Enforcing Environmental Regulations In Nigeria

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Civilisation has been inundated with fearful reports that mankind is steadily working towards self-destruction through the process of unbridled or uncontrolled pollution of the environment. A casual look at our surroundings shows reckless attitude of people towards environmental preservation. We might be doubting if the fearful reports are real or justifiable, but we concede that man must correct the deterioration of his habitat before the pollution of the environment gets out of hand.

It is against this backdrop that the National Environmental Standard and Regulation Enforcement Agency (NESREA) has set a stage for the sensitisation of Nigerians on the importance of clean environment. The agency said it will soon begin the enforcement of environmental regulations in the country after a sensitisation workshop for the public and operators in the key sectors that will be affected by the 24 environment regulations currently in place.

The Deputy Director and Lagos Coordinator of the agency, Mrs. Eunice Eze who disclosed this to newsmen in an interview said the workshop with the theme: “Operationalising the Implementation of the National Environmental Regulations” would help prevent the spread of diseases in the country, adding, “It has become necessary to invite the stakeholders to sensitise them on the importance of complying with the regulations. There are key players. So, we will make sure that all of them are invited to sensitise them to comply with the regulations stipulated for them”.

The Federal Government established the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) by Decree 58 of 1988 and mandated it with among others, to establish environmental guidelines or regulations and standards for the abatement and control of all forms of pollution. The mandate was fulfilled in 1999 by the publication of FEPA’s National guidelines and standards for environmental pollution control duly captioned “National Interim Guidelines and Standards for Industrial Effluents. Gaseous Emissions and Hazardous Waste Management in Nigeria”. The document provides the first significant positive move in Nigeria towards environmental/public health protection.

Waste in all forms of manifestation bombard and assault us in the air, water and on the land. Prior to the formulation of the FEPA guidelines, there had been no serious attempt by government to check environmental pollution in Nigeria, and this was evidenced by mounting refuge that littered our neighbourhood, vehicles that spew lethal smoke, unrestricted noise making and in most cases, lack of specification for industrial waste.

The African Centre for Environmental Protection (ACEP) describes or defines environment as the totality of surrounding conditions and its features. Scientifically, it is described as the combination of physical, chemical, biological and social factors in which a living organism exists, that affect the organism, community and influences its development or existence. Environment can simply be considered as the surroundings in which we live, work and enjoy leisure, which consists of air, soil, surface and surface water, providing habitat for mankind and other animals, plant species and serving as a source for food, water, fuel, raw materials and breathing air.

Natural disaster and the activities of man in the quest to meet his needs have contributed greatly to global environmental issues. Our fragile ecosystem is under attack on various sides as a result of infrastructure, human/animal wastes, natural cases and so on. Worldwide change is needed to avert these challenges. In view of the urgent need for us to preserve our environment for a healthy living for all, the Federal Government formulated the FEPA guidelines and standards which the NESREA wants to fully enforce.

One would be wondering how environmental regulations and standards set for the FEPA to work with since 1988 had for so long not been enforced. According to the NESREA Deputy Director and Coordinator of the agency, Lagos, Mr. Eunice Eze, “Our government is really serious this time on tackling environmental problems, because we found out that prevention is better than cure, that some diseases can be prevented if our environment is kept clean”.

Henceforth, we may believe that the neglect suffered by our environment will elude with the enforcement of the stipulated regulations which the NESREA plans to read out for the Nigerian public and operators in the key sectors that are affected by the guidelines. NESREA’s vision at this time is to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for all Nigerians, so if everybody can put heads together and work with the regulation on ground, Nigeria will be reckoned with clean environment, healthy environment and people.

There are 24 environment regulations currently in place which include regulation on noise, erosion and flood and the one for manufacturers of beverages and tobacco, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, electrical, electronics, sanitation, emissions that have to do with air pollution. There are also regulations on pollution, hazards, waste, air, soil, surface and subsurface water, that constitute contamination of the environment. We have major forms of pollution such as water, noise, air, land/soil and thermal pollutions which sources include natural disaster, industries, motor vehicles, generation sets amongst others.

Without pollution control, the waste products from extraction, production, distribution, heating, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, transportation and other human activities, whether they accumulate or disperse, will degrade the environment. In the hierarchy of environmental control, pollution prevention and minimisation of wastes are more desirable to pollution control.

In fact, the planned workshop by the NESREA will enable the public or stakeholders receive more useful information about the workability of the FEPA guidelines and to point out certain anomalies that would be or already identified. It is believed that the totality of the FEPA guidelines is a long-term target for the nation to achieve because there are certain provisions that do not take cognizance of the level of industrial development in this country. It is hoped that by the time NESREA will conclude deliberations on the workshop/sensitisation programme, a lot of useful information would have been made known to the public, manufacturers, government and officials of FEPA and the organisers.

We ought to look beyond our personal or company boarders for we may experience the indirect effects of these neglects of the past. Most industries and individuals in this country have erroneously claimed that why they are not able to treat or control their wastes or reduce pollution is that government has not provided the necessary facilities for the management of such wastes. Apart from the basic facilities the government has to provide, each waste generator is responsible for the safe disposal of his or her waste, except when government insists on a particular system. No government builds toxic waste incinerators or chemical treatment plants but all the government can do is to encourage entrepreneurs interested in such ventures by granting special concession, tax relief removal of duty on imported pollution control equipment.

NESREA’s move to sensitise parties concerned with environmental problems is a step in the right direction since it is the government’s major challenge to dialogue with them as some industries may need some time for them to fully comply with the regulations. Some may require special grant or some sort of incentives. In any case, there should not be any blank excuse for refusal by any industry or individuals to comply with the regulations.

For most countries, gone are the days when the operational policy of business was just profit-oriented. Business organisations are now under increasing pressure to extend their commitment beyond employees and customers to ensure that their operations have a minimal effect on the surrounding communities and the environment at large. Nobody will take government seriously in environmental pollution control in areas such as hazardous waste management if the basic health promoting factors cannot be implemented and managed.

It has become necessary for government to institute research studies to gather basic data that will provide insight into the level of environmental degradation that will enable scientists and policy makers to decide on the level of control required, just as it should not be seen as the bully-man but rather coordinating and monitoring the activities of the various groups geared at building a safer environment.

Various categories of penalties for offenders have been laid out with some attracting fines or imprisonment on conviction. So, it’s now left for the NESREA team to not only complete all aspects of the environmental regulations but also to enforce them and convict offenders as a deterrent to others.

According to the NESREA Managing Director, Eunice Eze; anyone caught flouting the regulations in place would be liable to N20,000 fine or one year imprisonment. The same thing applies to those who just discharge effluent like textile industries into the water body, which contaminates the water and the fish in the stream that we catch and eat. So, they can’t go free, they will be prosecuted and if found guilty, they will pay penalty”.

The purpose of setting environmental standards is to reduce or eliminate health and environmental hazards that induce harm. It is not easily practicable to deal with all pollution problems in a particular country and as such priorities must be established based on the principles that relate to the control measures adopted or imposed to the hazards.

As human beings, we are conditioned to live on this earth, breathe the air of its atmosphere, drink the water of its rainfall and eat the food provided by its vegetation and its creatures. It therefore follows that we all have responsibilities to fulfil if a healthy environment is to be maintained and the laid down regulations have to be kept or obeyed. Also as individuals, we should get more involved in environmental matters for the sake of our children, family and mankind and ensure that our personal environment sustains the healthy standard of life we crave for.

 

Shedie Okpara