As the world marks the 2017 Environment Day tagged “Connect People to Nature”, it behoves on Nigerians to appreciate nature’s beauty and importance to human existence and find ways to foster biodiversity protection. Nature’s bounties in Nigeria are in a sorry state due to unregulated human activities. We are surrounded by multitude of environmental problems ranging from noise pollution, invasive species, indiscriminate logging and waste disposal, oil spills, deforestation, desertification, poaching in reserved areas, air pollution particularly black carbon (soot), hunting of endangered wildlife, overfishing, plastic pollution among other environmental challenges. Undoubtedly, these experiences will make connecting the Nigerian people to nature very challenging and elusive.
To connect people to nature, nature should be intact and appreciable to deliver goods and services for the benefit of mankind. This is the storyline elsewhere save in Nigeria where we currently experience gamut of environmental problems; desertification in the North and massive oil spills in the Niger Delta and unprecedented loss and threat to endangered wildlife in the Cross River basin, etc. A classic example is the threat of extinction of the endemic Double Headed Snake, Calabaria reinhardtii, also known as Calabar Ground Python that is found no other place in the world. The snake faces imminent extinction if the planned 260 km Calabar Super Highway Project is allowed. Such projects should avoid biodiversity hotspots as it is presently conceived, while alternative routes are explored. Additionally, Government should take stringent measures to protect and conserve existing biodiversity sanctuaries.
Nationally, there is dire need to establish community-based wildlife sanctuaries. Government needs to step up ecotourism policy and put the policy to practice, while funding research in that direction. For example, the Environmental Impact Assessment Act undergoing parliamentary review must include integration of biodiversity and sensitive ecosystems in planned development, as well as gender and human rights impact of projects.
The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), calls on the citizenry and Government at all levels in Nigeria to reflect on this year’s World Environment Day, and take practical steps to prevent further loss of biodiversity and critical habitats, and restore degraded ecosystems and redeemable species. Specifically, the Niger Delta region where over five decades of oil spills has left environmental and human rights abuses on the local population, requires intense efforts for environmental restoration. Connecting the people of Nsisioken, for instance, to nature could be a challenging task given that the community residents still drink groundwater contaminated with benzene, six years after UNEP recommended provision of alternative source of potable drinking water for the community. The situation is compounded by constant delimiting practices such as artisanal refining, obnoxious fishing practices, unregulated dredging, land reclamation and unplanned developments that do not integrate biodiversity conservation.
The Government should urgently kick-start the implementation of the almost forgotten emergency measures of the UNEP report released in 2011. Following this, while CEHRD appreciates Government efforts at setting up the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP), a ground-truthing investigation of the sites investigated by UNEP should be ongoing – this is not only necessary to incorporate new spill sites but to ascertain the current status of the sites investigated by UNEP given the dynamic nature of the environment. A ground-truthing exercise will indicate Government readiness to sincerely clean-up Ogoniland. CEHRD cannot overemphasise the role of consultation, awareness creation and sensitisation of the local communities with regards to ecosystem gains.
CEHRD will like to remind the Government that remediation of contaminated sites requires serious scientific and financial commitment. To this end, we demand that Government should demonstrate adequate will and preparedness by ensuring HYPREP is effectively funded. CEHRD admonishes the management of HYPREP to engage sound technical expertise in the remediation of polluted sites in Ogoniland.
Communities must put to an end practices that compromise our ability to connect with nature. Chiefly, artisanal refining of crude oil, over cutting of mangroves for firewood and fishing with dynamite, etc., practices inimical to present and future generation should stop.
More broadly, the capacity and competence of regulatory authorities must be enhanced. Agencies of Government such as National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Ministries of Environment should be trained in current innovative conservation and remediation technologies. This will enhance their professional conduct; contingency response and increase capacity to manage credibly environmental threats and hold polluters accountable.
Dr. Kabari Sam
Head, Environment and Conservation, CEHRD