By Ambrose Inusa Sule.
The Environment is now globally recognized as one of the keys to human survival. This environment is a complex weave of physical, chemical and biotic factors that interact with each other and impact upon all living things and their surroundings. It is the life supporting system for human existence and survival as well as providing physical milieu and the raw materials required for socio-economic development.
Human assault on the environment to promote and advance development has not been without consequences, most of which we are all by now very familiar with. While developed countries are largely responsible for the present state of affairs of the “global commons,” developing countries are increasingly contributing to the problems in the pursuit of their development objectives, as developing nations have been contributing substantially to global warming and destruction of natural habitat or loss of bio-diversity.
Now that campaign for the 2015 General Elections have rented the air, each political party has rolling out its drums and mouthing from the roof-top its election manifesto to the electorate.
It is pertinent to note that despite the importance of the environment to human survival and economic progress, the environment has never been treated as a central issue during and after election campaigns by political parties in Nigeria. When the Green Party of Nigeria was registered along side with other political parties before the 2003 general election, it was heart-warming to environmental stakeholders, who saw the party as a rally point for environmental advocacy in the country. Though, the party did not make much impact at that election, but at least it had the semblance of an environmental advocacy toga. To the chagrin for the stakeholders, the leadership of the party had its name changed for God knows why. Today there is no single pro-environmental political party in Nigeria.
It may not be an over-statement that most of our political leaders are bereft of idea that the environment is synonymous with our very existence and sustainability. It is no gain-saying the fact that elections in Nigeria are never issue-based, but with the recent reforms going on in the country, and the level of awareness among the electorate, it could be expected to a larger extent that the 2015 general election would be issue-based.
Principle 25 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that: “Peace, Development and Environmental Protection are interdependent and indivisible”. Given the global search for practical ways to give expression .to the notion of sustainable development, sustainable development must address the considerable under-development and poverty that plagued most countries round the world including Nigeria.
Also, Section 20 of the Nigeria Constitution mandates the state to protect and improve the environment, and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria. In compliance with this obligation and exercise of this mandate, a de novo ministry of environment. was established in 1999 at the inception of this administration by the Federal Government and all the States Government have taken cue and have created ministries of environment in their respective states.
Although, most Nigerians see environmental issues as an important objective, comparatively few articulate their interest through political activism.
It is suffice to say that though former president Obasanjo as the presidential candidate of the PDP in 1999 general election did not make the environment a campaign issue, but took a bold step to create the ministry of environment as the apex institution on environmental matters in Nigeria. Besides this laudable step core environmental problems remained to be tackled headlong.
One of the central issues during the last United States presidential election was an important environmental issue concerning green-house emissions responsible for global warming and climate change. This shows that environmental issues in today’s world have taken the front seat as it is recognised that there can never be a meaningful development without environmental sustainability.
Both the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists in the 1999 Constitution is so silent on matters relating to Environment and Ecology and what would be the most realistic national policy on environment and ecology, and what would be the most equitable and balanced sharing of responsibility for Environmental and Ecological Devolution of power between the central and federating components of government viz-a-viz the federal, state and local governments.
It is a known fact that every one of the 36 states of the federation including the Federal Capital Territory has environmental/ecological problems of one form or other. It is desert encroachment in the far northern states; gully erosion in the central states and coastal erosion in the far southern states as well as man-made environmental problems occasioned by mining and tree-felling activities. That means that each state has its set of environmental and ecological problems to attend to.
It is no longer news that 70 percent of health problem in Nigeria are environmentally-related. Diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, cholera, measles,. typhoid fever, yellow fever, among other are all products of unsanitary environment besides the debilitating poverty occasioned by environmental decline.
Aggregating all the sources of environmental degradation, the ultimate long-term effect of not redressing the problems has been estimated to be as high as US$5 Billion per annum as reported by the World Bank in 1990.
Redressing the backlog of environmental problems remains a central concern for both the people and the deferent fuels of government.
It is not that there have not been some efforts to protect and enhance our environment and its natural resource base in order to achieve sustainable development. In spite of the laudable achievements during the past years, the challenges ahead are quite monumental. We must recognise that there’s no ultimate dichotomy between a sustainable economic growth and environmental protection.
Today, our cities are plagued with smog and blighted neighbourhoods too dangerous to enter. Highways are congested and noisy, public transportation systems are inadequate and expensive and water and sewage facilities are often antiquated. The air we breathe is laden with variety of toxic and hazardous chemicals, so much that tens of thousands of sick and elderly people must stay indoors many days of the year. Solutions are slow coming and those that have emerged fall far short of the mark.
The widespread of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) has damaged, perhaps irreparably the ozone layer. As a result our vulnerability to diseases is expected to increase substantially in coming decades.
Carbon dioxide and other trace gases from factories, power plants and vehicles are altering global climate in a way that we are just beginning to understand. Toxic wastes has infiltrated our groundwater and streams, poisoned our drinking water, and fouled our beaches.