NNIMMO Bassey, Chair of the Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), a global federation of environmental advocacy groups, was a guest speaker at our April meeting. What follows are the views he canvassed at the meeting for his organisation:
The challenges facing the Nigerian environment are varied and enormous.
According to the group, ‘’the various sectors of the national economy have suffered gross neglect over the past decades. The environment has suffered special injury because the implications of certain aspects of the neglect are not immediately visible, as would for example the decay of infrastructures such as road buildings, water supplies and telecommunications’’.
Speaking in an on-line interview with our correspondent yesterday, Chairman of the FoEI, Nnimmo Bassey, a Nigerian, said demands for environmental protection are at times viewed as anti-progress or development, adding, ‘’some times policy makers simply act as though they expect that the problems would simply disappear. That has never happened to mountains of refuse. They don’t happen with polluted streams. They don’t happen with oil spills in waterways and farmlands. They don’t happen at the local and also not at global levels’’.
Bassey who is also the Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA) said the interconnectedness of the environment compounds the situation because the neglect of one territory or country does not exempt other regions from suffering the shared impacts.
‘’Such is the case of global warming and climate change. Local actions and inactions add up to a global crisis. This problem also presents itself in a particularly interesting way in Nigeria. We plant trees to halt the desert in the north, but burn the skies through gas flaring in the south’’, he said.
‘’Desertification is impacting 50-70 per cent of the landmass of nine states impacted and under severe threat. Bauchi, Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. A mix of factors including global warming, bush fires, degradation of vegetation cover and over grazing, etc fuels this phenomenon’’, FoEI said, pointing out that although Nigeria has National Drought and Desertification Policy and a National Drought Preparedness Plan, ‘’desertification remains a key challenge. The annual tree planting exercises appear to be futile labours except the main factors aiding the phenomenon are confronted and dealt with’’.
Continuing, he said related to desertification and climate change is the vital need to halt gas flaring in the Niger Delta.
‘’Gas flares contribute to a release of a green house gases into the atmosphere and thus contributes to global warming. Thus we plant trees in the North and roast the skies in the South, working directly against our own best interests’’, he said.
The operations of the oil industry, he went on, ‘’engender conflicts and also directly impact Nigeria’s wetlands, water and sanitation as well as pollution generally. Up to 1000 oil spills occur every year although the official figure puts this at 300. Thousands of barrels of produced water and drilling mud are dumped into the waterways and lands of the Niger Delta. These portend very serious violations and expose the people and environment to severe harm’’.
Besides oil and gas, mining, according to the group, has left serious footprints in the Nigerian environment, claiming that the abandoned tin mines of Jos stand as stark reminders of the hazardous nature of extractive activities. Tailings and toxic wastes are still left unattended to.
‘’The extractive of building materials may appear benign, but blasting of rocks in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT,Abuja) and limestone in Ebonyi State are known to have impacted negatively on rural environments – dusts, cracked buildings, among others. Ragged rocks in the Abuja environments have jeopardised the lives of both man and beast’’, the group said.
On flood and erosion, they claimed that coastal erosion is a major challenge in the South. ‘’This problem is aggravated by sea level rise. In some areas canalisation and movements of heavy machineries and vessels compound coastal erosion. In the East, gully erosion has become a nightmare to many communities. The earth literally opens its mouth eating up land and swallowing houses.
‘’It is estimated by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 35 million tonnes of soil are washed away by erosion annually in Nigeria, mostly by gully erosion in the southeast, where the rain forests were most severely depleted in the last three decades. Between 1981-1994 Nigeria has lost 3.7 million hectares of forest and farmlands to erosion and other forms of soil degradation. About 285,000 Km2, or just under a third of Nigeria's land area has been lost to this phenomenon over the past three decades’’, they said.