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Despite Health Risks, Ondo Students Resort to Charcoal Amid Rising Cooking Gas Price

Under the scorching sun on Saturday, Adeyemo Kikelomo, a 300-level student of the Department of Biology Education at the Adeyemi Federal University of Education (AFUED), was on the street of Oka, capital of Akoko-South-West Local Government of Ondo State in search of charcoal.

Though familiar with the effects of charcoal smoke, the young undergraduate would rather put her health at risk than remain hungry. She resorted to cooking with charcoal owing to the continuous rise in the cost of cooking gas.

Like Kikelomo, many students who spoke with CAMPUS REPORTER said they could no longer continue with the hike in the price of cooking gas soaring to unprecedented heights of N1500 depending on one’s geographical location.

As the cost of gas skyrockets, its counterparts – firewood and charcoal are harmful alternatives students across various universities in Ondo resort to.

Speaking with our reporter, Babatunde Ruth, a student of Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko  (AAUA), confirmed that all her hostel mates had embraced charcoal. They entertain the notion of pooling resources to acquire a new charcoal pot, envisioning it as a worthy successor to their beloved gas stove. 

“I see no harm in it,” she said. 

Another student, Omoniyi Oluwatomisin, finds herself grappling with the harsh reality of soaring natural gas prices amid a backdrop of inflationary pressures. With a heavy heart, she recounts her distressing ordeal, saying she can no longer afford the luxury of regular cooking.

Bags of charcoal

 “It’s heartbreaking and taking a toll on me as a student,” she said. “I used to enjoy cooking, experimenting with recipes and flavour. But now, with the skyrocketing cooking gas prices, it feels like a luxury I can no longer afford.”

“A kilogram of gas barely lasts a week, and I have to buy a refill every time. Cooking used to be a way for me to relax and unwind after a long day of studying, but now, it has become a source of stress and anxiety,” she explained. 

Health implications of charcoal, firewood 

According to health experts, those cooking with charcoal or firewood are likely to develop Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a condition that makes breathing difficult. Also, children around the vicinity are particularly at risk of asthma.

Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2018 said, “Each year, close to 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution from inefficient cooking practices using polluting stoves paired with solid fuels.” 

The NGO added that diseases caused by firewood often lead to premature deaths due to stroke, ischaemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. It also claimed that smoke emanating from firewood used for cooking is the third greatest killer of women and children in Nigeria, as over 90,000 women die annually from smoke inhaled during cooking with firewood or charcoal.

Reacting to the tragic experiences of the students, Bayo Fatukasi, a professor of economics at AAUA, told our reporter that the inflation in Nigeria affects not only students but the entire populace, leading to the widespread adoption of charcoal as an alternative fuel source. 

“I believe that with the meticulous implementation of strategic policies, Nigeria can overcome its economic challenges and chart a course towards prosperity within the foreseeable future,” he said.

What is the government doing?

In 2021, ex-President Muhammadu Buhari declared the “Decade of Gas” with a promise that his administration will ensure that gas development is a national priority — to stimulate economic growth, further improve Nigeria’s energy mix and provide much-needed jobs for citizens.

This initiative coincides with significant reforms in the sector, including the long-awaited Petroleum Industry Bill, promising a monumental transformation.

Despite the promise, the country continued to witness a surge in LPG prices till a new government was sworn in on May 29, 2023. Nearly a year after the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu’s administration, things have become worse for Nigerians.

In his reaction, a prominent gas distributor who simply identified himself as Chike in Akungba-Akoko, expressed deep concern over the surge in gas prices, saying, “The increment in gas price is affecting me negatively because students and community members have reduced the way they refill their cooking gas.” 

Nuwosu Anita, another gas retailer, shares the same sentiments as she expressed displeasure over the downturn in business since January. “Students only fill gas to boil noodles and warm food; they no longer use gas for cooking again.”

Meanwhile, as gas sellers complain bitterly, charcoal sellers smile home daily. Bosede Akadri is one of them. 

“Ever since the price of cooking gas has skyrocketed, students and even members of the community have been patronising me,” she revealed. “I make a lot of sales whenever I open the shop.”

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