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Environment: A neglected stuff in Nigeria

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PHOTO CREDIT: WHO

The annual ritual marked as the World Environment Day has no meaning in Nigeria since the day is merely used by government officials to deliver beautiful keynote speeches and rehearse the same environmental problems plaguing the country over the years without providing any solution. Nigeria merely joins in the catalogue to mark the day without having any environmental breakthrough to showcase.

Something like deforestation that has assumed alarming dimension is lamented year in year out without record of tree planting anywhere to contain the menace. What is certain is that deforestation has intensified, as fuel wood and timber merchants wreck havoc on our vegetal cover nationwide without restraint.
What about the massive annual flooding that yearly swallows lives and properties in different parts of the country? Is there anywhere that this disaster has been permanently contained?

What about the endemic gully erosion ravaging parts of the southern states? What has been done to address it?
Similarly, what about the fast encroaching desertification that has virtually eaten up the entire northern landscape from the fringes of the Sahara in the north down to the Niger-Benue trough?

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What has happened to the long standing Great Green Wall of the Sahara that was launched and meant to green the north and check the southward advance of the Sahara Desert? Wasn’t it a mere fanfare?
What about the unbridled wildlife poaching and its flourishing bush meat industry patronized mainly by the elites? Nigeria’s membership of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meaningless, as no biodiversity is protected in the country.

Virtually, all the country’s zoos in Ibadan, Jos, Enugu, Maiduguri, Owerri, etc, that flourished in the 70s and 80s have gone into oblivion. The hapless animals were either starved to death or poached and eaten up by government officials.

I must not end this catalogue of woes on the environment without mentioning the virtually extinct Lake Chad that has become the subject of diplomatic discussion by government officials, yet nothing is being done to redress the catastrophe.

Can we begin to do something about these endemic problems and stop the fanfare staged by different governments in the guise of marking the World Environment Day every June 5?

Can we celebrate one success story of an environmental problem solved on the occasion of this important global event? Otherwise, it amounts to sheer hypocrisy that every year, on June 5, state and federal government authorities file out in capital cities to plant one tree seedling that is immediately forgotten as soon as everybody deserts the venue.

Where are the tree planted say ten years ago to mark this event? Didn’t they wither as soon as they were planted, otherwise, we should have big trees across the capital cities in remembrance of previous occasions of this event.
Can we be more serious on the issue of environmental protection and stop deceiving ourselves. We should have something to celebrate on this occasion instead of all the hypocritical speeches made on each occasion of this event. Nigeria is not plagued by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc, that ravage other climes and yet they survive.

Ours is a case of self-inflicted disasters occasioned by bad governance, greed and avarice. Our trees and forests are devastated not by hurricanes and tornadoes but by us.
Our wild life are continually assaulted, poached and eaten as bush meat without regard to any iota of conservation. While nature has blessed Nigeria with somewhat stable environment, we are in a way angry with nature for sparing us the disasters, hence, the uncontrolled devastation of our ecosystem. How long more shall this continue before something is done about it?

This year‘s World Environment Day provides another opportunity to reflect on the complex ecological system upon which human life and biodiversity depend. The term environment is a complex of land, water and air.
Land consists of the solid earth surface not covered by water that supports agriculture, habitat, and diverse natural resources. Water is the colourless, odourless chemical substance found in oceans, rivers, streams and lakes otherwise called the hydrosphere. Air is the complex of gaseous and dust particles that envelope the earth, also called atmosphere, that provides the gas in which living things live and breadth.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day, to be hosted by China is, “Air Pollution.” Air pollution is a worldwide problem. Greenpeace and Air Visual analysis, show that air pollution reading from 3,000 cities around the world indicate that 64 percent of the cities exceed the WHO annual exposure benchmark of PM2.5 particulate matter that are linked to various health problems with some 99 per cent of the cities and 89 percent in south and east Asia respectively. Twenty-two per cent of the world’s most polluted cities are in India according to Greenpeace.
US cities with severe air pollution include Phoenix (AZ), San Jose and Oakland (CA), Houston (TX) and New York/Newark.

Unfortunately, many cities in Nigeria, indeed, Africa do not have air quality monitoring programme. The WHO has listed Onitsha, Aba, Kaduna and Umuahia as the worst polluted Nigerian cities with particulate matter of PM 10. Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre should be in this list.

The main sources of air pollution in Nigeria are fumes from vehicular traffic, smoke from burning refuse dumpsites, millions of generators in practically every home and office, industrial chimneys and road dust, especially, during the dry season.

China’s choice as the host country in this year’s event is significant in view of the fact that Chinese cities are among the worst polluted in the world, with air pollution causing as much as 350,000-400,000 premature deaths a year according to a World Bank 2007 report. Consequently, the world has a lot to learn from China’s experience in managing the menace.

The World Environment Day is fixed by the United Nations (UN) to “stimulate awareness of the environment and enhance political attention and action”. The day promotes policies and actions aimed at improving the earth’s environment including conserving forests. But these cardinal objectives are not reckoned with in Nigeria.

The issue of environment is a grossly neglected stuff in Nigeria. It is no exaggeration to say that environment, as an issue, is remembered only on the occasion of the World Environment Day or when, occasionally, nature goes berserk. That explains why Nigeria’s environmental problems are endemic.
It is sad that whereas, air pollution is rife in Nigerian cities, there is no air quality monitoring to ascertain the extent of the problem for citizens to take precaution. The result is that citizens, daily, inhale poisonous fumes from myriad of sources unknown to them that they are exposed to health dangers. Many suffer from debilitating ailments unaware of the cause. This is not surprising.

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A government that does not care about human beings has no business caring about air quality. As a matter of fact, all plant and animal species in Nigeria are endangered because there is a booming fuel wood and bush meat industry in the country. Nigeria’s ecological landscape is, perhaps, the most unprotected in the world because the leaders are busy chasing oil money. There is no programme for active environmental conservation at any level of government in the country.

The Niger Delta, with is huge oil resources, could be the most polluted region in the world. Five decades of ceaseless crude oil exploration and exploitation have left the area completely devastated, yet, despite the gravity of the problem no Nigerian government – military or civilian – has done anything to remedy the situation. Even the UNEP brokered environmental restoration in Ogoni land is being foot-dragged upon. The people’s sources of livelihood have been destroyed leading to restiveness and militancy.

Considering that environmental issues are local and are better handled at the local community level, the Federal Government should not be acting as having the ultimate solution in every environmental problem. Instead, the states and local government councils should rise to the challenge. They should be empowered by law to deal with environmental issues in their localities. That way, some of these endemic problems would be addressed.

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