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Dr. Dorothy Bassey is the president of, Nigerian Environmental Society (NES). She spoke with VICTOR GBONEGUN on depletion of the ecosystem, the menace of plastic pollution, and the Ogoni cleanup exercise.

Environmental activists have expressed worries over the increase in depletion of the earth’s ecosystem and resources. What actions are needed to promote and enhance conservation?
The depletion of the earth’s ecosystem is a global challenge that must be tackled with a national strategy. Ecosystem inventory and tracking is the first step. I personally believe that policies that can safeguard our ecosystem must be based on data and not arbitrary because it is trending. Environmental degradation comprises air, soil, and water pollution, wildlife destruction, forestry management, and natural resources that are unsustainably extracted.

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The oil sector, which has been the country’s main economic revenue base, has come at very high costs. The economic goal and objectives have been achieved, but where are we today in terms of ecosystem management and resource wealth effects. The environment has taken a hit. Now we need to focus on ways to reverse this trend if we can and must definitely prevent further damage to the ecosystem.

The federal government is currently doing a lot in this regard with the mass transportation initiative but focused priority must be maintained.

Currently, Nigeria generates very little energy from alternate sources with the hope of an increase in this area by 2030. Renewable energy policies should have incentives for its use to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels.

Rather, generating companies are setting up shop daily. Government not banning the importation of generating sets would be counterproductive to whatever renewable energy policy is put in place.

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The systematic failures of oil companies and the federal government to speedily execute cleanup of the Ogoniland have left hundreds of thousands of Ogoni people facing environmental devastations.

Is NES satisfied with the present state of remediation efforts? What could be an effective way to tackle the challenge?
Nobody is happy about the Ogoni cleanup status, particularly after the release of the Ogoni report in 2012. Late Ken Saro-Wiwa paid the ultimate price in 1995 and he was recently remembered for drawing the nation’s attention to the plight of Ogoni people and environmental degradation from oil exploration activities.

Today, we know better and the government has committed to making amends by the remediation and restoration of the impacted region. However, eight years after, what has happened? As a nation, are we truly proud of this? Have we not learned lessons to guide us to navigate a better environment and future for our people? People have been displaced, lost their right to a healthy environment and that continues.

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I do recognise that compliance with environmental regulations can be complex but we are sending a very wrong signal to the world with the continuous unremediated state of Ogoni land. Other extenuating challenges have come up in that region via the illegal refining activities.

It appears a totally helpless case given the black soot that is threatening the health of the people in Rivers State, however; opportunities abound in this seemingly helpless situation.

The environment sector has the potential to generate thousands of jobs for the youth and entrepreneurs in Nigeria. A sit down with the right minds can transform our identified impacted areas and challenges, only if we are truly committed to environmental sustainability and development.

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Many experts attributed the occurrence of the pandemic to environment-related issues. How can Nigeria and the world make the environment safer and sustainable?
The general public on their own can imbibe simple steps at conserving the environment because every step matters and contributes to the goal of ecosystem protection.

These steps should be taught in schools to keep the younger generation in touch with environmental sustainability efforts and programmes. Currently, a lot of the younger folks think these topics are abstract. The use of energy-saving bulbs, the use of rainwater to water the lawn, unplug unused appliances at home are simple steps that go a long way and no one should wait for the government to do this.

Government also has its part to play, but the populace has a greater responsibility in promoting and enhancing ecosystem conservation. The NES is at the forefront of student engagement and training on sustainability principles.

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Nigeria is faced with challenges of flooding, greenhouse gas emission, marine pollution, poor sanitation, and climate change. What are the strategies to tackle these issues?

Nigeria is currently faced with so many environmental challenges because a lot of people don’t understand the sensitivity of the environment and its integration in national planning and development. Once this is missed, as is often the case, we find ourselves solving a developmental challenge but creating an environmental one.

The development of towns and cities without strict adherence to building codes and standards has given rise to flooding in a lot of towns in Nigeria.

Continuous use of generating sets in all offices and homes will continue to generate greenhouse gas emissions. Lack of robust mass transit systems, sanitary waste management, and municipal waste management in and around our cities contributes to the pollution of the soil, water, and the environment. It goes on and comes back to environmental impacts. So, in essence, all positive and negative effects are linked. Therefore, an integrated approach to environmental management systems is advised. It is not enough to have these systems in place because there has to be continuous monitoring and tracking to ensure offsets are noted early.

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Covid 19 has clearly demonstrated the link between the environment and respiratory health. Though these have not been sufficiently studied, there are on-going studies to determine the effects of atmospheric pollution on Covid reports.

The reduction in man’s daily activities showed a great reduction in noise levels, cleaner air, and environment. Obviously, fewer wastes were generated during the lockdown period thus putting a lesser burden on the environment, particularly waste management facilities.

The Nigerian people need to better appreciate the linkages highlighted above. The earth has a finite carrying capacity and once this is exceeded, there is likely to be an environmental disaster or crisis if we are not prepared or proactive given the recorded environmental incidents in the country.

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NES has been pushing for the regulation of Environmental Practitioners in Nigeria. What is the benefit of the proposed law?
The need for environmental practitioners’ regulation is urgent considering the history of environmental practise and business in the country. After the Koko incident of 1988, which gave birth to the formation of the Federal Ministry of Environment and the awakening of environmental consciousness in the country, there was an influx of environmentalists.

This bill seeks to strengthen environmental practice in theory and practice. Most importantly, an auditable process of certifying environmental practitioners would be put in place which would in turn enhance expertise and professionalism based on a rigorous due diligence system.

The time is long overdue to institutionalise environmental practice in Nigeria. With this bill in place, the recognition and support from corporate organisations would be well defined for project partnerships that lead to economic growth for the benefit of the populace.

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Environmental projects are sometimes capital intensive but the long-term benefits pay off with time. In other parts of the world, research and development are key to sector growth and are sponsored by corporate entities voluntarily as partners in development.

A major pollutant to the environment is plastic. What are the best ways to manage plastic pollution? Do you think that the government’s policy is necessary to ensure manufacturers take responsibility for pet bottles?
I am very excited about the recent national policy on plastic life cycle management by the Federal Executive Council. One of the most impacted resources is the marine environment and our beaches, as the littering of solid waste disposal from the 2.5 million tonnes of plastics generated annually end in our oceans. Several groups and international agencies have come together severally to address this menace, however, having a defined and specific country focused policy is central to proper implementation and compliance to the other sub-regulations.

As you know, international treaties and conventions some of which Nigeria has signed onto, are soft laws and not totally enforceable. Therefore each country has the responsibility to design and develop policies that are specific to their individual challenges and needs. This must be applauded. The NES pledges its support in ensuring the success of this initiative.

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The Nigerian Environmental Society (NES) has been a major stakeholder in the environment sector, what are your major intervention towards the sound and sustainable development?
As the premier environmental non-governmental organization in the country, having being established in 1985, our core interventions include public awareness and education both formal and informal. This is geared at sensitising the general public about the interconnectivity of the environment. The air, fauna, flora, and the marine environment are one and what happens or affects a component will impact directly or indirectly on the other components.

Our main objective is sustainable development of the country without compromise to the environment. So, we advise the government at all levels and provide guidance on policy formulation and regulations based on data and years of scientific research carried out by members who are recognised academicians.

Man interaction with the environment has the potential to impact our ecosystem, for instance, the air we breathe, the food we eat and our overall well-being. So, it is important that everyone, especially the younger generation recognises the synergy between man and planet earth.

We organise conferences, seminars, and training programs geared at ensuring that there are capacity building and knowledge sharing with the youth to ensure continuity of our mandate.

The association encourages and promotes professionalism of environmental practice therefore we have been tagged the ‘watchdog’ of the Nigerian environment.

Recognising that the government cannot do it alone; NES offers its professional and technical resources to the government.

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