This article was first published July 2010 in 234NEXT
The struggle over the location of a refinery in Kogi State has caught the attention of many Nigerians. The governor is accused of taking the refinery away from Lokoja to his hometown.
The submission of this article is that the governor, and all those who made the deal with the Chinese to build three refineries, should actually be forced to locate these refineries in not just their villages, but on their own private land as well.
Refineries are not industrial installations that people should wish to be located even in their enemy’s community. They are extremely toxic and poison everything and everyone around them. This is well known in the communities close to refineries in Warri, Kaduna, and Port Harcourt.
Apart from the release of toxic gaseous emissions into the atmosphere, the liquid effluents from these refineries are scarcely treated, and are dumped into water bodies on which local communities depend. The case of Ubeji community, behind the Warri Refinery, is particularly pathetic.
The community’s river and their mangrove swamps were severely polluted and engulfed in flames in July 2007. Till date, no remediation exercise has been carried out. You may hear that some compensation has been paid, but what is that pittance compared to the danger to which the community is permanently exposed to? What would such minor compensations do when the livelihoods of most of the citizens have been more or less permanently curtailed?
Other countries’ examples
The toxic impacts of refineries are just as bad in other parts of the world. In South Durban, South Africa, the refineries (owned by Shell/BP joint venture) were located according to the dictates of the apartheid political system.
A visit to these communities today reveals a high incidence of cancers, blood disorders, and respiratory diseases such as asthma. Indeed, the prevalence of cancers and asthma is so high that you would hardly find a family without members who have died from these diseases, or who are suffering from them. One of the things kids pack as they head to school is the pumps to use in suppressing asthmatic attacks.
The difference between the refineries of South Africa and the ones in Nigeria is that the communities there are organised against pollution and work to produce evidence through the use of means such as the Bucket Brigades (who use bucket-like equipment to collect air samples for measurements).
There have been charges of environmental racism with regard to the location of toxic factories in the USA. One of the most spectacular incidents involving a refinery in the USA was the huge explosion that occurred at the Shell refinery at Norco, Louisiana, in May 1988. The fire from that explosion lasted for eight hours before it was contained. The blame was placed on rusty pipelines and inadequate preventive maintenance procedures.
There are several examples around the world of the negative consequences of setting refineries in neighbouring communities. One peculiar case is an aged Shell refinery in Curacao (near Venezuela) now being run by the Venezuelan state oil company, after Shell sold the refinery to the Curacao government in the 1980s for less than one dollar. They sold the refinery because they were faced with the need to clean up toxic dumps they had created at a cost of about 400 million dollars.
Back to Nigeria, it is mind-boggling to find people fighting to have these installations in their localities. Those whose localities they are moved away from should actually be engaged in thanksgiving and celebrations, rather than blocking highways in protests! The Chinese have found a business opportunity because the NNPC has been inept at managing the four refineries in Nigeria. Must the need to meet increasing demand for petroleum products force us to open ourselves to be ripped off?
The Chinese are to build and run the refineries until they recover their investments. Without terminal dates of when CSCEC would hand over the facilities to the NNPC, there is a wide room for corrupt practices and unmitigated exploitation.
Moreover, placing the refineries on the banks of the River Niger in Kogi State, as well as on the shores of the Atlantic at Lekki may be ways of democratising pollution, but these are moves we can ill afford at this time.
Besides, we need public debates and examination of environmental impact assessments for these projects before they proceed further.
- The article was also published as Kogi Fights Over Refinery Location at http://nigeriang.com/money/as-kogi-fights-over-refinery-location/3151/ (accessed 31 May 2016) ↵