Recently, the Minister of State for Environment, Ibrahim Jibril, was at the corporate headquarters of LEADERSHIP Newspapers Group in Abuja on a courtesy call. While responding to some questions from a team of editors, he bared his mind on several issues bordering on the environment, ranging from climate change to the ongoing cleanup in Ogoniland, environmental pollution and what the government is doing to address all the challenges.
Noise and air pollutions are becoming very rampant today than ever. What is your ministry doing about these environmental hazards?
In the ministry, we have a regulatory agency called NESRA (National Environmental Standard Regulatory Agency). It has its headquarters in Abuja and is present in at least 30 States. It is the body charged with the responsibility of enforcing compliance with such environmental rules and regulation if we are to tackle pollution. We have done a pilot study of sources of emission in six townships across the 6 geopolitical zones. It has been discovered that there are stationary sources, especially generators. In highbrow areas heavy equipment are used by households, while in lowbrow and market areas, almost every home or shop have generators, popularly called ‘I pass my neighbour’. Some use fuel mixed with engine oil. All these emit gases. We have recently gone into collaboration with the Ministry of Trade and Investment on the issue of sulphur content in our fuel which is dangerous to human health.
The standard in Nigeria is that we import diesel with up to 3,000 parts per million units sulphur content; for petrol, it is about 1,000, but in other parts of the world, what they have as a result of regulation is about 10 parts/million units. We and the ministry as well as the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) have agreed that as from July this year, we should be able to regulate it to 150 parts per million. This is one aspect.
Secondly, the new refineries have been given the charge to endeavour to meet the standard. The good thing is that the Dangote Refinery coming up in Lagos will be producing at 10 parts per million. That is a far improvement from what we have. So, we are tackling it from two angles: first, is the fuel content. In that way, you don’t stand the risk of incomplete combustion that results in the emission. On the other hand, it is not within our limit to prevent entrance of vehicles in the country. I think there are rules and regulations on that. Law enforcement agencies should take it up from there by ensuring that vehicles brought in have the required life span of more than 10 to 15 years.
Lastly on the issue of reduction of emission, which is part of what we have incorporated into our national contribution when we signed the Paris agreement; we are launching a green bond project soon, and part of the pipeline project that we will do is the BRT project, starting with Abuja. Every morning you witness heavy traffic along the three axes that lead to the city of Abuja, and when you check you see two or even one persons inside some of these vehicles. This is why you have so many vehicles on the road and the more vehicles you have the more emission you get and the more the impact on climate change. If you have a 50 seater bus that is clean, efficient, and timely, I wouldn’t mind parking my car and boarding it to my office to save me the stress. So, if 40 persons who have cars decide to use the high capacity bus, it means the number of vehicles is automatically reduced by 40, thereby reducing emission. That is what we want to do in collaboration with the FCT administration to get the bus, first for the Kubuwa axis by supplying up to 100 buses. At the start, they may be using fossil fuel, but as time goes on they will be using electricity also or even biogas. When electricity is introduced, we are looking forward to creating points where the batteries can be charged, instead of only filling stations alone considering the line of traffic. This is the way we are looking at solving the problem in collaboration with other relevant agencies.
Since Trump assumed office five months ago, he has been double speaking on the issue of climate change as agreed upon at the Paris conference. What will be the fate of Nigeria should things turn out otherwise?
Climate change is a global issue and we acknowledge that. We are concerned about what will affect Nigeria; our national interest is of paramount importance to us. And if anybody wants to look at his own country’s interest, we have no problem with that because he has the right to do so, but in doing that, he should also understand that others are sovereign nations and therefore deserve some respect from independent nations. That is why for the Paris agreement to be reached, all the countries of the world had to come together and agree. No country in the world can hold the entire global community to ransome. And government is about continuity; the fact that there is a change of leadership in one country does not mean that everything done by the previous government has to be thrown away. Style and certain things may change but the process of governance continues. We believe that the issue of climate change is a reality and that at the end of the day the right thing will be done.
In Nigeria, we know that we are at different locations. We have buffeted from the south and we are reaching out to the North. To the south, we have a very long coastal line along the Atlantic Ocean, and the issue of prevalent coastal flooding, erosion and rising sea level is a serious one. Anyone living in Lagos and its environs knows that the Atlantic surge, which has been a source of worry for some time now, and rise in level has IRS attendant climatic hazards that may result in climate migrants or refugees as we had in the case of Boko Haram in the Northeast. Climate induced migrant can be a real problem.
Such ocean surge also has serious economic consequences; it destroys the coastal line, the mangroves that harbour most aquatic lives and the entire aquasystem. On the Northern end, we realise desert encroachment is major environmental threat. The sand domes are seen to be moving southward to the tune of 400m per annum; villages, oases are usually covered by this sand domes. It is a big threat to economic livelihood. We know also that Lake Chad is not what it used to be. In the 60s it used to be over 20,000 square kilometres; today, it is not more than 2000 square kilometres. It is drying up with its attendant economic consequences and that is part of the effects of climate change. It can also be linked to the incessant herdsmen/farmers clashes in the North central part of the country currently. As a result of the prolonged dry period in the North, which is compounded by the destructive activities of the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east, herdsmen who migrate with their cattle southwards at the end of the rainy season in search of the green grass and crop residue that the animals graze on tend to station themselves in different parts of the middle belt. This is against the earlier practice when they will return to the North as the rains set in again. We are following all these developments with a view to addressing the environmental challenges.
Sometime last year the cleanup of Ogoni land was launched by the President. Are we achieving any success there at all?
It is very successful. It was done on June 2nd, 2016. But before then, don’t forget we had a report that was about four years old at that time, which was submitted in 2011 by UN Environmental Programme which is based in Nairobi and Geneva. They were given the assessment assignment back in 2006/2007. When they were done with their findings after four to five years, they handed over their report which was domiciled in the Ministry of Petroleum as at that time. Then there was the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restriction Project (HYPREB) with a project coordinator appointed. Many people contributed in cash or kind but at the end, very little was achieved. This government inherited this upon coming into office in 2015. We had to look at what was on ground and it was discovered that there was a bill of about N6 billion incurred by way of salaries and wages alone. That problem is yet unresolved to date because we had to involve the Ministry of Labour and Employment for us to jointly look at the viability of this debt. We will soon have the report on that.
We also looked at the gazette itself; there were many areas of friction and we had to do a wild consultation with all the stakeholders, the pressure groups, civil society organisations, state and local governments among others, along with the Ministry of Petroleum. At the end, the files were handed over to the Ministry of environment where it originally ought to be. And after taking over, we consulted further and did a launch in August at which the president was represented by the vice president. Thereafter, we got the president to approve the list of the governing council and a Board of Trustees (BoT) was formed. After the HYPREB Gazette was approved we did a vacancy advert and about 300 persons applied. We selected 30 of them. At the end, we were able to take one who incidentally turned out to be an Ogoni man. So, we had no friction getting the governing council to approve his appointment. He resumed office in March this year. We have started deploying staff to the HYPREB office, and we are holding meetings with the council as well as the BoT. So a lot of activities have been going on with regards to the Ogoni cleanup. As I speak, there are some people on site in the area doing demonstration. The Idea is to know the type of technology that could be used to do the work effectively. Don’t forget that the pollution in Ogoni is alarming. The creek waters are seriously polluted; the mangroves are destroyed along with the marines lives that inhabit them. Bore holes cannot yield good water and so on and so forth. All these have serious consequences.
The initial plan was a five-year project. For the multinational companies, we are applying the pollute-paying method in line with international practice. Those who pollute the environment must be made to pay for the cleanup. It is an established fact that the pollution there took place as a result of mechanical failure and based on that, the UN Environmental Programme decided to recommend an initial amount of $1bn to be spread across the period five years, which is at about $200 million a year, to be funded by the oil companies including NNPC. We picked 12 locations, three from each of the local governments in Ogoni where demonstration, like I said, is being carried out now. We are almost done with that stage. At the same time, the project coordinating office is running a parallel base study because the report submitted in 2011 cannot be said to be currently adequately again. Following the outcome of these two exercises, we will be able to know what is to be done and the companies to be involved. It is going to be an international activity because it is highly technical. You need to free the soil from the harmful hydrocarbons that are embedded in it and look at the creeks the same way. This is how far we have gone. We are done with the planning stage. Another aspect is the angle of livelihood for the people. We have a training programme in collaboration with UN trading organisation. We are looking at training 1,200 women of the area in different endeavours of their choice, including fishery, snail farming, oil palm production, hairdressing, among others. I am not unaware that people complain that we are too slow. But we are not in a hurry to fail. We hope that at the end of the day, it will be a success story.
What can you say is the primary mandate of your ministry sir?
Our primary mandate at the Ministry of Environment is to protect the environment for the people, tackle climate change and create employment opportunities for the teeming populace, and we do this through series of interventions. We have just finished talking about the remediation programme in Ogoniland. Following the restoration of the land which is on course as I told you, the people can return to their normal economic activities, do their farming and fishing effectively. When we talk about recharging the Lake Chad, we are supporting the Ministry of Water Resources to make success, knowing that when it succeeds, economic activities there will boom again.
Look at the issue of Shikira, Kangara Emirate of Rafi local government in Niger State. In 2015, there was an outbreak of a strange disease in the area and over 30 children lost their lives. There was lead poison unknown to the people, which was caused by their mining activities. People were going into the river bed, taking sand that contains gold minerals in it and bringing it right into their compounds where they used the mortar and pestle they use in pounding their food to pound the mass and extract the gold ore. And after all this, they left the remnant about their houses. Then children who know nothing, in the course of their playing about, got infected with lead poison. When we got to know about it in June last year, the minister had to visit the place with medicines along with the Doctors Without Borders, an international NGO. Children there were treated, the lead infested sand was removed, packaged and disposed of. On our checking back sometime in February, the lead content was discovered to have reduced to 4,000 level to about 40 and at the end, the affected children regained their health. This is a milestone in the way we impact lives. I can go on and on.
Recently, your ministry signed a partnership pact with some Northern States under NEWMAP programme. What is happening to that now?
NEWMAP is a World Bank assisted project aimed at tackling erosion. The Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project is under the Ministry of Finance. The initial capital that the World Bank is giving is $500 million and the initial conception for the six South-eastern states that are heavily affected by gully erosion. It is a crucial programme meant to attack the gully erosion that has been plaguing different parts of the country. NEWMAP comes with a holistic approach. In the past, gully erosion-tackling-method was to get cement and build the block and drainages and that is all. And where there was a heavy storm, the whole thing is washed off, and then back to square one. NEWMAN project is addressing it from the two dimensions to it. It is tackling gully erosion from the root of it which is the watershed and the downstream. Soil erosion is a critical factor here. The impact of heavy rain drops and running waters on soil is huge. It is good to point out here that the nature of the soil in question matters- whether it is gummy (as in clay), dark (as in humus) and loose (as in sand).
To tackle the menace you first tackle the erosion, then the watershed. This can be done by planting grass and where there are grasses, trees- preferably economic and food trees- to protect the soil from the direct impact of rain and at the same time be of benefit and interest to people, thus making them see it as their own and protecting the environment. In a nutshell, this is what NEWMAN has been doing.
The issue of revisiting environmental sanitation was raised at the meeting of the National Council on Environment sometime last year. Are you likely to reintroduce it?
If you are thinking that we are going to bring back Environmental Sanitation on a monthly basis you will not get the right answer.This is because I don’t believe that at this time, we should go the way of telling people not to come out from 7 to 10 am. And you know that even as at then some people would sleep soundly until 10 am which is the no-movement deadline and then dress up, enter their cars and hit the road without doing anything. Then of what use is the exercise? Until people realise the importance of what you are asking them to do, you will not get to do what you want. Just like the issue of the crash helmet now; many people do not understand its importance or why they must use it and as such, where they see no law enforcement agent, especially at night, they never attempt to wear it. My opinion is that we need to go back and sensitise the people on this so that they can see its importance to them and willingly do it. Until people realise the usefulness of something, they will not take it serious no matter what you do. And to me sanitation is not a monthly affair; it should be an everyday practice and a continuous one at that. You don’t wait until the end of the month before you clean your toilet and surroundings.
It must be done every day. Until we see general cleaning of the compound and its surroundings as a routine activity, we will not succeed by putting rules and regulations in place no matter how stringent. Through sensitisation and reorientation you can get all that done.