediate identification of the source of the soot, an immediate end to all environmentally hazardous practices in the state as well as the conducting of an urgent health audit of citizens who have been exposed to the soot pollution.

We the People continues to collaborate with other civil actors to intensify the campaign for the right to safe air.