AN ENVIRONMENTAL CALL TO ACTION

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There is need to reset the country’s environmental agenda

Of all the five most critical factors that affect the global environment, namely, air pollution, overpopulation, deforestation, climate change and global warming, the biggest threat to Nigeria’s environment remains deforestation. This is without losing sight of the waste management challenges, flooding, desertification, gully soil and coastal erosion that bedevil various parts of the country. Therefore, the need for environmentally and socially equitable approaches to forest management is imperative.

Forests are home to wildlife which performs a broad range of critical environmental and climatic functions including the maintenance of constant supply of water and ensuring clean air and prevention of desertification, soil and gully erosion. Forests harbour species and at the same time have very deep economic, aesthetic, industrial and religious significance for humans. But the greatest threats to forests have been bush burning and illegal logging; a situation made hopeless by absence of measures aimed at their regeneration and also an equitable valuation system.

Between 1981 and the year 2000, Nigeria lost 3.7 million hectares of forests. As things stand today, only less than 4% of the country’s untouched forest cover is left. More frightening is the fact that the loss has continued unabated at the rate of 3.5% annually. This approximates 3.5 million hectares of forest out of 7.3 million hectares lost globally. Some 1.5 million trees are felled everyday owing to illegal logging. About 484 plant species are also threatened with extinction in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, Nigeria’s remaining forests harbour about 4000 different species of plants including those that have been found to be effective in the development of alternative medicine. There are also animals, including birds that can only be found in Nigeria and nowhere else. These include the Ibadan Malimbe, the Anambra Waxbill, the Jos Indigo Bird and the white throated Monkey (Cercopithecus erythrogaster pococki), the Niger Delta Pigmy Hippo and the Niger Delta Red Colobus Monkey. All these important species are threatened by habitat loss apart from other anthropogenic or human factors.

The desert is still encroaching at the speed of more than 1.6 kilometres annually. There are almost 3,000 erosion sites in the South East. Flooding in Lagos is anything but ordinary. Rising temperature is increasingly becoming unbearable while agriculturists are struggling to adapt to the attendant climate variability with serious socio-economic implications. The National Park Service that is charged with the responsibility of protecting swathes of forests and their biodiversity is lacking in capacity and is in fact still struggling to come to terms with its mandate apart from being inadequately funded and supported.

Against this backdrop, therefore, there is need to completely reset the country’s environmental agenda. The fight against insurgency and banditry should be ramped up to rein in the devastation and degradation of the natural environment across the country. Environmental remediation measures such as the Great Green Wall Project should be taken more seriously and adequately funded. The federal government must order a thorough review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of some huge projects of serious environment impact such as the Eko Atlantic City.

Stringent statutory provisions should be put in place to protect the various ecosystems and their biodiversity. There should be more transparency and accountability in the application of Ecological Funds – the funds must be made to fully and directly serve its purpose. Tougher measures should be put in place to checkmate wanton emission of noxious and deleterious gases through gas flaring and use of dated machines. Electricity challenges in the country should be addressed to minimise the use of power generating sets. The Green Recovery Project of the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) must attract deserved encouragement and partnership.

The foregoing and other measures must be taken if we must reclaim our country from the hazards of nature.