The new environment law in Lagos

Man has, from time immemorial, neglected his environment and dealt adversely with this friend of his which is nature. The League of Nations, under which the first and second world wars were fought, was incapable of preferring solutions to the problems of the environment which invariably occurred as a result of the wars. These were pollutions injected into the environment and toxicity as a result of heavy equipment of war. Until few decades ago, the League’s successor, the United Nations, had proved very incapable of curtailing the damaging misuse of the environment which causes ozone layer depletion, climate change, acid rain and diverse cancerous ailments which occur as a result of this misusage like pollution, fossil fuel consumption and allied ills against the earth.

Since the 1988 toxic waste dump in Koko village in the present day Delta State, Nigeria has not gone backwards in its desire for stricter laws to manage the environment and ensure that the environment becomes friendly to man. This led to the promulgation of the Harmful Waste Special Criminal Provisions Decree, the Federal Environmental Pollution Act, the National Policy on the Environmental (1989) and NESTREA by the Ibrahim Babangida government. Hitherto, there were lax rules on the management of our God-given atmosphere, even globally. Before the 1974 Stockholm Conference on the Environment for instance, there was no concerted global attempt at befriending the environment and making it complimentary to man’s quest to profit from and harvest the beautiful flora and fauna of the world in a way.

Across Nigeria, even though laws have been used essentially to tackle the problems of the environment, seldom is governmental resolve attached to the making of these laws, with a view to tackling the deleterious effects of man’s unfavourable interface with his environment. There are so many dirt and pollutions in cities of the world, so much that a particular city in Nigeria was tagged some years ago as the dirtiest capital city in Africa.

Lagos State, a mega city by all standards due to the infrastructural inroads being made into it by successive governments, had suffered the profiling of a dirty city, in spite of its mega city nature. Laws had not succeeded in curbing the indiscriminate and poor disposal of the 10,000 metric tones of waste generated in the state on a daily basis. This had led to internal issues of pollution and ancillary health challenges which any responsible government would watch continue at its peril.

The recently promulgated Environmental Laws of Lagos State (a law to provide for the management, sustainable development of the environment) is one of such laws that have made Lagos a unique place in terms of deploying laws to bring about positive changes in the state. Recall the Lagos Tenancy Act that is seen as a model in land law promulgations in Nigeria. Articulating the relevance of laws to tackling environmental menace, the governor, Akinwumi Ambode, had said at the signing of the bill into law: “We exist in a world where the protection and preservation of public health and the environment have evolved and are primarily driven by data. We cannot compete if our laws are based on obsolete information.”

Right from its signing into law, the ambitious dispositions of the Act to work for the betterment of the environment were very obvious. For instance, the Act has embedded in it a proposal for the creation of 27,500 new jobs, encompassed in this initiative to make Lagos a cleaner megacity. Tackling those ancient menaces of air and water pollution which lead to deceases and have also led to the deterioration of the environment and as such, adverse effects on socio-economic activities are some of the intentions of the Act. This is aside the new environmental regime’s quest to provide insurance benefits, including Life, Health, Accident and Injury for the 27,500 Community Social Workers who will also benefit from its pension scheme.

The Nigerian experience of Koko toxic waste dump has made many states to be wary of same in their states. Thus, the recent Lagos Environment Law also makes it a serious crime for any person or group of persons who dump any toxic waste capable of causing harm in the state. It also frowns at fossil fuel which leads to dangerous emissions from vehicles, plants and equipment, including generating plants in residential, commercial and industrial areas within the State. The Act mandates air emission standard. Thus, manufacturing of chemicals, lubricants, petroleum products, gases, quarry, cement (except for those used in construction), is also prohibited in residential premises.

Perhaps the aspect of the new law that the writer finds most ambitious is the state’s bid to leverage the law into converting one of its agencies, Kick Against Indiscipline, (KAI) into the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps Agency which is now re-strategized to spearhead enforcement of the penalties hoped to be imposed on violators of the new environmental laws. Everyone knows that a law is as potent as the implementation of its sanctions. The brief of the agency would also include monitoring and maintaining surveillance along the highways, streets and public drainages, canals, markets and parks. The new law entrusts on it the primary responsibility of making sure that Lagos citizens carry out their civic duties of payment for usage of public utilities through proper payment of imposed levies.

Acknowledging that the laws would be toothless unless compliance is ensured, as well as the need for laws to back up the proper maintenance of the massive infrastructural revolution it is bringing to the state, Ambode had said matter-of-factly: “Compliance is the key. The burden of the cost of providing these services will remain low if everyone does his or her part and pays the Public Utilities Levy.”

Lagos is Nigeria because virtually all persons from the nooks and crannies of the country are represented in the state. The success of this law could mark a new dawn for the rest of Nigeria in the quest to use laws to attack the ailments of the society/environment relationship.