‘Every polluter must be held responsible, brought to book’
Dr. Lawrence Chidi Anukam is the Director General/ Chief Executive Officer, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA). In this interview with Property & Environment Editor, CHINEDUM UWAEGBULAM, he highlights the position of NESREA regarding environmental protection and control, especially concerns over e-waste management, gas flaring and ranking of some cities as worst polluters.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed four Nigeria cities as worst in world’s air pollution. Onitsha was labeled the world’s most polluted city for air quality, when measuring small particulate matter concentration (PM10). The other three cities named; are Kaduna, in the north, which came fifth, followed by Aba in sixth place and Umuahia, in 16th position. Do your agency believe in this assessment? If yes, what factors have made it so?
The WHO Report was making reference to a study conducted by some university lecturers in Nigeria. The methodology used to arrive at the conclusion to make the categorization is not quite clear. If based on very limited spot checks of a particular commercial area, then it may not be statistically significant to represent an entire city, especially when there are some pristine areas within the city. The commercial areas of Onitsha and other cities mentioned have issues of air quality relating to high PM levels due to the nature of industrial/commercial activities in those areas often characterized by increased use of fossil fuels and intensive industrial and commercial activities. However, the report underscores the importance of protecting our environment and the need for continuing implementation of the National Regulations on Air Quality and other related regulations developed by NESREA to control and check various forms of environmental degradation and pollution.
Our compliance monitoring records show that some of industries do not have pollution abatement equipment and even when they are available, they are not functioning optimally. The position of NESREA regarding environmental protection and control is not to impede economic development but to encourage the regulated community to carry out their operations in harmony with nature. This is the tenet of sustainable development. The agency is rolling out some key programmes to address various forms environmental pollution. For air pollution, the agency has developed the National Vehicular Emission Control Programme, the National Generator Emission Control Programme, and the Extended Producers Responsibility (EPR) programme. While the EPR programme will curtail littering and open burning of wastes, the two air emission control programmes will reduce obnoxious emissions from mobile and stationary sources.
What are the challenges that hindered your agency from dictating these pollutions in cities? What precautionary measures have been put in place?
Proliferation of non-point sources of pollution, ignorance and poor attitude of some members of the regulated community, and insufficient equipment and technology can pose a challenge in creating a livable and sustainable city. There is need for improvement of the enforcement infrastructure including monitoring equipment and capacity building. Public education and environmental awareness will play a key role in creating positive attitudinal change among the regulated community. Continuous compliance monitoring and quick response to public complaints are also very important. NESREA is working closely with relevant stakeholders to achieve the desired goals.
Nigeria flares about 1.2billion cubic feet (bcf/d) of gas a day, which could fuel about 7000MW of efficient thermal electric power and over 1,400 agro-processing facilities with opportunities for creating over one million jobs. Why is it impossible for government to fix a definite time frame to end flaring of associated gas and fully implement the Gas Re-injection Act?
Though there had been shifting of time frames in the past due to various reasons, the present administration has come up with a definite time-frame and roadmap to end gas flaring in Nigeria. This is informed by the firm commitment of the Federal Government to address issues relating to climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement.
Civil society group said the inability of government to enforce the Polluter-Pay Principle has caused culture of impunity with grave consequences to the environment, rural livelihood sources and serious environmental degradation. Is this true? Do government intend to operate Polluter-Pay Principle?
The government is already applying the Polluter-Pays-Principle in addressing environmental problems. All the Environmental Regulations developed by NESREA are being implemented based on polluter–pays-principle. That a facility should be responsible for all the environmental damages caused by its operations as well as the remediation of the problem does not give such a facility a free ride to pollute and degrade the environment. It is a lot better not to degrade the environment than to degrade and remediate. Full and complete remediation may be difficult to achieve and the damage may become permanent. Precaution and environmental safety must be the watchword. This underlines the importance of the precautionary principle in environmental governance. We must adhere to the old adage that says prevention is better than cure. We appeal to our citizenry to act as environmental watchdogs and whistle blowers to support the efforts of the government to check environmental degradation and pollution in our country. Every polluter must be held responsible and must be brought to book. No individual or corporate entity is above the law of the land.
Stakeholders in environmental services and community leaders have accused NESREA of contributing to continuous industrial pollution in Kano and Ogun States by allowing firms to be polluting. How true are these allegations?
NESREA is established by law to protect the environment and enforce all environmental laws. The Agency therefore cannot allow firms/industries to pollute the environment. This will be contrary to the law establishing the Agency. The actions and activities of some industries are deplorable, not just in Kano or Ogun States. Some of these industries have turned the near-by rivers into open sink and dump site. This is very unfortunate. The activities of these industries are adversely affecting the ecosystem integrity of these rivers. The industries are being advised to introduce best applicable environmental practice and to install pre-treatment equipment to guard against pollution of land, water and air in their areas of operation. The culpable industries are being sanctioned in accordance with the relevant provisions of the various Environmental Laws and Regulations. The Agency is also intensifying its compliance monitoring and enforcement programmes. Two months ago, the Agency organized a one-day consultative meeting with the industries in Kano to address the various environmental problems associated with their activities and to remind them of their legal obligations to carry-out their operations without endangering the environment and human lives. The Agency is also in constant consultation with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) to advise on issues bearing on sustainable consumption and production.
Part of the compliance monitoring and enforcement programme of the Agency is to ensure a level-playing field for all industries. Industry A cannot be obeying laws while industry B is not. Every corporate entity must obey the environmental laws, and this guarantees a level-playing field for all. Unfortunately, some members of the regulated community have a wrong notion that complying with the environmental laws will put undue stress on cost of production. This is not true. Such notion is nurtured by sheer ignorance and selfishness. Instead, reducing pollution will make for a cleaner environment, resource efficiency, healthy workforce, and positive growth in our economy.
NESREA is seeking the review of the NESREA (Establishment) Act, 2007. Why was this necessary and will this provide people with a healthy environment?
There is a slight on-going review of the NESREA (Establishment) Act, 2007. This is being championed by the House Committee on Environment. The key proposed amendment is in the area of penalty. The amendment will give a presiding Judge a wider latitude to prescribe appropriate penalty according to the gravity of the offence without being limited by any pre-determined maximum penalty. This will serve as a powerful deterrent to environmental violators.
NESREA plans to introduce Green Corps Initiative as a means of actively involving the citizenry in environmental governance through volunteers. What is holding this initiative? When do you hope to kick-start it?
The NESREA Green Corps programme is already on course. The initiative had been launched in three (3) geopolitical zones. The intention is to launch it in all the six (6) geopolitical zones and at the State levels. The initiative is to encourage citizens to act as environmental volunteers and as watchdogs and whistle blowers to promote environmental governance in their communities. A member of the NESREA Green Corps is not an enforcement officer but can report environmental violation to the appropriate authority. We are very encouraged by the interest and enthusiasm shown by many Nigerians from different walks of life to be part of the initiative. We want to appeal to those who are yet to do so to please come forward and be part of this laudable initiative. By so doing, all of us, irrespective of our class or creed, will work together to ensure cleaner and healthier environment for all Nigerians.
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