(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Motorcycle pollution causing health risks in Kano city

There are two million motorbikes in the city of Kano, which cloud the air with pollution, leading to health problems for residents.
Aminu Abubakar/IRIN

Motorcycle emissions in northern Nigeria’s Kano city pose serious environmental health risks to residents, according to health and environmental experts, yet the government has refused to pass laws to control the pollution.

The government insists awareness campaigns are enough to right the problem.

At two million mopeds or ‘achabas’ for five million people, the number per capita in Kano exceeds that of any other Nigerian city, according to Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the Kano office of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC).

However, it is not just the numbers of bikes on the streets that worry residents; it is the levels of pollution they emit.

“The two million motorcycles plying the roads of Kano produce as many fumes as six million cars - too much for a city of five million people,” said Yusuf Adamu Mohmmed, an environmentalist at Bayero University in Kano.

“The damage motorbike pollution is causing to the city is enormous, and something needs to be done to address [this] problem, which is already… out of proportion,” Ibrahim told IRIN.

Dirty fuel

The collapse of public transport services in most cities has led to motorbike taxis being adopted as a means of inner-city transport, according to Ibrahim.

The problem in Kano has been exacerbated by the 2006 government ban on commercial motorbikes in Abuja, which led operators to head to Kano, where moped use doubled in a year, according to FRSC studies.

Commercial motorcyclists have a habit of adding engine oil to their fuel to make it denser, Ibrahim told IRIN, which means it burns more slowly over a longer period, creating more pollution. Adding the oil can stretch a full tank of petrol to 10 hours of travel as opposed to just seven.

“I’m in business to make financial gains and as a businessman I need to cut costs and that is why I add engine oil to my fuel,” Bala Adamu, a motorbike taxi driver told IRIN as he revved the engine of his vehicle, sending billows of smoke into the air.

Health impact

Ibrahim Musa, a medical doctor in Kano is concerned that the excessive fumes from the motorbikes are affecting the health of residents.

“These fumes have the potential of causing skin cancer if one comes in constant contact with them, [particularly] because of the engine oil added in the petrol,” said Musa.

“A lot of cases that are common in Kano, including anomalies in the upper respiratory tract and eye infections, especially conjunctivitis, can be traced to the fumes people are always exposed to,” he added.

The density of motorcycle traffic is also increasing the number of accidents in the city, according to the FRCS’s Ibrahim, who says bikes cause at least 70 percent of the city’s road traffic accidents.

Kano General Hospital has a ward called the ‘achaba ward’ where only accident victims from taxi mopeds are hospitalised. “We receive [no fewer] than 20 cases of ‘achaba’ accidents a day,” Samira Yakubu, a nurse at the hospital, told IRIN.

Political considerations

Local authorities in Abuja and Plateau states have faced similar problems in the past: They banned taxi mopeds, but to date, the Kano authorities have not followed their lead.

“There [is] no law mandating us to prosecute automobiles that produce excessive smoke as long as the smoke they generate does not blur the visibility of the person behind,” said Ibrahim.

“Our hands are tied and there is nothing we can do in the face of this wanton madness.”

For Sunusi Suleiman, a lawyer in Kano, the solution is simple. “The government should pass legislation putting a ceiling on the level of emissions from motorbikes… All the government needs to do is firmly enforce the legislation without giving room to cutting corners.”

Rather than trying to limit the number of bikes on the road, in the run-up to the April 2007 general elections, Kano council distributed free motorcycles to party members as thanks for their support.

“The beneficiaries hailed them [Kano council] for the gesture and now for them to come back and ban or restrict the activities of the motorcyclists will be political suicide,” said Habibu Musa, a political science teacher at Bayero University.

“The government lacks the political will to tackle the problem. Legislation and sensitisation should go hand-in-hand [to curb] this ugly trend. Nothing short of this will work,” stressed environmentalist Yusuf Adamu Mohamed.


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