…Farmers hopeful of compensation
PUNCH Investigations’ two-part report on the environmental pollution caused by a chemical spill in Oyo state is fast generating impacts, the first of which is a directive from the police commissioner to reopen investigations, ALFRED OLUFEMI writes
The Oyo State Police Command has ordered fresh investigation into the case of chemical spillage that occurred in the state.
The order for reopening of investigation comes after a two-part report by PUNCH Investigations.
The new development was made known to our correspondent by the Oyo State Commissioner of Police, Adebowale Williams, during a conversation days after the second part of the story was published.
The CP revealed that he took the decision after reading the reports, adding that he is confident that the State Criminal Investigation Department had started work on the case.
“I spoke with the Divisional Police Officer of Moniya Police Station. He gave some excuses, but I have directed the State CID to take over the case for proper investigation,” he said.
PUNCH Investigations had in a two-part series, reported that a toxic, soap-making chemical, which was spilled after a road accident along Iroko-Oyo highway in early September, had contaminated water bodies, killed fishes and destroyed farm produce worth millions in several communities.
In the first of the two-part report, published on September 25, 2022, with the headline, “Toxic chemicals pollute rivers, threaten lives, livelihoods in Oyo communities (I), it was reported that the spillage caused alarming environmental pollution that adversely affected the ecosystem in communities that were about three kilometres from the actual scene of the spillage.
The investigative report, aside from detailing how the chemical-carrying truck spilled its content into a flowing river, exposed how the state government’s belated response to the environmental pollution adversely impacted lives.
It may be recalled that the incident took place on August 31, but the Oyo State Government, on September 7, issued an “alert” to residents of Ijaiye, Ido, Olowo-Igbo, Iseyin and Ibarapa communities, warning them against drinking water from their streams.
In the second part of the report, published on November 6, 2022, with the headline, “Toxic chemicals pollute rivers, threaten lives, livelihoods in Oyo communities (II), our correspondent, through concerted efforts, tracked helpless farmers, unveiled companies allegedly responsible for the pollution and uncovered the role of police, who excluded the farmers from the court case filed against the truck drivers.
It was discovered that the iron-laden truck responsible for the accident that led to the spillage belonged to Medlog Logistics Company while the chemical-carrying truck was owned by ASPIRA Nigeria Limited, one of Nigeria’s largest soap manufacturers, with its headquarters and manufacturing plant located in Kano.
The type of chemical that caused the havoc was discovered to be linear alkylbenzene sulfonate Acid, a surfactant, which experts warned could be toxic to plants and aquatic life at high doses.
Speaking on the feasibility of the new directive, one of the farmers, Kayode Ogundayomi, who suffered heavy losses as a result of the spillage, said the DPO of Moniya Police Station, contacted him after the story was published.
Ogundayomi’s farmland, which spanned over an acre, abuts the spillway area of Ajeja dam. According to Google Earth, Ajeja dam is located 10 kilometres from Iroko, the source of the contamination.
Ogundayomi, who had earlier told PUNCH Investigations that he had projected making millions of profit in yields before the environmental pollution destroyed everything, said he was invited to the station to write a statement.
He noted that when he went to meet the DPO in his office, he met the representative of Aspira Nigeria Limited, Abubakar Nuhu, alleged to be the owner of the chemical-carrying truck.
“Nuhu told me that the company responsible for the accident has refused to appear in court. He also showed me pictures of his losses too,” Ogundayomi said.
“I buy and sell chemicals to ASPIRA”
PUNCH Investigations, in the second report, had referred to Nuhu as ‘Alhaji’ (the name he told our correspondent) and a representative of ASPIRA Nigeria Limited. At the time, he denied working for the company.
However, while speaking with our correspondent on the phone after the CP promised to re-launch an investigation into the case, Nuhu admitted that he owned both the chemical and the truck, and insisted that he only purchases and sells the chemical to the soap-making company.
“Nothing concerns Aspira. I only buy and sell (chemicals) to Aspira,” Nuhu said.
Asked why the charge sheet obtained by our correspondent showed that Aspira Nigeria Limited owned the truck, Nuhu said it was an error.
“It is the waybill. The company you are supplying will be on the document. I am only a transporter to Aspira. That is why I was there (in court) to clarify. Everything belongs to me,” he reiterated.
He also confirmed that he met with Ogundayomi (the farmer) and explained to him that Medlog Logistics Company was responsible for the pollution.
When asked for an update on the court proceedings, Nuhu noted that the representatives of Medlog Logistics Company and the driver were absent at the last sitting held on November 10.
He said, “The other people (Medlog Logistics Company) did not come to court. But the judge has ordered for their arrest.”
He noted that the case was adjourned till December 15, 2022.
Ray of hope
Ogundayomi noted that reopening investigation into the case might pave the way for adequate compensation that all the farmers have been yearning for.
“We are still hoping for compensation. This may be a good way to start for the police,” he added, with a glint in his eyes.
Lawyers, who spoke with PUNCH Investigations, also said that re-investigating the case may result in amendments of the charges previously brought against the drivers and alleged liable companies.
It may be recalled that the charge sheet obtained by our correspondent showed that the drivers were arraigned on seven-count charges — causing obstruction on the highway, causing death, dangerous and reckless driving.
But an Ibadan-based human rights lawyer, Peniela Akintujoye, said the farmers can only be compensated if the charges brought against the drivers in court are amended.
Akintujoye, who said the charges do not show the gravity of what was done and the damage to the ecosystem, including the quantum of loss of livelihoods, suggested that the drivers and their companies be prosecuted by The Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act.
He said, “Justice in this matter does not only lie in charging the issue to court for criminal prosecution, but also assuaging the pains of the innocent people who have suffered on account of this violation.
The Harmful Waste (special criminal provisions) Act of 2004 prohibits unlawful carrying, dumping or depositing of harmful waste in the air, land or waters of Nigeria.
It stated, “(Anyone that) carries, deposits, dumps or causes to be carried, deposited or dumped, or is in possession for the purpose of carrying, depositing or dumping, any harmful waste on any land or in any territorial waters or contiguous zone or Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria or its inland waterways; or transports or causes to be transported or is in possession for the purpose of transporting any harmful waste; or imports or causes to be imported or negotiates for the purpose of importing a harmful waste shall be guilty of a crime under this Act.”
While section 6 of the law prescribes life imprisonment for offenders as well as the forfeiture of land or anything used to commit the offence, Section 12 specified the civil liability of any offender.
“The offender would be liable to persons who have suffered injury as a result of his offending act,” it stated.
The Act further noted that the offender is liable whether the content was either disposed of or abandoned.
Oyo Govt still silent on testing
Meanwhile, two months after the Oyo state government issued a red alert, it is yet to make public the result of tests carried out on water bodies in the area or lift the ban placed on the use of water in the affected communities.
Phone calls and text messages sent to the Commissioner for Environment, Abiodun Oni, seeking updates on the issue, were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.