If there is any fertile ground for rapid growth and development, a friendly and pollution-free environment will definitely be the answer. Good environment and development are siamese twins; they are practically inseparable. No doubt, Nigeria is a struggling state! The environment in the country is degenerating at an alarming rate raising so many concerns. In a bit to ameliorate the tragic state of the biosphere in Nigeria, the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency Act (NESREA ACT) was enacted in 2017 replacing the erstwhile Federal Environmental Protection Agency Act (FEPA Act).
Despite the high expectations that NESREA Act will correct the defects in the relevance of its antecedent in the Nigerian environment, the NESREA Act was just an old drink in a new bottle. Therefore, it is important to address the need for the NESREA Act to be up to task to guarantee and ensure the protection of the one Earth within the peculiarities of Nigeria as a nation.
2.0 The Nigerian Earth before the Birth of NESREA ACT 2007
In those days, environmental safety was of family importance. The authorities did not see any need to enact laws or even regulations in protecting the earth. At worst, the most conscious role of people with regards to sustainability of the natural nature of the land was within the purview of environmental sanitation. The pockets of laws on regulating the environment, though not effective, that were available particularly before Nigeria gained her independence in 1960, were the provision of the Criminal Code Act which criminalized air and water population as well as Public Health Act. With the surprising discovery of oil in large marketable quantities after independence, the pollution of the Nigerain environment knew no bounds. As if this was not enough, other countries such as Italy around 1987-88 saw Nigeria as a good dumping ground for their toxic and harmful waste debris thereby facilitating environmental protection law regime in Nigeria with the following laws being enacted:
Federal Environmental Protection Decree of 1988 amended by the Decree 59 of 1992;
Oil Pipeline Act of 1956;
Petroleum Act of 1969 (now repealed);
Environmental Impact Assessment Act of 1992; and
Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act 1998.
3.0 The New Dawn: Any Impacts?
One could have reasonably imagine that the partial or insubstantial relevance of the FEPA Act in ensure environmental sustainability in Nigeria will be improved upon by the NESREA Act when it was enacted in 2007. Sadly, the imagination only ended as imagination without any shadow of reality.
Section 20 of the Constitution of 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”. It was pursuant to this and the inherent legislative power of the National Assembly that the NESREA was established through the NESREA Act with the aim of “securing for the Nigerian people, a healthier, decent, habitable and sustainable environment within the vision and mission of the agency”.
The question begging for answer is, “Whether or not Nigeria is truly healthy, decent and habitable to an ideal individual despite the fifteen years of existence of the NESREA Act? The answer to this question must definitely be in negation.
Surprisingly, there is absolute no area of the Nigerian environment that has not been regulated under the various regulations of NESREA numbering up to 35! Not only that, the NESREA Act is embroidered with a lot of relevant provisions in the protection of the one earth especially the beautiful wordings in Section 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 of the Act to ensure that Nigeria should be an earth where life can exist comfortably. Compliance and Enforcement of all the relevant provisions of NESREA Act in sustaining the Nigerian environment continue poise as a challenge to the Agency.
In a bid to pursue the protection of the environment, the court held in Centre for Oil Pollution and Waste v NNPC to the effect that the right to protection of the environment is an enforceable right that can not be jettisoned with. It is a right that must be safeguarded!
The inability of the NESREA Act and the Agency itself to meet up with the expectations of the Nigerian populace is credited to several numbers of factors. One of which is lack of awareness. Many people are unaware of the Agency itself, its roles and their (people’s) responsibility with regards to safeguarding the environment. If not for the World Environmental Day that is celebrated every June 5th, thousands people would have been kept in the darkness with regards to environment conservation.
Limited scope of the NESREA Act 2007 is a contributory factor to its failure to have a meaningful impact in protecting the one Earth. The phrase “other than in the oil and gas sector” notoriously written in almost all the section of the Act is nothing but a stumbling block to a successful environmental protection legal regime in Nigeria. As it has been earlier discussed, one of the main reason that brought a conscious move in protecting the Nigerian environment was the adverse effects of oil activities after it was discovered. There is virtually no environmental media be it air, water and land that the impacts of oil and gas activities have not been adversely felt. The Niger Delta Region of the country is a living testimony!
A fifteen years old Act is overdue for amendment! The major purpose of amendment of legislation is to reflect the new changes and advancements in the society. Not repealing the NESREA Act is also a factor to its failure to meet up with expectations of protecting the one Earth. The successful impact of a legislation in a state can only be achieved if the said law portrays the dynamism and reflects the peculiarities of that state.
Duplication of functions and multiplicity of laws are some of the hindrance to NESREA in executing its primary role of protecting the Nigerian environment. Low manpower and inadequate source of finance can not be overlook in the process of analysing the extent of the success of NESREA Act in the protection of the one earth.
4.0 Towards the Protection of the One Earth: NESREA ACT On The Run
Earth which is a place where things exist must be safe and comfortable. Particularly in Nigeria, the various principal factors that are highlighted to be the causes of ecological and environmental hazards in Nigeria ranging from selfishness, greed, ignorance, short sighted viewpoint and self-centeredness should be shun away from. All these factors will worsen the deteriorating state of the Nigerian environment which the NESREA Act seeks to protect.
It is something to make a law and it is another thing to enforce it. The NESREA Act should not be a toothless bull dog that does not have any force of law. The officials in various organizational structures of the Agency should be up to task to enforce the Act. While making efforts to enforce the NESREA Act, the federal legislature should see the amendment of the fifteen years old Act as something paramount. This is because, widening the scope of the Act through amendment to reflect the present realities in the Nigerian environment and to encompass the regulation of oil and gas activities that are hazardous to the environment without necessarily infringing on already existing laws on oil and gas, will surely be a major driver to a sustainable environment in Nigeria.
In a bid to make the NESREA Act performance wonderful well in protecting the one earth within the purview of Nigeria as a nation, a community based approach is required. This approach is better known as bottom to the top strategy whereby the individuals, families, small communities, larger communities till the government in a linear arrangement collectively support the need to maintain a sustainable environment in Nigeria.
Though, it appears to be impossible due to the state of the earth especially in Nigeria, but then, all hope is not yet lost. It demands collective efforts with more emphasis on the best ways as explained earlier, in which NESREA Act can be positioned to enable it plays it role perfectly well so as to ensure the protection and development of the One Earth that every Nigeria wish to experience.
Ismail Khadijat Moromoke known as Khadijat Moromoke Ismail YourNumberOneContentWriter on LinkedIn, is a 200 level law undergraduate in University of Ilorin studying Common and Islamic law. She has keen interest and undying love for content writing as well as articles and research works. She can be reachable via email- firstname.lastname@example.org and via mobile- 07014015871[carousel_slide id='8496']