Residents of Kom Kom in Oyigbo local Government Area of Rivers State where an oil pipeline belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) exploded on Saturday say over 100 people were burnt in the fire.
Some of the bodies, they claimed, were burnt beyond recognition while scores of corpses were still in the bush where the explosion occurred.
Residents also raised an alarm over the humanitarian disaster due to the fast decomposing bodies, stench and pollution of the swamp and the environment.
A visit to the area on Sunday showed that the number of human casualties grew because many of the villagers were in the swamp scooping petrol gushing out of the ruptured NNPC pipeline. Also affected were a number of palm wine tappers and local brewers of Ethanol who were in the swamp.
Villagers said over 100 people were trapped in the huge fire because there was a free-for-all scramble for leaking petrol by the villagers before the explosion.
A villager who gave his as Ogechi Nnamdi said: “Nobody at the scene of the explosion survived. People were rushing to the leakage site to scoop free fuel, suddenly we heard an explosion. At least, I saw about 20 dead bodies. 11 had been carried away. And more are in the swamp yet to be recovered. And it is difficult getting inside the swamp now because we are in the rainy season”.
He called for the decontermination of the area by the government to avoid the spread of diseases.
Some of the villagers were observed recovering the charred bodies from the swamp and burying them in mass graves.
Most of volunteers were not putting on medical gears to prevent infections from the fast decomposing bodies. There were no presence of emergency officials from the Oyigbo local government, state or the Federal government at the time of the visit.
Our correspondent was assaulted by the pungent smell of decomposing corpses oozing out from the environment.
Rescuers at the scene
Hon. Promise Chibuzo Nwankwo, the House Of Assembly member representing Oyigbo Local Government Area expressed his condolences to the families of victims of the disaster. He also condemned the activities of oil thieves who caused the disaster.
According to the lawmaker, “In the early hours of Saturday, 22nd June 2019, around 8:25 am there was an incident of fire outbreak in Oyigbo Local Government Area.
“The fire outbreak which occurred in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC) facility somewhere around Canaan Land Hospital, Izuoma Axis of Oyigbo local government area is as a result of oil bunkering.
“Until now the number of people injured are unconfirmed, but it is confirmed that scores of person’s were recorded dead.”
Tobacco companies are zeroing in on one of the last global markets still ripe for exploitation: the African continent.
Much of the tobacco leaf and some of the manufactured cigarettes produced on the continent are exported. These exports earn the foreign currency that’s attractive to the finance ministries of tobacco producing countries. But increasing amounts of the continent’s tobacco outputs remain in Africa, with tobacco companies taking advantage of countries with weak tobacco control measures and comparatively low consumption rates that they consider ripe for expansion.
While tobacco production is decreasing (slightly) in most of the rest of the world, it is increasing in Africa. In 2012 Africa accounted for just under 10% of all tobacco grown worldwide.
The major tobacco producing countries by tonnes grown in 2017 were (in order) Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. Smoking rates in most African countries are still low by global comparisons. They are, however, rising in several sub-Sarahan nations.
Economic benefits exaggerated
We chose these countries because they represent different degrees of tobacco reliance and tobacco control, which allows us to make meaningful comparisons among them over time. Zambia and Malawi are major tobacco producers, whereas Kenya is not (though it has several concentrated areas of tobacco farming).
Zambia has ratified the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and has some tobacco control measures in place. Malawi has not ratified the Convention, has fewer tobacco control measures, and is more reliant on tobacco as a cash crop. Kenya has also ratified the Convention. But compared to the other two countries, it has much stronger tobacco control measures and is less economically dependent on tobacco.
There is, however, a common finding amongst all three countries. The economic importance of tobacco for government treasuries is often exaggerated while tobacco growing has failed to fulfil its promise of lifting farmers out of poverty. In fact, it’s often been the reverse. Many smallholder tobacco farmers have been losing money or making so little they remain deeply impoverished or deeply in debt.
Our ongoing research in Zambia recently drew further attention to another risk. When governments provide economic incentives to tobacco manufacturers as an economic development strategy, they’re shooting themselves in the foot. This is because the health and economic development costs of increased tobacco related diseases will far outstrip any benefits, including the creation of new jobs.
The effect of incentives
Zambia, like many African countries, wants to attract or stimulate both foreign and domestic investment to diversify its manufacturing base. In an article reporting earlier findings from our study we cautioned that it needed to exclude tobacco from its investment incentives.
The reasons for this were twofold. Firstly, this is something Zambia is actually obliged to do as a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Eleven years after Zambia ratified the Convention it has yet to implement all of its requirements in significant part by adopting and implementing corresponding legislation and regulation.
Secondly, we predicted that the government would be actively encouraging tobacco production if it provided incentives. This is exactly what’s happened. Two new cigarette manufacturing plants recently opened in a special ‘Multi-Facility Economic Zone’ on the edge of the capital Lusaka.
One is owned by British American Tobacco (BAT) Zambia and, according to our research participants, produces five million cigarettes a day. The company opened the plant to “localise its brands in Zambia”, with around 40% of its output destined for the domestic market.
Government officials said the fiscal incentives it offered BAT’s new plant were in line with the country’s development plan, praising the 72 new manufacturing jobs the plant created. BAT’s fiscal incentive, offered to all investors in the economic zone, was 0% tax for the first five years of operation.
Around the same time that BAT set up shop, a local Zambian tobacco company took similar advantage of the tax offering. It opened a second cigarette factory capable of producing 20 million cigarettes a day creating 100 new jobs.
The company behind the new plant described its efforts as “feeding the nation’s favourite habit” and noted the significant potential to grow the local market. To assist in that growth, it has 34 sales staff employed as “Foot Soldiers” to promote its product in places that motor vehicles can’t reach.
Many of the government officials with whom we met in late 2018 continue to claim that Zambians don’t smoke much and that most of the tobacco leaf (and now cigarettes) are simply exported elsewhere.
But an increasing number of Zambians do smoke . And that number is almost certain to rise with local cigarette manufacturing targeting local consumers. While female adult smoking remains in single digits, male adult current smoking is now greater than 25%. More troubling is that smoking among girls is now roughly equal to boys.
Zambia has since changed its investment policy and is no longer offering the 5 year tax free break. This was too late to prevent the new cigarette factories from taking advantage of the tax incentive. But it offers a cautionary tale to other African countries trying to attract investors to ensure tobacco is excluded from its offers.
Meanwhile Zambia, like many other countries around the world, finds itself caught between pro-tobacco development policies and efforts to implement tobacco control measures. The Zambian legislature is presently considering a new comprehensive tobacco control bill. If it becomes law, it will help to minimise the unhealthy consequences of its past investment policy, and to provide meaningful support for Zambians’ future well-being.
Ronald Labonte, Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Ottawa; Fastone Goma, Associate Professor, University of Zambia; Jeffrey Drope, Professor in Residence of Global Health, Marquette University, and Raphael Lencucha, Associate professor, McGill University
Africa and Russia must harness their immense resources to foster a greater economic future for their people, the chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, Dimitri Medvedev said in Moscow, Russia.
Medvedev, who was speaking during the Annual General Meeting of Shareholders of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), held as part of the Bank’s 2019 Annual Meetings, said Africa and Russia accounted for half the world’s resources.
He said although Russia’s presence in Africa had weakened in the 1990’s, the country had since then done a great deal of groundwork on joint projects in geology and mining, energy, industry, agriculture, fishing and telecommunications.
“We are promoting humanitarian ties, both as part of international assistance to Africa’s comprehensive development and on a bilateral basis,” Medvedev said. “In this new era of Russia-African cooperation, the Government of the Russian Federation will do everything in our power to make our partnership a success”.
He said globalisation had shifted growth to developing countries, making Africa a more important partner for Russia, adding that Africa could tap into Russia’s decades-old business and industrial expertise to boost domestic capacity and exploit opportunities.
Prof. Benedict Oramah, President of Afreximbank, called on partners from all corners of the world who shared the vision of a progressive African continent and of Afreximbank to “join forces with us to push forward a new agenda for Africa”.
“The Russian Federation represents one of such partners that Africa looks up to,” said President Oramah. Russia could be a source of investment goods that Africa needed to develop its infrastructure and could transfer critical technology in digitization and in mining and processing of raw materials. It could also be a source of non-debt creating investments in key areas, such as rail, aviation, healthcare, and petrochemicals.
“The traditional international relationships of the African continent are changing rapidly as we forge ever closer links with emerging partners who are eager to assist the economic development of Africa through sectoral and infrastructure investments across the continent and embrace ever stronger trading links,” he said.
“Russia, in particular, is forging a new relationship with Africa, as are other South-South emerging partners, which, in tandem with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, gives me great confidence that Africa is well positioned to ride this era of global trade tensions that threaten to damage other continental economies.”
He said “A resurgent Africa is on a transformative journey of industrialisation and diversification to ensure that we are not over-dependent on our commodities and vast reserves of natural resources. We are heralding a new era of intra-African trade and global trade and investment relationships which will overturn the historic constraints curtailing the past growth and development of Africa’s economies”.
Closer links between Africa and Russia are evidenced by the partnership between Afreximbank and the Russian Export Centre, agreed in December 2017, which established a successful Africa-Russia institutional platform.
That platform is already delivering on its promise with such successes as the provision of vital fertilizer to Zambia and Zimbabwe, the implementation of mining projects with added-value processing capacity in Sierra Leone, participation in Africa’s rail infrastructure and the establishment of petrochemical plants in Angola and Nigeria.
Amb. Albert Muchanga, Commissioner for Trade and Industry of the African Union Commission, delivered a goodwill message on behalf of the Chairman of the Commission.
More than 100 speakers, including ministers, central bank governors, subject matter experts, business leaders, representatives of international trade organisations, export credit agencies, African and global trade development experts, and academics, spoke during the three days of the meetings, which opened on 20 June. The Annual Meetings focused on the theme ‘Harnessing Emerging Partnerships in an Era of Rising Protectionism’.
The 2019 Meetings marked the second time that they were taking place outside Africa. The 2012 Annual Meetings was held in Beijing.
Credit: The Independent Uganda