Ministerial aide, Ben Goomg, in this treatise sets an agenda for the Environment Minister
As Environment Minister, Mrs. Laurentia Mallam, intensifies her familiarisation tour of formations under her ministry, expectations are high that the new minister will take concrete steps to address the daunting challenges facing the ministry and the Nigerian environment.
Critical issues requiring urgent ministerial attention range from corruption in the system, lack of office accommodation, poorly-motivated workforce and dilapidated office furniture whose life span have long expired and are now an eye sore all over the ministry.
The most fundamental challenges in the sector have to do with the huge debts of over N10 billion hanging on the neck of the ministry; the oil spillage in the Niger Delta and particularly in Bonga which has affected shoreline communities in Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa among others; the massive erosion threating the entire South Eas;t and the lead poison in Zamfara yet to be comprehensively tackled.
Other problems have to do with draught and desertification threating the extreme end of Northern Nigeria, poor implementation of the Great Green Wall project, and challenges facing the National Parks. Of equal importance is the issue of flooding in parts of the country occasioned by the consequences of climate change as well as issues of pollution control and waste management, environmental health. Gas flaring must be stopped at all cost, with no shift in date.
At the centre of all of these is poor funding of the sector and low internally generated revenue. It is worthy of note that Mrs. Mallam herself has already acknowledged the fact of poor funding when she lamented that the ministry has just N7 billion for its entire budgetary allocation for the year 2014.
The time for Mallam to start the fight for the 2015 budget for key projects in the sector is now. While processing for more funds in next year’s budget, Mallam must also press hard to get the Federal Government to meet her obligation for the counterpart funding of the Great Green Wall and other projects. Luckily, the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Namandi Sambo, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Committee on the Great Green Wall, is from the same state with the minister and is likely to support this noble effort. The connection is complete and Mallam has no excuse to fail except she chooses to be complacent. Mallam cannot afford to be complacent; she can utilise the window on supplementary budget to get more funds.
While pressing full throttle for funding, the minister should also learn from the mistakes of her predecessors who lost most of the plants they planted under the Great Green Wall project to drought and desertification. These plants died out because there was no maintenance agreement or arrangements which government would have secured with the various contractors handling the planting for at least two years to ensure that the trees are nurtured sufficiently to maturity level before being handed over to the ministry.
It is also important for the minister to embark on adequate sensitisation programme for host communities who should also be availed enough tree seedlings to plant. The host communities should be made to own the Great Green Wall Project. Taking ownership is the best way to guarantee rapid planting, and maintenance of the expected forests that will spring out of the project. Other less endowed countries such as Mauritania and Mali have succeeded in this project. Why can’t the giant, Nigeria?
Another area of grave concern which no Minister of Environment has ever confronted head-long is the issue of gas flaring. The starting point for Mallam is to visit the Niger Delta area and specifically oil installations and production facilities to see for herself the mount of gas being flared into the atmosphere. This will enable her appreciate fully the environmental consequences of these activities. Can Mallam press the necessary buttons to stop gas flaring to save the Nigerian environment or will she simply fall in line the same way her predecessors did to allow gas flaring to continue? Time and Mallam will tell.
The next challenge for Mallam is the consistent and monumental oil spillage that has ravaged host communities of the Niger Delta. The most recent is that of the Bonga Oil Spillage. Yes, the minister started well by attempting to bring warring stakeholders – Shell and host communities of the shoreline – to the table to seek amicable resolution of the problem. The minister has to pursue this to a logical conclusion.
Of equal importance is for the minister and oil companies operating in the Niger Delta to carry out sustained sanitisation campaign within the affected communities with a view to discourage people of host communities to avoid acts capable of causing oil spillage. If pipeline vandalisation is curbed, oil spillage can be minimised by 90 percent. The people must be made to know the environmental consequences of oil spillage on their lives, crops and health. Where oil spillage is occasioned by deliberate sabotage, culprits must be apprehended and brought to book, rather than being compensated. Where operating companies are responsible, prompt and adequate compensation must be paid to affected persons and communities.
Another area of worry is the issue of the embarrassing (N10.2 billion) debt profile hanging on the neck of the ministry. It is a known fact that some contractors have already obtained court judgments leading to attachment of the properties especially vehicles belonging to the ministry. Our advice in this regard is that the minister should engage the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to verify some of these contracts. Those found to be genuine should be paid promptly, while those found to be fraudulent should speedily be made to face prosecution.
Other environmental challenges that seem to generate massive headache for the country include erosion, flooding, pollution and the rapidly changing global climate. Mallam should engage all possible efforts in carrying out a comprehensive National Environmental Sensitisation progrmme to create the necessary environmental consciousness in the citizenry. Issues such as waste disposal, bush burning, vehicular emissions, radiation from refrigerators and related harmful ozone substances, industrial waste disposal, kerosene lanterns, deforestation and afforestation should all be part of the components of the National Environmental Campaign. The people must raise their voices and not the sea levels.
On the last line, environmental issues are better understood if one practically sees some of its devastating effects by oneself. The minister will do well by visiting sites such as the area affected by lead poison in Zanfara, the Bonga Oil Spillage areas of the Niger Delta, especially the shoreline communities and see for herself the exploitation activities of the oil companies and the gas flaring that goes on daily. Now that the raining season is here, Mallam should constantly visit the frontline states of the Great Green Wall and join the communities in at least symbolically planting trees. It will be to the credit of the minister to say that, out of the estimated 1,500km to be covered by the project, she alone has planted a 1000km during her tenure.
Arise Mallam, and give Nigerians a clean, conducive and healthy environment