Issuance of EIA certificates
The statement credited to the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, that it is the sole responsibility of the Federal Ministry of Environment to issue Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) certificates nationwide clearly underscores everything that is wrong with the governance structure of Nigeria. In the stunted federation of Nigeria, Amina Mohammed’s position is the law. In common sense and in the interest of Nigeria’s prosperity, it is the wrongest thing. The states cannot and should not be shut out completely from EIA processes and procedures.
Even if issuance of permits and final certification has to come from the Federal Government, the states must be involved as critical stakeholders since all environmental problems are largely local.
Nigeria cannot make progress when every issue of governance is over-centralised. Federalism, which Nigerians desperately need, in order to make progress, should be given a true meaning. States often subsidiaries should be able to participate in issues that affect them directly for efficiency, transparency and overall good governance.
There is no doubt that the skewed governance structure, which gives the Federal Government overriding powers over the states, especially, in resource management, engenders poverty and maladministration in the country.
Nigeria’s jaundiced governance structure today certainly breeds nothing but underdevelopment and misery for the people. Nothing moves and making Nigeria better by way of improved governance becomes much more difficult as a result.
The time has, therefore, come for such retrogressive ideas in the extant laws of the land to be done away with.
The issue of EIA and the competence or right of the states came up during the 7th National Regulatory Dialogue on the implementation of environmental regulations organised by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in Abuja and the Minister said there and then that the issuance of EIA certificates by state governments is illegal.
She, however, urged state environmental agencies/authorities to work closely with NESREA and charged them to shun undue rivalry, competition, as well as refrain from undermining federal laws and regulations.
The Minister was emphatic that it was the responsibility of the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Environment, to issue EIA certificates, noting that it is backed by law.
This position is symptomatic of the predilection of Nigeria’s central government for asserting itself over everything and throwing its weight around without showing how to deliver. It is instructive to note that the Minister who was so quick to state the powers of her ministry did not say how to make EIA administration effective in the country. Merely citing what the law says is not enough but all patriots should be able to assess the effectiveness of the law vis-à-vis the growing environmental challenges in the country.
If anything, the degradation of the oil-rich Niger Delta by the oil companies is an indictment of the Federal Ministry of Environment. The Niger Delta is in such terrible condition because the Federal Government has failed to enforce necessary environmental rules and regulations even while holding on to such powers as should make it do so.
It is likely the Federal Government of Nigeria is trying to copy from what obtains in other countries without considering the underlying considerations in those countries and the peculiarities of Nigeria.
For example, while in Ghana, issues of EIA are the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that assignment is decentralised. There are ten regional offices, which serve as field operators of the agency.
Does the Federal Government have state or zonal offices to enhance the administration of EIA in Nigeria without doubt, the Federal Government doesn’t have the capacity to oversee the scope and accuracy of EIA administration nationwide, hence, the need for decentralisation.
In the United States and Canada, the Federal Governments are very much involved in environmental impact study but no certification is required for practitioners.
What is happening in Nigeria is more of muscle flexing by the Federal Government designed to intimidate the states and dissuade them from performing what ought to be their responsibility.
Truth is that there are issues the Federal Government should deal with while states should be given more responsibilities as well as commensurate control over the revenue generated from resources in their domain.
Unfortunately, the extant laws are anti-federalism and it remains incomprehensible why the Federal Government and its leaders are afraid of federalism, which is the only way forward for the country.