Environmental Change Is Everyone’s Responsibility

Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters – Kyodo Williams.

While we differ in tribe, language, religion and beliefs in Nigeria, the one thing that binds the people in their diversity is the environment. The environment is the collective home of every man and thus the structure that makes a global family. The interaction of man with the environment is a natural necessity borne out of his biological makeup of psychological curiosity as well as his innate need to define, discover and develop his surroundings. Man, in a bid to survive and thrive has however left indelible consequences on the landscape and his home has now begun to fall apart with the outcome; environmental denigration, depreciation and possible destruction.

With the rapid urbanization and industrialization in Nigeria, we are now faced with various environmental problems like desertification, deforestation, overpopulation, oil spills, loss of natural habitat and especially, pollution. While we might think these problems does and will not affect us personally, the fact is that the preservation of the environment is the preservation of us all and its destruction, our destruction.

As reported by the Nations Encyclopedia, Nigeria lost 20% of its forest and woodland areas between 1983 and 1993 alone while Oil spills, the burning of toxic wastes, and urban air pollution are environmental problems in more developed areas of the nation. In fact, the United Nations Environmental Program in 2011 reported that the benzene level of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta is nine hundred times higher than the World Health Organization recommendation.

These reports are not the proverbial smoke without fire as they have led to deaths and health hazards in the country. In two news report by the World Health Organization, 1.7 million under five children die each year from diseases that are caused by air pollution and Nigeria has the largest number of most polluted cities in the world. In 2016, four Nigerian cities were further named as four of the world ‘s most populated cities – Onitsha, Kaduna, Umuahia and Aba.

The fact is that environmental degradation is as serious a problem as corruption in the nation but while the latter enjoys loud public outcry and attention, the existence of the former is hardly attested to. It is apparent that though the average uneducated Nigerian understands that the reason why the price of a cup of rice rose from thirty naira to seventy naira is because of economic recession caused by looted funds of corrupt leaders, they are however hardly aware that the trees they cut for firewood and the waste they burn every morning outside their compound is environmentally dangerous. It is therefore apparent that urgent steps need to be taken to preserve the Nigerian environment.

To start with, there is the need to create awareness as to environmental problems and their causes. Life is valued by men and this is why with a gun pointed to their head when asked to choose between their life and money, they unhesitantly choose to save their life. People need to be made conscious of the effect of their actions and inactions as environmental destruction is a collection of individual decisions. More so, creating awareness has helped to fight menace in the past such as the outbreak of the Ebola in 2014 and Lassa virus in 2016 wherein different organizations and institutions took it upon themselves to create awareness of the menace and people took positive steps to prevent their spread. With proper education of the public on the effects of environmental denigration and pollution, as well as its incorporation in the curricula of primary and secondary schools, we’re definitely moving towards a vehement social change of mindset and attitude towards the environment.

Second, proper implementation of environmental laws is key in preserving the environment. Laws are important tools for guiding human behavior and ameliorating social order. There is no doubt as to the plethora of legislations regulating environment ranging from the National Environmental Standards and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act 2007 replacing the Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act to the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act CAP H1 LFN 2004, the Nigerian Urban and Regional Planning Act CAP N138, LFN 2004, Oil in Navigable Waters Act CAP 06 LFN 2004, Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, amongst numerous others. Notable is the fact that pre-1988, there was no policy aimed at preserving the environment in Nigeria as the government had no concern about it. The Koko incidence in 1988 was however a waking call to the government when an Italian man approached a Nigerian to dump 3880 tons of toxic and hazardous waste principally made up of polychlorobiphenyls (PCBs)whose discovery led to the creation of the Harmful Waste Decree and Federal Environmental Protection Agency. Thus, further legislations were made on environmental laws, protection and development over the years.

Yet, an unimplemented law is of little use. Due to ineffective enforcement strategies and inadequate operating policies the laws are mere disregarded words on paper. The judicial system has also been a disappointment with delay in the court cases relating to upholding one’s right as a person to life and dignity and ability to implement decisions. The extra-judicial killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and other eight activists on November 10 1995 for daring to challenge Shell is one that remains inerasable in the history of the nation and raises the uncertainty of the ability of the courts to protect rights provided for in the law. Further disappointing is the case of Oronto Douglas V Shell Development Company Ltd & 5 ors (1999) 2 NWLR Pt 591 where the plaintiff sought a compliance with the Environmental Impact Assessment Act and the court held that the plaintiff could not institute the action since he was unable to prove direct injury caused to him. In the important case of Jonah Mpere V Shell Production Development Company & 2 Ors, where the court upheld that gas flaring was a violation of human rights, illegal and should be stopped, till date neither the oil companies nor the government have complied with the court ruling. This is a proof of the present unreliability of the Nigerian Judicial system thus necessitating a better structure for law execution and the need for just decisions. It is further proposed that there is stricter fines and punishment for violators of environmental laws. This is because injustice to the environment is injustice to all.

Finally, there is also need for immediate societal proactivity. The society is the juxtaposition of the government, institutions and the people. A rise in action by these three forces is the collectivity that can control environmental degeneration. Most of the environmental problems in Nigeria are occasioned by the nonchalance of these trio. The agencies created by the environmental laws lack the finance to meet their obligations and perform their functions effectively as posited by Hakeem Ijaiya in his article,” Rethinking Environmental Law Application in Nigeria”. Policies such as Environmental regeneration, solid waste management, flood abatement, enforcement of pollution control for industries need to be put by the various levels of government into place in order to redeem the environment and enhance its value Thus, the need for the Nigerian government to allocate more funds for proper implementation of environmental policies and training of these agencies. It is also expected that they perform their function of equal and easy access to justice as provided for in the Legal Aids Act and Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for persons whose rights have been violated by pollution and misuse of the environment. Institutions, especially waste producing institution, should also take it upon themselves to promote advertisement and awareness of the dangers of pollution to the environment as was done during epidemic outbreaks. The fact is that we need to take responsibility and work together to create the difference we want to see. The people also can take the proactive step of whistleblowing and monitoring agencies as well as speaking up for their rights by instituting legal actions against corporations or government agencies in breach.

As a national environmental family, we all need to take part in environmental actions and become agents of change for positive impacts on the planet. The combined initiative of creating awareness, proper implementation of environmental laws and proactivity of the society comprising the government, institutions and the people are strong instruments of preserving our environment, saving lives and making a difference for the generation to come. The regeneration of the environment is the collective responsibility of all Nigerians and it is high time we accept that individually we can make a difference and together, a change.

©Precious Akinkuolie

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