BY SUNDAY ISUWA
Dr Lawrence Chidi Anukam is the Director general/ chief executive officer of National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA). Dr Anukam bares his mind on dire environmental and health issues as the agency marks 10-year anniversary. He spoke with SUNDAY ISUWA
You held a retreat recently. What was it all about?
This is the fourth retreat of the agency as we mark 10-years anniversary. We are looking at things we have to review. We will also have to go on special training for all our management staff especially in area of leadership. That is why this year’s theme was tagged: “Leadership For Improve Performance.” We are looking at leadership interns of the management of the agency; we are looking at leadership in compliance and how we can interact with the immediate communities and stakeholders.
The 10 years is for stock-taking. Does NESREA have any success story?
As rightly said, this year is going to be the 10-year anniversary of NESREA. The agency was established in 2017. Since the establishment of the agency, we have developed and gazetted through the Federal Ministry of Justice, 34 regulations in various sectors. We have also established 34 field offices and 36 zonal offices. We also have an ongoing inventory of industries and have sanctioned many defaulters. But I think we want more number of compliance than sections. Over the years, we’ve made NESREA a house hold name. It’s both a member of international and regional organisations. On the effort of the agency, we have been able to reduce the effect of electronic waste. Over this period, we’ve intercepted and send back to Europe through the Nigeria Port Authority, over seven ships load with waste electronics. They were sent back to those countries mostly from Europe. Now, we must ensure that anything coming to Nigeria is something Nigerians can make use of. Nigeria cannot be a dumping ground. Some companies are now building facilities where we can do urban mining. But beyond that, we also want to operationalised NESREA through a programme that every manufacturer/ importer must have a role to play in the product they bring to the market. We have to recycle plastic, bottles and battery wastes. For every waste, there should be a strategy on how to recycle it. We all know what is going on in Port Harcourt at the moment which has to do with pollution. We all know what air pollution is. We have the primary sources, we have the secondary sources. NESREA has a programme on automobile that comes into Nigeria. It is a programme where all vehicles are tested on the level of their condition. This we will soon introduce to reduce air pollution which will be good for our eco-system and human health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that air pollution contributed a lot to the environment. In Nigeria today, we are using electric generators. They release a lot of substance in the air and we want to see how we can control it.
What are other vital achievements the agency under your leadership?
We’ve developed 34 regulations in various areas. Some on water, air and land. The implementation of these regulations will make our environment safe. Industries have begun to comply with environmental regulations. Today, industries are fully aware that they must make the environment friendly. As I said, right now, we have 24 offices in the country. We are not doing this on our own. We are in collaboration with the state governments for effective service delivery. The state governments have been helping us in moving into the grass roots. Awareness is key and the media has created the awareness already but we need to do more. It is necessary that we do the awareness all the time because the environment is key. Since cleanliness is next to holiness, we are doing a lot of capacity building not only for our staff, but for the state governments through monthly and yearly programme in which we need to educate the general public and increase the capacity of the immediate communities. We have weekly sanitation carried out all over the country and we’ve also initiated what we called the regular environmental consultants. What we do through this process is that, every year, we advertise positions for environmental consultants, that is, those who are going to work with NESREA and interface with the immediate communities. So, we also need to understand who these consultants are, what they can do before we accredit them. We select the best people we can vouch for. But when we realised that an accredited consultant is not doing what is right, whether he /she submitted sloppy report or we observed sharp practices, we sanction the person. So, whoever NESREA accredits as a consultant must carry the job with all seriousness. And I must say, so far, so good. The people we have engaged have live up to expectation.
How many court cases have you won?
We have won many court cases. The idea here is not about the number but quite a lot of court cases have been won. What make it easier for the judiciary to understand what we are doing is that from time to time we organise programmes and sensitization for magistrates and judges. But that is not enough. The idea is for the judges to appreciate the environmental aspect of the law. Another thing we do is that we have an internal programme, and we make sure they attend. We also developed a special programme for the police. We have different curriculum for different cadre of police. The idea is that the police should also appreciate environmental issues when they are doing their normal duties. They are not going to harass people, but if they see someone polluting the environment, they enforce the law. At their various police colleges, NESREA send staff from time to time to educate the officers on environmental issues. We communicate with the police properly and they also assist us when we are carrying out our activities in all the states of the federation and Abuja. We have a very good understanding with the Inspector General of Police who will always communicate to commissioners of police in the states and they always provide us with personnel whenever we are carrying out our activities.
Are you satisfied with the environmental laws or are there some that need amendment, repeal or fresh ones to be introduced?
We need amendment on some. Our Bill is already at the National Assembly because the law establishing NESREA did not spell out stiff penalty for environmental offenders. When it comes to sanction, offenders get paltry punishment. But if the law is amended where the judge will now have the opportunity or understanding according to the scale of the offence and say because of the law, this is your minimum sanction it will help us in the compliance aspect. So, there are still amendments we are praying for the National Assembly to make in the NESREA law.
As NESREA marks its 10 years this year, what is your word to Nigerians especially those who don’t know the mandate of the agency?
My word to Nigerians is that, we are not there yet, but we have come a long way. The environment is very important. Protecting the environment will help us for a healthy living. If the workforce is sick, it’s as a result of bad environment. Bad environment breeds bad weather. If there is pollution everywhere then we have a problem. But when we protect the environment both at the workplace, around our industries and at home, we are protecting Nigeria and at the same time, we are protecting our eco-system because even the vegetation as you are aware will die if there is uncontrolled pollution. We can’t afford to have a poor environment. We need the support of all Nigerians because if we work together, we will protect our environment. For those who don’t know the mandate of NESREA, In 1987, Nigeria took a giant leap by becoming an environmentally conscious nation following the dumping of toxic waste in Koko Village, in Delta State. The country was before this incident, ill-equipped to manage such environmental crisis, as there were no institutional capacity and legislations to address such matters. Consequent upon the Koko toxic waste episode, was the promulgation of the Harmful Waste Decree 42 of 1988, which facilitated the establishment of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) through Decree 58 of 1988 and 59 (amended) of 1992. FEPA was charged with the overall responsibility for environmental management and protection. In the wisdom of government, FEPA and other relevant departments in other ministries were merged to form the Federal Ministry of Environment in 1999, but without an appropriate enabling law on enforcement issues. This situation, however, created a vacuum in the effective enforcement of environmental laws, standards and regulations in the country and NESREA was born. In addressing the need for an enforcement agency, the federal government in line with section 20 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, established the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) as a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Environment. The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), an Agency of the Federal Ministry of Environment is charged with the responsibility of enforcing environmental laws, regulations and standard in deterring people, industries and organisation from polluting and degrading the environment. The NESREA Act was signed into law by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, GCFR, and this has been published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette No. 92, Vol. 94 of 31st July, 2007. NESREA has responsibility for the protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources in general and environmental technology including coordination, and liaison with relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria on matters of enforcement of environmental standards, regulations, rules, laws, policies and guidelines. We have a vision to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for Nigerians. Our mission is also to inspire personal and collective responsibility in building an environmentally conscious society for the achievement of sustainable development in Nigeria. We are focused on protecting the environment, enforcement of laws and regulations on the environment, maintaining environmental standards, create environmental awareness, engage in partnership in the protection of the environment. We are also to enforce compliance with laws, guidelines, policies and standards on environmental matters; coordinate and liaise with, stakeholders, within and outside Nigeria on matters of environmental standards, regulations and enforcement; enforce compliance with the provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the environment including climate change, biodiversity conservation, desertification, forestry, oil and gas, chemicals, hazardous wastes, ozone depletion, marine and wild life, pollution, sanitation and such other environmental agreements as may from time to time come into force amongst others. We have the powers to prohibit processes and use of equipment or technology that undermine environmental quality; conduct field follow-up of compliance with set standards and take procedures prescribed by law against any violator; subject to the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and in collaboration with relevant judicial authorities; establish mobile courts to expeditiously dispense cases of violation of environmental regulation
Do you have any fear with the production of satchet water?
The production of sachet water also pollute the environment. We had talk about this during our sensitisation programmes that the sachet water needs strong regulations. The producers of sachet water must be compelled to recycle the waste. They need to be controlled because the satchet water waste needs proper recycling. It’s not just the satchet water, even the bottle water. Not only in these area, in other aspects such as waste battery, waste electronics and waste plastic bags must be under control so that when we recycle them, we minimised indiscriminate dumping because they block our gutters and affects the land.