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The return of Abacha stove: A look at the health and environmental costs of Nigeria’s economic hardship

Abacha stove - climateaction

The return of Abacha stove: A look at the health and environmental costs of Nigeria’s economic hardship

Nigeria’s booming charcoal business has continued to blossom, putting doubts on the adaptation level in rural areas where mass tree felling for charcoal has continued to surge.


Although mass tree felling for the purpose of producing charcoal is a business of the rural areas, especially in the North Central part of the country, the exploding population of people in Nigeria’s urban centers relies on the end product for cooking.


The charcoal business is not new to the country, as blacksmiths used it for over a century before the present time. However, the period between 1990 and 1995 raised its use from blacksmithing to domestic cooking after Nigerians manufactured charcoal stoves popu­larly known as Abacha stoves.


The stove — so named because it was manufactured during the administration of Nigeria’s former military leader, Late General Sani Abacha — is a lo­cally fabricated stove that is mainly powered by charcoal and sawdust. Sawdust is made of small chippings of wood and is commonly found at sawmills and carpenter workshops as waste products, which made it easier for Nigerians to acquire for free to cook their meals.


Many of the stoves were products of Do-It-Yourself experiments which entailed getting a metal paint container, creating holes in it to stack the sawdust, and letting it breathe while it burned.


The stove wasn’t complicated and was a cheap substitute for kerosene stoves. However, the process still needed a bit of kerosene to start the fire and keep it alive during the course of cooking.


The present


According to a February 2022 report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the average retail price of LPG increased by 83.69% from February 2021. The average retail price of household kerosene also increased by 26.66% in the same period.


The lingering scarcity and soaring price of cooking fuel, coupled with the general economic hardship, is driving many Nigerians to embrace Abacha stoves just like they did decades ago — a clear case of deja vu.


The Abacha stove is fast taking over the kerosene stove among the urban poor because of the increasing price of kerosene and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) which is also derailing the drive to get more Nigerians to adopt LPG.


Environmental implication


The Abacha stove is not environmentally friendly because emissions from it contribute to environmental pollution and contribute to climate change.


In addition, it requires the felling of trees in some cases to make charcoal to power the stove. Deforestation is a major driver of climate change.


Health implication


The most pressing concern with the Abacha stove is its health implications especially as you need to keep fanning the stove with either your mouth or an object to keep it burning thereby exposing you to poisonous fumes that potentially cause lung diseases and are especially harmful to children.


The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said in 2021 that almost 185 children under the age of five die every day from pneumonia due to air pollution in Nigeria. The majority of the deaths are from air pollution in the household, including that from cooking over open fires.


The Abacha stove may save families a lot of money but the environmental and health implications of its use far outweigh the benefit.


The Nigerian government unveiled its climate goals and plans and has commenced efforts toward meeting emissions targets. With the comeback of the Abacha stove, all effort at meeting net-zero will go up in smoke – literally.


Poverty remains one of the militating factors against the country’s efforts at combating climate change. The government must make clean cooking fuel available and affordable for it is only when that is done that we can make headway with our climate target.

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