When reports filtered in last September, that Swiss trading firms – Trafigura and Vitol – were exploiting weak regulations in Africa to import “dirty fuels” into Africa, including Nigeria, many dismissed it as impossible considering the many government agencies that are present at the ports.
But today, the story seems different as five countries in West Africa have decided to stop importing “dirty fuels” from Europe, the UN Environment Programme has said. Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have all agreed on the import ban.
Daily Sun had in September reported the findings by Swiss watchdog group, Public Eye, with the title, “Dirty Diesel’’ which had alleged that the Swiss trading firms are blending and dumping dirty fuel in Nigeria and other West African countries with more than 100 per cent toxic (sulphur) levels allowed in Europe, thereby causing health and environmental hazards.
Why the ban?
The UN says the move will help more than 250 million people breathe safer and cleaner air because the sulphur particles emitted by a diesel engine are considered to be a major contributor to air pollution and are ranked by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the top global health risks associated with heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory problems.
Head of UNEP, Erik Solheim, hailed the import ban
In a statement, the UN Environment Programme said the five West African countries, in addition to banning the import of dirty fuels, have also agreed to upgrade the operations of their national refineries.
The upgrade, which will concern both public and privately owned refineries, is meant to boost standards in the oil produced in the five countries.
The report into Europe oil exports released in September particularly criticised the Swiss for their links to the African trade in diesel that has toxin levels illegal in Europe.
“West Africa is sending a strong message that it is no longer accepting dirty fuels from Europe. Their decision to set strict new standards for cleaner, safer fuels and advanced vehicle emission standards shows they are placing the health of their people first,” he added.
Despite the denial by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in September, that it was impossible to have toxic fuel in circulation in Nigeria, the commitment of the Federal Government to ban the toxic fuel from entering the country has proved critics, including DPR, wrong.
Deputy Director, Public Affairs in DPR, Dorothy Bassey, had told Daily Sun in a telephone interview that there was no cause for alarm as all petroleum products are tested before entering the shores of the country. According to her, any product or products that fail the specification test are sent back to the country of origin.
“But if by error of omission or commission any product(s) that fall short of the required specification find their way into the country, the importer of such products will be severely sanctioned,’’ she said. But Nigerians are yet to see such sanctions on the Swiss importers.
But Environment Minister, Amina Mohamed, said: “For 20 years, Nigeria has not been able to address the vehicle pollution crisis due to the poor fuels we have been importing. Today, we are taking a huge leap forward – limiting sulphur in fuels from 3,000 parts per million to 50 parts per million.”
She said the move would result in major air quality benefits in Nigerian cities and would allow the country to set modern vehicle standards.
The WHO says that pollution is particularly bad in low and middle-income countries.