In this interview, the Director General, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Dr. Lawrence Anukam spoke on increasing climate change impacts and current efforts towards strengthening the agency through the NESREA Act which is currently under review at the NASS. AgroNature Nigeria was there.
Some people still don’t believe on climate change, what are clear indices that climate change is real?
It is been proven that climate changes is real. The extreme weather conditions we never experienced before are beginning to increase over time. The flooding of few years ago, we heard about the big flooding in Benue and even last year in several parts of the country, the same as to do with extreme heat. The indication that the climate change is real is essentially the extremities of weather conditions and its a problem to us because when you have this weather condition it’s like a chain reaction, that affects the food production, agricultural system and even the health of the people with different diseases, level of their preponderance in the system also increases with the changes in climate. So it is real, what is left for us is to adopt adequate measures to mitigate the effect of the climate change.
You made mention of flooding as one of the climate change impacts, will you say it poses threat especially to Lagos and what are these threats?
There are threats when you have rise in sea level as a result of climate change, the likelihood of inundation of properties, businesses in the coastline, not just in Nigeria but other nations. Like in many countries, a lot of economic activities you see them in the coast line and then the fear because of the sea level rise that many such businesses and investments may be seriously affected because of the sea level rise.
I know that the agency has a policy on vehicle emission, to what extent have you gone to implementing the policy?
We have regulations on various aspect of environmental problems, its not very exhausted so to say but regulations are to address environmental problems. As such problems arises it is our responsibilities to see how we can address that. For the vehicular emission control program , its a program arising from our regulation of vehicular emission control. The implementation of that is on course, we are finalising arrangement for the formal launch of the program. The pilot phase will start in Abuja. It involves the establishment of testing centres where individual vehicles can go and do their regular check up. When this tested they are given a certificate and any vehicle non tested seen plying the road, then there will be a problem. The purpose of the program is to reduce and control vehicular emission that will affect the climate and above all too for our health; it’s been proven in recent studies by World Health Organisation (WHO) that air pollution problems are beginning to be one of the most challenging health threats to humanity, in fact it’s been quoted that the problem arising from air pollution, especially in developing countries is more. It’s a big problem and there is need for all of us to work together to address it. The program when fully on board will go a long way to assist in making sure we control emission from our vehicles. I need to add too, there is a component for mobile sources of pollution and stationary sources of pollution, this one addressing particularly the use of generators in homes offices and industrial areas. The idea is to make sure that both vehicles and generators are maintained properly to guard against undue emission of obnoxious hazardous substances that are inimical to our health and also to our environment.
To what extent have you enforced NESREA regulations as regard industrial pollution?
We have different regulations for different activities, for the industries we have our officers in the field, we have 24 field offices, we have six zonal offices across the country and we are hoping that before the end of this year we may have few more state offices. The purpose of that is to help us be closer to the issues. Our officers in the field will do what we call compliant and monitoring enforment exercise. From time to time they will go to the industries and check the activities in the industries to make sure they are not polluting the environment. We also do that when we receive complains from the residents, who felt that they are having some discomfort as a result of industrial activities around them, either from noise or from emission of substances discharged from the industry; officers on the field will follow it up, any company or body found wanting is dealt with according to the law. We sanction, we’ve taken them to court after we serve them first compliance letter, second and third compliance letter. If the company doesn’t take action, we take the appropriate legal actions. When we right the first compliant letter, our officers will visit and ask them to correct the problem. If we visit again and the problem is corrected, then we will have no problem.
Some residents of Ogijo community in Ogun State accused NESREA officers of being compromised over reported cases of pollutions from foundry companies, whats your take to that?
I am not sure i have the details of that in Ogun state but we have some few cases of environmental violation. As i am talking to you now, we’ve taken about two companies to court, these are companies into iron smelting and we are still following up on all that. The good news though is that we’ve just been given a office, we’ve never had an office in Ogun state, the Governor has just given us an office in Ogun. Our presence in Abeokuta will help us to do more activities for the area. Right now we have office in Ibadan and lagos. When companies are not doing what is supposed to be done after the three letters, then we take action. We will advise that when communities feel that no actions have been taken, they should write a special letter of reminder and then try to send it directly to the office of the Director General. And also if any member of the community has his facts that there is an officer of the agency has compromised in any form, please be our whistle blower. We want to make sure that the work we do is done without any blemish, so report properly and stand by your facts and then we will follow it properly. If any officer is found wanting, that officer must be sanctioned accordingly.
We understand that one of the companies called African foundries had to compensate over 100 landlords as a result of the pollution?
As i said, at times companies are located where they are not supposed to be, and at times a company is located and people come to locate close to the company. Where ever you have industrial activities, there are bound to be some environmental problems if not properly addressed, it’s an issue. As i told you, we don’t have office in Ogun at the moment, but the good thing is that with the effort of the governor we have an office and we are going to follow it up. I’m going to call and make some follow up on this so that we will know exactly what is going on there. We encourage the citizens, community leaders and members of the community, when you notice anything you feel to be an infraction to the environment or even to human health, just feel free to lay your complaints to the nearest NESREA office and remember to copy our head quarters in Abuja for immediate action. We are going to follow up on this and address the problem.
Nigeria have signed different COP treaties in the past, how will the country benefit from them all?
When you are member of any agreement or what is called Conference of Party (COP), you first fall if you have signed it and fail to follow the rules. Whoever has also signed, it is binding to follow the rules. The benefit of that is that if i have signed and you have signed, we do not need to violate the laws. I will give you an example like the Basel Convention on trans-boundary movement of hazardous substances, Nigeria and other countries signed, part of that agreement is that before any hazardous substance is shipped to a member country, you must get the consent of that country, you must not also allow any illegal shipment from your country to come to this country in any form. So it is beneficial that if you are a member of that agreement or party to that convention the benefit is that nobody is going to ship or allow his country to be the dumping ground. In addition to there are certain programs and activities that are beneficial to only member countries. If you are a member you enjoy those privileges like some projects, programs or supports from other members of the convention. It’s good to be part of that and in most cases for environmental issues, since they don’t have boundaries, it is better for every country to be part of that for the benefit of the country, the citizens and the environment.
Do we currently have a law to manage solid wastes in Nigeria?
Essentially under the sanitation various state governments have their sanitation edicts to deal with management of waste. We have regulation on sanitation. For us, this regulation is essentially to assist the state and local governments on how best to manage the waste, we are not going to manage it for them, but then our responsibility is to create some programs and see how best it’s going to happen at pilot phase and also assist to enforce in such violation, but it’s something we have to do closely with the state and local government, since ideally the management of waste. Sanitation wise, it is the responsibility of the state government through the state but we do that together with them to make sure that the laws are obeyed.
As a regulatory agency, do you have the legal teeth to sanction appropriately erring industries?
We have, but we want it to be better, in the NESREA 2007 Act, there are quit some powers given to the agency to operate, but ten years after the agency is in operation and from experience, it was realised that there is need to make some amendments. For example the issue of penalty, the situation where it is said for example, if there is a violation by a company, the company is allowed to pay with certain amount, and this amount is a very paltry sum, so a big company will look at the amount he has to pay, since it is written in the law as maximum and to him its nothing, he will decide to pollute since it will cost him less to pay the penalty than to avoid the pollution. There is amendment now through the efforts of the National Assembly, it has really passed on various readings and we hope in no distant future the law will be amended. In the new amendment it becomes stated clearly in the law that the violator will be charged minimum of…, so it becomes the discretion of the judge according to the gravity of the offence and who is violating the law. If very big company is violating the environmental laws, thinking that the amount is small and they can always have their way, which is wrong now. The judge will look at you, the size of your company, the magnitude of your offence and the violation you are causing and then put appropriate sanction. It’s limitless and just the discretion of the judge so it’s not as it was before. Another amendment too has to do with the right of entry. To make it clearer for NESREA officials to enter and when there is immediate danger, and it is proven, NESREA can act fast to close the facility to guide against serious environmental and health damage because of the pollution from the facility. With the amendment it will be stronger to help us implement the laws. It has gone through the 1st and 2nd reading, we’ve had public hearing, they’ve had executive meeting and i think it has gone a long way, hopefully it will not be long before the amendment is effected. I give a lot credits to members of the national assembly.
In terms of air monitoring, there appears to be an abandoned air monitoring facility in your premises, why is that so?
Well its not really abandoned we have some problem with some parts. We need to do some recalibration, some of the equipments their calibration require shipment back to overseas and that doesn’t make sense. So, we are looking to make arrangement for how the re-calibration could be done here. We have some hand held equipment also that will require calibration and already arrangements have been concluded as parts of our capital project to effectively re-calibrate this equipment. The smaller hand held equipment, we can also buy extra. The key thing is to we have a process where can do proper re-calibration at home without necessarily needing to go abroad, when we get that going it will be easier to use these equipment.
What will you describe as your achievements and what will you like to be remembered for?
Our achievement essentially to a great extent is that the environmental issues are becoming very much mainstream in our society, that the various industries, telecommunication sectors are becoming aware of there responsibilities and the issue of the air pollution as you mentioned earlier is beginning to be taken more seriously. And also that understanding that the environment is not for us to abuse. It is a stock for us to use and keep for our own benefit, children and children yet un born.