By Rafiu Ajakaye
Protesters on Thursday blocked major roads in the Nigerian oil-rich city of Port Harcourt, calling on the government to act immediately to stop the spread of "black soot pollution" that has enveloped the Rivers state capital for the past two years.
Port Harcourt and its surroundings have witnessed unceasing rains of black soot which residents claim resulted from the ongoing destruction of illegal refineries in the area by a government task force.
“Our message is that the federal government and the state government and other relevant agencies must collaborate and #StopTheSoot now,” Fynface Fynface, a protest leader and executive director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Center, told Anadolu Agency by phone.
“We are also demanding for clean air and healthy environment devoid of black soot that is killing our people and causing illnesses,” he added.
Stella Amanie, another protest leader, said the situation in Port Harcourt and most of the Rivers state was no longer tolerable.
“In Port Harcourt today, people no longer breath fresh air. Black particles have enveloped everywhere. White mosquito nets inside our rooms have turned black, and that gives you an idea of what goes into the lungs of little children and everyone. Doctors now complain of rise in respiratory diseases in the state,” Amanie, head of the Society for Women and Youths Affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
She said the protests followed the government's seeming "apathy" to the development.
“That is why we in the civil society, joined by ordinary citizens, have to make the point that the pollution is no longer acceptable to the people,” she added.
The protesters also called for immediate end to indiscriminate gas flaring, urging the parliament to strengthen regulations on the activities of oil companies and stiffen sanction regimes against violators.
The Nigerian government said it is currently auditing the black soot pollution in collaboration with experts from the World Health Organization and other agencies.