ABUJA — All year long, activists have been making noise about Bagega, a Nigerian village at the epicenter of the worst known lead poisoning outbreak ever. They want money promised by the Nigerian government so the village can be cleaned up and the children can be treated. Now, in a last-ditch effort to get the cleanup done before the next rainy season, they've taken to the Internet, trying to build support and put pressure on the president.
You can’t post directly on Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s Facebook page, but you can comment on his posts. His last post has over 4,000 comments - everything from accusations of corruption to job requests to support and prayers.
Activist groups Human Rights Watch and the Nigerian Youth Climate Action Network are now trying to use that page to help save thousands of children at risk of dying or being permanently disabled from lead poisoning in Bagega, a village in Zamfara State.
Zamfara State Environmental Commissioner Mouktar Lugga says cleanup of the village needs to begin immediately or else it will have to wait another year.
"It’s psychologically devastating. We have 2,000 children in Bagega that are clearly at risk. We have lots of calls - people wanting to know what will happen to their children. I don’t even want to think it cannot happen before the next rainy season," said Lugga.
The lead comes from the dust released by small-time gold mining in the area. More than 400 children have died from lead poisoning since 2010, with thousands more falling sick.
Many villages have been cleaned up. In May, the Nigerian government promised more than $4 million for Bagega. But none of that money has been released.
Activist groups are asking people to urge the president to release the funds by commenting on his Facebook status. They also want people to sign an online petition and tweet calls for the funding with the hashtag, SaveBagega.