The fundamental obligation for the protection of the environment as stated in Section 20 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides that the “State shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wild life of Nigeria”. The question now is, has the State safeguarded Nigeria’s total land area of 923,773 km2 and with almost 200 million people as stated in the Constitution?
The machine of government responsible in driving this crusade is the Federal Ministry of Environment which was established in 1999 with the return of democracy. The Ministry started as Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) which was set up in 1988 by Decree No 58 of 1988 as amended by Decree 59 of 1992 and as further amended by Decree 14 of 1999. By virtue of its enabling Decree, the ministry is charged with responsibilities on environmental protection, biodiversity and natural resources conservation including all policies related to the environment.
The first Nigerian Policy on the Environment was formulated in 1991 which was 31 years after the independence. The policy document was revised twice in 1999 and 2016. The second question now is, has all emerging environmental issues and concerns been captured in the latest revised version? For example issues of Trans-boundary, Water Resources, Environmental Disasters, Conflicts and Environment, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) for Biosafety and also new Cross-sectoral issues which include: Trade and Environment, Energy matters, Environmental Health and Safety, Population and Human Settlement, Production and Consumption Patterns, Poverty and Gender issue.
Above all, Climate Change as has become one of the greatest global environmental challenges which Nigeria is strongly predisposed to severe negative impacts of climate change due to its fragile economy, weak resilience and low adaptive capacity. Much of the economy is dependent on climate-sensitive resources. For example, agricultural sector which employs more than 70% of the workforce. Thus, its fossil fuel-dependent economy will be particularly vulnerable to climate change-induced frequent and severe extreme events, such as floods and droughts.
However, prior to this policy document, Land Use Act 1978 and some Environmental Legislations were put in place and also, there are quite a number efforts from the onset of British Rule in the 1900s, Nigeria’s environmental protection effort had been through the colonial bye-laws but during the period, the colonial economic development policies and plans contain little or no stringent rules to conserve the natural resources or protect the environment as at that time.
For a considerable number of years after the country’s independence in 1960, the nation was preoccupied with providing basic social amenities and advancing national economic development. Environmental concerns were not a priority. Consequently, Nigeria’s environmental resources were sadly neglected.
Since the 1960s, Nigeria is also a party to several international treaties and conventions governing environmental issues together with other African nations. While these treaties and conventions have produced excellent goals, in practice they have done little to actually address environmental problems in the country as we still experience serious and diverse environmental problems.
Nigeria is a large country and is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the country’s fragile economy makes the local ability to respond difficult. Nigeria will be mostly affected by the impacts of climate change through rising sea level along her coastline, intensified desertification, erosion and flooding disasters and general land degradation. Nigeria is losing huge amount of money worth billions of Naira as a result of the catastrophe while, at least, 80 per cent of the inhabitants of the Niger Delta region of the country will be displaced due to the low level of the region. Nigeria has a variety of ecosystems, from mangroves and rainforests on the Atlantic coast in the south to the savannah in the north bordering the Sahara.
Whether dry or wet, those ecosystems are being battered by global warming. While excessive flooding during the past decade has hurt farming in coastal communities, desertification is ravaging the Sahel. Rainfall in the Sahel has been declining steadily since the 1960s and this has resulted in the loss of farmlands and conflicts between farmers and herdsmen over ever decreasing land. Many different communities, including fishermen, farmers and herdsmen, are now confronted with difficulties arising from climatic changes. The livelihoods of people are being harmed, and people who are already poor are becoming even more impoverished. Climate refugees are the result, as the changes make some land unliveable and affect water supplies.
Recently, a World Bank report estimated that Nigeria was losing about $5.1 billion per annum to environmental degradation, in the face of poor mitigation measures and initiatives. Nigeria’s environment is under increasing threat from human activities and natural disasters as the country’s large population of about 200 million and its rapid growth rate of 3.0 per cent are contributing to its environmental degradation.
The key environmental issues facing Nigeria include land degradation, deforestation, and land, water and air pollution, among others. The interaction of these millions of people with their environment in an attempt to acquire their seemingly endless desire for food, shelter, recreation and infrastructural facilities has left indelible mark on the landscape of the country though these wants and desires contribute to the development of the country but the unwise use of the land and its resources produce negative impacts on the environment resulting in loss of soil fertility, desertification, erosion, destruction of biodiversity and losing of large part of forest and woodland areas. So, the impact of the change will be difficult to handle and it will be potentially very long lasting.
Therefore, Nigeria has a lot to do to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since we only have less than 10 years to achieve that and the country is strongly prone to severe negative impacts of climate change due to its weak resilience and low adaptive capacity. Climate change remains a global challenge which affects all spheres of life on the planet. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions lies at the very heart of the response to climate change because adapting to climate variability and mitigating its impacts is something that we do in our everyday lives, hence, we have to understand what climate change is, that we contribute to it, and how we can adapt and reduce our vulnerabilities?
To conclude, harmonisation of environmental and public policies, promoting environmental mainstreaming, promoting good governance, integration of the UNFCCC issues into programmes and strategies of government related to mitigation and adaptation, mainstreaming climate change into development planning at all scales, levels and sectors, investment in research and development, strengthening of the knowledge and understanding of climate and functions of ecosystems in order to elaborate appropriate response measures, enhancing resilience to disasters, improving disaster management, emergency response, promotion of community-based disaster reduction, monitoring, assessment and early warning systems for drought, land degradation and desertification control; adaptation and vulnerability assessment, promotion of seasonal climate forecasting, communication of climate forecasts to stakeholders, in particular to farmers, undertaking preventive measures to reduce occurrences/magnitude of natural catastrophes linked to environmental disasters, development and implementation of a national policy on environment, implementation of new (non-farm) income-generating activities, diversification of income sources to reduce dependence on climate-sensitive resources, empowering communities and local stakeholders so that they can actively participate in vulnerability assessment and implementation of adaptation, definition of land-use and tenure rights for investments, promotion of risk-sharing, creation of markets in water and environmental services, promotion and improvement of international trade are all measures that will aid in adapting to the effects of climate change that are ravaging the country.
So, Nigeria should continue to commit herself to the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The future budgets of all the three tiers of governments should factor in peculiarities of climate change issues as good governance is key sustainable development.
Finally, Mr. President should also note that climate change issues should be beyond just a Department under the Federal Ministry of Environment. A Technical and Advisory Committee of Experts to the President on Climate Change Actions should immediately be constituted at the Presidency level so that the Committee can play a significant role in the implementation of Paris Agreement towards achieving not only climate change issues but also the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Professor Nasiru Medugu Idris is Dean, Faculty of Environmental Science, Nasarawa State University, Keffi