NIGERIA’s inability to apply agreed global standards in the import of refined petroleum products raises worrying environmental, health and safety concerns. Armed with tangible evidence of the toxicity of dirty fuels imported from Europe, five West African countries, including Nigeria, banned such products in December 2016. Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Côte d ‘ Ivoire, Togo and Ghana signed the pact and gave a deadline of July 2017 to end imports of deadly fuels with extraordinarily high sulfur levels.
Four years after the deadline, however, the ban has not been enforced in Nigeria. With fanfare, then Environment Minister Amina Mohammed impressed the world: “For 20 years Nigeria has not been able to cope with the vehicle pollution crisis due to the bad fuels that we import. Today we are taking a big step forward by limiting sulfur in fuels from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million. This is heartwarming because it is the standard implemented in Europe.
In short, it struck the right chord, but as we can see today, it was just empty rhetoric. The government has done nothing important to uphold the standards. Nigeria still depends on the standards of the colonial era, toxic gasoline and diesel still land on its shores leaving no room. It is obvious that Nigeria is using its hard earned resources to buy trouble. It is a sobering double calamity.
There is no tenable excuse for this because mainly dirty fuels cause premature deaths. Among other harmful effects, an international resource watchdog, the Stakeholder Democratic Network, estimates that 114,000 Nigerians die prematurely from air pollution each year. Toxic fuels contaminate the air we breathe, depositing carcinogenic particles there; they damage vehicles, as well as other alarming side effects. Fuels also destroy greenhouse gases. These are the compelling reasons why these dirty fuels have been banned in Europe and other parts of the world.
Nigeria is expected to follow suit quickly. Disturbingly, the SDN report indicated that the quality of imported dirty diesel was inferior to that produced by artisanal refiners in the creeks of the Niger Delta.
For once, the government should act decisively and uphold the beneficial agreement. When the ban was approved, the United Nations Environment Program said it would dramatically reduce vehicle emissions, help more than 250 million people in the West African sub-region to breathe clean air and live a better life. It is concerning that the Nigerian government still lacks the political will to implement it.
In a darker report, a group of experts from the World Health Organization have linked diesel engine exhaust emissions to cancer. The result was based on the study of highly exposed workers in the rail, mining and road sectors. For children, it is very dangerous. Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health in the United States have reported a link between poor school performance in childhood and high exposure to air pollution. In its report, the Global Alliance for Health and Pollution said Nigeria was third in the world for pollution-related deaths and sixth for premature deaths caused by air pollution.
An earlier report titled “Dirty Diesel”, published in 2016 by the Swiss NGO Public Eye, linked European trading companies to the flooding of Africa with toxic fuels, which had been banned on this continent, but which thrives here. due to weak regulations and poverty. enforcement. The 160-page report says companies sold fuels that contained 378 times more sulfur than allowed in Europe. He found other toxic substances, such as benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in the samples tested.
For Nigeria, there is a strong indication of self-blame. For a long time, Africa’s largest crude oil producer refused to reform its energy sector. Its public refineries have been in ruins for decades. Therefore, it is unable to refine crude oil to meet domestic needs, which is huge. It therefore depends on expensive and toxic refined petroleum products from overseas. The National Bureau of Statistics said Nigeria imported petroleum products worth 855 billion naira in the third quarter of 2018, the highest in the past five years under this regime. The figure was 688 billion naira in the first quarter of 2021. In the first half of 2020, Nigeria spent 1.09 trillion naira to import gasoline, an increase of over 40 percent over the past year. corresponding period of 2019. Various other huge sums are spent on diesel, aviation fuel. , kerosene and LPG. Being such a big importer, this should give Nigeria a solid platform to negotiate high quality fuels. Compare that to Europe: In 2017, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control said the European Union had rejected 24 exported food products, including peanuts, beans and palm oil from Nigeria in 2016 for failing to meet its standards.
But here Nigerians are buying death at gas stations, another reason why Buhari’s regime should act fast. With the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation being the sole importer of oil for the past two years, it is easy for them to trace the source of the dirty fuels. The National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Downstream Petroleum is expected to investigate the mess and force the Petroleum Resources Ministry, the industry’s regulator, to enforce the agreement on fuel standards.
With new refineries ready to take off, the time has come for the government to devise internationally recognized standards for products to be produced by domestic refiners.
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