Applause and knocks last week greeted the report of the Committee on Environment when it was presented to the plenary session of the on-going National Conference in Abuja.
In particular, the committee’s recommendations demanding the removal of the Land Use Act from the 1999 Constitution and the establishment of a special court to deal with environmental issues received mixed reactions from various delegates, depending on which tribal grouping they belong.
Retired Justice Abdullahi Mustapha said it was appalling to realise that every agency of government wants establishment of special courts to handle its issues. He was of the opinion that existing courts have the capability to handle such issues if reformed and properly situated.
During the clause-by-clause consideration of the report and its recommendations, this suggestion was voted out.
Another recommendation that was hailed by some and condemned by others was the suggestion for resource democracy which it described as the right by the people to own and manage their resources by prospecting for and developing such resources in their territories.
This recommendation, in spite of the knocks it received from a section of the delegates, was retained by the Committee of the Whole during consideration of recommendations, through a voice vote.
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, had while presenting the report said every decision arrived at was exhaustively researched and debated while experts in various areas of environment-related disciplines were invited for professional inputs and suggestions.
All the same, some of the delegates found faults in areas covered by the committee while others, like Ledum Mitee from Rivers State, pointed out factual errors and inconclusive analysis in specific areas.
Chief Edwin Clark, who turned 87 recently, said there was nothing new about most of the recommendations of the committee; explaining that what was lacking was the political will on the part of the leaders to accept suggestions and have them implemented.
He said: “We in the riverine areas, live on top of water but we have no water to drink. We cannot farm. We cannot do fishing. The vegetation has changed,” adding that pipelines that were laid in 1956 have grown old but remain unchanged.
The committee had in its analysis pointed out that climate change has already led to serious desertification in northern Nigeria, affecting at least 11 states with the serious implication of dislocation of populations and livelihoods.
It observed that southward migration of pastoralists in search of grazing grounds could well be one of the key factors leading to conflicts with farmers in other areas.
It recommend dedicated actions to save Lake Chad from complete disappearance while forest reserves should be established, protected and properly maintained by the both the federal and state governments.
The committee stated the need for government to encourage communities to imbibe the culture of tree planting, strict regulation and enforcement of logging activities and creation and proper funding of a reforestation and a forestation agency to handle all anti-desertification projects.
Dr Isaac Osuoka in his comments said the issue of desertification should be treated as an issue of national emergency so that the situation could be arrested before it gets out of hand.
Describing gas flaring as the most intractable of the petroleum industry related pollution, the committee said its stoppage has continued to remain elusive despite numerous attempts at regulation.
Ranked seventh in the world in terms of proven natural gas reserves, the committee reported that, apart from Russia, Nigeria flares more gas than any country of the world with 80% of the associated gas produced from Nigeria’s oil fields being flared.
The environmental impacts of this include increase in concentration of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere; negative effect on vegetation, livestock and aquatic lives in the vicinity of the flares, among others.
The committee recommended amendment of the Gas Re-Injection Act of 1979 and remove the provision that empowers the minister to authorise flaring of gas by oil companies; and that stiffer sanctions including fines equivalent to commercial price of natural gas should be imposed, while heads of offending agencies should be held responsible.
However, Mitee and Aishatu Isma’il faulted the recommendation in the sense that the committee failed to make gas flaring a crime in spite of its huge negative impact on the environment and humans.
Conference in session agreed that penalty for gas flaring should be paid to the affected communities and not to the Federal Government as has been the practice.
Oil spillage was another area of environmental pollution examined by the committee with a report that, to date, more than 5000 oil pipelines spill incidents have been reported in Nigeria with large areas of dry land, wetland and water bodies permanently impacted.
It cited a study carried out by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) stating that it would take a life-time for abandoned oil sites in Ogoni land to be cleaned up, a citation that was faulted by Mitee who said the report put the time frame at between 25 to 30 years and not a lifetime as reported.
However, the Conference resolved that Federal Government should, as a matter of national urgency, start implementation of UNEP report on Ogoni environmental problems without further delay.
Delegates also decided that a special agency be established by the Federal Government for the clean-up of the Niger Delta, particularly areas identified by international environmental bodies as badly affected by oil spills.
It suggested that the Act establishing the Nigerian Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NASREA) should be amended to give it oversight over the entire environment including the oil and gas sector since, as presently operational, NASREA does not regulate the oil and gas sector.
In its recommendations, the committee stated that the vital need to preserve the integrity of the Nigerian environment and thus secure its sustainability for present and future generations requires clear and direct stipulations in the Nigerian Constitution.
It said, “As a people living very closely to and depending for livelihoods on nature, we should enshrine the rights of nature to maintain its natural cycles without disruption in our constitution.”
It stated further that although environment is fundamental to human existence, the 1999 Constitution made only a passing reference to the environment and environmental rights at its Section 20.
It recommended that for Nigerians to secure the environment and related rights, “this has to be placed among the fundamental rights section of the constitution and made fully justiciable.” The recommendation was upheld by the Conference.
It suggested that the power to legislate should without any ambiguity be given to the federating units; “the administration of the environment should be in the Concurrent List in the constitution,” since the constitution has not located the environment at all in its fiscal schedules.
Professor Obiora Ike in his contribution said the committee’s report was silent on the need to make education on environmental issues compulsory from the primary level; and that the committee was also silent on noise pollution.
Ambassador Adamu Aliyu also faulted the report in this regard and proposed that environmental issues should be taught in schools so that the younger generations would grow up conscious of the ills that certain actions bring on the environment.
DR Patricia Ogbonnaya was of the view that environmental education remains the only way to “catch them young” and should henceforth be made a part of school curriculum.
Mitee said the committee should have made a recommendation on the noise and fumes generated by electricity generating sets owned by people in the city; and also decide what should be done to control ordinary non-degrading wastes like unused water sachets and plastic and polythene containers. His suggestion was adopted by the Conference.
During consideration of report by the Committee of the Whole, the need for legislation on noise pollution and fumes from power generating sets and vehicles plying the roads were upheld and adopted.
It was also decided and adopted that agencies in environment sector should produce integrated information data on environment issues in the country to help in policy formulation and implementation.
The Conference also decided that henceforth, the Ecological Fund Office should be moved from the Presidency to the Federal Ministry of Environment and must ensure that the Fund is specifically used to address ecological problems.
It was agreed that communities within the National Park areas across the country are to be resettled in line with the laws establishing the parks.
In a bid to control flood and its devastating effect on humans and livelihood, Conference agreed that two new dams be built in the lower end of River Niger; and that flooding be declared as annual natural disaster in the areas they are likely to occur.