By Semiu OKANLAWON
Rather than seek to move farther away from what is patently an unhealthy environment, property developers are luring many to buy plots near the Dangote Refinery, Lekki Lagos in spite of the many dangers that health experts identify as reasons not to live close to such a project; writes NPO Reports
Refinery, irony of unique selling point
ONE of the websites that advertise properties in the vicinity of the Dangote Refinery, Lekki, Lagos, South-West Nigeria flaunts “convenience”, “saving more” and “solid social ties” as some of the attractions of acquiring a property in the area.
Indeed, one of them, Southern Gate Commercial in its advert, describes its plot as “strategically located. It is three- minute drive from Lekki Deep Sea Port, and one- minute drive from Dangote Fertilizer. It will appreciate very fast, and all other attractions that you can think of.”
But most important of all the ‘’attractions’ is the 650 thousand-barrels-per-day- capacity refinery presented as the Unique Selling Point by all estate developing companies selling land to future homeowners.
The buyers seem enthralled by what they assume are the ’allures’ of living proximate to a multi-billion dollar project.
On the surface,, the area indeed is a growing commercial concern with many industrial complexes springing up. Here you have a new port in the making. There are manufacturing companies that have gone into production, turning the area into a future busy place.
Development experts would easily say that wherever you find industrial activities on the rise, you must expect concomitant developments such as growing residential settlements, markets and other features that would serve the emerging community.
Since the multi-billion dollar petrochemical behemoth berthed in the Lekki area of Lagos, creating hopes of several thousands of job opportunities, smart property investors have seen lands in the area as a prime asset to attract buyers with deep pockets.
What is, however, missing is the warning against the dangers of living next to a project that constitutes huge environmental hazards.
When the NPO Reports visited the area, gas flaring was already visible at a good distance from the Dangote Refinery less than a kilometer to the backside of most of the newly cut-out plots of land, which developers are offering for sale.
A study by the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, United States titled “Adverse Health Impacts of Living Near an Oil Refinery in Jordan” concluded that residents living close to the oil refinery industry in Jordan report adverse impacts on their health, including respiratory problems, skin diseases, and perception of poor health.
Also, according to Healthguide.com, a report on the health hazards of living close to refineries “The first thing to note is that the air around a refinery is toxic. A lot of dangerous chemicals and contaminants, like sulfur dioxide, benzene, and lead, are released into the air during the process of refining oil. These chemicals are dangerous to the nose and the eyes. They pollute the air, making it difficult to breathe. Inhaling these toxins could also result in respiratory problems and could increase the risk of asthma attacks.”
Analysts believe that in other parts of the world, humans are advised to move farther away when such a project is cited in their locality.
Dangote says it has taken care of environmental impact
Despite criticisms by some of the people in the area, and especially as alleged by Dare Falade, spokesman of the Falade Family, Dangote Refinery claims to have done the due diligence in establishing the industrial complex in the area.
- Sace, the Italian Company that carried out Dangote Refinery EIA
When contacted on the Environmental Impact Assessment which the company claims to have carried out, Contatto Ambiente, of Sace Company, an Italian consulting company that handled the Environmental Impact Assessment of the refinery indicated that the answer to our inquiries was contained in the IAE report which was mailed to the NPO Reports.
According to page 161 of the report, “the key objectives of consultation on the EIA for the proposed Dangote Refinery Project then were to:
- ensure that the communities and all stakeholders are given early and adequate information on the EIA and the proposed Dangote Refinery Project activities;
- provide a framework for improving the understanding of the potential impacts of the proposed project on the socio-economics and biophysical environment;
- include stakeholders’ views and concerns as part of the EIA execution especially as it concerns the potential impacts; v identify contentious issues in the proposed project execution;
- establish transparent procedures for carrying out the proposed projects; and
- create accountability and a sense of local ownership during project implementation, thus minimising communities’ conflicts and project delays that may result thereof.
But these, Falade, argued are all not being adhered to. He said those who have come to set up residential estates waiting for buyers just want to do business irrespective of the future complications.
- The main gate of the refinery
A property development company, Dynamic Heights which has Dynamic Estate, also listed as one of the attractions to its investment “closeness to the Dangote Refinery.”
Mr. Tobi King, who spoke on behalf of Dynamic Heights as an agent, told the NPO Reports that the location of the refinery and the closeness of the estate does not present any health danger to future residents.
While persuading our correspondent not to be discouraged by the sight of flaring gas observed, Mr. King said, “There is no danger about the refinery at all because the site of the estate is not that close to the refinery.” Mr. King invited the NPO Reports for a closer look to be convinced that there was no danger.
But when he was told about the gas flaring when the site was visited on the 18th September, 2022, Mr. King replied that the gas that was flaring was not strong enough to cause any health crisis for the future residents.
The Niger Delta experience
The Lagos refinery is coming decades after the four refineries established in Port Harcourt (two), Warri, and Kaduna.
Major among issues that had created tension between communities and refineries has been that of the health burden to the people. Lung cancer and skin cancer have been noted to be more prevalent where these refineries are located than any other parts of the country.
A paper, by Orish Ebere Orisakwe, “Crude oil and public health issues in Niger Delta, Nigeria: Much ado about the inevitable” had explicitly highlighted the health warnings of living next to close to refineries.
In the paper published in 2021 in Science Direct journal, he identified gas flaring as one major cause of asthma, cough, and allied medical conditions in residents living close to refineries.
“It is only in Nigeria that I find estate companies using a refinery as a major selling point,” said Prof Omolade Adunbi, of the University of Southern California who visited Lekki to understudy the free trade zone in his book, Enclaves of Exception.
“I visited Lekki and the refinery and I was amazed to see estates being advertised and to think they are using the closeness to the refinery as a source of attraction!” he told the NPO Reports
Research has established the health realities associated with living close to refineries or allied production sites.
According to the Hazardous Substances Research Centre in its findings as far back as 2003 in its report “Environmental Impact of the Petroleum Industry, “Environmental hazards of petroleum refineries are generally considered a major source of pollutants in areas where they are located and are regulated by a number of environmental laws related to air, land and water.”
This goes to say that whenever and wherever such a project is to be cited, operations are to be closely guided by such laws (as in the case of America) Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, CERCLA (i.e. Superfund: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act), Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know (EPCRA), OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), TSCA (Toxic Substances Control Act), Oil Pollution Act and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plans.
In the case of Nigeria, the Environmental Impact Assessment law is a well-known requirement that governs the location of any productive concerns. And the Dangote Refinery, Fertilizer company and other oil companies in the area cannot be an exception.
However, concerns have been raised in the past over adherence to the provisions of these laws where huge projects with consequences on the environment and the entire ecosystem have been executed without regard to the EIAs. Instances abound where the EIA is observed more in breaches.
For instance, a member of the House of Representatives, Bayo Balogun, had previously raised concerns over the impact of Dangote’s refinery on Lekki Free Trade Zone.
“The way we handle our EIA is not good enough. If the EIA carried out by the two companies was okay, the effect we are seeing now must have been foreseen. There is no way there wouldn’t be an accident, but what is happening now, is what they can handle if the right thing was done, and if they had handled it well, it wouldn’t have come to the House. It is part of the responsibilities of government to ensure that people do the right thing.”
Mr. Falade, the spokesman of one of the land-owing families, the Falade Family in Ibeju Lekki, who has been involved in sensitizing the people on the dangers that the presence of the refinery portends for residents, said property developers are not bothered about people’s health.
He told NPO Reports, “People doing business in that environment now are more profit conscious. They are not interested in all what you are asking for now. They just want to do business and make profit!
“You know Nigerians, and that’s why all those factors have to be addressed. They should release the Environmental Impact Assessment to the public so whoever wants to purchase property there can do their due diligence.”
These anxieties and warnings show that the companies operating in these environments had failed in their primary duties of considering EIA as an integral part of their entire project.
Despite these warnings, property developers remain undeterred. A trip to the area revealed the names of the estates that are springing up near the refinery. The list include Ocean View Estate, Adron Homes, Portview Estate, Emirate Seaview Estate, Gracias Ocean View Estate, Victory Estate, Dynamic Gardens, Edge Place, Royal Flex Garden Estate, Bstan Homes, Perfection Estate and others.
Tolani Baale, who runs a small land agency not far from the gate of Dangote Refinery services the needs of properties buyers.
He told NPO Reports that many who had come in the past to purchase lands in the area appear to have been stopped by the worsening economic situation in the country.
He said a plot of land costs at least N12m, and most of those who had come to prospect for land were uninterested in environmental and health risks.
But a Southampton, UK-based Nigerian, Mr. Yomi Jigan, who was in Nigeria to see some of the properties being advertised told the NPO Reports that he was frightened by the gas flaring that he saw.
He had earlier been wooed to the location by the beautiful 3D presentations on some of the images advertised by property developers online and had dreamed of owning a property in the vicinity.
“But I was surprised the day we went for inspection and I saw something from afar. I knew it was gas flaring. That is exactly what the people of Niger Delta had battled against for decades since oil was discovered in their area. When I called the attention of the agent to the flaring, he simply dismissed it with a wave of hands, saying it’s not important. To me, that is ignorance,” he told the NPO Reports
Several studies have linked environmental pollution to oil refining process.
Refineries release toxic hydrocarbons such as natural gas (methane) and other light volatile fuels and oils that cause cancers and respiratory complications.
Where equipment leaks, health conditions can be worse.
Dr. Niyi Sunmonu of the Department of Physics and Physics Engineering, who has done extensive work on the effects of production companies on their environments, told NPO Reports that there is no way to avert the impact of pollution arising from industrial activities on the residents who live within close range of a project such as a refinery like Dangote’s.
“In summary, there is always associated environmental pollution in the immediate vicinity (and even beyond) of companies that produce anthropogenic effluent. The effect of the pollution can be modulated by the design of the companies and prevailing atmospheric conditions,” he said when the NPO Reports asked him to assess the impact of refinery operation on the neighbouring residential estates.
Dr. Peter, Chief Medical Director of Dominion Medical Care Centre is a Cardiologist. When approached by the NPO Reports, he said through a Consultant Pulmonologist is best suited to explain what goes on in the body of a patient who had lived close to a refinery or any other manufacturing concerns where there is intense heat and chemical reactions in the atmosphere, he said a period of poor attention to complications would eventually involve a Consultant Cardiologist.
“It is more of a respiratory issue than cardiology. But I can tell you that in the long run, if the pulmonary complications are not addressed, further complications would occur leading to heart failure,” Dr. Peter said in an interview with the NPO Reports