Residents of Ipetero and Ewu-Oruku communities in Ishagamu South Local Government Area of Ogun State have cried out for help over what they described as “the installment killing” of their folks and teens by “the deadly activities” of an Indian owned metal recycling company, Monarch Steel Limited.
In their tens, men, women, children, including the aged, staged a peaceful protest on Friday, June 7, 2019 to the alleged company, carrying placards with different inscriptions, reiterating the devastating effects of its activities on their wellness, wellbeing and as well as on the environment.
Some of the placards, which were conspicuously displayed by school children and adults alike, read: “Monarch: Please go green”; “We can no longer breathe fresh air”; “Stop killing Ewu-Eruku, Ipetero Residents”; and “Save innocent children”.
According to them, whenever the company begins recycling operations, dark/thick smoke and choking chemical smells takes over the atmosphere, ceasing fresh air and beclouding the entire communities with almost zero visibility, forcing them to shut their windows, doors and hurriedly run for safety.
Leading the protest, spokesman for the two communities, Pastor Rufus Noel, explained that though the company started operation in the area exactly 10 years ago, but heavy pollution of the air, environment and contamination of essential amenities like wells started taking dangerous dimension five years ago.
“And since then, we have been crying for help, seeking the attention of the Ogun State and Federal Government agencies in charge of Environmental protection and regulation but to no avail.
“In 2015, we went to southwest regional office of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in Ibadan, Oyo State, to lodge complaints. The agency invited Monarch Steel Company Limited and also came for inspection. They asked us to list what we wanted. On top of it was stoppage of pollution of our environment, plus schools, health centres, waters and construction of good road networks by the company. Afterwards, the agency promised to ensure that the company is pressured to compliance.
“But from that time till now, the case has not been revisited again. What we realised was that officials of NESREA only come to the company to collect envelops and go back.
“Painfully, this is the reason why the company has refused to give us attention. In fact, the management has told us practically that there is nothing we can do to them. That we can go to hell if we like, that nobody, not even the government can do anything for them,” he laments.
Noel’s wife was said to have died last year during child labour from complications related to air pollution or consumption of contaminated substance.
Buttressing Pastor Noel’s positions with more specific details were three other speakers, Mr. Adesina Adebayo, a landlord in one of the communities, Mrs. Babalola Olayinka, a mother of five children, whose children have become regular visitors to the general hospital because of the pollution, and Miss Ogundairo Dolapo, a 14-year-old SS2 students of Christher Group of School, whose colleagues at school also groan under the heavy pollution.
According to Adebayo, “the Post Graduate Students of the University of Lagos were here three years ago and last year on a soil sampling and research of the extent of environmental and air pollution by this company. Their result was that the soil water has been heavily polluted by dangerous chemical and other heavy metal contaminants.
“This company has not only polluted our waters but endangers our lives. If you come here in the evening or anytime the company starts its operation, you would not be able to withstand the pollution – heats and poisonous smokes it releases to our homes.
“And consequently, some of our children frequently come up with strange diseases that defy medical analysis because of this lawlessness by the company. We are Nigerians, we are taxpayers and we deserve the protection of the government of Ogun State and Nigeria as a whole,” he added.
On her part, Mrs. Olayinka said her third born has in the last three years diagnosed of severe chest blockage, pains and chronic cough because of the toxic smokes she has inhaled, making her a regular visitor to the General Hospital.
“As soon as it is cured, we would be discharged but in no time, she is down again because she has inhaled the smoke again. As a matter of fact, no singular member of my family is not affected by the smoke, with coughing and chest pains identified as a regular sickness in my family now.
“That is why we have come out to cry for help before this company kills us all. We need help, Ogun State Government, the Federal Government and international organisations should come to our rescue,” she pleaded.
As the protest progressed for the convergent point, some 200 metres distance from the alleged company, Dolapo, a 14-year-old student of Christher Group of School, was seen leading a handful of other younger students on the protest.
With a demeanor of strong passion, Dolapo clutched to her chest, with her two hands, a placard, with a conspicuous inscription: “Monarch: Go Green, please”.
She said the protest was personal to her because of her several school mates that are being sent to the hospital routinely because of the pollution activities.
“Sometimes in our school, the smoke covers everywhere. Some much that it lasts 10 to 30 minutes sometimes. In-between this time, we would be able to do anything in the class because some students usually collapsed because of the choking and we would need to rush them to the school clinic.
“Therefore, this company should please go green and save our lives,” she pleads.
After two hours of unattended waiting at the frontage of the company, a heavily armed police patrol team, led by ASP Ogunleye Abiodun of Ishagamu South Division, arrived the scene, obviously with the intention of preventing the breakdown of laws and orders.
Their arrival was almost simultaneously followed by that of representatives of the King of Ogijo Kingdom, led by Chief Bangbelu of Ogijo. Others on the royal team were the King’s Personal Assistant, Mr Ajasa Mobolaji and another unidentified High Chief.
The chief’s mission was said to come and create a channel of dialogue and how best the concerns of the aggrieved parties can be addressed.
After some intervention, the management staff of the Monarch Steel Company Limited agreed to meet the leaders of the protesters; and after two hours of unyielding negotiation, Tuesday, June 11 was fixed for another meeting and at a neutral venue – the palace of the Oba of Ogijo in Ikorodu.
During the close door negotiation, which EnviroNews was privileged to attend, General Manager for the recycling company, Mr. Vikas K., admitted that his company needed to reach out to the two companies as part of its Corporate Social Responsibilities, but disagreed that his company activities constitutes high threat to the inhabitants of the area.
According to him, “It is true that we need to reach out to the communities where we operate. And we have made attempt to do that some three or two years ago, offering to sink borehole for them. But the then CDA Chairman said such was not necessary that we should monetise it.
The ex-CDA Chairman, who was in the meeting and denied the allegation, saying the reason for rejection was attributable to the contamination of all the existing boreholes in their communities. He added that the money requested was Annual Compensation Fund, which the government and the community was well aware off.
Further in defence of his company, the General Manager of Monarch Steel Company Limited, who was flanked by the company’s Personnel Manager, Mr Sunday Adeniyi, promised to turn a new leave this time in addressing the concerns of the communities.
“However, I can tell you that I have a team of best environment consultants. They are of the best in the world. And I can say that 80% of our wastes are being effectively controlled, thereby protecting the environment. I have the best of environment management plans and I am being briefed routinely to have knowledge of how fairly we are doing in the environment we operate,” he added, incurring the anger of the representatives of the community on attendance, include an environmental protection activist, Dr. Leslie Adogame.
Adogami, the Executive Director, Sustainable Research and Action for Environmental Development (SRADev Nigeria), challenged the company to release its Annual Environmental Management Auditing Report if truly it was diligent in keeping its responsibility to nature, arguing that the “company’s activities doesn’t only pollute the environment and endanger the lives of the residents, it is criminal because it has neglected the statutory regulatory measures it supposed to follow.
“Recycling is a global concept, which is acceptable to all. But there is what we call Green Recycling and Brown Recycling. Green Recycling is the ideal way of recycling because it protects humans and the environment. Brown Recycling is the crude and dangerous alternative, which kills and endangers lives and environment. And that is what Monarch Steel Company Limited is practicing here. The company knows what it is doing.”
Speaking with newsmen earlier, Adogame, who mobilised media for the protest, in commemoration of this year’s World Environment Day, said his NGO’s passion can’t be farfetched from its total neglect by the government.
“This is a community we’ve been working with for the past four to five years now. We are interested in this community because of what we call a total neglect of its people.
“So far, we have found out that more than 50% of the industrial companies that are sited along this (Ikorodu-Ishagamu) axis are major polluters. And we have been following up on these companies, especially those that are into recycling like Monarch Steel Company Limited.
“What is happening here is an eyesore. It’s man inhumanity to man. And that is why we are using this event of World Environment Day to partner with the community to raise awareness and sensitise Nigerians on the injustice going on here,” he added.
As at the time of filing this report, both the Ogun State Government and Federal Ministries of Environment could not be reached for comments.
By Bankole Shakirudeen Adeshina