Environment includes all living things and non-living things occurring naturally. The term encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather, and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity while National Development refers to the ability of a nation to improve the lives of its citizens. Measures of improvement may be material, such as an increase in the gross domestic product, or social, such as literacy rates and availability of healthcare.
The efforts of the federal, state and local governments in Nigeria at ensuring national development through numerous environmental reform, fiscal incentives and grants to environmental ministries and agencies remain elusive as Nigeria continues to experience complex environmental problems of atmospheric, noise and water pollution, oil pollution, climatic change including flooding, coastal erosion and perennial oceanic surge and municipal solid waste management. The reasons for such environmental reform are many.
Foremost among these reasons is the problem of designing best practices to secure effective and efficient enforcement and compliance with international and municipal environmental laws. A necessary conclusion that could be drawn from this analysis is that environmental benefits arising from existing legal and institutional frameworks are minimal and sub-optimal resulting in social and environmental welfare losses.
The question that should puzzle the mind of policymakers is why these sub-optimal results? What can we do to maximise our environmental reform? What changes in policy formulation and enforcement strategies are necessary to produce optimal environmental reform? The answers to these questions are the focus of this write-up: environmental governance using the best international practices to assess and improve on the national environmental governance strategies.
Environmental Challenges in Nigeria
Environmental pollution has been in existence since man began to live in settlements. In the earlier days of nomadic hunting communities, the tribal group moved on when food in their current location became depleted and the area around their camp became polluted or soiled. These nomads were a part of a balanced eco-system. As human societies developed, land became cultivated, livestock domesticated; and as permanent settlements became established, environmental pollution began to emerge and this necessitated environmental reform. The problem became more serious as these permanent communities grew into towns and cities in Nigeria.
The increase in human population and consumption pattern also led to the increase in wastes generated, thereby creating environmental problems of collection and disposal. In response to waste disposal challenge, various societies developed waste collection and disposal systems that best suited their immediate environments. In traditional Nigerian societies, wastes was dumped and burnt openly or centrally deposited in bush where they later decompose in hygienic manner or deposited in a flowing river. In developed societies, sewage systems were developed to collect and move the untreated sewage to the nearest river or sea where nature was left to deal with the problem.
Apart from this river-borne pollution, however, the effect of man’s activities tended to be local in nature. Energy sources for domestic heating were coal and wood; and, transportation power was provided by animal or the wind. None of these produced waste products at a rate greater than the ecosystem could absorb.
With the advent of science and technology in Nigeria, the nature, magnitude and impact of polluting activities began to expand. Science and technology made it possible for man to harness energy from burning fossil fuels to drive machines. They were developed at an ever-accelerating pace, developing more and more products, including chemicals to meet the ever increasing and insatiable demands of the marketplace.
The waste products from these new industries were discharged directly into the environment. As industries multiplied, so did the waste products of combustion and manufacturing processes, creating environmental problems of disposal of hazardous substances. The scope of environmental pollution also increased to accommodate new ones such as atmospheric pollution, acidic rain, water and marine pollution, soil pollution, noise pollution, climate change and deforestation. The result being that humankind lives today in an environment where all life-supporting elements are polluted. The air we breathe in is no longer healthy. The water we drink is impure and decreases in volume and quality daily. The food we eat is contaminated.
Humankind continues to witness persistent drought, low harvest, diseases and poverty as a result of climate change, deforestation, accumulation and disposition of nuclear and other hazardous substances. These ominous trends are symptoms of an unhealthy planet; a planet that can no longer cope with all the demands man is heaping upon it. The direct and indirect effects of natural and anthropogenic perturbations are manifested in early death, diseases, physical deformities, genetic mutations and physiological malnutrition suffered by humankind.
Locally, the wild environmental facts confronting Nigeria as a nation are enormous. A few of Nigeria’s glaring environmental problems include (a) excessive pressure on available resources, infrastructure and space due to unabated rural-urban migration in the past three decades; this stress has been reinforced by industrial and urban development that has caused a rising rate of pollution; (b) the high rate of soil degradation, sheet, gully and coastal erosion and flooding through non-judicious land use practices; (c) the depletion of natural forest resources through uncontrolled logging, tree felling and over-grazing; (d) unfettered bush burning and the risk of exterminating wildlife species as well as uncontrolled fishing and related activities which endanger the species of fish in Nigeria waters; (e) pollution of surface and underground water systems through indiscriminate disposal of solid and liquid wastes; (f) destruction of valuable agricultural land through bad mining practices; (g) permanent dangers posed by the encroachment of the desert on vast agricultural lands along northern borders; and (h) oil pollution and related environmental consequences, particularly in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.
Environmental Regulation and Reform in Nigeria
The fundamental theoretical argument for government regulation of environmental benign activities is that pollution is a classic example of an externality – an unintended consequence of market decisions, which affects individuals other than the decision maker. Because polluters do not take into account full social costs, pollutant emissions tend to be higher than socially efficient levels. The process of forcing the polluters to recognize environmental and social costs is known as internalising externalities.
The underlining economic lesson is that when we have to pay for something, we use less of it than we do if it is free. Cost internalisation will only be achieved if there is governmental regulation and reform that forces such polluters to internalise. Legal regulation of any activities may be undertaken in two broad ways: regulation and case laws. Regulation or regulatory law, in this context refers to all state actions designed to influence industrial or social behaviours.
This may be in form of promulgation of a binding set of rules (e.g. legislation or administrative regulation, executive directives) to be applied by a body devoted to this purpose or other modes of influence – for instance, those based on the use of economic incentives (e.g. taxes or subsidies), contractual powers, deployment of resources, franchise; the supply of information or other techniques in order to promote and protect both public and private interests.
Here, the focus is on the rationale for Nigeria intervention through regulatory law in promoting sustainable development and why effective and efficient enforcement and compliance systems must be institutionalised.
To be concluded
By Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris (Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria)