Toxic-terrorism on Africa by Americans and Europeans

All through 14th to 19th of April 2010, virtually all the Nigerian newspapers were awash with the news emanating from the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, and the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, that they have arrested and detained a Maersk Line vessel, 'MV Nashiville,' filled with toxic waste; the crew and the agents were also arrested and detained, pending investigation. The vessel, according to the reports, actually arrived in the country on 9th April, 2010 and discharged some of its contents at the Federal Ocean Terminal at Onne in Rivers State. It was also learnt that the vessel left Onne and arrived Lagos on 11 April, 2010, and that the NPA allowed it to berth at Berth 7B. But the vessel reportedly met its waterloo following a memo from the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, to the NPA, which in turn alerted security agencies at the port.

In the vessel from hell, it was noted that among other things, 70 storage (lead) batteries classified as Basel codeA1180 and broken televisions were havened in it. The vessel was reportedly operated by American President Lines, APL, a wholly owned subsidiary of a Singapore based Neptune Orient Lines. Nigerians were told that the arrested were at the intelligence unit of the Tin-Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS.

However, this was the same manner in 1988 that over 3,500 tonnes of toxic waste were dumped at Koko in Delta State, by the Calbert brothers in the United States who were reported to be very good and had a knack in dumping waste anywhere they deemed of interest, especially Africa. That toxic waste dumped at Koko caused sicknesses and deaths among Nigerians.

There was a report in the Nigerian newspapers credited to the Calbert brothers, from their office in New Jersey, that "they falsified documents to beat the American government by labelling drums of hazardous waste as AID products from the government's USAID, with the logo of handshakes signifying friendship, they sent toxic waste to Zimbabwe. When they were nabbed and tried, they told a stunned court that they saw nothing in shipping waste out of their backyard (industries) in America into Africa."

Notwithstanding, it was a devil-incarnate businessman called Gianfranco Rafaelli who dumped the toxic waste at Koko after approaching a 67-year-old Sunday Nana to acquire a "piece of land to dump what he claimed was raw materials for his industry". It was later discovered that Rafaelli was havening, at Koko, 8,000 drums of polychlorinated biphenyl sulphate (PCBS), methyl melamine, dimethyl ethyl-acetate formaldehyde etc., which were the world's most hazardous wastes. This caused Nigerian government then under the leadership of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd) and the Italian government diplomatic mishap because before Nigeria could say Jack Robinson, Rafaelli was nowhere to be found in Nigeria. Nigeria was so angry: the toxic wastes were shipped back to Italy.

''We were paid 10 naira a day to work unloading the barrels,'' said Nana's neighbour named Daniel, who was found around Mr. Nana's compound in rubber thongs.

In the same manner the runaway Rafaelli's toxic wastes were shipped back to Italy without the government then doing anything to nail the culprit, which perhaps signifies that there was something fishy between the government and the “mad man” that didn't meet the eyes; the government of Nigeria under the leadership of Ag President Goodluck Jonathan is asking that the controversial Maersk Line vessel be shipped back to Netherlands.

By 21st of April, 2010, Nigerian Newspapers reported that: The controversial Maersk Line vessel, M. V Nashville, alleged to have brought in toxic waste into Nigeria has been given clearance to sail back to the Netherlands, her country of loading, with the particular container believed to contain the waste.

Vanguard newspapers disclosing this said, Wednesday, Customs Area Comptroller, CAC, of the Tin-Can Island Port Customs Command said the Federal Government had ordered the vessel to leave the shores of Nigeria after the content of a container in the vessel was ascertained and found not to be industrial waste but used fridges, air conditioners, heavy duty industrial batteries, tyres and sundry items.

Continuing, Vanguard opined that the container whose number was quoted as UESU-463595-0 was placed at the bottom part of the vessel, making it difficult for officials of National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, to fish it out from the vessel. Officers and men of the Tin-Can Island Port Command of the Customs arrested and detained the vessel after the Nigerian Ports Authority raised an alarm days ahead of the arrival of the vessel.

But no matter what the authorities want Nigerians to believe that the ship was carrying, why must it come to Nigeria in the first place? This writer recalls the statement by James Brooke, Special to the New York Times published July 17, 1988 when unprintable amount of toxic wastes were dumped at Koko. Brooke said the ship that came to the delta region of Nigeria meant disruption capable of killing the natives whose occupation was to sail canoes for fishery.

He wrote: “In this African delta port, where children run barefoot through oil palm plantations and men pilot dugout canoes through mangrove swamps, the arrival of a ship from Europe has often meant disruption.... Escravos and Forcados are the Portuguese words for slaves and indentured. Today, a collection of steel drums stacked behind a villager's family compound here speak of the latest trade with Europe - 10,000 barrels of toxic waste.... As safety laws in Europe and the United States push toxic disposal costs up to $2,500 a tonne, waste brokers are turning their attention to the closest, poorest and most unprotected shores – West Africa. From Morocco to the Congo, virtually every country on West Africa's coast reports receiving offers this year from American or European companies seeking cheap sites to dispose of hazardous waste. Fees offered African recipients have gone as low as $3 a tonne”.

Brooke quoted a foremost Nigerian journalist condemning the wicked and callous dump, saying, in a Nigerian magazine, African Concord, Sam Omatseye wrote: ''That Italy did not contemplate Australia or South Africa or some other place for industrial waste re-echoes what Europe has always thought of Africa: A wasteland. And the people who live there, waste beings''.

Firing squad outlined as the way forward to stop these American and European waste merchants to Africa, Brooke said: “Outrage is particularly strong in Nigeria, where officials now warn that people caught importing toxic waste will face the firing squad”.

He further quoted Duro Onabule who was the government spokesperson in 1988: ''We are prescribing the death penalty for any Nigerian, any foreigner, caught in the act of bringing in toxic waste. There will be no concession to appeals from foreign governments”.

''It's terrible because Africans are not very aware of the dangers of toxic wastes. Many of our people are not literate and could easily become contaminated by the waste,'' in Lagos, Nigeria's Health Minister, Ransome Olikoye Kuti, said in an interview.

But when a furore erupted over what African newspapers now call ''toxic terrorism,'' both African governments quickly repudiated the contracts, said Brooke.

''Dozens of letters from angry readers have been inclined to regard the dumping of toxic wastes as the latest in a series of historical traumas for the continent,'' read an editorial last month in West Africa, an English-language weekly. The traumas cited were slavery, colonialism and unpayable foreign debts.

Similar outrage surfaced in the pages of Jeune Afrique, the region's largest-circulation French-language magazine: ''It is no longer a secret for anyone that some African leaders, eager to see their Swiss bank accounts grow, would not hesitate to transform the African continent into a garbage dump for industrial wastes from industrialized countries,'' wrote one reader, Basi Nanchi Ya Rwin-Cin, a Zaire student.

From Niger, which received offers in May from a Dutch company to store chemical waste, Adamou Seybou wrote: ''Evidently, the Westerners explain that these wastes, once buried, will no longer be dangerous. If that's true, why aren't they happy to bury the wastes in their own countries?''

This writer maintained in his article entitled “Toxic Waste Dumping: Africa At The Mercy Of God” published in February 14th 2007, in print and electronic media, amongst other things, we cannot forget in a hurry that a ship called Kian Sea carried 2,000,000 tonnes of Philadelphia Ash from Panama to Guinea-Bissau in West Africa. Benin Republic was reported to have “had a contract on January 12, 1988, with a British company affiliated to South Africa to dump about five million tonnes of waste yearly. Benin Republic was expected to receive a ridiculous fee of $2.50 per tonne from Sesio Gibraltar, the company behind the deal, despite the fact that in the developed world, more than $5,000 would have been charged per tonne of waste". This writer is not in any way subscribing to such negotiation, of any amount.

“Rather, the West should stop taking advantage of the ceaseless wars in African countries to ship waste to us sometimes tagged 'aid-relief'. If not that African leaders are like the sleeping dog, one wonders why the West would always be on the escape side when nabbed on this act. There is no amount of money paid to a nation as 'ransom' that would bring back a dead man.

“The United Nations and African leaders should help Africa by enacting 'strict' laws, preferably the death penalty, which would prevent these waste merchants from shipping these unwanted wastes into Africa. Africa, from the beginning, has suffered untold terrorism from the West,” this writer also posited in the said article.

While the Maersk Line vessel was allowed to sail back from Nigeria to the Netherlands with the toxic content, it's imperative to say that Americans and Europeans should henceforth stop shipping toxic wastes to Africa. If it were Africans that are into this devilish trade, Americans and Europeans would have been crying loud. White men should allow Africans a breathing space. They have all through history been humiliating and causing untold hardship on the Black race. Americans and Europeans can't because some African countries are very poor and continue to tempt Africans with their “blood” money for dumping of suicidal wastes in the continent. This is terrorism.

Odimegwu Onwumere is a Media Consultant based in Rivers State, Nigeria; and the Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA). Mobile: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]

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Articles by Odimegwu Onwumere