For environmental laws and regulations to become effective in Nigeria, the government must enact change.
Human beings cannot really claim to be living a life that is fully human, if they do not live in harmony with nature. In countries like the United States, Britain, Germany and France, environmental sustainability is a significant issue that can make or break a political party’s campaign.
In Nigeria, there is a poor history of environmental justice, sustainability and conservation, as well as animal rights. These topics are unfortunately considered bourgeoisie — their discussion irrelevant in a country with a still emerging middle-class. However, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), with its signing of multiple international treaties and the establishment of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), is beginning to give much-needed attention to issues of environmental neglect in the country.
During Nigeria’s colonial era and the following three decades, environmental protection was mainly ad hoc and reactionary. It was not until the Koko incident of 1988, in which toxic wastes were unscrupulously dumped on the country’s shores by an Italian businessman, that environmental protection became an issue of national interest. The event became the cataclysm that sparked the interest of the FGN in environmental sustainability. It also catalyzed the establishment of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA).
Like most efforts of the FGN, however, the FEPA failed in its mandates. Its failure resulted in the contamination of up to 70% of surface water in urban areas; of shallow ground water by infiltration of domestic and industrial wastes; and in “visual impairment and reduced fish catch in Nigeria’s coastal and marine waters.” The foregoing is challenged, however, by the many public health problems that Nigerians face, due to unprecedented exposure to petroleum and chemical pollutants.
On the issue of animal rights, Nigerian public policy is even less conclusive. There are some non-systematic regulations regarding endangered animals, the transportation of animals into the country, and animal cruelty legislation inherited from Britain and enshrined into the constitution and Nigeria’s criminal code. However, there is little to no sensitivity about animal rights in the country. Just like the environment, animal rights are unfortunately considered by most Nigerians to be unworthy of attention. The general attitude is there are more salient issues to tackle, such as social and economic problems, before Nigerians and the government should worry about the welfare of animals.
A New Era Ahead?
As already indicated, NESREA was established as a result of FEPA’s failures. With its establishment, the agency became the leading institution responsible for the enforcement of environmental regulations in Nigeria. It is, therefore, the leading institution for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources and environmental technology. The establishment of NESREA marks a new era in Nigeria’s environmental consciousness.
As citizens the world over become more aware of the need to care for the environment, it is time for Nigerians to toe the same line.
However, this new era is also experiencing fundamental challenges — the foremost of which concerns legal constraints over the applicability and elasticity of NESREA mandates. The agency’s mandate charges it with enforcing compliance with international environmental agreements, protocols and treaties to which Nigeria is a party. Within Nigerian legal circles, there is unfortunately the opinion that this mandate is not significant. Those who challenge the capacity of NESREA to execute its obligations highlight Article 12(1) of the 1999 constitution, which stipulates that any international agreement entered into by the country has to be ratified or domesticated by an act of the National Assembly. This point is not mute because the Nigerian National Assembly has yet to domesticate most international environmental conventions, protocols, treaties and agreements to which Nigeria is a party.
As a result, the agency still finds itself suspended in a legal limbo years after its establishment. This legal oblivion seems to be the greatest challenge the agency currently faces. On the other hand, some scholars have argued the above scenario is not crucial because Nigerian courts have increasingly adhered to the stipulations of international treaties in their rulings — the cases of Muojekwu v. Muojekwu and Muojekwu v. Ejikeme being the most popular.
Public policymaking on environmental and animal justice within the Nigerian context must be cognizant of all these various concerns. Nigeria should transition from enacting regulations that are idealistic in all important instances, to enacting regulations and setting up institutions that will not wallow in the administrative conundrums of bureaucratic bottlenecks. As citizens the world over become more aware of the need to care for the environment, it is time for Nigerians to toe the same line.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.