Need for effective environmental regulators in Nigeria
Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa. Its present population is estimated to be over 170 million, yet there continues to be a steady decline in the will and capacity of the government to effectively cope with the provision of the basic needs of the people. This reflects prominently in the environmental sanitation practices of the people. Nigeria still ranks as one of the dirtiest countries in the world with some of its cities ranking in the top 20 dirtiest and most polluted cities in Africa. Unfortunately, it has become a lifestyle for Nigerians to live with dirt or indiscriminate dumps in most places. In a country of an increasing population, waste is inevitably generated daily as in most parts of the world, yet the question is, What are the measures put in place to check, curb, manage or eliminate harmful waste or pollution from the environment.
Ironically, Nigeria is signatory to many international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment, yet little or nothing is done to enforce these laws for the health and betterment of its citizens. A travel round major Nigerian cities leaves one with the conclusion that Nigeria is indeed a dirty country. Records according to the 2018 rankings of top 20 dirtiest cities in Africa reveal the following:
In the East, Onitsha ranks topmost on the list, Kaduna in the north comes second, Aba follows closely in the third position, Umuahia comes fourth, Auchi in Edo State comes 12th position, Ile Ife in the south west comes in the 14th, followed by Abakiliki in the 15th position while Afigbo in Ebonyi State comes up at the 17th position. This is a sad development especially when one makes a throwback at the Buhari/ Idiagbon military regime in the 80s which focused significantly on the enforcement of environmental laws and also institutionalised environmental sanitation practices; Nigeria soared up the ladder as one of the cleanest and orderly countries in the world. Unfortunately that is not the story today. Environmental sanitation practices have declined significantly with loose ends from both government and the private sector. Why are there no sustainable structures to uphold governmental policies? This is sad. The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to a very large extent has not met up to its responsibilities, this agency continues to organise world class environment conferences in clean, air conditioned facilities yet drive along dirty streets daily to their offices. There is no notable impact of their policies on the environment.
They pay staff for jobs not satisfactorily executed, this is so because there are no evidence of their impact. Why do Nigerians still live in dirty environment when the responsibility of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act empowers the Agency to be responsible for enforcing all environmental laws, guidelines, policies, standards and regulations in Nigeria, as well as enforcing compliance with provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment to which Nigeria is a signatory.
NESREA has responsibility for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources in general and environmental technology including coordination, and liaison with relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria on matters of enforcement of environmental standards, regulations, rules, laws, policies and guidelines. Some functions of the Agency, among others include to: enforce compliance with guidelines, and legislation on sustainable management of the ecosystem, biodiversity conservation and the development of Nigeria’s natural resources; conduct environmental audit and establish data bank on regulatory and enforcement mechanisms of environmental standards other than in the oil and gas sector; create public awareness and provide environmental education on sustainable environmental management, promote private sector compliance with environmental regulations other than in the oil and gas sector and publish general scientific or other data resulting from the performance of its functions; and carry out such activities as are necessary or expedient for the performance of its functions; prohibit processes and use of equipment or technology that undermine environmental quality; conduct field follow-up of compliance with set standards and take procedures prescribed by law against any violator; subject to the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and in collaboration with relevant judicial authorities establish mobile courts to expeditiously dispense cases of violation of environmental regulation.
NESREA must become more dynamic, effective, multidimensional, innovative and reach far to the grassroots where the majority of the population are; to enforce environmental laws. NESREA must go beyond organizing non-impactful conferences to implement environmental laws with necessary sanctions. The result will be seen in clean environment, healthy people, prevailing law and order which drive more revenue to government coffers. So far NESREA has failed in its responsibility to enforce environmental laws in Nigeria, too much of bureaucratic bottlenecks has corrupted the system, this is why Nigeria still ranks among the world’s dirtiest countries.
NESREA must stop their media propaganda, put on their gloves, go out there in the field to do their work. Well meaning NGOS are contributing their quota especially in environmental clean up and sensitization activities with little or no support from the government. Yet NESREA needs these stakeholders to implement their policies and laws. NESREA must spread its tentacles and make their presence felt in all states of the federation.
Enough of the rhetoric and media propaganda, environmental laws should be enforced through existing arms of that sector to ultimately result in a clean, healthy country.
NESREA must engage stakeholders beyond conference tables to the fields where we have the greatest needs to tackle environmental nuisance head-on. NESREA was set up to work, and its presence must be felt all over the country. It’s time to move out of the status quo, adopt a more dynamic approach towards resolving environmental menace in Nigeria.
Asemota is director general, Clean & Beautiful Atmosphere Initiative.