Is Port Harcourt the canary in the coal mine for Nigeria?

At the turn of the century before carbon monoxide monitors and detectors were developed, miners used sentinel birds. The most common and effective was the canary. If dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide collected in the mine, the gases would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.

Caged Canary Smithsonian Magazine

A few weeks ago, Port Harcourt was in the news, soot was falling from the sky and coating everything it fell on. You had black soot on clothing, buildings, cars and as you can imagine, people were breathing it in. Governor Wike responded by shutting down a bitumen plant. The soot is still falling, is it more that just one plant?

On Wednesday, I was in Port Harcourt and I noticed that all the air conditioning units at the hotel I stayed in were coated with a black oily substance around the fan shroud. The walls and the roofs were black or had black coating on them. What struck me was the faint smell of diesel in the air. I attributed it to the large generator the hotel used.

The next morning, as I came out of my hotel room, I saw employees with face masks and orange suits. I was like is it really that bad, until I saw the man with the canister that held pesticides. I took a walk from my hotel to my clients office and noticed the absence of sunshine. It was drizzling and overcast and you still had that faint smell of diesel. For lunch my client and I went to his house. I asked to see the Victron Quattro 8000 we had installed for him. Every thing was covered in black soot. My hands were black from touching the inverter and batteries, like in the picture below.

Soot covered hands

My client explained that they wash everything, the walls, the windows, the walkways daily and yet by noon everything is covered in soot. We went back to his office and I could still smell diesel. His generator was not on (he has solar power), he had not made a recent purchase of diesel and the location of the fuel tanks was a distance from where we were. When I mentioned the smell of diesel to him, he noticed it too. It had become a part of the environment that people stopped noticing.

I can’t begin to imagine the health effects that will come from people breathing in all these particulates. I can’t imagine the ecological destruction that this will bring to all the marshes and creeks. I can’t imagine the number of wildlife and life stock that will be damaged and killed by this.

Nigeria is a country that is heavily dependent on self generation using diesel and poor quality fuels. Do we see this happening in other parts of Nigeria? Is Port Harcourt that canary in the coal mine? As Port Harcourt goes so will Nigeria? Is the a warning or taste of things to come all across Nigeria? What are the consequences for Nigeria? We already have very polluted rivers, landfills that are full of toxic materials and now our air is not breathable. What does this mean for the future of our children and grandchildren? Are Nigerians about to experience what China went through 3 years ago. Pollution so crippling it made your eyes water. People needed face masks to breathe. The air was so thick with pollution you could not see the person in front of you. Rivers turned green from too many chemicals.

What way forward NIGERIA? What does the future hold? I see opportunity do you?

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