SODIQ OJUROUNGBE writes on the alleged indiscriminate discharge of wastewater by a multinational company, International Breweries, into three rivers that serve as sources of drinking water to about 30 communities in Orile-Imo, in the Obafemi-Owode area of Ogun State, which has led to huge environmental contamination, threatening both humans and aquatic lives.
For years, residents of about 30 communities under Orile-Imo Town, in the Obafemi Owode Local Government Area, have relied on three ancient rivers – Ereku, Yemala, and Yeke as sources of seemingly good water for drinking, cooking, washing and bathing.
But that was in the past, as the rivers have been allegedly contaminated and not fit for use due to their murky-coloured look and nauseous smell.
Residents are accusing a multi-national company, International Breweries of being responsible for the contamination, alleging that all wastewater from the facility is emptied in its raw state into the rivers.
Among the affected communities are – Logbara, Kajola, Orile-Imo, Baara, Akinyemi, Idofa-Odo, Idofa-Oke, Bajila, Oguntayo, Olojo, Alakoka, Onibenbe, Awoo, Ogbara Onibata, Jibowu, Sangotedo and Lapooyo.
Even though these communities are at the receiving end of the pollution, Logbara bears the brunt due to its status as the host community.
International Breweries, based on residents’ accounts, came to the area with developmental promises to set up a $250m plant, but according to them, the reverse seems to be the case as the company’s activities, they alleged, are impacting negatively on the environment and humans.
According to them, aquatic lives have been eliminated completely, while, using the water for irrigation on farms, they claimed has led to unfathomable losses.
When PUNCH Healthwise visited Logbara, a pungent odour hung in the atmosphere, even though one of the said rivers was still some distance away.
Though a solar-powered bore was provided by the company to ameliorate residents’ suffering when it became apparent that sources of water had become unusable, findings showed that it barely serves the residents, as it only offers droplets of water most of the time.
Our correspondent learnt that on days that the borehole is functional, which could be once in a week, there is a mad rush to fetch as much as possible.
Subsequently, residents must ration their ‘bounty’ carefully or depend on water collected when it rains.
The tough and most dangerous alternative they are left with, it was learnt, would be to fall back on the stinky, polluted rivers that are linked by tributaries.
Dangers of wastewater
According to the United States Geological Survey, Wastewater is water that includes substances such as human waste, food scraps, oils, soaps, and chemicals.
The World Health Organisation noted that insufficient treatment of wastewater and faecal sludge spreads diseases and is a driver of antimicrobial resistance.
Development at a price
PUNCH Healthwise learnt from residents that their joy knew no bounds when the company started operation and they expressed readiness to cooperate and give all the necessary support that will ensure a successful operation.
They said while sincerely embracing what they believed would usher modernity into the town, they never knew that they were laying a foundation for anguish and pain.
Findings by PUNCH Healthwise revealed that IB Plc, which is located at Km 3 Flowergate Industrial Scheme, Sagamu-Abeokuta Expressway, Ogun State is a subsidiary company under AB InBev Group, the world’s largest brewer.
The brewery plant is expected to boost local production of notable brands under the company’s stable.
Inaugurated on August 28, 2018, the multinational company was commissioned by former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Gida Mustapha, who represented former president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
During the commissioning, it was learnt that the sleepy Orile-Imo Town roared to life as it experienced an unprecedented human and vehicular movement, especially when the former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle came, accompanied by dignitaries.
During the grand event, as it was described in the media, the former Managing Director, IB Plc., Annabelle Degroot, described the plant as a major step towards the company’s strategic goal of producing high-quality drinks locally.
Degroot noted that the brewery will also be instrumental in empowering farmers and local manufacturers as most of the raw materials required will be sourced locally.
She also said one of the objectives of the company was to create job opportunities for the people of Ogun state, as well as Nigerians.
While the residents confirmed that the company was able to provide jobs for their teeming youth, they lamented that the company used its activities to take from them through the back door by negatively impacting their sources of water and the environment.
According to the residents, with no regard for the environment or the people whose lives revolve around the host community, the company allegedly began to empty its wastewater into the river without treatment.
They alleged that toxic chemicals and heavy metals flowed freely into the rivers, creating bubbles.
According to a community leader, Jamiu Akinyemi, the pollution of their only source of water without providing a better alternative has made access to good water challenging and traumatic for everyone.
He lamented, “We want them to stop channelling their water into our rivers. Since they started doing this, it has made access to water a major problem for us.
“This river closest to the company has been used for hundreds of years, same as others. It is the water we drink and use for other domestic purposes, but that was in the past. The rivers have all been polluted. We only fetch from there when there is no other alternative.”
The community leader said he kicked against the idea of having wastewater channelled into the river, which serves as a link to others but claimed that the company was defiant.
“I remember when they wanted to do this thing but I protested against it because of the future. Some people boycotted me, despite the fact that I am the custodian of some land in these communities. It is wickedness on the part of the company to be discharging their water inside our only source of water,” Akinyemi said.
Blanket of filth
When PUNCH Healthwise toured the affected communities and rivers, it was observed that the once-pristine rivers now have films of filth covering their surfaces like blankets. A foul smell also hung in the air like a heavy fog.
PUNCH Healthwise discovered a sewer pipe discharging brownish, foamy water into the river. A small bridge was constructed and the pipe was channelled through it.
One of the workers at the company, who took our correspondent around the riverbank, identified two rivers – Ereku and Yemala as closest to the brewery plant.
The worker, who did not want his name mentioned to avoid victimization, said the brewery once channelled wastewater to a vast land opposite it but had it re-channelled to the river after several complaints were made by residents.
The source revealed that the wastewater is discharged daily basis and indiscriminately.
He said, “The company discharges wastewater every day, but it is worse during the week. If you still go to the land opposite the company, you will see how the place has become polluted with wastewater.
“It was when the smell became unbearable that they re-channelled it to the rivers. What is coming directly from the company is not treated. I believe it can be harmful to residents, especially to those using water from the rivers that it enters for any domestic purpose.”
Tracing the pipes
To ascertain that the large sewer pipe alleged to be the source of wastewater discharge actually belongs to IB Plc., our correspondent and the worker traced it to more than three concrete chambers erected inside a bush path that led to the back of the company.
It was observed that the wastewater chambers are used to connect pipes that channel wastewater directly to the river. The last wastewater chamber was sighted at Fu Shax Road, opposite Agricon Boulevard, a street where the main plant of IB Plc. was located.
However, to confirm claims of the alleged indiscriminate discharge, our correspondent paid several visits on different days to the area and discovered that even on a Sunday, foamy and smelly wastewater was discharged through the sewer pipe for hours into the river.
We can’t breath
A resident, who identified himself as Ifagbemi and lives a few meters away from the river where the discharge is allegedly perpetrated before it moves downstream, claimed that the content emptied by International Brewery has a chocking effect on residents and they find it difficult to breathe once the wastewater is being emptied
He lamented that on several occasions, he was forced to leave home for days with his family so that the smell could subside.
Nigeria still battles water contamination
The continuous growth in population and industrial development has increased wastewater generation in high volume with resultant, negative effects on the quality of water found in sub-Saharan Africa.
During the commemoration of 2022 World Water Day, the United Nations Children’s Fund lamented that an estimated 70 per cent of water at the point of consumption is contaminated in Nigeria.
The U.N. agency said the contamination is the reason why Nigeria has the world’s highest number of deaths from waterborne diseases, especially among children under five years old.
UNICEF added that 117,000 children die in Nigeria annually due to water-related illnesses – the highest number recorded by any nation.
Several industries in Nigeria have been implicated in the indiscriminate discharge of effluents into surrounding water bodies.
Solid waste management is one of the major challenges facing the environment globally in recent times, and the world has become increasingly aware of the dangers posed by such waste and its huge risk to the environment and natural habitat.