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Fact-checking viral memo on air pollution attributed repeatedly to government agency

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Claim: The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) said the country’s weather condition is not Harmattan but air pollution.

Fact-checking viral memo on air pollution attributed repeatedly to government agency

Verdict: Misleading! The viral post was taken from a blog post from February 2023. Also, there is no existing agency known as FEPA anymore in Nigeria. The agency was repealed in 2007. 

Full Text

Annually, Nigeria experiences its dose of the Harmattan season. This is usually characterised by foggy weather and extreme cold in the morning and at night, while intense hotness takes over in the afternoon. 

While it lasts between November of an outgoing year and March of the incoming year, the season comes with dust, forcing many people to deploy health practices to keep their households safe.

Recently, many social media users in the Nigerian space have shared a viral memo that was said to have come from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA).

The post, which has been shared repeatedly on Facebook and some WhatsApp groups, claimed the current weather condition is not Harmattan as many people think, but an extreme form of air pollution that is adverse to human health. It can also be seen here, here, here, and here.

According to the memo, pollution can reduce lung function, respiratory infection, inflammation, and oxidative stress. It subsequently advised citizens to wear a nose mask, take adequate water, cover food and water well to prevent dust from settling on them, wash fruits thoroughly before eating, and remain indoors as much as possible. 

It further warned that air pollution may prevail for a considerable period.

DUBAWA observed that the post had been recirculated several times and noticed some people believed the notice came from an environmental agency (FEPA) under the Ministry of Environment. 

Fact-checking viral memo on air pollution attributed repeatedly to government agency
Screenshot of the post on a WhatsApp group

Also, the TVC posted a report about the claim on its official YouTube channel referring to the said FEPA. 

In the TVC report, residents of Enugu State appealed to the government to increase awareness of the harsh weather conditions following FEPA’s statement. 

Verification 

DUBAWA observed that no national newspaper, blog, or TV channel –apart from TVC– had a report about the viral post. 

To further scrutinise the claim’s veracity, DUBAWA searched online for verified social media handles of FEPA to ascertain if the agency still exists and if such a memo came from the agency, but no such account was found.

DUBAWA also searched all the Ministry of Environment’s social media accounts but found none related to the viral post. 

On the Ministry’s website, the list of agencies under it includes the National Oil Spillage Detection & Response Agency (NOSDRA), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria, National Park Services, National Biosafety Management Agency, and the Great Green Wall Agency. 

DUBAWA further contacted the head of the Ministry’s press and public relations unit, Haruna Ibrahim.

Ibrahim explained that there is no such agency under the Ministry. He further stated that if any agency could call on the public to wear a nose mask, it would be an agency under the Ministry of Health. 

During our investigation, DUBAWA came across this post on the X handle of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) which explained that the government parastatal was established following the repeal of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) Act of 2004. 

Fact-checking viral memo on air pollution attributed repeatedly to government agency

This confirmed Ibrahim’s stance that FEPA had been repealed. 

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) released a weather forecast for 2024 with dust haze alerts in the north and isolated thunderstorms in the South-south region.

The agency has consistently updated its report on the weather outlook, as seen here

The agency also warned the public to take necessary precautions.

“People with asthma and other respiratory issues should be cautious of the present weather situations. Airline operators are advised to get updated weather reports from NiMet for effective planning in their operations,” it stated.

About FEPA

In June 1988, there was an outcry from the Koko village in Delta state as industrial waste suspected to be toxic was dumped at a dump site in the Itsekiri community. The waste was said to have resulted in illnesses and environmental damage.

This elicited a prompt response from the government. Through diplomatic channels, the Nigerian government succeeded in getting the Italian government and the Italian company that was the culprit to lift the toxic waste out of the country. 

Following a series of activities, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency was established with Decree 58 of 1988. FEPA was charged with the overall responsibility of protecting and developing the Nigerian environment. It was amended by the Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 1992, which allowed each State and local government in the country to set up its own environmental protection body to protect and improve the environment within the State. Also, the Harmful Wastes (Special Criminal Provisions etc.) Act of 1988 (Harmful Wastes Act).

In 1999, FEPA and other relevant departments in other ministries were absorbed into the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME), after which the latter took over enforcing environmental laws in Nigeria. The Federal government later established NESREA, a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Environment.

The NESREA Establishment Act 2007 repealed the Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act Cap F 10 LFN 2004.

Origin of the viral memo

A keyword search on Google showed part of the viral post had been taken from a news report attributed to the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency, Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet), and Ghana Health Service on Feb 24, 2023.

While it cannot be confirmed if the agencies made the statement as exactly put by the blog, DUBAWA observed that on Feb 20, 2023, the Ghana EPA had issued a press statement warning against increased outdoor activities to prevent health risks associated with the season which contains highly polluted dust. Same with the GMet

However, the agencies acknowledged that Harmattan was still in the country then, so we could not confirm where the blog got the information that the weather was not Harmattan but air pollution.

Fact-checking viral memo on air pollution attributed repeatedly to government agency
A copy of the EPA press release

Conclusion

FEPA did not issue the viral post on air pollution as the agency had been repealed long ago. The post was taken from a Ghananian blog post dated Feb 2023.

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