Igbo was spoken freely and the menu at most restaurants was dominated by Nsala and Oha soup (predominantly Igbo dishes). Even the names being called around were Chinedu, Chigozie and other Igbo names that I have never heard. This is not Enugu, nor is it Onitsha, it’s a spare parts market in Lagos where 89 percent of the dealers are Igbo.
As we drove into Otto market where imported Honda parts are retailed in cubicle-like shops that barely allowed their owners enough space to put a chair, we discussed how industrious people from Nigeria’s southeast are. But beneath this was a people who cared less about their environment once business is fine.
In his paper, The Igbo Entrepreneur in the political economy of Nigeria Professor of Sociology, Olutayo Olanrewaju writes that “the Igbo, when compared to the other major ethnic groups in Nigeria, are in the forefront of entrepreneurial activities, especially in the informal sector”. The investments of Ndigbo (Igbo word for Igbo people) transcends ethnic and religious lines. Statistics show that Igbos have more than N300 trillion investment in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.
While we discussed the business acumen of the Igbo people with deep admiration, my scientific mind would not stop bringing up a question about death, and it wasn’t about business folding up.
Life expectancy in Nigeria is 52 years. All things being equal, an average Igbo man will live at least 52 years. Sadly, despite their hard work, the Igbo men in this market may not live that long and it’s their fault.
Power in Nigeria is very poor, with just 40 percent of people in the country having access to the available epileptic supply. Businesses therefore rely on generators. Every shop at market had at least a power generating set. “Na everybody get. Some shops get two sef. You may want to charge your phone. Even if you no use am during the day, we stay late and we have to on the generator to see when e dark,” said Stanley, an apprentice at Eze Ventures.
According to Stanley, the noise is sometimes deafening but people at the market are now used to it. Noise pollution can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance. At one time or the other, several traders at the market have experienced this, but few have traced it to noise pollution.
Uchenna is a friend of Stanley’s but he is not an apprentice. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics. He decided to open a shop at the market with a loan from his uncle after two years of unfruitful job search. He understands the health effects of most of the things that have become the market norms but like the other traders, he has to be present where he earns a living.
“I used to cover my ears with muffs to filter the noise a little because I know how it can affect me but do you honestly think anyone can keep that up for long?” Uchenna, who says he does not like his name shortened to Uche, told me.
I was happy that I had finally met someone who understands what I was trying to preach. My message was simple; ‘I love your entrepreneurial spirit, guys. In fact, I have a lot to learn from you business-wise, but why don’t you try out environmentally friendly means of getting power. These generators aren’t too good for your health.’ Maybe it came out the wrong way, but the owner of the last shop I visited before Uchenna had some bitter words for me. It’s good that I was quick to forget his name but his words still sting.
You people always think you know everything. You are here telling us to find alternative. If government give us light, we go dey use gen? I buy N1,500 fuel every day, you think say e sweet me? Instead of telling the government that they are not working, you lazy people will be looking for easy story to write for market. Your mates abroad dey tackle government, but all you journalists know here is to collect bribe from them and say power is better. Since you enter this market, you don see light?
He continued talking until a customer showed up to ask for Honda Flywheel for Civic 2008 model. “E dey jare, my brother,” he said, ignoring me.
I left thinking about everything he said, they were true. But I am not one of the “you people” he talked about.
The discussion with Uchenna has eroded every pain I felt from the previous interview. I had someone who understood the effects of noise pollution, and not only that, he knew they (dealers at the market) may all be dying from the effects of carbon monoxide pollution caused by excessive use of generators.
“I try my best to minimise the use of generators. If I need power just to illuminate my shop, I use rechargeable LED lights. They work just fine,” said Uchenna. “We read stories of people killed by carbon monoxide poisoning every day, but no one really thinks deeply about it here. I do.”
Uchenna said the concentration of carbon monoxide in the market could be in excess of 1000 parts per million (PPM). I agreed. Undiluted warm car exhaust without a catalytic converter gives off carbon monoxide with a concentration of 7,000 PPM. The concentration of CO from genertaors could be worse. Note that it only takes continuous exposure to CO concentration of 6400 PPM for a man to die.
Detectcarbonmonoxide.com explains what Parts Per Million (PPM) means using an example:100 PPM CO means that for every 999,900 molecules of air, there are 100 molecules of CO. In addition to measuring the current level of CO concentration, another measurement used is the Time-Weighted Average (TWA). This measures your average exposure to CO over time, and is also measured in PPM. For example, if you were exposed to a large dose of CO in the begining of the day, but none afterwards, your TWA for the day would be low, since for most of the day you had no exposure. If, however, you are continually exposed to 20 PPM CO throughout the day, your TWA for the day will be 20 PPM.
While we agreed that the health effects may happen only in the long term as none of the traders gets holed up in a CO-polluted room, Uchenna added that exhaust from a wood fire used in making akara (bean cake) and boiled corn by some women who sold at the market, adds to the pollution.
My discussion with Uchenna ended with a call for action but while he loves the idea, he doubts if he would be able to take up the burden.
“If I could advise them to reduce the use of generators, it will be nice. More so, we do not sell products that need to be tested with electricity. They can all use lights like mine if it’s just to illuminate their shops,” Uchenna said.
“Business is good at Otto spare parts market,” the traders told me but they must be careful about how their activities affect them and the environment for their sakes and the future of their businesses.