If there are about 20 persons in Nigeria today who should know the deadly impact of the importation of Dirty Fuels to West Africa, I should be among the lot. Last Saturday, I took my power generating set for repairs. It was not starting and part of the problem as well was that the fuel tank had started leaking. My neighbour helped drain the fuel and off to the repairer I went. While there, I was required to fetch some fuel from the station, to use it to at least clean the carburettor and perform allied activities. Apart from the fee for repairs, the technician wanted me to part with some more money to buy a ‘chemical’ (which turned out to be a high-sulphur content fuel) for a thorough wash of the fuel tank. At first, I didn’t want to oblige him, and not wanting to join issues with someone who’ll likely accuse you of teaching him his job, I let go. But after he was done for me to take my power generator home, I began to feel a certain itch around my nostrils, and before I knew it, I was sneezing uncontrollably. Up till about 2am that night, I sneezed to near asphyxiation – my ribs hurt, my nostrils were blocked and I dared not take off my clothes.
My wife thought I had pneumonia. So, she shipped me off to see the doctor. But it wasn’t pneumonia or nothing of the sort like we feared. The good doctor checked me up and down, and before giving me a clean bill of health announced, ‘This was just some allergy, sir. Were you exposed to anything toxic recently?’ It was after I answered in the negative that the nickel dropped! It was the ‘chemical’ at the power generator repairer’s shop blimey!
In December last year 2016, the organization I work for, the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, was part of a high-powered delegation which worked assiduously to generate the kind of momentum leading to the July 1 2017 plan by the Federal Government deadline for the import of toxic fuels into the West African sub-region. The background to those series of meetings was from two catalysts: one, the World Health Organization, WHO, had identified four Nigerian cities – Onitsha, Aba, Umuahia and Kaduna – the leading air-polluted cities in the world. Two, a Swiss NGO, Public Eye, formerly the Berne Declaration, had carried out an investigation and when it published its report, it indicted major and minor Swiss commodity traders Trafigura & Vitol, Mercuria, Glencore and Gunvor, that they deliberately exploit very weak regulatory fuel standards to import fuel with extremely high sulphur content into West Africa. While accepted sulphur content in Europe and the Americas is just about 10 parts per million, ppm, the level in West Africa is outrageously high, at nearly 3,000ppm. Apart from the danger this poses to the health of West Africans, car engines suffer heart attacks and sneeze the way I did last week.
Therefore, before that meeting held in Abuja, the Public Eye Report said that African governments must move quickly to ‘protect the health of their urban population, reduce car maintenance costs, and spend their health budgets on other pressing issues’. The Report recommended that by moving to ultra-low sulphur diesel, Africa could prevent 25,000 premature deaths in 2030, and almost 100,000 premature deaths in 2050.But after the Abuja meeting which took place on December 1, 2016, with representatives from the ECOWAS sub-region, together with the African Refiners Association, ARA,I knew something had been left out of the deliberations leading to the decision of July 1, 2017 as deadline was wrong.
The thing is, if we were going to stop the importation of dirty fuels and diesel by 2020, what is the state of our refineries? Had any of these meetings undertaken to visit our refineries to ascertain that they could be put to use to regulate fuels we consume here at the least? These were the issues I tried to look at in an article which was published across the country with the Issues with ECOWAS Energy Security title. In that article, my argument was twofold: one, the July 1 2017 deadline may not hold and two, instead of expending time to revamp our refineries, I said in that article that we should be looking to seriously develop our renewable energy sources and potentials. I made this suggestion because I know for a fact that by 2030 or thereabouts, Europe will no longer be needing our oil. Permit me to quote direct from that article from which I said that ‘by 2030 – about 16 years from today and 10 years from the date wherein ECOWAS set to develop a low sulphur fuel roadmap – Europe would have cut greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions by at least 40%. They will also boost renewable energy and improve energy efficiency by at least 27%. By February 2015, a Southern Gas Corridor to develop the establishment of liquid gas hubs with multiple suppliers in Central and Eastern Europe would be developed. Since most of Europe would soon depend absolutely on renewable energy – solar, biomass, wind and hydropower for their electricity needs, part of the plan of the EU Energy Union includes a full implementation of existing legislations and market rules to integrate these renewable into all European markets, and a promotion of more research into renewable energy production and the decarbonisation of the transport sector.
Today, the government has shifted the goal post to stop the importation of dirty fuels. Thus, we have unwittingly reproduced the precedent we set with the deadline for gas flaring, and extended it to the push to end dirty fuel importation to West Africa by this month.
My allergy from contact with toxic fuel has subsided. But I’m not disappointed that Nigeria was unable to activate the July 1, 2017 deadline. I only feel vindicated. Even though we are signatory to many environmental and climate change treaties, we should begin to dust up our National Policy on Environment and make it consistent with today’s realities. I hear that arrangements are being made to promote renewable energy sources to boost energy efficiency. This is good but my guess is that they’ll likely end up the way the July 1,2017 deadline did.
Etemiku is ANEEJ communications manager