In this concluding part of this special report, JULIANA FRANCIS looks at the health consequences of the use of firewood and charcoal on Nigerians and the environment
In Ondo State, a council worker in the Akure North Local Government Area, Mrs. Ogedengbe, said: “How much is my salary that I will be buying gas in this present situation? There was a time that I used to fill my 12kg cylinder with about N3,500 to N4,000. Where will I see N8,400 to fill it now? I’ve switched to a charcoal stove for close to two months now. Once I buy N200 charcoal, it will take me a while, and it’s even faster. I used to think that we were very few using charcoal, but I have now discovered almost all my colleagues are using it.” Another resident, who is a tailor in the Aule area of the Akure metropolis, Mrs. Akinbamidele, disclosed that the moment that the price of gas got to over N600 per kg, she immediately diverted to charcoal.
Akinbamidele, who took to tailoring because she couldn’t get a job after graduating from a polytechnic, stated that her mother, who lives in the Akoko area of the state, told her that a charcoal stove was more economical. She said: “It was when my Mum came from Arigidi-Akoko on a visit that she told me to get a charcoal pot, when I began to complain about the amount I spent on gas. It was around N600 then. When I tried it out, it worked out so well. And since then, that is what I’ve been using.
How much do I make from sewing that I will be buying gas at such an exorbitant price?” A resident of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Umar, said that for the last five years, he has been using gas for cooking, but now he couldn’t afford it.
He said: “We resolved to be using charcoal, but we have also discovered that it is causing serious health hazards because of the smoke it causes in the house. Even the price of charcoal has continued to skyrocket because the sellers realised that many people have turned to it.” A retired member of the Delta State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mrs. Veronica Ikenchukwu, in Asaba, said the current rising cost of life in Nigeria has exposed the incompetence of the incumbent national government, lamenting that the skyrocketing cost of gas has made her to divert to the use of saw-dust from sawmills to cook for her household.
She initially took recourse in gathering firewood and dry bamboo from uncompleted buildings, but had to stop when one of her grandchildren stepped on a four-inch nail at a site at Okpaman in Oshimili North Local Government Area. She added: “The capitalist government of the day in Nigeria has made the economic situation worse for the poor. To feed, pay school fees and house rent is now ‘a tug of war’.
The poorest of the poor can neither buy kerosene nor gas. The fact that cooking with firewood, sawdust or charcoal, has suddenly become fashionable again, is a sign of a failed nation under incompetent leaders. In Nigeria today, it’s the government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. We hear and read about billions and trillions of naira being internally generated, borrowed and mismanaged on the pages of newspapers, but so little is being heard of the cause of the poor.” Mrs. Dupe Akindele is a primary school teacher. She resides at Arowona area of Olorunsogo in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
She complained that money now spent on a kilogram of gas was used to buy three kilograms before. She added: “It’s very pathetic. Apart from the fact that the economy of the country is bad, with poverty staring everybody in the face, we are back to the old system of cooking with firewood by going into the bush and forests to fetch firewood. This is also because kerosene is not affordable.
Its price per litre is very high. Sometimes, we revert to using charcoal pots. All of them are not even good for human health, but what do we have to do? In fact, everything is just getting worse by the day. The present leadership in the country is adding to people’s sufferings on a daily basis. Common essential commodities are no longer within the reach of the masses. What do these rulers want the poor masses to enjoy in life for God’s sake?” In Kebbi State, a businessman, Mallam Usman, said that he stopped using gas owing to the cost. He also stated that Nigerians are tired of this present administration due to the inflation in the country.
“There’s no price control on anything in this country. People are dying and the government is not doing anything about it,” he said. Mrs. Victoria Yohanna, who resides with her family at Romi community in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, disclosed that she stopped using gas when the last one she bought got finished. She explained: “I’m using firewood as a temporary measure, because anytime I have money, I will buy the gas.” Yohanna noted that although firewood is not cheap, it is cheaper than kerosene. “The monthly food allowance is not even enough for food that will take us to the end of the month,” she added.
To limit the dirt caused by firewood, Yohanna said that she cooks outside, which adds further stress to the preparation of a meal. In Edo State, a 12.5kg gas cylinder that was sold for between N3,800 and N4,200 in March 2021 is now sold for between N8,500 and N9,300. It’s not only the users that the gas increment is affecting. Gas sellers also have their stories of frustrations to narrate. Mrs. Funmilayo Michael, who operates a local gas shop on Upper Sakponba Road, Benin City, said she could no longer continue with the business as a result of the incessant hike in the price of the commodity. She said: “People have stopped buying gas as they seek alternatives.
The price of gas keeps soaring and as a retailer, if you don’t have money, you’ll not meet the demand of your customers. Most of our customers are going for kerosene, firewood, charcoal, electric burners and others. Personally, I use kerosene or electric stove when there is a power supply. The way the price keeps increasing is annoying. I expect the government to look into this problem.” A mother of four, Mrs. Ikwo Etim, in Calabar, Cross River State, said: “I cannot afford gas now because I have four children who are in school. They are the ones that go into the bush to gather firewood which we use for cooking.
The deforestation programme will not work until the price of gas slumps.” Residents of Sokoto State are feeling the pinch more as there is now scarcity of firewood because of the ban on vehicles from carrying firewood from the forest by the state government. Lamenting over the hike in the price of gas, Haruna Mande, describes the situation as “worrisome.” He added: “I have no option than to go for firewood because it is available and affordable.
But right now, firewood has also become scarce and expensive.” A resident of Plateau State, Mrs. Justina John, a teacher, lamented the recent hike, which compelled her to seek alternatives. She asked: “How can the average Nigerian cope, considering the rise in prices of foodstuffs in the market?” Mr. Davou Nyam, a baker, said the price hike has affected his business negatively and forced him into settling for charcoal.
He said the increased price led to an increase in the prices of bread, pastries, confectioneries and other bakery products. He argued: “If government is serious about job creation, it must consider a downward review of prices of some key commodities because the hike has a ripple effect on the citizens and even on the economy in general.
The inability of the government to ensure proper price control has enabled black marketers to take advantage of the situation to inflict more pains on the people.” To some residents of Rivers State, particularly Port Harcourt and its environs, the increase in the price of gas has not in any way affected the way they prepare their meals. Long before now, they had switched to kerosene, which they buy at an affordable price from illegal refiners.
What appears to be the problem is that the number of people now seeking kerosene for usage has drastically increased. A Public Health Physician, Dr. Tuyi Mebanwondu, said that even before the price of gas increased, at least 70 per cent of people in the rural areas were using firewood and charcoal. He added: “The impact on health and environment is massive. For instance, to get firewood, you have to cut a tree in order to use the wood to make a fire. Cutting of the wood can lead to increase of carbon dioxide in the environment, deforestation and addition of pollutants to the environment. “For the users, there are a lot of issues.
There is indoor pollutant and some chemical release. When these chemicals are inhaled, especially over a period of a long time, the person involved may develop an acute lung respiratory problem.” Mebanwondu said such users could be susceptible to asthma, cough, acute respiratory illness, ballooning of the air sac of the lungs, obstruction of pulmonary heart diseases and cancer in some instances. He added: “Prolonged exposures to charcoal and firewood have been linked to increase in blood pressure, low birth wealth of offspring and cancer of the throat. Users also get tired easily and look frail.
They can even have problems with blood production. For some, it could cause an allergic reaction of the skin because of soot. They can have itching, dermatitis and eyes can become bloodshot.” Mebanwondu also said in the environment, it can lead to CO2 emission and global warming, and it can also lead to acid rain. He added: “All attempts to cut down trees as a source of fuel should be discouraged. Trees should be preserved.”
The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers (NALPAMG), Bassey Essien, said that the prices of gas will continue to increase as long as the Federal Government refuses to proffer solutions to the problems in the sub-sector. According to him, problems causing increase in the prices of gas and its attendant scarcity in Nigeria are many and until the government steps into the matter, the product is not going to be affordable. Nigeria, he said, imports 65 per cent of gas that is being consumed in the country, while the remaining 35 per cent is sourced locally.
He said the cost of importation is very high, as individuals and companies importing the product spend a lot of money before they can bring gas into the country. According to him, the exchange rate is not favourable as Nigerians are not getting dollars to buy at a rate that is beneficial to them.
He added: “If the Central Bank of Ni-geria (CBN) can create a special window, through which Forex will be made available at an affordable rate, importers will not find it difficult to bring gas into the country. Once they are able to do so, they will flood the market with gas and in the process, crash the price of the product.” Essien also advised the Federal Government to suspend Value Added Tax (VAT) and Customs Duties, adding that the government has contributed immensely to the scarcity of gas. VAT, he said, was increased to 7.5 per cent from five per cent.
He said that the development is a problem to those importing gas. He accused the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) of contributing to the problems in the gas sub-sector, by buying gas, which it is producing, in foreign currency, not naira.
He said that as long as the price of gas produced in the country is denominated in dollar; importers will do likewise in order to make more money. The government, Essien said, should try and dialogue with middle men in the distribution chain, who are capitalising on the inadequate supply of gas in the country, to increase the prices of the product. According to him, dialogue will help in solving many of the problems in the gas distribution chain. He added: “The prices, at which gas companies in the country are buying metric tonnes of the product, have been increasing since last year.
People will definitely add their own gains, when they are selling it to Nigerians.” The NALPAMG boss noted that 20 metric tonnes of gas was sold for N3.4 million in January 2020 and later N5.4 million in the same year. The price of 20 metric tonnes of gas moved to N6 million mid 2021 and N11 million in October this year. According to him, the issue is having undesirable consequences on the product in the country. “This happens despite the decision of NLNG to increase its supply from 250,000 metric tonnes to N450,0000 metric tonnes,” he added. On his part, the National Coordinator, Coalition for Affordable and Regular Electricity (CARE), Mr. Chinedu Bosah, said that the product is expensive because it is being sold to Nigerians at the international market rates, not naira.
“The Federal Government pretends as if it does not know anything about it, so far the interests of a few people are being satisfied at the expense of over 200 million Nigerians,” said Bosah. According to him, the few people and companies that are being satisfied from the rising prices of gas are the International Oil Companies (IOCs) also known as the oil majors. Bosah said: “These companies are milking Nigerians by importing and at the same time making gas available in the country at the international market’s prices. Why won’t the price keep increasing? I think the price of gas is over N10,000 now.
This is true of gas cylinders with wider capacity like 12.5 kg upwards. But the government is silent because its cronies are laughing all the way to the bank. Imagine gas, which we have in abundance, now costs a lot of money to buy. That is to tell you the kind of government we have. We have a government which believes that the poor should suffer at the expense of a few elite. Even prices of firewood and charcoal have gone up in response to the increase in the prices of gas. Why? Nigerians are now shifting to traditional means of cooking. “If this situation is prevalent in 2022, it may cause a whole lot of problems for the people.