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Friday, September 22, 2023

Plastic ban: Where did Nigeria miss it?

Some years ago, the then Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Mailafi, shook the country’s business landscape when she announced government’s preparedness to ban the use of plastics bags, a commodity which is used in high volumes across the country.

A water body littered with plastic and other waste product. Photo credit: Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters

The pronouncement by the Minister sent a shock wave across the country as people of various shields started reacting to the decision of government to ban plastic bags.

While some were of the view that the decision was long overdue, others questioned government’s rationale and credibility of unleashing such a monumental policy decision without consultations with relevant stakeholders or communicating to Nigerians what alternative it has put in place.

But, surprisingly, what Nigeria could not summon the political will to accomplish over the years, was achieved in Kenya without much stress.

The 2017 United Nations Environment Assembly, which held recently in Nairobi, was full of praises for the Kenyan government for successfully implementing the plastic bags ban policy without suffocating the business community.

At the assembly, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, said that his government had successfully banned the manufacture and use of plastic packaging both at industrial and domestic levels.

He called for commitment from all countries in the world to copy Kenya’s example of banning the use of plastic bags.

“My advice is that nations should not heed the sceptics, who say that all countries cannot protect our planet better by banning plastic carrier bags,” said the President.

Anthony Carmona, President of Trinidad and Tobago, said that, through the plastic ban, Kenya has become the hope for humanity. “Nothing stops Kenya from becoming known as the hope of humanity just as it is known as the cradle of humanity,” he stated


Why Nigeria must emulate Kenya

Today, rivers in the country are not producing enough fish hence the massive importation of fish and fish products. Fishermen and women in the Niger Delta have since put down tools and gotten themselves into anti-social activities in the absence of fishing which had been their primary source of livelihood.

Dr. Martins Akoede, a Marine Biologist, has said that the invasion of the sea beds and continuous pollution of the ocean with plastic has made it impossible for fishes to safely lay eggs hence the comatose of one of the most vibrant businesses in the area.

Nigerians have resorted to domestically breeding cat fish, which most people are now rejecting for fear of chemical components in the food mix.

Three rivers from Nigeria including Imo River, Cross River and Kwa Ibo River are among the top 20 polluting rivers accounting for 67 per cent of global plastic inflow into the ocean.

A study published by Nature, entitled “River Plastic Emissions to the World’s Oceans”, estimated that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enter the ocean every year.

The Imo River is in South-Eastern Nigeria and flows 240 kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean. Its estuary is around 40 kilometres wide, and the river has an annual discharge of 4 cubic kilometres with 26,000 hectares of wetland while the Kwa Ibo River is a river that rises near Umuahia in Abia State and flows in a South-Eastern direction through Akwa Ibom State to the Atlantic Ocean.

Nigeria is the only African country with rivers featured in the top 20 polluters and this has been attributed to the nation’s huge population.

Another reason why government must act is the lack of an efficient waste management system in the country, meaning that every waste finds its way into the river and the ocean.


Way forward

It is estimated that if nothing urgent is done, “We would expect nearly one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in our oceans by 2025 – an unthinkable number with drastic economic and environmental consequences,” says Nicholas Mallos, Director of Ocean Conservancy’s Marine Debris Programme.

Nigeria needs to urgently summon the political will, think through the process, dialogue with the manufacturing sector and retail stores so as to commence a massive awareness campaign among the populace and ultimately provide and implement an alternative to plastic bags. The local content programme of the federal government will be greatly boosted with a total ban on plastic bags.

The nation’s paper and wood sector is not contributing any significant quota to the country’s GDP, a serious clamp down on plastic usage would therefore bring alive this sector and save the country the current tag as one of the biggest polluters of our time.

By Alex Abutu

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