Nigeria Must Begin to Key into the Circular Economy Model

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ALIYU JAURO

Prof. Aliyu Jauro is a professor of Industrial Chemistry and sits atop the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) as director-general/CEO. NESREA is the agency of government responsible for the protection and development of the nation’s environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources. Jauro is keen on Nigeria developing a circular economy that works for its citizens. He speaks with Nosa James-Igbinadolor

How will you describe the state of the Nigerian environment with respect to the work of NESREA?

Well, I wouldn’t say our environment is doing great at all, neither will I say the outlook of the environment is very healthy. The reality is that we have a whole lot of environmental challenges that we need to solve and indeed we are solving them issues upon issues. As you know, NESREA has the mandate to ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations, guidelines and policies. We have a lot of things to do and we are doing them. The first thing we are doing is to sensitise Nigerians about their duty and responsibility to the environment and we all have a duty to not only protect our environment, but to also ensure the preservation of a clean environment for the generations after us. In addition, we are engaging in enforcement of environmental regulations and standards and this entails forcing people to comply. So, there are a lot of things we are doing.

Talking about sensitisation, NESREA has a Green Corps Initiative that seeks to promote environmental activism. How well is that initiative doing and how well are Nigerians keying into that initiative?

The Green Corps Initiative is a voluntary organisation under NESREA that seeks to promote environmental awareness. They do this by sensitising Nigerians. We have a lot of members all over the country. We have a lot of youth corps members who are part of this initiative. We are recording a lot of successes as Nigerians are keying into the initiative. A lot is being achieved especially with respect to waste control. We face herculean challenges when it comes to waste control and management in the country and as you know, when waste is improperly managed and controlled, and dumped indiscriminately, this can lead to outbreak of diseases such as malaria, typhoid.

Yes, we do have serious problem of littering too as well as indiscriminate acts of deforestation where trees and other flora are deliberately and extensively cut down. This has culminated in deforestation especially in the northern part of the country. So, this Green Corps Initiative aims to promote environmental awareness, including afforestation and I commend Nigerians to take advantage of it and support the environment.

One of the criticisms of NESREA and it is a criticism that has been out there way before NESREA came into being, right from the days of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, FEPA, is that NESREA tends to focus on the macro issues; oil spills, deforestation and such and neglect weightier issues such as the everyday carbon emissions from cars and trucks that shouldn’t be on the roads. The carbon emissions from these vehicles pose critical health hazards to Nigerians, who ply the roads every day. NESREA seems lethargic in this regard. What’s your take?

No, we aren’t lethargic at all. NESREA is very keen to ensure that Nigerians live in a clean air environment and there are lots of regulations that seek to ensure that Nigerians have clean air to breath. We are more than keen on anything that has to do with pollution. That is why even open burning, including open burning of waste is prohibited, not just emission from vehicles. One of our major projects is the National Vehicular Emission Programme.

We also have the National Generator Emission Control Programme. These two programmes are tailored to checking the challenge of inordinate emission from both stationary and mobile sources; that is motor vehicles and generators. So, we have a limit as to how much emission these two sources are allowed to release. So very soon, we will launch these two programmes and we will go out and monitor cars and issue licenses. All vehicles will have to undergo this test before they will be allowed to ply our roads so that they do not pollute our roads.

Is there a timeline to this in terms of enforcement?

In terms of enforcement, we are just finishing the technicalities involved. You know before such a big project is operationalised, we have to sensitise the public step by step, undertake stakeholder consultations and we have signed the MoU with our technical partners and will begin sensitisation very soon. There will be an initial pilot project to test the effectiveness and efficiency of this programme.

Undertaking this programme will allow us key into the United Nations Environmental Programme on carbon credits. So, we are working on developing a database of what we emit so that we can use that, first of all we have to have a baseline so that we can compare on how well we have achieved on cutting down emissions, which will be a source of carbon credits to Nigeria.

Let’s talk about the Extended Producer Responsibility programme, which is a major programme of NESREA aimed at promoting recycling and expanding effective waste management. How well has the EPR done with respect to its major objectives?

Yes, the Extended Producer Responsibility programme is a framework of action, where all manufacturers and importers of all items are saddled with the responsibility of taking care of whatever is produced or imported throughout the lifecycle of that material whether it is an equipment or whatever product. So right from manufacturing and throughout its lifecycle to its end, the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the proper management of the product and its efficient disposal so that it does not constitute a threat to the environment. The EPR programme also takes care of indiscriminate dumping as well as the packaging of products.

As you know that packaging materials that come with a lot of these items constitute a large part of industrial waste and when these products are removed from their packaging, they are dumped indiscriminately, so the manufacturer is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring proper waste management and this will help us all to key into the circular economy as most of these items can be recycled. Once they are recycled, the economic value can be tapped instead of just dumping and causing a lot of havoc. These will allow most of our processes to be sustainable because if you talk of items like plastics, the source of their raw materials is from petroleum and these are non-replenishable and with time, even oil will finish and if we do not encourage a circular economy now, we could reach a point when we will not have raw materials to produce these products. The ultimate goal of the EPR programme is to achieve a circular economy and the circular economy model is ultimately a win-win for Nigeria and we need to key into it.

We are also concerned at the rate at which these pollutants enter the environment. Daily, about 300 million tonnes of these plastics enter the environment. From 1950 to date, about 8 billion metric tonnes of these plastics have been discharged into the environment, because when they are used, they are thrown away and that is one of the major problems we have today in our oceans and they are a threat to our marine life. That is why we developed the EPR programme. Recently, we re-launched the EPR programme for the electronics industry with the assistance of the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP, through their Global Environmental Facility, GER, where we accessed a grant of about two million dollars, which we are using to pilot the project in Lagos. So, we are going to work with the Producer Responsibility Organisation, PRO, where we will work with them to create formal recyclers and formal collectors of these waste.

It’s a two year project and hopefully after two years, we will replicate it across Nigeria. At the same, time, we are working the Food and Beverage Alliance to effectively manage waste. The Food and Beverage industry is one of the major sectors that produce a lot of waste. You buy water, and water now is either plastic or beverage and soft drinks too, so, they have come together to form an alliance and very soon we will launch their EPR programme.

Tell us more about this Food and Beverage Alliance

The Food and Beverage Alliance is an alliance formed by players in the food and beverage industry like Coca Cola, Nigerian Breweries, etc. They came together and decided to form this alliance. The essence of forming this alliance is to have a common Producer Responsibility Organisation, because assuming now you are dealing with only Coca Cola, Coca Cola produces their own drinks and brand of bottled water. It will be very difficult and economically inefficient for them to say we are going to only go out and sort out our waste. So, it is cheaper and easier for the entire food and beverage industry as well as more efficient to come together and work together and appoint one manager to drive this project.

Nigeria’s wildlife is constantly being degraded. From the North to the South, the country’s flora and fauna have been subjected and are still being subjected to unbridled degradation from within and without. One of the responsibilities of NESREA is the protection of the nation’s wildlife environment. Has your organisation taken its eyes off the ball here?

NESREA is highly involved in the protection of the nation’s wildlife environment because Nigeria is a signatory to the treaty on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, CITES. We just came back from the convention of parties, which was held in Switzerland a few weeks ago. CITES is a very vital coalition where all signatories are expected to abide by the regulations of the agreement, and the essence is to protect endangered plants and animals. We have a responsibility as an organisation to protect wildlife. Presently, there are some animals like the pangolin, who are killed for their scales because people believe they have medicinal value.

Also, the elephants are being hunted and killed because of their ivories. Presently, we have a lot these ivories in our store and very soon we are going to destroy them. These ivories are very expensive, but we are going to destroy them to serve as a deterrent. We have problems with prosecution because what the illegal hunters do is to abandon their catch when they come under attacks from us. We found out that most of the people involved in the illegal hunting of these wildlife animals are Chinese and we are engaging with the Chinese government to help us check the menace of the degradation and smuggling of these endangered species

The federal government is keen on improving the ease of doing business in the country. NESREA is responsible for issuing environmental permits, with respect to easy accessibility of environmental permits, and there had been lots of complaints in the past. What are you doing to simplify the process?

Before I assumed duty as director-general, I heard and indeed there were a lot of complaints about the difficulty in accessing environmental permits. Indeed, when I assumed office, I met huge backlogs of permits’ requests that hadn’t been dealt with. What I did was to request all departments to forward to me the lists of all permit applications pending, likewise, we sent out circulars to all state offices demanding a list of all permits that were issued and the reasons behind the non-issuance.

So, we sat down and analysed and found out that some of the permits weren’t issued as a result of the fault of the facilities as many did not submit the full applications and necessary documents were not attached for the permit to be processed. In addition, some did not pay the stipulated fees. So, I ordered that all permit applicants should be notified to submit full applications and also sent our circulars that henceforth all application with missing documents should be rejected at the point of submission.

So presently, under my leadership, we have issued a lot of permits and I have instructed that moving forward, any application for permit must be dispensed with from our end and issued out within two weeks. What we are trying to do now is to automate the entire application process and make it seamless, so that from the beginning to the end, the entire application process is done online.

With this system being in place, it is possible to get a permit issued within three to five days of receiving the application. This, I am confident will go a long way in eliminating some of the delays encountered in the application process and will no doubt help to improve the ease of doing business which, is one of the cardinal objectives of this administration.