Akoka Residents In Search of Justice Over Polluted Groundwater By Total

  • Petition Somolu Reps Member… Fault LASEPA’s Report

For residents of Akoka community in Lagos, drinking water from taps is like consuming a poisonous substance as the water gushing into their homes is still thoroughly laced with toxic chemicals from Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise known as petrol, despite several efforts in the past to seek redress.

“This water is gradually killing members of our community. I’m a retired banker with four children and I have laboured a lot on my children, I don’t want to lose them to health issues arising from water contaminated by oil because we’re being forced daily to drink from the polluted water for lack of better alternatives,” a resident, Mrs. Adetutu Bintu said at a media interactive session, tagged ‘Justice for Akoka Spill Victims Now.’

The despoliation started in August 2017 at a Total filling station, located along Saint Finbarrs College road, Chemist bus-stop, Akoka, where about 33,000 litres of PMS seeped through a corroded underground storage tank and percolated into the underground water in the entire community.

Following the spill, the oil will soon find its way into the residents’ tap water, leaving them disorientated as to how their water suddenly began to taste and smell of petrol fumes, with petrol pigment cloating the surface of stored water. “But it was when a piece of hot coal fell from a roadside vendor into a gutter saturated with petrol on August 13, 2017, that the community realized exactly what we have on our hands. A combustion occurred, spreading to the entire length of the gutter — a stretch of about 15 metres,” Mr Malachi Anyanwu narrated.

L-R: Leslie Adoghame of Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development, Newton Jibunor, Eniola Omoro Akintunde of Niola Cancercare Foundation and Akinbode Oluwafemi of Environmental Rights Action at a press briefing on ‘Justice for Akoka Oil Spill Victims Now’ in Lagos.

“We reported our observations to the filling station manager, Aleem Maruf, requesting that the station (the dealer on behalf of Total) investigates its underground storage tank for leakage as our water has been contaminated. Despite several reports, we were ignored by the dealer and its staff.” Mr Akintunde Ogunfemi said, stating that members of the community were constrained to escalate the matter after the dealer became hostile in an attempt to cover up. He said though a resident, Ms. Ifeamaka Umeike had officially informed Total Nigeria Plc through a letter, with several letters also delivered by a law firm, Ileola Chambers — Counsel to the affected community, Total has failed to alleviate the sufferings of residents as they are still forced to drink from the ‘killer’ water.

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The affected residents who had since informed the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA); National Oil Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the immediate past Commissioner for Environment in Lagos, alleged that the oil giant has not shown recourse to the directives given by the Lagos state government to resolve the matter and remediate the affected areas, notwithstanding the several meetings between the Lagos state ministry of environment, LASEPA and the two parties involved. They claimed, this was despite Total’s admittance to polluting underground water through the oil seepage in the community at those meetings.

In June, 2018, the Lagos State government had directed that the filling station be sealed pending the outcome of an Environmental Forensic Audit (EFA) to be carried out by LASEPA. Part of the directives given to Total also include: that all boreholes sunk by Total be immediately de-commissioned; Total should work with the Lagos Water Corporation to connect the community to the water grid for uninterrupted supply of portable water to all residents and also provide the affected residents with suitable water containers and tanks.

However, contrary to these directives, the station was re-opened and it started dispensing fuel in less than three weeks in spite of the pending EFA report. The company was said to have only delivered water to the community through water tanks for few days in a week and that had since stopped last December. Till date, none of the affected residents have been connected to the Lagos water grid.

According to residents, another disturbing highlight of this mishap was the EFA report released by LASEPA which absolved the station of any blame, instead claiming that the “presence of PMS in groundwater was found to be NIL (0.00mg/L),” something which residents termed as “bogus, if not malicious” in a signed petition dated 1st August, 2019, addressed to the House of Representatives member, Somolu Federal Constituency, Hon. Ademorin Kuye.

“To date affected residents still perceive PMS in the water running from their homes. Attention is being move from the real culprits, with deliberate attempts to point fingers at certain victims within the community,” the petition obtained by The New Diplomat stated.

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As stated in the petition, LASEPA had purportedly claimed in some news reports that the water in the affected areas in Akoka had been certified as safe for drinking following its EFA report faulted by residents.

Worried over an attempt to blackmail members of the community and prevent justice from taking its full course, residents alleged that one Segun Adesanya, a former CDA Chairman of the community has been conspiring with Total Nigeria, its dealer and regulatory agencies to suppress the truth, by claiming it was residents who poured petrol into the boreholes in the neighborhood.

“This seeming conspiracy is incomprehensible to us. At this juncture, particularly judging by the mode of investigations and the uncommitted responses from the regulatory bodies above mentioned, we dare to say that they come across either compromised, inept or unwilling to protect the ordinary citizens of our community,” the petition read.

Meanwhile, as the problem remains unresolved in the last two years, residents are now susceptible to health complications and diseases that could arise from taking water polluted by petrol. “Gasoline (same as petrol) contains lead, benzene and zinc. Benzene causes cancer, Lead suppresses bone marrow leading to anaemia and blood related cancer. It can damage the ovary, kidney and destroy the reproductive system,” a Professor of Anatomy, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Francis Duru said. “Sometimes, these chemicals can affect the DNA, leading to a transfer of same complications in parents to their children’s DNA. This community is sitting on a keg of gun powder and it will soon explode.”

“We have been exposed to something that looks abstract, yet real. Like the 9/11 attack in the U.S, the effect could take years. It’s even worrisome because in this case, the entire members of a family are being affected,” Ms. Umeike said while lamenting on the long-term effects of petrol chemicals on human health.

Another resident, Mr Adeyombo Adewale stated that since the development, residents have been spending a lot of money to buy water from local water vendors alternatively known as ‘me ruwa,’ while a large number of residents still result to taking water from the polluted taps. “With the current economic situation in the country, how many people can afford spending between N500 to N1000 everyday to buy water?” He asked.

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Reacting to the development, House of Reps member, Kuye, representing the area said he will work with appropriate authorities to make sure another test is carried out on the water sample by independent bodies to unravel the true state of the underground water in the affected community.

“We will collaborate with the Lagos state government to ensure Total removes the damaged tank and replace it. It’s also important to enquire from the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development on whether it’s in order for Total to operate a filling station in a residential area like that,” he said.

Deputy Director, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERAFoEN), Mr Akinbode Oluwafemi said “if there’s an infraction in a community and a group of people is trying to stop residents from voicing their frustrations, that speaks volumes. We have heard of stories like this in the Niger Delta, but it’s so unfortunate that we’re having it now in Lagos called the centre of excellence.”

Oluwafemi noted that the the alleged complicity of LASEPA calls for another EFA report in the affected area by an independent organisation, saying ERA/FoEN “will explore all resources within and outside Nigeria to ensure justice is done on this matter.”

Till the time of publishing this report, efforts to get reaction from Total Nigeria Plc proved abortive, but while replying to an enquiry sent to her line by The New Diplomat, the Head, Public Affairs Office, LASEPA, Mrs. Bola Ajao said: “We will get back to you on the above subject matter please.”

But as the multinational oil company and officials postpone action time on the spill, residents are reeking from the short and long-term effects of drinking from ground water contaminated by PMS and the ecosystem continues to be worse for it.

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'Dotun Akintomide's journalism works intersect business, environment, politics and developmental issues. Among a number of local and international publications, his work has appeared in the New York Times. He's a winner of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Award. Currently, the Online Editor at The New Diplomat, Akintomide has produced reports that uniquely spoke to Nigeria's experience on Climate Change issues. When Akintomide is not writing, volunteering or working on a media project, you can find him seeing beautiful sites like the sandy beaches that bedecked the Lagos coastline.


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