•Satellite residents cry out over offensive odour from Chinese firm
By Tessy Igomu
At Site ‘C’, a community in Satellite Town, Oriade Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, there is palpable unease in the air. Residents say an outbreak of epidemic looms in the area, unless something drastic is done immediately by the relevant authorities.
The community says an unpleasant odour emanating from a cottage industry involved in the processing of animal hides is making their lives a living hell. The community also lamented that since the company was sited in the area, the nauseous stench coming out from the factory has been so distressing and discomforting. Residents fear that the situation could cause a serious health crisis in the community.
Leaders of the community told Daily Sun that they have confronted the owners of the company and had lodged complaints at the Environmental Unit of the Oriade LCDA as well as the office of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA). All their efforts have amounted to nothing, they claim.
A resident, who identified himself as Mr. Femi, said the odour from the company had inflicted much sorrow on the community.
According to him: “To say the least, our community has never been the same since the company started operations on this land. The serious odour emanating from the company’s premises on a daily basis has made some residents to permanently shut their windows in order not to inhale the terrible odour, which can lead to serious health challenges. While they are discharging the hides as well as the treatment and drying of the hides, the entire community is taken over by the odour. It is only on Sundays, when they don’t open for business, that it becomes less evident. But if you go close to the compound, the odour can be irritating.
“The flies that come out of the premises are not good for the community. Those that bring the hides always wash their containers on our road and this can be injurious to our wellbeing. We have two schools nearby where children who are vulnerable could be infected with any disease. In fact, some of the children now wear face masks to avoid inhaling this bad odour.”
Mr. Femi noted that when residents contacted the owner of the company, Mr. Lucky Chiresa, a Chinese national, he brandished an approval to trade in hides and skin, but told them he was not licensed to operate in a residential area. Femi noted that on several occasions the elders in the community had to restrain some youths from taking the law into their hands when the odour became bad.
When the reporter visited the area, she almost became distressed by the poignant smell that hung thickly in the air. She had to hold her breath at intervals even as she spat intermittently, as the stench was simply overwhelming. The stench in the area evoked the image of a dump for decomposing dead corpses.
The reporter later met with 75-year-old Mr. Sam Onyekwena, a war veteran. He expressed bitterness and anger over the situation, saying he was daily being exposed to the smell of decaying animal flesh.
The septuagenarian, who disclosed that his dream was to retire peacefully and live in an environmentally friendly neighbourhood, said having to endure the smell was sheer punishment.
“I have seen the good, bad and ugly sides of war; and now, I’m seeing this. My dream of enjoying my retirement, and the dreams of other homeowners in this area to live in an environmentally friendly ambience are all being shattered. Right now, I am fighting a battle of my life as a result of a chronic lung infection, which I know was caused by this terrible smell. We are appealing to the Lagos State government to act promptly and save us from imminent death,” the senior citizen pleaded.
Mr. Onyenekwe further noted that the operation of the cottage industry within the neighbourhood had brought untold pain, trauma and sickness to residents. As such, members of the community have started wearing facemasks, he informed. He said schoolchildren, especially pupils of Kings High School and Fortress Children’s School, which share close proximity to the company, are now forced to wear facemasks to school.
The old man disclosed that any time the firm brings in fresh stock of the hide, which would have been at various stages of decomposition, most residents are forced to temporarily flee their homes.
“One of such days, I was so angry and had to storm the place. I met them offloading the hides and flies were everywhere. There were maggots all over the place and it was so offensive. I also discovered that anytime the flies perched on the hide, they would just become weak and unable to fly.”
The war veteran said residents have become tired of writing letters. He said the many letters that have been written to the relevant authorities did not yield any meaningful result.
Producing one of such letters dated September 27, 2015, and addressed to the General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA), residents appealed to the state government to act promptly to forestall a possible outbreak of an epidemic within the community. They also disclosed that attempts to have activities of the cottage industry halted through the Oriade Local Council Development Area, proved abortive.
Mr. Onyenekwe further disclosed that following the letter, LASEPA officials visited the warehouse and gave the operators three months to quit the area.
“The deadline expired in December 2015, and till this moment, the Chinese man and his workers are still bringing in the animal skin and drying them,” he said.
The seeming lack of action, Mr. Onyenekwe said, once again made them to write the Oriade LCDA. He said one Mrs. Okoosi, who was in charge of the Environmental Unit at the LCDA, visited the company. Later, one Mr. Oyedokun Abayomi, also visited the place. After inspecting the warehouse and speaking with the owner, residents were assured that the company would relocate from the place on March 23, 2016.
In a letter of undertaking dated February19, 2016, written by the council official and entitled, ‘To whom it may concern’, the operators of the warehouse were given April 23, 2016, to quit the area. The letter, which was co-signed by one Ademola and Adeyemi as witnesses, was received by one Shade, a member of staff of the company.
Days later, when the reporter returned to the community and visited the company, located on plot 6, Alaba Okiri Street, by Abule-Ado bus stop, the place looked deserted, while the animal hides were nowhere in sight. Though the stench still hung in the air, residents were seen going about their regular duties.
After attempts to locate the owner of the warehouse or any of the workers failed, the reporter proceeded to the local government to speak with Mrs. Okoosi. There, the reporter was reliably informed that all the environmental officers had been recently redeployed, including the woman. It was discovered that those presently in the unit were new health officials.
Attempts to speak with the environmental officers were rebuffed. But an officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said when the new health workers resumed at the council, they received series of letters from residents of the said community on the activities of the Chinese nationals, adding that after investigation, it was discovered that the company had been served a quit notice and given three days to shut down the facility but that the firm didn’t comply.
This, he noted, prompted the officials to visit the place. He said what they saw was not in line with good environmental practices. He said they shut down the warehouse immediately.
According to the official: “Aside the stench, the environment was very dirty and their method of preservation was not right. This prompted us to shut down the place. Though we have opened the place, it was after some necessary sanitary steps were taken. We advised them to ensure that the place is well fumigated and disinfected. The fumigation would also have to be done thrice a year. They have also been told to put in place things that would help to stop the ugly smell. For us in the council, it is no longer business as usual. If they can’t adhere to the council’s rules and regulations, they would be shut down.”
As the reporter made to leave the council premises, another environmental worker confided in her that the LCDA might not follow up the matter.
“They would only send us to the company, and after they might have given us something or paid any form of revenue, they would be allowed to carry out their business. Those people would not leave that place,” she said.
The reporter was able to trace the Chinese nationals to another warehouse, where they had temporarily relocated and were secretly carrying out their business.
The warehouse was located inside an expansive compound housing the St. Anne’s Centre for Women and Youth Development – Religious Sisters of Charity, adjacent to the Naval Gate by Alakija. The warehouse shares a fence with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) quarters. There, the reporter was once again welcomed by the poignant smell.
A peep through an opening beside the gate revealed animal hides in various stages of decomposition being arranged by young men. The workers were carrying out their job without any form of protection like facemasks and hand gloves. Some of them were even bare-chested and obviously oblivious of the dangers the chemicals used for preserving the hides could have on them. When the reporter made efforts to speak with the owner of the place, she was confronted by menacing-looking young men.
The reporter was soon asked to leave, after she was told that the owner of the warehouse was not in the country. But before then, a woman, later identified as Shade, who, it was gathered, deputizes for the owner, was heard screaming at the top of her voice that the workers must not allow anyone into the compound. She also said she didn’t want to see anybody and had no business discussing anything with anyone. Moments later, she drove angrily out of the premises.
An official of LASEPA, Bello, who is in charge of enforcement, noted that the agency was not aware of the issue and had not received any letter in that respect.
He, however, assured that since the agency’s attention has been drawn to the danger and menace the said cottage industry poses, the LASEPA general manager would immediately be intimated and the agency’s enforcement team would ensure the company is dislodged. from the community