Recently, in its bid to recover about N10 billion accumulated debt, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) embarked on a 10-day mass trial of thousands of alleged defaulters in payment of environmental services rendered within the Federal Capital City (FCC), to boost its reinvigorated effort at ensuring a sustainable environment for the wellbeing of the residents.
It was reported that no fewer than 46,000 residents (defaulters) were charged to relevant mobile court, for alleged failure to pay for services of solid and liquid wastes evacuation, which has accumulated over the years, while they keep enjoying such services.
Also, the AEPB listed other offences for prosecution to include burning of wastes in an open space, illegal connection to the sewer line which causes blockage, lack of and inadequate sanitary waste bin, and dumping of refuse in unauthorized places.
According to the Acting director of the AEPB, Baba Shehu-Lawan, the prosecution became necessary given the unpaid bills, which had accumulated to the tune of about N10 billion, not emitted to the FCT coffers.
stressing the rationale behind the decision to drag the defaulters to the court, in order to recover the huge environmental debt, the AEPB boss, said: “These bills have been served for several years, people are not keying in, people are not paying; that is the backlog of the bills including the present bills, which makes it over N10 billion and we cannot seat and fold our arms.
“There has been several warnings as to the effect that the defaulting residents would be tried should they not comply to pay up their bills.”
Also, the AEPB boss berated several occupants of premises in the FCT without proper waste disposal, which according to him affects the sanity of the entire residential area.
“In most part of the city, mainly, you’ll see, Maitama, Asokoro, Garki 1, Garki2, Wuse1, Wuse2, you’ll see lots of compounds with block of several flats, several shops, they have no bins or they have inadequate bins, within no time, their bins are over flowing.
“Some of the compounds have overgrown grasses and effluent discharge around, blockages of the sewer lines and to ensure sanity in the city, we are now bringing justice near them,” he noted.
The AEPB director therefore urged residents to comply with the Board by paying their environmental dues as at when appropriate, in order to avoid being prosecuted.
On her part, the Head, Legal Unit, Mrs. Cecilia Makoji, said the mobile courts were necessary as it will make residents comply with the authorities.
She said it was unfortunate that some residents have enjoyed services but have refused to pay their bills, while also engaging some lawyers to defend them.
“But it is usual, you have some stubborn ones who will not want to pay and want to raise one or two objections as to why or reasons why they should not pay, but the bottom line remains that services have been rendered and they should pay and good citizens should pay when services are being rendered.
Makoji revealed that the defaulters could be could be compelled to pay up, in addition to more payment of fines, and some apartments may be risk being sealed while some may be at a risk of being sent to jail for 3 to 6 months terms as the case may be.
While some residents had hailed AEPB over mass trial of thousands of unrepentant environmental defaulters, describing it as a necessary step towards not only recovering the unsettled debt from them but ensuring strict compliance with the authorities, others said it was clear manifestation of government’s high handedness towards the poor harmless people in the society, instead of looking inwards, and try to obvious loopholes within, before going after the people.
Most, however strongly agreed that instead of wasting precious time and resources trying to achieve whatever objective through the rigorous process of the court, the authourities should devise measures of putting an effective and prompt debt recovery.
According to a resident, Emmanuel Eke, in Wuse 2, who described the mass trial as a fire brigade approach of handling issues affecting the society, said that he doubts that it would achieve the desired objective.
“If not for government’s usual nonchalant attitude to issues of great importance, why wait till now before thinking of instituting a legal action against some people who have refused to pay for services they have enjoyed all this while.
“This is why things are not working in this part of the world, as those who are supposed to know best appear to be doing the opposite and let things go out of hand.
“So I doubt if the belated decision by the AEPB to prosecute a lot of residents, who defaulted in payment of their relevant environmental fees, would ever work out in recovering the debt as well as enforcing strict obedience to the relevant environmental laws in the FCT,” he stressed.
Another resident in Jabi, Peter Adah, who described the development as unfortunate, noted it (the prosecution) was not necessary, if the authourities of Federal Capital Territory Administration and AEPB in particular had taken precautionary measures against the defaulters.
“I strongly believe that had the authourities at the FCT Administration and AEPB in particular ensured that they took precautionary steps against defaulters such as serving them with notices, and may be there wouldn’t be any need for the court process.
“Although, dragging people to court rather than take the laws into their hands, for me was a clever step taken by the AEPB, irrespective of whenever it’s coming,” he noted.
Similarly, another resident, Aishat Aliyu, who expressed her doubts over the prosecution of a huge number of defaulters in a mobile within a specific short period of time, it was not supposed to be so rushed, as people should be allowed enough time to defend themselves.
” I wonder why the rush to conclude the court processes within a specific period of time, this may affect the outcome of the whole process, as it may end up inconclusive, given the usual technicalities allowed in the court.
“This is where I think the authourities of the AEPB got it all wrong, they should not had fixed time on the prosecution of environmental offenders; and I doubt they would be able to achieve their objectives,” she stressed.
On his part, another resident, John Gorge, who was spotted around Berger round about axis, was of the view that considering huge amount of unsettled debt, nothing was ever too little or much measure towards recovering such.
“It baffles me that some people would refuse to pay up for essential services rendered to them by relevant government agencies in the FCT.
“How do we expect them to do more, in relation to keeping the environment clean and much more habitable for us all, when we don’t pay for services rendered? So it is good that they are resorting to the court to enforce payment,” he said.
However, going by most accounts, AEPB, which is the government agency saddled with the responsibility of protecting the environment of the Territory, was created in 1987 and its main objective, according to the board’s mission statement, is to make sure there is a clean, hygienic and sustainable environment for the wellbeing of the residents.
And section 37 of the AEPB Act specifically empowers officials of the board to gain access to any premises between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. for the purpose of detecting and abating nuisance to public health.
Also, the agency was established to ensure a healthy environment for the residents of the FCT, while conserving the environment and its natural resources, including prohibiting street hawking, in the quest to carry this mandate has allegedly accumulated for itself a notorious history of engaging in ‘illegality ranging from extortion, brutality, intimidation, assault and battery against perceived harmless offenders.
Also, it was also set up as a machinery to reduce the impact of physical development on the territory’s ecosystem, while raising public awareness and promoting the people’s understanding of the essential linkages between the environment and development.
As it stands, the mass trial came as the part of the AEPB’s on-going re-organization, which has affected the former acting Director, Mrs. Aisha Adebayo; three Deputy Directors and one Assistant Director who were redeployed out of the Board, which over time, has been facing some challenges especially the apathy of most FCT residents towards efforts to protect the environment, which hamper its efforts to discharge these responsibilities.
Interestingly though, like never before, the appointment of Mr. Baba Shehu Lawan, as the new acting director of the Board, by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, has raised a lot of hope for effective service delivery, in the area of sanitation in the FCC.