WARRI – Almost thirty years after the world beamed it’s search light on Koko, an Itsekiri Town in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta State, when an Italian Company, Gianfranco Raffaelli imported ships of containers ladened with loads of hazardous waste via the Koko port into the country , Koko is on the news again, as it has received yet another consignment of substance suspected to be toxic.
The Italian company had obtained an import permit for “nonexplosive, non radioactive and non-self -combusting chemicals” but instead imported massive sludge, slurry and carcinogen which resulted in illnesses, including stomach upset, headache, failing sight and death, apart from the environmental damage to aquatic lives and the people.
Following the outcry of the Nigerian press about the toxic waste materials in Koko in 1988, the United States Environmental Protection Agency paid a visit to the site and they discovered that some of the containers contained the most dangerous poisons, polychlorinated biphenyls. Nigeria’s news agency then reported that three of the drums contained ”a highly radioactive material,” according to experts from the Japanese Atomic Research Agency.
Thirty years down the line when the small Iteskiri town of Koko is yet to fully recover from the effects of the 1988 inhuman act, Koko indigenes have again received yet another “gift of death”.
Unlike the previous one by an Italian Company, this time around, a Nigerian has been fingered as the perpetrator.
The man in the “eye of the storm” ,whose name was simply given as Ebenezer, Managing Director of EBENCO GLOBAL LINK LIMITED ,Koko with operation spanning over seven years declined to speak with journalists .
He is alleged to have buried the substance in a very big pit in a yard owned by the company and assured the community that the substance is not harmful.
His claim was, however, said to be contrary to a laboratory test carried out by one of his neighbours which proved the sludge to be harmful when it comes in contact with borehole water.
When this reporter in company of some of her colleagues got to the gate of the company, she was initially told by an Hausa guard on duty that the manager was around when a colleague asked him in Hausa.
But after filling the visitors note and they discovered that this writer was a journalist, the guard came back and told us that the manager was no longer around. It became evident that they do not want to talk to journalists after several attempt to see the manager was rebuffed.
When NIGERIAN OBSERVER visited Koko, many of the residents claimed ignorance of a certain dump site in the community and declined conments.
However, a resident who volunteered a few comments and gave his name as Mr. Mathew, told this reporter that he does not know anything about any toxic dump site. He said, “We do not know anything about any toxic dump site. We are just here to do our business. Here every body minds is own business. I have not heard anything about toxic waste”.
Asked whether he knew about the 1988 event and the health implications of what the matter under investigation could be, he retorted.. ” wetin concern me? Abeg…. before people go start to dey die I don waka comot for this country, even if them die, that one no concern me again because by that time, I go don travel abroad “.
What about your family members? He replied.. “my papa and mama don late. So na the community know… since the good things wey my papa do for the community so, dem nor like am,make dem dey suffer am” .
Some concerned indigenes have also alleged that some community leaders, health and environmental officials of the local government headquarters and some security agents have been compromised to sweep the issue under the carpet.
Attempt to reach the community secretary whose name could not be ascertained , but was reached after several attempts through his mobile line, angrily refused to respond to the toxic waste or the allegation of compromise.
A visibly angry indigence who spoke with NIGERIAN OBSERVER said,
“we state, unequivocally, that we will expose all the evil people behind the conscienceless dumping of the hazardous material in Koko”.
“We prefer to stay unanimous for fear of our lives”.
“Soldiers and hoodlums are already after us for raising objections to the hazardous/toxic materials,” a concerned Koko indigene disc”.
Meanwhile, a serving councilor at the local government, Honourable Morrison Oritsegbemi said he was aware of the alleged toxic waste dump, but added that he hadn’t visited the site.
“I’m aware of the toxic waste dumped at Koko, but I haven’t visited the scene and I don’t want to comment on hearsay until I get to the place and see for myself maybe Tuesday, before I can say anything. ” he stated.