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A ban on the import of second-hand refrigerators and air-conditioners, funds for the implementation of which are contained in the Nigeria’s budget for 2002, has drawn protests from both importers and consumers.

The Nigerian government has issued a ban on such devices — known locally as ‘Tokunbo’ — from entering the country, on the grounds that they contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) whose emissions cause damage to the ozone layer.

But consumers are complaining that the ban will prevent them from owning either devices, as environment-friendly refrigerators and air-conditioners are too expensive.

While second-hand imported fridges and air-conditioners cost about US$100, new models that do not contain CFCs cost at least US$400, beyond the means of many in a country where the minimum wage is only about US$50 a month.

Importers also argue that the ban will out them out of business at a time when jobs ar scarce. “The decision will throw many of our members out of work,” says Mark Eziakor, of the Refrigeration and Air-conditioners Dealers Assocation, whose members include 500,000 technicians and about one million traders.

The association has been actively opposing the ban ever since it was announced last year, claiming that it could lead to the loss of up to one million jobs.

Environmentalists argue that the government’s concern is disproportionate to the damage caused by the consumer equipment, given the far great problem created by gas flaring — the burning off of unwanted gas — in the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta.

“Whoever approved the ban is being hypocritical because the number of Tokunbo fridges imported into this country relative to the amount of ozone layer depleting substances must be very negligible,” says environmentalist Dom Okoro.

With proven gas reserves of about 120 trillion cubic feet, Nigeria is ranked 10th among countries with major gas deposits. But it also has the worst gas-flaring record in the world, setting light to more than 76 per cent of its total gas output.

A committee set up by the Nigerian government to find solution to the problem has reported that global estimates indicate that the flaring of petroleum associated gas in Nigeria alone accounts for 28 per cent of total gas flared in the world.

Most of the gas being flared is associated gas which comes in conjunction with crude oil below the rock formation underlying about 25,000 square kilometres of swamps of the Niger Delta basin on the south-eastern coast of the country.

Photo credit: NREL