Koko toxic waste: 30 evacuation workers die of strange ailments

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…FG abandons remediation, compensation, hospital upgrade

By Dotun Akintomide

The contract workers who assisted in the evacuation of the deadly toxic waste shipped to Nigeria by an Italian firm in 1988 have blamed the Federal Government for the death of their 30 colleagues out of 173 workers engaged by the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) without compensation.

The Chairman of the Dock workers as at time of the devastating incident, Mr. Silver Ajaino who was hired by Tonad Associates contracted by Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to carry out the dangerous evacuation told Nigerian NewsDirect during a visit to the Koko community lamented that 40 of his colleagues died as a result of hunger and strange ailments.

 Ajaino, an octogenarian disclosed that about 30 of evacuation workers  died of various ailments contacted during the evacuation and threatened legal action against the government if nothing was done to assuage their feelings.

“If the government fails to pay our compensation, we will start destroying government properties and the NPA Port in Koko will be the first point of call. We were the one that did the raw work of evacuating the toxic drums and we even dug out the ground to make sure the entire place is safe and as such, we are demanding N1m compensation from the federal government per head,” he said furiously.

He accused the Federal Government of sheer neglect, over its continuous failure to compensate them for the eternal damages done to their health, 28 years after the hazardous toxic substances were dumped at Koko Port Terminal, Warri North Local Government, Delta State, acclaimed to be worst in the nation’s history, Nigerian NewsDirect investigation reveals.

 Ajaino claimed that he had coordinated other 173 workers in evacuating the waste between 1988-1989 and that all efforts made by his group to get compensated for the work done which had caused eternal damage to their health with sundry ailments have not yielded any result as successive governments have always shunned any attempt to address their plight despite several requests, moves and legal battles.

“We have struggled in vain for years to get our compensation and we even involved the service of lawyers, but the NPA only compensated 94 of their workers who weren’t even involved in the evacuation process. They never participated in the evacuation process at all, yet each of them got N400,000, though we knew as that time, they only had 20 workers here in Koko who supervised the process.

“We laboured and dug the whole ground and excavated the entire top soil where the toxic wastes were dumped. In the process, many of my colleagues died as a result of contact with the highly toxic chemicals in the waste and I have even had surgical operation on my eyes because many of us were oblivious of the health implications involved while discharging the materials from the ship and loading them back again for their return back to Italy as mandated by the Federal Government then,” he said.

It was gathered that the Federal Government in 2008 paid a total compensation of N39.7 million to the 94 NPA staff workers who were said to have purportedly carried out the waste evacuation alongside these neglected contract workers hired by the Port Authority.

Ajaino said many people were drinking water from the drums used in packaging the toxic materials and it was such level of ignorance that unleashed deaths and strange ailments on the coastal community.

Recall, the unfortunate incident was blown open by Nigerian students studying in Italy at the time, after reading a compelling story written by a 23-year-old female Italian Journalist named Racaelli Gonalli that a containerised industrial wastes classified as “toxic and radioactive’ had been shipped to the Nigerian shores.

NewsDirect further learnt that in 1987, Messrs S. I Ecomar, an Italian company dealing in waste had contacted Gianfrance Raffaelli, also an Italian businessman in Nigeria who perfected the illicit shipment in cahoot with his Nigerian counterparts as well as government officials and the compound of a certain Sunday Nana (who gleefully accepted without knowing the implications) was hired for N500 per month for the storage of the toxic wastes.

Sunday Nana who is now late, had his family house relocated to a nearby home built for him by the government, but it appeared the toxic wastes had malnourished the soil where the wastes were dumped as grass vegetation in the area appears yellowish and pale with no sign of growth.

As part of steps to forestall a recurrence of diseases emanating from the toxic wastes, the Federal Government under General Ibrahim Babangida promised to upgrade the Koko General Hospital to a specialist hospital but a resident, Mr. Paul Esimaje Ejoh confirment government has not kept to its promise. “Even, nothing has been heard about the arrangement made by the Nigerian and Italian governments to restore the community and remediate the dump site,” says Ejoh.

NewsDirect demanded to know whether the Koko General Hospital has been recording ailment due to the highly toxic chemicals dumped in the community, but Dr. Mukoro Samson said, “materials from such waste can lead to Insomnia and other deadly diseases, but I cannot confirm that now, because a high level of diagnosis must first be conducted to be able to ascertain whether the severe cases recorded at the hospital has a connection with the toxic incident.” He cautioned that the effects of such chemicals at times could last for decades, saying that is the reason an upgrade on the health facilities at the hospital should be a priority to the government.

As at the time of filing this report, no response had been established from the ministry of transport, despite contacting the ministry’s Chief Press Secretary, as well as the Director of Press via calls and messages over the matter.

However, reacting to the development, Hon. Olajide Olatunbosun, member NASS Committee on Marine Transport, headed by Sen. Ahmed Sanni Yerima told NewsDirect that, though the issue had not been brought before his committee, the committee can only examine it when an official communication was being made on it.

“The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) was in charge when the incident happened and we read it in the papers then, that FEPA was involved in evacuation process and how the Head of State at the time, General Ibrahim Babangida forced the Italian government to evacuate the materials back to Italy.

“We will look at it to see whether it falls within our line of duty and if it doesn’t we will refer it to the appropriate committee.” the Senator assured.