Undoubtedly, we live in a world riddled with environmental degradation and other global crises on natural resources. These exist in different forms with no part of the world standing as an exception. Environmental degradation poses so much threat not just to human health but also the global economy and should be a concern to responsible governments and thought leaders.
Epidemic outbreaks are no longer new to planet Earth. A few have been recorded in history and interestingly, we live in another crucial juncture in world history christened “the Covid-19 Era”, a name credited to the ongoing and dreaded Corona Virus pandemic. Notably, disasters emanating from environmental degradation are either necessitated by conscious or unconscious human actions and do not recognize man-made geographic borders. Consequences of environmental damages affect the entire globe. The legacy to leave behind for generations to come becomes very lanky and threatened to fatality. Certainly, the need to come up with strategies to maintain and sustain environmental resources is urgent today more than ever before in history.
THE CONDITION OF OUR ENVIRONMENT TODAY
Simply, environmental degradation is the exhaustion and mismanagement of earth’s natural resources in an exceedingly great way beyond their natural ability to replenish, occasioning a deleterious change and disturbance to our environment. Most situations of environmental degradation were viewed to have been occasioned by factors which have a robust link with the outbreak of epidemic emergencies recorded today, through the impact of some environmental risk factors on our environment.
The largest environmental threat in the world is climate change and global warming, by-products of which are persistently worsening weather and climatic conditions leading to unbearable and harsh human welfare and health conditions. Climate change contributes to the spread of some vector-borne diseases such as Malaria, Lyme disease, the West Nile Virus and amongt others, which contribute significantly to the global burden of diseases.
Climate change and global warming are basically propelled by the burning of fossil fuels [a non-renewable energy source], leading to the release of carbon and other greenhouse elements into the atmosphere. This generates heat that is trapped into the atmosphere thereby causing a negative reaction therein and in our environment. This ultimate negative reaction in the atmosphere is majorly traceable to human commercial and industrial activities such as gas flaring, soot explosion, burning of bush refineries, bush burning, and gas/fumes emission even from home activities such as cooking, usage of power generating plants (generators) and lots more. In a recent publication of Common Dreams [an online breaking news channel whose mission is to inform, inspire and ignite change for common good] in the USA, made an awakening claim through their Environmental Scientist that:
“There is a single species that is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic – US…We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.”
Through the international community, the Nigerian government and some oil corporations had, in times past, made several attempts to curtail the burning of fossil fuels. Certain enactments and regulations were made. These, amongt others include the 1969 (Drilling and Production) Regulations, the 1985 Associated Gas Re-injection (Amendment) Act 1979, and the Gas Flaring (Prohibition and Punishment) Bill 2016 (“the Bill”) – the purpose of this bill being to address the inadequacies of the 1979 Act. Presently, the Bill proposes stiffer sanctions for persons or corporate entities involved in gas flaring in Nigeria from 1 January 2021.
Notably, efforts have been made to no avail. Some organizations and agencies set up to enforce these laws have fallen short of minimum effectiveness. Challenges faced may be attributed to inadequate monetary support, dearth of effective infrastructural mechanisms and lack of stringent sanctions which is inextricably linked with poor law enforcement.
Section 44 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) confers right to ownership and control of oil and gas resources on the Federal government:
“An exclusive right of ownership, control of all minerals oils and natural gas in under and upon any land in Nigeria, its territorial waters and exclusive right given.”
By the provision of the same Constitution, it is the primary purpose, duty and responsibility of Nigeria government to see to the security and welfare of its people, from whom their power and authority is derived from – See Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria [Amended]. This clearly indicates that the government has a primary responsibility to ensure the environmental safety and security of Nigerians.
In 2014, a research by the Environmental News for Healthier Plants and Life revealed that climate change is majorly accountable for the-then novel viral disease outbreak – the EBOLA VIRUS.
Today, we have COVID-19 in our hands with dire global complications including a geometrically teeming mortality rate. Furthermore, people are exposed to various ailments associated with the negative effects of climate change. This may have indirectly had some effects on global COVID-19 response. The environment being undermined and human health being stressed to ghastly limits, human immune systems may have become generally weakened and more vulnerable to the virus.
Meanwhile, some preventive measures have been taken by the World Health Organization through National and Local Public Health Authorities, with no vaccine yet discovered. One major preventive measure was the issuing of lockdown orders. The Nigerian government first handed down on the 30th March 2020.
In an interesting environmental twist, this lockdown measure would appear of real help in some parts of the world in redefining and rebirthing a new and sustainable environment for the nation’s ecosystem. However, this has not been so for some countries such as Nigeria. An unfortunate incident was Kano State recording a sudden and mysterious mortality rate increase almost immediately after the State governor relaxed the lockdown order. This led to a neighboring state – Kaduna – extending its movement restriction timeline with interstate movements outlawed for one month.
Also, the poverty rate in the country has greatly increased, indicated in malnutrition and hunger strike among the people. Discrimination in the distribution of palliatives and relief materials by the Nigerian government was also recorded, occasioning crimes like stealing and armed robberies. The raging Boko Haram insurgency cannot be left out in this equation. As a result, the Nigerian environment condition has become even more devastating than it was pre-lockdown.
THE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF THE LOCKDOWN ON THE ENVIRONMENT
- Nosedive in global oil demand due to restrictions on travels and other world economic and commercial activities. This also has greatly affected the energy market nationwide. Recently in the UK, the crude oil price suddenly crashed from $18 a barrel to -$38 (negative value), a negative recorded for the very first time in 25 years. As a result, producers are forced to pay to dispose oil excesses having run out of storage facilities.
- There is an increase in the usage of energy to generate electricity most especially through the use of power plants, for our home appliances without any adequate regulatory measures to conserve them, as everyone is restricted to home isolation. Knowing that, we are in a country where there is erratic power supply, people now tend to improvise for a guaranteed source of energy, since it is relatively inexpensive and not knowing that in the long run, our planet pays the price via the exhaustion of greenhouse element that are easily trapped into the atmosphere and destroys our ecosystem in which we live.
- The rate of data usage within a shorter time is getting alarming, as virtually every activity now takes place online and the masses are tied up to their gadgets more, engaging in streaming online videos, engaging in online business, online academic and vocational courses, and lots more.
- There is shortage of food supply to the masses. Though COVID-19 poses as more of a health crisis, the lockdown preventive measure seems to have brutally affected our agricultural sector by undermining the efforts of our peasant farmers to ensure that there is a consistent flow of agricultural produce. Commercial agriculturists, who are now the last hope of the masses for food supply, have initiated a drastic inflation in the price of staple crops. Due to this, affordability of daily meals becomes difficult and next to impossible. This does not seem to catch the fancy of the Nigerian government.
- Presently, the high population and the economic inequality translate to unequal advantages/benefits from basic health facilities. More attention is now concentrated on people with symptoms of Covid-19, with lesser attention to those who need some major medical attention not related to the virus, especially pregnant women on antenatal and those scheduled for some medical meetings during this period.
- Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) across the world appear to be more vulnerable with zero movement from one place to another to search for a means of survival. With zero shelter, zero access to medical facilities, scarcity of food and zero internal security for them.
- Underdeveloped countries face greater threat of this virus due to poor health facilities. Some African countries like Burundi are in need of aid for their health sectors.
- Countries that rely solely on importation for survival are at higher risk during this lockdown. The Organization of Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) describes the effect of COVID-19 on world finance by stating that:
‘’This pandemic brings with it the third and the greatest economic, financial and social shock to the 21st century…This shock brings a double whammy: a halt in production in affected countries, hitting supply chains across the world, a steep drop in consumption together with a collapse in confidence.’’
Meanwhile, there have also been positive sides to the preventive measures, giving lots of hope to the globe.
THE POSITIVE IMPACTS
There is now improved air quality recorded first in China [the world most renowned carbon emitter] where the outbreak first enjoyed global recognition in December 2019. With an estimate of 1.1 million deaths per year in China due to air pollution before the outbreak and just within two months of the coronavirus lockdown had saved the lives of 77,000 Chinese children and elderly from air pollution alone. This has helped in saving more lives in view of the death rate earlier recorded when the plague first began, with a reduction in their carbon emission fall. The air is getting purer for human consumption. The lockdown has put many industrial human activities on hold, preventing their environments from further degradation.
Furthermore, it was also reported by ABC News that there was an unexpectedly positive side effect of this outbreak in Venice, Italy – water in Venice canals are cleaner than they have ever been in living memory and water bodies are living their healthiest lives yet. Noteworthy however, this has not been the case in many parts of the world, where very low enforcement and compliance with lockdown orders have been recorded.
The release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in our environment today has contributed to climate change as a form of environmental degradation. Potentially harmful effects on our health through the release of carcinogens that adversely affect the human respiratory system, increasing the global heat rate and causing the fall of acid rain, a very dangerous development for human, animal and plant sustainability. By this, human health can be affected, and our crops damaged. These greenhouse emission activities have led to an impediment on the human right to life. Most industries do not care about the lives of the people, they are more focused on their output and no strict measures have been clearly seen so far to be taken by the Nigerian government to put them under control.
It’s no longer new to us that our environment has been greatly impaired. We are the major threat to our environment either through our direct and indirect human activities and other natural phenomena within the environment we live. Every state within the federation now suffers from at least one environmental problem. Humans, plants, animals alike and even the topographical layer of the earth have been affected. Our inability to tackle this had necessitated a downfall in our economy. The present novel virus known as Coronavirus, which had gain a global recognition today came in to existence through the implications of our degraded environment on us. This is now a major concern to all parastatals, whereby we need to up our game on how best we can promote a sustainable environment, not just for us but also, for the preservation of our posterity and the entire globe beyond the borders of Nigeria.
POLICY AND LEGAL RECOMMENDATIONS TO COMBAT ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION IN NIGERIA
In Nigeria, there are several legal mechanisms and regulatory policies set in place to ensure that our environment is well protected for its sustainable wellbeing. Both the federal and the state government have the right to enact law [Example is the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency [LASEPA]] that seek to protect the environment in order to preserve the quality of life of all Nigerian citizen and to conserve our natural resources for the satisfaction of both our present and future needs. Our environmental laws ranges from the global to local laws, involving some international conventions and treaties adopted our Nation, Nigeria. Such as:
- THE CONVENTION ON THE PREVENTION OF MARINE POLLUTION OF WASTE AND OTHER MATTERS, 1972
It was ratified by Nigeria in 1973. The treaties provide measures to prevent the dumping of waste and other pollution into the marine environment.
- INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION FOR THE PREVENTION OF POLLUTION OF THE SEA BY OIL 1954 [AMENDED 1962 and 1969]
Nigeria assented to this treaty on the 22nd of April ,1968. The convention was aimed at preventing and curtailing the pollution of the sea, it prohibits the discharge of oily mixtures within the state zone.
- OAU CONVENTION BANNING OUTRIGHTLY IMPORT FROM ALL FORMS OF TOXIC WASTES INTO AFRICA AND CONTROLLING TRANSBOUNDARY MOVEMENT SUCH AS WASTE GENERATED IN AFRICA
Nigeria signed this in Bamako, Mali on the 31st of January 1991. With the objective to prevent the importation of all forms of toxic waste within Africa and the movement of toxic wastes within Nigeria.
All these International treaties and agreements prohibit any conduct against it, by imposing stringent liabilities and setting up a compensational scheme for any member-state that act in contrary, through grant of an exclusive jurisdictional control for each member-states to protect their resources against any form of environmental menace.
Through NESREA – National Environmental Standards Regulations and Enforcement Agency [Establishment] Act 2007, a statue created under section 20 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and created by minister of Environment under section 34 of NESREA. This act is responsible for the enforcement of all environmental conventions, treaties, and protocols to which Nigeria is now a signatory, including all environmental laws and regulations set up in Nigeria as our local laws. Some of which includes:
- HARMFUL WASTES [SPECIAL CRIMINAL PROVISIONS etc] ACT[CAP H1 LFN 2004] : This prohibit the carrying, dumping and depositing of harmful waste on land and in territorial waters.
- HYDROCARBON OIL REFINERIES ACT: This Act is majorly concerned with the licensing and control of refining activities.
- ASSOCIATED GAS RE-INJECTION ACT: This prohibit gas flaring activities by oil and gas companies, without taken lawful permission by stipulating penalty for breach of the permit condition and these companies can’t use a single environmental permit for their activities.
There are different regulatory bodies set up to execute those Law, just to mention a few such as National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Agency [NASREA], Federal Ministry of Environment, Department of Climate Change, National Oil Spill Detection and Response agency and lots more.
THE ROLE OF NIGERIAN LAWYERS
In other to ensure the implementation of these regulations through their set up administrative bodies, there should be an viable enforcement strategies to make people adherence such as taking legal actions by prosecuting anyone acting in violation of the set laws, and a proper inspections by all environmental bodies be made from time to time to keep the environment clean against pilling up of waste and their failure to adherence to this, they should be held jointly liable. Also, rather than taking legal actions all the time due to the complexity of other cases we have in court today, a reasonable and effective negotiation can be considered through payment of fines and such fine must be used solely and immediately to remediate same environment that was polluted. Also, Polluters are meant to pay for their liability incurred by them either personally or jointly and severally, the Environmental Guidelines and Standards for the Petroleum Industry in Nigeria [EGASPIN] made this provision.
Since we already have laws that made provision for this, and it is also the function of the judiciary by section to interpret and apply the law where deem fit, through the embodiment of the Nigeria Bar Association. Also there should be an independence of the judiciary against any interferences from other arms of government or external pressures, so as to dispense their duties without any partiality and in all fairness, with this the public can earn their trust in them.
Also, the public should be allowed to have a voice in their environmental wellbeing, as the government implement the regulations through the regulatory bodies channeled by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency [NESREA], the public should be given the access to have a feedback and make further recommendations on what is called The Environmental Impact Assessment, as deemed by the provision of Environmental Impact Assessment Act.
Whether we accept it or not, there is a demand to create a healthy environment to have a healthy life. By this, we can conveniently put long-term environmental factors that have the tendency of depriving our environment of its wholeness in check and in contemplation of the outbreak of any other epidemic.
We all have a role not just to protect ourselves but others in our environment too. And I also think with this crisis, we will be able to understand and know what matters to our health and safety more. Isn’t it so heartrending to know that this pandemic could threaten almost everything that matters to us, having global implications, and putting our lives on hold because of our nonchalant actions and I pray that when we all overcome this, we should have a sense of a shared responsibility to build up a zero-carbon world and healthier future Nation.
As we stay in isolation, even though this has been relaxed a bit by the federal government, the following matters for us to have a better world:
- Avoid smoking, this is more dangerous not just to you but to your dwellers. I plead don’t smoke, there is no gain in doing so. You only put your health at risk, and you also owe a shared responsibility to save another person close to you from inhaling the fumes.
- Eat healthy meal to avoid the consumption of infected food substance.
- Drink clean water regularly, it saves life.
- Engage your mind more to what will be of greater value to your world after this outbreak. Let’s be productive and let’s eradicate poverty together.
- Help to promote the Social Developmental Goals, in other to save humanity and preserve posterity.
- Help promote public policy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABIDEMI PEACE SHITTU ESQ. Abidemi SHITTU is a young environmental law activist with huge competence in litigation, property management and corporate finance. She is passionate about matters related to the Nigerian environmental and energy sectors. Abidemi is a member of two groups of passionate world environmentalists that regularly brainstorm on policy issues – PLOGGING Nigeria and Environmental Hub.
She is currently an Associate at Bloom Solicitors and Attorneys in Ibadan, Oyo State.
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SEE ALSO- CLIMATE AND VECTOR-BORNE DISEASES: A REGIONAL ANALYSIS by Andrew K.Githeko, Steve W.Lindsay, Ulisses E.Camfaloneri, & Jonathan A.Patz
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 By referring same to the senate committee on gas for further legislative issues, as the Senate aimed to achieve a National Flare-out target in the year 2030. See NIGERIA SENATE PROPOSED STIFFER SANCTION FOR GAS FLARING – ˂http://saharareporters.com/2020/02/27/nigerian-senate-proposes-stiffer-sanctions-gas-flaring˃
– PUBLISHED BY: The Sahara reporter, New York on February 27, 2020. ACCESSSED ON: MAY 1st, 2020.
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