Civil society groups are leading residents of Rivers in a protest walk in Port Harcourt against air pollution in the state.
The protest, which is ongoing, had the people marching to the gate of the Government House, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State House of Assembly, and the office of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in the city.
For more than a year now, Port Harcourt residents have been raising concern over the continuous emission of “toxic” soot into the environment by unknown persons or companies.
“It is time to take action against the soot,” one of the protesting groups, ‘We The People’, bared its mind on Twitter, a few hours before the protest.
“Join us to call global attention to the poisoning of millions of Port Harcourt residents. We are taking the protection of our health and environment into our own hands!
“No human being should have to live with this level of pollution. Nobody should breathe this soot. But the people of Port Harcourt have no choice. Day in day out, they live in, they breathe, drink and get poisoned by the soot. It is unjust, it is a death sentence,” the group said on Twitter.
The protesters sang as they marched on. They symbolically covered their noses with masks to indicate what life has become in the city.
The inscriptions on a banner read “Rivers people deserve the right to clean and healthy environment” and “Kick out soot now”.
Sami Abel, a senior programme officer with one of the protesting groups, Stakeholder Democracy Network, told newsmen what he considers as the cause of the pollution.
“We know that artisanal refining is a problem, but the bigger problem is how the security agencies dispose off the seized products. Instead of them to look for better ways of disposing them, they just set them ablaze and the whole place goes up in smoke,” Mr Abel said while appealing to the federal government and the Rivers State Government to rise up to the challenge of finding a solution to the problem.
Meanwhile, the Governor of Rivers, Nyesom Wike, has accused the federal government and its agencies of being responsible for the air pollution in the state.
“The federal government wants to eliminate a greater percentage of the state (population),” Mr Wike said on Wednesday in Port Harcourt while addressing a visiting delegation from the United Nations.
“The Rivers State Government does not own companies that refine crude. We have made representations to the federal government and her agencies on the issue of soot, to no avail.
“We have called on the security agencies to find more refined ways of destroying the illegal refineries. We have informed the National Council of Environment, the military and all federal regulatory agencies, but they are not interested in intervening,” the governor said.
Mr Wike, who accused the federal government of “organising people to protest” in the state, threatened to sue the federal government.
“The federal government is using the soot as a political strategy, not knowing that it will fail woefully,” he said.