For years, residents of Majema, a suburb of Unguwar Rogo in Sokoto Local Government Area of Sokoto State, have been enduring noxious fumes emanating from a shearing site in the community.
Twenty-three-year-old Saminu Muhammad calls the community his home. But he’s afraid the toxic activities of the shearers, if not checked, would cause residents olfactory and respiratory disorders.
His experience in Majema is a tale of isolation as the pungent odour stemming from cowhide processing has deterred most of his friends from visiting him. The stench is so pervasive that it compels Muhammad to avoid staying in the area during the day, a tragic blockade to his freedom within his own home.
“My friends could not come to visit me except those who also reside there with me. The odour at times, makes one vomit especially if one is already feeling nausea,” he said.
When WikkiTimes visited the shearing site, passers-by were seen navigating their paths with caution, even taking u-turns before venturing too close to the workplace.
Muhammad said he had witnessed strange reactions from workers at the site whenever someone covered his or her nose to escape the smell.
According to him, the labourers sometimes splash stagnant water used in washing the removed cattle skin on these fleeing passers-by. It’s an unconventional practice born out of frustration, he believes, adding they strive to combat the growing stigma associated with their work.
“If anyone covers his or her nose to dash out from the area, the workers there would splash the stagnant water used for washing the removed cattle skin because covering of nose while passing frustrates them,” Muhammad told WikkiTimes.
Globally, air pollution is estimated to cause about 29% of lung cancer deaths, 43% of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) deaths, 25% of Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD) deaths, and 24% of stroke deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Further, research shows that the predominant causes of death associated with environmental risk factors include chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, enteric infections, diarrheal diseases, and communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases, which has resulted in approximately 800 thousand deaths and 26 million people living with Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per annum in Nigeria.
The research further revealed that Nigeria is ranked among the world’s first five and the largest country in Africa, with the top-most level of premature death associated with air pollution.
‘I Endured the Challenges During My Stay with My Relatives’
Muhammad narrated to WikkiTimes his experience while staying with his relatives during his studies at the School of Matriculation, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto (UDUS), where he endured the challenge of dealing with daily, varying odours.
He would later be accustomed to the situation because he had no other options as his relatives’ residence was not too far from his school.
“When I was in the school of matriculation, I also suffered from this daily odour, not until I later adapted to the whole thing,” he recalled. “But then, I had no other alternative than to stay because I live with my relatives and it is very close to the school of matriculation.”
Suffering Turns Triumph
Shaifullahi Bello, a resident of Majema, shared similar experiences with Muhammad. He highlights a noticeable transformation in his perception of the area’s persistent odour.
Bello emphasised that the initial discomfort caused by the smell had evolved into what he termed “odour fatigue.”
Bello explained that house hunters encounter difficulties in finding suitable accommodation in the area. However, those who have resided in the area for a long period have seemingly adapted to the environment.
“As you can see now, I am not affected by the odour as I once was,” he told WikkiTimes. “It is only for those who have not been to this place before that can be affected. The majority of residents in this area have grown accustomed to this odour due to the continuous presence of a specific workplace for more than half a century as I heard.”
‘Bagaruwa’ — A Local Chemical Workers Used to Prevent Odours
To mitigate the effects of the stench on their health, workers who spoke to WikkiTimes said they apply a local chemical known as “bagaruwa.”
However, they acknowledge that prolonged exposure to such odours may lead to health issues.
Expressing the toll it takes on them, one of the workers who identified himself as Muhammad said: “We always apply a chemical called bagaruwa to the stagnant water to prevent us from disease but not from the odour. We are experiencing odour fatigue from this, even our children.”
‘Government Intervention Crucial to Ending Harmful Incentive Practice’ — Expert
Gboyega Olorunfemi, an expert in the area of climate change, environment, and sustainability, strongly advocates for the intervention of both local and state governments to take immediate measures to safeguard the people living in the area.
In light of the potentially detrimental consequences of this incentive practice, Olorunfemi emphasised that the urgency of the situation necessitates a swift and robust response from authorities to ensure the safety and welfare of those at risk.
His words: “The location where this practice is ongoing should be flagged and the location sealed off to protect the people living in the area from impending health and environmental impacts.
“The state government should then build a befitting abattoir for the community which will serve as an approved site for inspection and hygienic slaughtering of cattle, its controlled and monitored processing, meat production and storage for human consumption and industrial use without environmental hazards.
“To begin with the risk associated with this insensitive practice, the environmental effects range from water pollution as the stagnant water has the potential to accumulate organic matter and pathogens that can find their way into natural water bodies to cause greater harm.”
“The entire habitat is degraded for aquatic ecosystems and this also leads to an increase in Greenhouse Gas emissions due to enhanced anaerobic conditions that release methane thus contributing to climate change,” he continued. “The health implication is unquantifiable as the stagnant water becomes the breeding ground for disease transmission hosting vectors like mosquitoes which transmit malaria, yellow fever, filariasis, encephalitis, dengue… “
Impending Waterborne Diseases Pose Looming Health Crisis
According to Olorunfemi, waterborne diseases can affect both humans and animals. The degradation of air quality around the area will lead to worsening respiratory conditions and cardiovascular effects with a risk of heart attacks, asthma, and other bronchitis, he said.
He further emphasised the need for immediate action to avert this impending health crisis, underscoring the importance of adopting improved systems within the work zone, not only to spur development but also to safeguard the well-being of the local population.
“There are alternative measures such as circular economy that can be explored once the abattoir is put in place to reduce waste and environmental impact associated with beef production from cattle through biological methods, water recycling, filtration system, conversion of waste to biogas for sustainable community development and eco-friendly practices.
“The attention of authorities of the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Health, NAFDAC, and other regulatory agencies should be drawn to these activities and must act with dispatch to arrest this menace which can throw the entire state into a disease outbreak and economic chaos,” he said.
Efforts to speak with the Sokoto State Commissioner for Environment, Nura Shehu Tangaza, proved abortive. His media aide, Abubakar Gani, said he will brief the commissioner and revert after the Yuletide holiday.
This report is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) and funded by MacArthur Foundation.