The environment has become so polluted that death lurks in the nation’s air, contaminated land and unhygienic water

The quality of the environment in Nigeria is declining so fast that it is gradually losing its capacity to effectively support life. Of grave concern is that in recent times, there has been a total absence of any keen desire by the government, at all levels, to clean the environment for Nigerians to enjoy healthy lives. Indeed, in many cities across the country, environmental pollution has become a major public health issue. That may account for why there is an increase in cases of terminal ailments like cancer, hypertension/stroke and needless deaths that can be traced only to environmental pollution.

As things stand, the environmental protection blueprint and laws that were painstakingly formulated by various experts or adopted from international treaties and conventions are not being enforced despite the National Environmental Standards Regulations and Enforcement Agency (NESREA) that was established by an Act of 2007 and with 33 Regulations under section 34 of the act. This law, which is in section 20 of the 1999 Constitution, repealed the Federal Environmental Protection Act 1988.

While Nigeria has all the requisite laws to govern the nation’s environment, it is regrettable that NESREA, which has a statutory role to protect the nation’s environment by enforcing all environmental laws, regulations, guidelines, and standards, has become a lame duck, because it is ill-equipped and poorly funded. Government officials adopt revenue generation approach to the environment, issuing permits to shield industries to break environmental laws, imposing fines on individuals and companies; but they make no attempt to use the financial gains to clean-up the environment. In fact, they most often encourage corporate bodies to flout environmental laws just to be able to collect the fines such infractions normally attract.

The government’s lack of interest in environment has led to the nation’s cities and towns being hit by untold degradation, both natural and human-induced. Only recently, there was fire outbreak at the popular Olusosun dumpsite at the Ojota end of Lagos. Poisonous smoke from the burning dumpsite blew across the city and dumped soot on residents and on their belongings. “I am concerned as a leader, resident and a father in the state that heaps of refuse are gradually returning to Lagos. When driving around Lagos, I have seen a build-up of refuse,” said former Governor Bola Tinubu last week while addressing members of the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria.

Also, for more than a year now, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, has been battling with pollution in form of pervading soot. Environmentalists believe the soot comes from the many gas flaring sites in and around the city. On account of the leaded fuel and substandard diesel used in motor vehicles and electricity generating sets, the nation’s towns and cities now have large concentration of carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons and particulates. Apart from causing great harm to people who breathe them, these gases also react with environmental gases to create other toxic gases.

The danger is that no community is spared and nobody from any social strata is exempted from the harmful effects of these pollutants. Interestingly, because air does not have boundaries, no region in the country is spared from the deadly poisons of the dangerous gases released either at Olusosun in Lagos or in Port Harcourt or anywhere else.

Medical experts have determined that when people breathe dangerous chemicals, such as benzene or vinyl chloride in the air, they could have cancer, birth defects, long-term injury to the lungs, as well as brain and nerve damage. Breathing contaminated air can also make eyes and nose burn and cause respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma. In recent years, scientists have shown that air pollution from cars, factories and power plants is a major cause of asthma attacks.