In this report, Mojeed Alabi concludes a two-part story on the agonies of residents of some Ile-Ife communities over hazardous emission by a metal recycling factory
Community cries out
Between 2009 and 2010, when the people noticed construction works at the then proposed site of the company within the community, they were ecstatic, hoping the activities of the company would bring further development to the community.
However, according to Rev. Fadare, the first sign that the company had commenced operation was the thick smoke in the air, which he noted had beclouded the entire Fashina community and its environs, and turned daylight to night. “And since then rather than bringing along development, Ife Metal and Steel Company had brought upon us tales of woes,” he said.
The development had compelled the community through the late Oba Ogunwusi to write the company on June 9, 2011, in a letter entitled; “Notice of Hazardous Environmental Pollution: Call for Control,” complaining of the consequences of the factory’s operation. And on June 15, 2011, the company replied the letter confirming that an emission abatement facility had been bought and that its installation was only being hampered by the rainy season.
The company’s response reads in part: “We wish to state that our company has been making frantic and concerted efforts in bringing the emission under control. The equipment needed for absorption and control of the emission has been imported and is being installed by our engineers. The only constraint delaying installation process is the rainy season.”
But two years after, the community insisted no emission control had taken place, compelling it to appoint, in 2013, Sola Olusanya and Company, a law firm, located on Aderemi Road, Ile-Ife, as its solicitor.
Thus on September 9, 2013, through a letter titled; “Reminder on Perfect and Effective Abatement of Hazardous Emission,” the solicitor wrote the company, expressing the people’s frustration and anger over the company’s failure to abate its emission as promised two years earlier.
Another letter written on the same date by the counsel was also addressed to the late Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade, calling for the royal father’s intervention on the matter.
According to the law firm’s Principal Counsel, Mr. Sola Olusanya, other efforts were made to let the company see reason in the people’s plight but all efforts were to no avail.
He said: “And since Kabiyesi Ogunwusi died in 2014, the company saw no reason to take the people seriously again. What was more painful is the complete neglect of the people; no response to our letters and no intervention of any kind.”
However, according to Olusanya, rather than abating, the situation grew worse in 2016 when the company shifted its operations to night, with more cases of ailments daily reported by the people. So, on October 13, the lawyer, on behalf of the community, petitioned the Osun State House of Assembly and other appropriate authorities and government agencies, backing it up with video evidences, revealing the impacts of the company’s activities.
The community also organised protests many times, carrying banners with various inscriptions such as; “Save Our Soul,” “Stop Killing us by the Day,” among others.
When our correspondent visited the palace of Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, he was directed to see the Chairman of Ife Development Board, Prof. Muhib Opeloye, who the media aide to the royal father, Prince Moses Olafare, noted was in charge of such issues.
Opeloye lamented what he described as the danger constituted by the company, saying his board has consistently kicked against its activities and negligence.
He said: “We are not against investment but investment at the detriment of the people is a violation of rights to life. What the company is doing is not just against the people of Fashina and its environs, but a clear attempt to exterminate the whole Ile-Ife race, which is the cradle of the Yorubas. And this is dangerous. We have approached the company and government representatives, but we are yet to see any change.”
The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), the agency responsible for maintenance of environmental standards for industries, said against standard practice, it was unaware of the plan to establish the company until it was fully in operation.
According to the Osun State Coordinator of NESREA, Maike Ahmad, the agency had only noticed the existence of the company while on a routine monitoring of the environment in 2011, and was shocked that it had opened without proper documents including what he called Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificate.
According to him, “This document is issued by the Federal Ministry of Environment after it must have inspected the location, facilities and the compliance to environmental regulations. But we later found out that the company only got an approval from Ife Central Local Government and commenced operation.”
As a result of the development, Ahmad said the company was fined the sum of N1 million as provided by law. “Then what the law says is that from then on, the company was expected to submit environmental audit report every three years to determine its impact on the environment.”
And when the community’s continued cry for help was brought to the attention of the agency, it claimed a visit was paid to the company in September 2014.
In a letter addressed to the company on September 10, 2014, and titled; “Notification of Environmental Compliance Concerns,” and signed by Ahmad, NESREA said it observed dark smoke emission from the factory, the poor working condition of the company’s Air Pollution Abatement Equipment (APAE), and ineffective enforcement on use of Personal Protective Equipment by company’s workers, among others.
NESREA added that the secondary air pollution abatement plant was yet to be completed, meaning that what the company promised would be done in 2011 was yet to be completed by 2014.
Following the persistent cry among the people of Ile-Ife on the menace being constituted by the company and the allegation of compromise on the part of the Osun State office of NESREA, the South-West Zonal Office visited the company again in 2016. The agency in its letter to the company dated March 16, 2016, noted the non-submission of Environmental Audit Report by the company, poor housekeeping around the facility, poor hygiene of the company’s canteen with workers working without complete personal protective equipment.
NESREA, therefore, issues a one-month ultimatum to the company to address all issues raised or face sanctions. But many months after, the issues are yet to be addressed, and the residents’ cries have continued.
State House of Assembly’s intervention
In response to the petition addressed to the House by the community, the Chairman of the House Committee on Industry, Commerce, Cooperatives and Empowerment, Olatunde Olatunji, raised a motion on the floor of the House on the environmental and socio-economic impact of industries in Osun State.
Olatunji, who represents Ife North State Constituency, told New Telegraph that the urgent intervention of the government became necessary having observed the dangerous dimension the pollution had taken.
He said: “We did not only invite the management of Ife Metal Company and the complainants, but we also invited the management of Prism Metal Company, located along Osogbo-Ikirun Road, because its own emission too is hazardous to the environment.
“We also played the video clip of the emission and found out that the situation in Ile-Ife is worse because the company is located in a residential environment.”
The lawmaker further explained that its committee was shocked to note that the company did not have the requisite papers before commencing operation, and regretted the menace it now constitutes to the environment.
As the chairman of the House committee saddled with the investigation into the crisis and to suggest appropriate solution, Olatunji said his committee was almost through with its findings and would soon present its recommendations to the House for necessary action.
“As a responsible government that is accountable to the people and at the same time encouraging investment, we are working towards reaching a middle ground that would protect the interest of humanity. We won’t allow our people to suffer simply because a company is generating revenue for the state,” he said.
New Telegraph’s correspondent was shocked when, on Tuesday, November 15, 2016 the company’s Chief Administrative and Personnel Manager, Mr. Oluwaninsola Adeleke, was called to schedule an interview and reeled out the details of the correspondent including his itinerary within the last four days he has been in the environment. He eventually agreed to be interviewed the next day, Wednesday, November 16.
At 2p.m. on Wednesday when New Telegraph visited the company, there were armed policemen guarding the company, but our correspondent dared the consequences and entered the company’s compound for the scheduled interview.
Apart from agreeing to the claim that his company had started operation without the Environmental Impact Assessment certificate, Adeleke explained that the sloppiness of the landscape of the company’s location, had worsened the pollution.
He said: “Look at those scrap metals, ordinarily, they are sent to induction furnace which is the melting point, where it will be melted into molten iron and from there it goes to what is called Continuous Casting Machine (CCM), where it is in turn molded into billets which is given some time before is taken to reheating furnace. But the technology we brought in now has eliminated reheating furnace as we are now using direct charging method. So once we melt, we move them to rolling mill. No more process of reheating furnace which is another effort at reducing emission apart from the installation of abatement plant. As new technologies are coming up, we are also trying to embrace them. An outsider, who hasn’t come in here will not know the efforts we are making to address this challenge.
“The pipe up there is our secondary pollution plant, it used to be our primary pollution plant but because concerns were raised about its poor performance, so in 2013 we installed another abatement pipe which now captures well above 75 per cent emission. And following the new specifications, the new primary piping is designed to capture 80 per cent, but on our own, because we want our environment safe, we converted the former primary piping to secondary so that whatever particulates that still managed to escape the primary piping can be captured by the secondary piping. It was our own initiative, no one recommended that. The WHO recommended 20 per cent emission and I think what we are emitting is far below that.”
Adeleke, who craved the community’s understanding, said the company’s decision to shift its operation to night was as a result of the new policy of the Steel Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, which it noted cut the member factories’ production quotas to 35 per cent each due to the glut in the country’s steel market.
He said as a company that is interested in making profit, the management had discussion with the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company, and it was informed that the best time stable electricity could be enjoyed for smooth production was night. “So we did not shift the production to night to avoid the sanctions of regulators,” he told New Telegraph.
While craving for the people’s support, Adeleke said it would not be in the best interest of the nation’s wobbling economy for anyone to call for the company’s closure.
He stated: “If Ife Iron folds up today, not less than 30,000 people will directly and indirectly lose their jobs. We have suppliers, marketers, drivers, among others. In fact, we pay as much as N50 million monthly when we were working during both the day and night.
“Today, we are ready to embrace better technology if we are introduced to one, but it must be noted that in an industrial plant anywhere in the world, we can’t have zero emission.
“In Osun State today, we have just three major factories which are the Ife Iron and Steel, Prism Steel, Ikirun, and the International Breweries in Ilesha. So that is the challenge because the people are new to pollution. Comparatively, you can go to Ikorodu and check similar factories like this and compare what we emit to what they emit.”
The Company is telling lies –Environmentalist
In response to the company’s defence, a Professor of Water Resources and Environmental Engineering, Ifeoluwa Adewumi, said as far back as 2011, he had notified the Osun State Government of the lack of adequate facilities to tackle emission by the Ife Iron and Steel Company Limited and its counterpart in Ikirun.
He said for an iron company that is heating at 1,700 oC, installation of a Cyclone Precipitator, among others, is a prerequisite to be issued Environmental Impact Assessment Certificate by the regulatory agency.
He said; “How did the company know it was capturing more than 80 per cent. It can’t be doing that and still pollute the environment at that rate. I went to the two companies in 2011 as an environmentalist but I was not allowed in by the management. I reported the case to the then state Commissioner for Environment, Prof. Olubukola Oyawoye, but as usual, the government was slow in action. So, in a nutshell, the company is telling lies.”
We’ll address the challenges – Osun govt
Below is an excerpt of New Telegraph’s interview with Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s spokesman and Director of the state’s Bureau of Communication and Strategy, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, who explains the position of the state government on the matter
Is the state government aware of the pollution cases around Ife Steel and Metal Company?
The government is aware of pollution cases around Ife Metal Company and Prim Steel Company, Ikirun. The emission of fumes/smokes/gases etc. into the atmosphere from these industrial companies is in fact visible to all eyes and has been a source of worry to the relevant agencies of government at the local, state and federal levels.
Did the government certify the company before operation?
The plants had become operational before the state government discovered that the two companies had no Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certification. It was supposed to have been issued by the Federal Ministry of Environment. However, in place of the EIA certification, a quarterly Environmental Audit Report is required to be submitted by the companies to the National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Federal Ministry of Environment, the State Ministry of Environment, amongst others. The EIA report that was submitted for the processing of a State Interim Planning Permit is not the same as the EIA report; the latter is more detailed and also multi-disciplinary.
Is the government aware that the residents of the areas around Ife Steel Metal Company’s location in Ile-Ife are already being diagnosed for emission-related diseases?
Government was never aware that the immediate/nearby communities were suffering from any sickness resulting from the emissions from the plants. We must note that the activities of the state environmental agency include but not limited to the following: appraisal of the Environmental Impact Audit Report, regular physical inspection of the industrial premises, monitoring the nature of emission by equipment, recommending solutions to environmental problems such as planting of trees, installation of effective scrubbers, among others.
What is the government doing to address this challenge?
Industrial development of the state is desirable but not at the detriment of people’s healthy living. In the immediate, a joint task force may be constituted comprising representatives of the State House of Assembly, Committee on Environment, the State Ministry of Environment, Federal Ministry of Environment, Controller’s office, State of Osun, NESREA’s Osun field office, the Nigeria Police, Security and Civil Defence Corps, among others.
The task force will be saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the activities at these plants and look into the areas needing improvement including temporary shut-down to effect necessary changes if need be. In the long term, acquisition of modern technology, new plant in a new location, proper treatment or emission control mechanism, critical examination of the blue print development plan of the plants, among others, are key.