Residents of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Demand Government Do Something About Hazardous Air Pollution

Traders cover their wares with umbrellas of different shapes and sizes along the railway line in Port Harcourt city, Rivers State, on February 14, 2017. The Nigerian city of Port Harcourt used to be known as “The Garden City”, since late last year, black soot has been falling from the sky, scaring and angering residents who claim nothing is being done to protect their health. / AFP PHOTO

Residents in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt are calling for more long-term solutions after the state government declared an air pollution emergency over the region’s soot-filled atmosphere.

Port Harcourt residents in Nigeria’s Rivers state started to complain of soot in the air and in their homes in November. Many took to the streets to protest and others complained on state radio stations that the soot affected their health. Despite the government’s recent efforts to clear the air, environmentalists and health practitioners are calling for more sustainable solutions to the state’s environmental crisis.

Kingsley Oziebe, who lives in Woji district, said he first noticed the soot on his car in November. But he became concerned when he found chunks of the “black substance” hanging on the mosquito nets in his home the following month.

Flora Tipping, a 36-year-old mother of two, said she noticed the soot while cleaning her 9-month-old son’s nose. The soot also left a dark layer over everything in her house, she said.

“We used to clean the house three times everyday,” Tipping said.

Residents protested in the streets, displaying soot-covered hands and calling on the government to act. Ben Baridam, a blogger who lives in the town of Bori, joined in the social media campaign calling for change.

“It was a protest for inaction,” Baridam said. “I was angry we have ministries of environment on the state and federal levels, and no one seemed to care.”

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Onize Ohikere