The decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint Amina Mohammed as Minister of Environment is considered a wise one by pundits. Reputed to be a driven person with the will to succeed, the new Minister has her work cut out in dealing with the myriad of environmental problems which plague the country, the most visible and urgent being these four: oil pollution in the Niger Delta, soil erosion in the South-East region and Edo state, desertification in the far North and the menace of plastics/plastic bags.
The fact of oil pollution with consequent despoliation of the land, water resources and marine life, alongside demands for direct allocation from oil revenue, constitute areas of perennial conflict between the federal government and communities in the Niger Delta. Numerous studies and surveys have established the devastation suffered by these communities; similarly, studies conducted have pointed ways of remediation, the most current being the UNEP report on the situation in Ogoni land. That report has been in government hands for quite a while without any meaningful action taken to see to its implementation. Shell company takes this inaction as excuse for not fully engaging in the project. This new administration must fully commit itself to the full implementation of the various recommendations on the amelioration of the ecological problems that have accompanied oil exploration and production in the country. It is a matter of public knowledge how international oil companies are obligated in other countries to minimise damage to the environment and effect remediation wherever it becomes necessary. Nigeria can no longer afford to be complacent on this issue.
Soil erosion has devastated the South-Eastern states, with farmlands being continuously lost and towns and infrastructure threatened. Current practice has been for governors of the affected states to approach the federal government requesting the release of some of the appropriate state share of the Ecological Funds, which request is graciously granted, only for the governors to misapply the funds. It is necessary to develop a holistic approach to erosion problems in these states by working out appropriate strategies and following them through. There can’t be a shortage of experts to chart the appropriate course.
The third environment issue that should engage the Minister is desert encroachment that is posing existential threat to about one-third of the country’s states. Policies to stem desertification have been implemented in fits and starts over the last thirty years. The decades of the 70s and 80s were when Nigeria was awash with World Bank-funded programmes designed to impact specific areas of the economy, society and environment. There were thus the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP), the Health Project and the Forestry Project. The gains from these interventions have not been sustained, going by the current state of agricultural production, health care delivery and afforestation. With regards to afforestation, the most prominent intervention was President Obasanjo’s 2005 Global Tree Planting Project. Its lofty targets were not achieved for a variety of reasons, some of which were indifferent implementation and the lack of buy-in by the affected communities.
The latest effort to stem desertification is the Green Green Wall Project, a collaborative endeavour among countries in the Sahel zone stretching eastwards from Senegal to Djibouti. Nigeria’s portion of the Wall runs from Kebbi state in the North-West corner to the shores of Lake Chad on the eastern frontier. There is regular publication of the activities of the Nigerian authorities of the GGW project, yet these do not offer such details as the route of the Wall in each state – if that has been demarcated/surveyed – the roles of the State and Local Governments in the implementation of the project. The states have long experience in afforestation with the staff to match. There is also a surfeit of labour to call upon for tree planting: from an organised force like the NYSC to the rural youths. They must therefore be fully involved, States and LGs, with targets set for both seedling production and tree planting. This element is important, illustrated by the way India, in the monsoon season of 2012 or 2013, had one billion trees planted across the vast country on a single day. Here at home, the green belt, along Kano -Kazaure highway, set up by the Military Governor of Kano State, the late Police Commissioner Audu Bako is an example of diligent preparation and faithful execution. Mercifully, from what can be observed from the highway, the belt has not been raided and the trees cut.
The menace of plastics/plastic bags to the environment can not be overstated. Plastic bags and pure water sachets clog rivers and destroy farmlands where they sink into the top soil thereby trapping rainfall. Many countries in the world have recognised the danger and have banned production of plastic shopping bags or imposed fees for their use. In Africa Rwanda, Tanzania and Senegal have outrightly banned production of plastic bags, etc. Nigeria must look to do the same and promote the use of paper bags in their place.
If the new Minister of Environment can made a dent in any of these environmental problems she would have more than contributed to the effectuation of the change agenda of the present administration.
Source : Daily Trust Newspaper