By Peter Iorter
Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has commissioned an investigation into the Pure BioTech Company’s disposal method, four months after Safer-Media Initiative reported on it.
The Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Benue State Governor, Terver Akase, in a statement on Sunday says, “Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom has directed the Commissioners for Water and Environment, Industries and Cooperatives, as well as Agriculture and Natural Resources, to immediately investigate the report that Pure Biotech Company Limited located along Makurdi – Gboko road has a sewage disposal system that empties waste into River Benue thereby contaminating the water and endangering aquatic life in the river”.
The statement added, “The Governor expects the three Commissioners to report back to him with their findings as quickly as possible, for the next line of action”.
Safer-Media Initiative reported on December 16, 2022, how the discharge of waste by BioTech Cassava Processing Company into the Benue River in Angbaaye Community, Benue State has caused a slew of problems for residents of the host community while depriving fishermen and farmers of their only source of livelihood.
The Safer-Media Initiative’s report
The Safer-Media Initiative investigation gathered that indiscriminate discharge of industrial waste into the river by a Chinese ethanol-producing company hosted by Angbaaye has been threatening human and aquatic lives in that environment.
According to the report, the community with over three thousand residents also reeks of a stench odour as a result of the polluted river that surrounds the community. Apart from the effluent discharged into River Benue and its tributaries that contaminate the water bodies and kill crops within the area, our reporter during a separate visitation to another neighboring town was greeted by a choky and strong nostril irritating smell that caused him a slight headache.
This situation according to the report has posed the residents of these communities with different health implications, economic crisis, hunger, and environmental and soil degradation.
BioTech denies polluting rivers
When contacted at the time, the Corporate Communication and Public Relations Manager of Pure BioTech Company Nigeria Limited, Mr. Stephen Numbeve, denied the allegation raised, claiming that the sewage treatment plant of the company is the best in the country. “Anything that is being released out is natural, it is treated to the barest minimum. To the best of my understanding, there is nothing on land that is harmful. When you talk about the waters, the water there is not contaminated because what is released there is not harmful and is not contaminated.”
He admitted that there may be some odour in the environment, but insisted that it is not offensive.
Mr. Numbeve denied wrongdoing by the company, saying, “We have acquired all the land behind the factory because we know that the water released is more than one hundred degrees, so if anyone dips their leg in water on our land, it’s left for him.” He told our reporter.
NESREA refused to comment
The Benue State Field Office of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) refused to comment when it was contacted by our reporter. Despite an FOI request and follow-up calls, the field office said it needed approval from the headquarters to respond—approval it seemingly did not get at the time the report was published.
A close source to the Benue State NESREA field office said the agency only visited Pure BioTech during the pre-production period to issue guidelines on environmental impact assessment but did not follow up on the effluent assessment. The source said he was not sure if the agency followed up with the company for compliance one year after it resumed full operations.
NESREA is the government agency responsible for enforcing all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards, and regulations in Nigeria, as well as enforcing compliance with provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions, and treaties on the environment to which Nigeria is a signatory.
It has responsibility for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources in general and environmental technology including coordination, and liaison with, relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria on matters of enforcement of environmental standards, regulations, rules, laws, policies, and guidelines.
Officials at another regulatory agency, the National Inland Waterways Authority, also declined to comment.
Benue State Governor acts
Exactly four months after Safer-Media Initiative reported on the Pure BioTech Company, barely 43 days to the end of the Ortom-led government, the governor has ordered an investigation into the waste disposal method of the Pure BioTech Company.
The Safer-Media Initiative’s report was broadcast on Radio Benue, Makurdi, the state-owned radio station, and it was also published on the SMI’s Wahala Reporters website. Additionally, several of SMI’s partners amplified it. Other social activists took further action.
In the statement issued by his special adviser on media and publicity on Sunday, the governor urges the people of the state to “sustain their vigilance and always assist the government with timely and useful information on happenings around them.”
This report is produced by Safer-Media Initiative with the support of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under The Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, inclusivity and Accountability Project (C-Media Project) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.