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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FG is creating an enabling environment - Mailafia

With Rio+20 on-going, the federal government of Nigeria through the Federal Ministry of Environment says it made some achievements in the last one year of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration.
In this special report anchored by NaijaAgroNet, the Honourable Minister of Environment, Mrs. Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, says, the government is determined to create an enabling environment. Excerpts:
What is the agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan on environment?
Creation of an enabling environment is a consistent refrain in the outline of Government Priority policies, Programmes and Projects in the “Transformation Agenda 2011-2015,” published by the National Planning Commission.
        This is to underscore the commitment of the administration of His Excellency, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, to the management and development of the Nigerian environment, as a catalyst for National Transformation.
        Environment is the nexus, the binding cord, connecting all Government Policy implementation agencies, aiding them to deliver on their set targets, in a manner consistent with agreed principles and standards for sustainable development.
Environment is the correct thing; everything has to be right in the environment. When you talk about the environment, you are talking about everything. There is this saying that when the environment comes first everything comes first.
At the inception of the administration in May 2012, Government recognized the need to deal with socio-economic, cultural practices and geo-physical problems that constituted clear threats to the Nigerian environment.
These included deforestation, arising from tree felling, without replenishment, for various purposes; land degradation as a result of oil and other resource exploitation activities; erosion of coastal areas of large areas in southern Nigeria, the flood plains of the major rivers in the country, and some flat low-lying urban areas; the menace of pollution, solid, toxic and electronic wastes; the incremental and devastating effects of recurring oil spills, the unrelenting surge of the Sahara desert and drought downwards into the country, and the impact of climate change, against which no country as yet has any apparent bulwark. These problems cut across the length and breadth of the country, and every part of the country faces one or other environmental challenge.
In our determination to curtail or mitigate these threats, this administration evolved and executed various policies to ensure environmental protection, natural resources conservation and sustainable development. 

What does this entail?
These entailed advocacy and public enlightenment to create or deepen public awareness, change detrimental behavior or inspire the adoption of safer and healthier environmental practices; forging collaborative arrangements, or partnerships with diverse organizations (community, faith, local, state, national, multilateral, international etc) to implement a variety of programmes; enacting relevant regulations and laws; creating requisite administrative institutions; ensuring vigorous enforcement of existing laws; executing sundry intervention projects; and actively participating in international conferences to promote the nation’s environmental interests, exchange experience, adopt new initiatives, strategies and partnerships for developing the nation’s ecosystem.

In the last one year of President Jonathan, what can you say has been achieved from Federal Ministry of Environment’s perspective?
One year into the four-year tenure of the administration, there are perceptible and remarkable achievements, take for instance, the Biodiversity Conservation.
        Under the biodiversity programmes of the Ministry, 22,222,940 assorted tree seedlings have been raised. This is under the presidential Initiative on Afforestation programme for Economic and Environmental Sustainability. The seedlings were distributed across the entire nation to communities and institutions, to establish woodlots, forest reserves and the greening of premises. Some states requested for, and collected enormous quantities. The focus of the project is the afforestation of the entire country, going beyond the 11 frontline states directly under the threat of desertification. This is to replace forests depleted through wood felling for domestic purposes. The desertification phenomenon has been advancing southwards at an alarming rate, to the extent that the frontline states under direct threat of desertification have now increased to 13 from 11. Kogi state is becoming very significant.  The Ministry plans to partner with the National Orientation Agency and the National Youth Service Corps to widen the participation of more citizens in the distribution and planting of seedlings. This programme has achieved increased forest cover, provided employment opportunities for workers in the nurseries; as well as those engaged to plant the seedlings.  As a result, it has contributed to the reduction of poverty, and increased income for people in the communities that directly benefited from the programme.

Can you give us some specifics programmes successfully concluded by your ministry?
The Ministry has successfully completed the First phase of the National Forest Programme Facility (NFP-Facility). And implementation has commenced on the programme of work on conservation and development of Guinea Current Large Marine Ecosystem (GCLME), for reforestation and establishment of Mangrove plantations.
Other significant achievements are include signing of Memorandum of Understanding with Malaysia Forestry Research and Development Board, Malaysia, for international cooperation in the area of Forestry Research and Climate Change with particular interest in: Medicinal plants research, Forest Products Utilization Research with special attention to Bamboo, Biotechnological research and Carbon trading in relation to climate change;
Winner of the 2011 UNESCO PRIZE for Environmental Protection, instituted by His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman (FRIN Ibadan).

What are the states of our national parks?
The Ministry’s portfolio includes the Management of National Parks.  It is the duty of the Ministry to protect the biodiversity in the Parks. In the last one year, the Oli camp/Ibbi tourist facilities at Kainji Lake National Park, New Bussa, were rehabilitated.
Similarly, an ultra modern indoor sports complex at old Oyo National Park, Oyo State was constructed and equipped. These were intended to enhance the comfort of visiting tourists and the inhabitants of the park. As a result of these improvements, the number of tourists visiting the National Parks has increased, thus boosting Ecotourism and increasing revenue generation and employments.

What plans does your ministry have on Green economy?
        Under the Great Green wall project of the Ministry, 6,720,000 seedlings have been raised in seven (7) desertification front line states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Jigawa, Yobe, Kebbi, Katsina, Kano, Yobe, Sokoto and Borno State.
This is a project in which the Federal Government through this Ministry is creating a green shelter belt stretching from Kebbi State in the North-east to Borno in the North-west, as part of a larger Trans-African belt spanning 1,500 kilometres from Djibouti to Dakar in Senegal and 15 km wide.
Indeed, the Great Green wall is Africa’s resolve to combat desertification through an integrated approach that will enhance food security, ecosystem, goods and services with a view to achieving development, particularly alleviating poverty in the dry land region.  It has the potential to stimulate economic growth in the arid and semi-arid zones of Nigeria, and therefore critical to the transformation agenda.  The project which initially focused on tree planting along narrow strips, evolved into an integrated ecosystem approach, including cross-sectoral actions and interventions aimed at conservation and protection of natural resources.
To address fuel wood deficit and the protection of fragile ecosystems, 10 – hectare pilot woodlots have each been developed in Bauchi, Zamfara, Adamawa and Kebbi States.

Does your ministry have programme of engaging the citizens on sustainable development?
Yes, we have the integrated sustainable model village development programme. This programme involves the participation of local communities, in addressing desertification at the grassroots. 6 model villages were identified and developed in Katsina, Kano, Borno, Yobe, Sokoto, Jigawa and Kebbi States. The facilities including water supply and power involve the use of green technology, and are dependent on renewable energy sources. It is hoped that in future, villages in the desert prone areas will adopt the model village prototype on a wider scale.

How is the federal government managing erosion and flood issues in the country?
The Ministry is executing Erosion and Flood Control Projects in 62 locations across the country. These are in addition to the completion of works on some projects among the 237 projects awarded from the 2010 capital budget. 
The Ministry plays an intervention role, to assist states and Local Governments with erosion and flood control challenges of enormous magnitude that will need Federal Government intervention. This is because erosion control projects require huge capital outlays. It might interest you to note that some major erosion sites cost the Federal Government well over a billion naira.
Flood Early warning systems (FEWS) were launched publicly in August 2011. The website can forecast possible or likely flood in some major cities nationwide. The following towns or States are currently covered by the system: Benue, Kebbi, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Akure, Minna, Sokoto, Ilorin, Benin city and Kaduna state. More cities are still being uploaded to the website. The system is automated equipment that sends a special warning to communities that an area is prone to an impending flood.
The idea is that if one cannot run away with one’s property, one can at least escape with one’s life. Indeed, some of the States that recently experienced flooding were warned before the floods came. Available records, from testimonies and other evidence in the Ministry, shows that the system has been functional and effective. This is a major transformational achievement.
What of oil spill management?
For every plus, there is a minus. The Ministry tries as much as possible to reduce the minuses. Nigeria is an oil producing country, and so it will experience some oil spills along the line. Nigeria has a large population; it will have a lot of pollution. Nigeria has vagaries of population; it will have many degraded sites. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Environment to step in on such occasions and remediate the situation. It is pertinent to recall the Bonga oil spill which occurred in 2011. The Ministry successfully cleared the pollutants and cleaned up the Environment, working in collaboration with Shell.
With respect to the fire incident at Chevron Nigeria Ltd’s K. S. Endeavour drilling rig at Funiwa in January 2012, the President, in his characteristic manner of paying attention to the needs and yearnings of Nigerians, flew along with the Ministers of Petroleum and Environment to ascertain the extent of damage personally. This burnt for a very long time and was because it was safer technically in the estimation of the Ministry of Environment, for the fire to burn out.
If it was extinguished, it would have created more health hazards to the people around. This again is part of our responsibility, namely to ensure clean and healthy environment for the people around. Professionals in the Ministry especially in the agency responsible for oil spills, NOSDRA, felt by empirical findings, that it was easier, and healthier to allow the fire to burn.
Other oil spill management activities carried out by the Ministry within the period include the certification of 1,119 numbers past oil impacted sites close out in oil producing areas; Activation of the National Oil Spill contingency plan (NOSCP) in July 2011; Acquisition of oil Spills response Boat and Equipment (Recovery I) in Port Harcourt Rivers State; Restoration and remediation of oil impacted burrow pits; and conversion to fish ponds in Port Harcourt, Ayetoro and Izombe; Remediation of sludge pits at Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemicals Company (KRPC) and improvement of lives of impacted communities is on-going.
Also, the ministry co-ordinates and completed the United Nations Environment programme (UNEP) environmental assessment of Ogoniland. The Federal Government is working on the implementation plan for this report; Developed two National Environmental Regulations, which have been properly gazetted; Oil spill and oily waste management Regulations Nigeria, 2011, and Oil spill recovery, clean up, remediation and damage assessment regulations, 2011; Developed National Oil spill compensation guidelines and standards for Nigeria; Developed a Technical guidance manual for oil spill and oily waste management in Nigeria; Collaboration with University of Ibadan on development of KENAF plant  for use in oil spill clean-up; and Sanctioning and prosecution of companies that defaulted in oil spill reporting clean-up and remediation.
Does Nigeria have a programme on managing waste nationwide?
One of the greatest challenges that the Transformation Agenda faced has been in the area of waste management. It is a major challenge for Nigerians. Consider a place like Taffa on the Suleja to Kaduna Expressway.
In most countries, even Sugar cane peels are used and recycled to produce a lot of valuable things. The Federal Ministry of Environment is working very hard to ensure that we have resources recovery, through the recycling of wastes.
In this regard we have carried out some projects, consisting of establishment of integrated waste management facility project in Ekiti State; Establishment of scrap metal recycling plants in Kaduna, Sokoto, Emuoha and Igboile; Establishment of Briquetting plants in Ogoja, Cross River State; Establishment of a prototype Gas phase reduction plant for the irreversible destruction/transformation of persistent organic pollutants in Minna, Niger State; Establishment of Ozone technology village in Irolu, Ikenne Local Government Area of Ogun State; and Establishment of waste recycling plant - material recovery facility in Owerri.
What is the impact of these projects?
It is amazing, how through these projects the Ministry of Environment has been able to create jobs for Nigerians. Imagine employing young women and men to clean our roads and streets. Imagine getting people to work on our highways to ensure that we have a clean environment.
Imagine a situation where we have an integrated Waste Management plant that will take care of all the solid wastes; all the papers that we throw, and all the polythene bags that litter our towns and cities. We have started a pilot scheme on the distribution of waste bins to households.
We started in Ado Ekiti. And we also have a composting plant in Ilokun Ado-Ekiti. We are calling it a pilot project, because the Federal Ministry of Environment can provide the dust bins, keep them there, but when they are filled, somebody somewhere has to be responsible for the evacuation. And if they are evacuated, someone has to be responsible for taking them to the dump sites, identify the dump sites, and putting them there. In this regard, we are working very closely with State Governments, to ensure, as the constitution stipulates, that every local government identifies a dump site. There must be a site where people will take out their debris, and dump it.
Over the last couple of months, we have seen how people have had to clean their drainages, only when the rain approaches. And, as the drainages are cleaned, the debris is put on the side of the road, with no one to evacuate them. Subsequently, the rains come, and they are washed back. So it is a continuing vicious cycle. The Federal Ministry of Environment is working to ensure that this does not happen.
Are there plans to improve environmental health related subjects?
The Ministry has put in place an environmental health practice guide. Already there is a team of professionals, “Wole-wole” in Yoruba; “Dubagari” in Hausa. Some call them “Sanitary Inspectors”. Many decades or years back, they used to go round the neighborhoods to inspect kitchens, toilets, and etcetera.
There are also registered 336 qualified Environmental Health officers. And, we are working with states to ensure that this is brought back. If this is the only way that we have to ensure that we have a sanitized environment, we are ready to do it, so that we can transform the nation to a clean country.
We have 287 Corporate Environmental Health Services providers already registered, in the last one year. We also have continuing professional education for environmental health workers. So, the environment is really more than an extra.
Do we have climate change programmes in Nigeria, at least, to deepen the awareness?
Climate change is a reality. It is a very serious phenomenon. Flooding is becoming something that is incomprehensible to us. Many decades or years back, we never heard of flooding everywhere, from Ibadan to as far as Sokoto and Katsina. These were supposed to be the desert frontline states, filled with sand dunes and desert encroachment. But suddenly there are rains of such magnitude that results into flooding. And this is why we say everybody needs to be aware of Climate Change issues, which are a reality. The greatest challenge is getting people to change their attitudes towards the environment.
We have upgraded the unit in charge of climate change to a department. We have been carrying out awareness and public education with respect to climate change adaptation, mitigation and CDM nationwide. We have established graduate programmes in two Nigerian Universities under the German Initiative on the West African Science Service Centre on Climate Change and adaptive land use (WASCAL), with Masters Degrees going on in Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna, for graduate students, doctorate degrees in Federal University of Technology (FUT) Akure.
What other international cooperation has the government got or working with?
The Ministry of Environment actively participated in international conferences on climate change. Nigeria was well represented at the Conference of Parties (COP 17) which held in Durban South Africa from 28th November to 9th December 2011. We also attended COP 18 in Qatar as well as Rio+20 in Brazil.
Nigeria also participated in the Global Environment Facility (GEF) extended constituency Workshop for West Africa from 19th to 21st July in Monrovia, Liberia, the GEF council meeting held on May 24-26, 2011 in Washington D.C.
These have had many multiplier effects on various institutions and programmes in all parts of the country, through the grants and sponsorship schemes, they attracted into the country.
There is also a programme called REDD+Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. It is a programme of the United Nations. And, I am glad to tell you that although we started a little bit late, Nigeria is today the leading country in Africa. And, last year, we won a grant of four million dollars, for our performance. There is also a carbon foot print programme that was organized, through the forestry department of the Ministry. The Ministry is collaborating with Economic Community for West Africa States (ECOWAS) and other member states to develop a West African Climate Change adaptation strategy, and in the development of ECOWAS Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (ECOMAS).
The Ministry has been working on setting up of a Special Climate Change Trust Fund. This financial instrument is being developed for the co-ordination of many streams of financing that the country may attract from the global pool of resources to avoid fragmentation and invisible impacts. It will leverage, enhance and broaden the scope of national interventions for impacts at all levels of governance through strategic alliances for different activities towards mitigation and adaptation of climate change initiatives.
What are your ministry strategies for renewable energy?
We are a Ministry that is supposed to renew the hope of citizens in this administration. Although we know that energy can be provided through hydro and thermal means, we are exploring the adoption of other sources from which we can provide energy. Such sources include sun, wind and so on.
In the last one year, pilot 50 Megawatts Solar farms are being established in Kaduna and Katsina to provide alternative and clean energy sources. The distribution of 5million efficient wood cook stoves, which are more environmentally friendly to various households, has commenced across the nation. The Ministry is also collaborating with the Ministries of Power and Water Resources on the execution of small and medium hydro projects across the nation.
What plans for regulatory standards to ensure that the controversy over shutting of base stations and related issues are nipped in the bud?
For every activity or project, a programme has to be started. We have to connect the dots in between. In the last couple of weeks we have had publications in the newspapers about the National Environmental Standards Regulatory and enforcement Agency (NESREA), and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), about base stations. The Federal Government cannot carry out the transformation agenda without compliance with laid down rules and regulations. We have guidelines that are not enforceable, and we have regulations and laws that must be enforced. One of the statutory responsibilities of the Ministry is to ensure compliance with environmental laws.
Let me seize this opportunity to inform, that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has directed that NESREA should enforce all laws on the use of the environment. Therefore, you will be seeing a very, very pronounced change in the manner in which Nigerians are allowed to do anything they like to the environment. Some of the achievements of the Ministry in environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement include development of 10 National Environmental regulations; Commissioning of two National Reference environmental laboratories in Kano and Port Harcourt; Control of vehicular emission from petrol and diesel engines; Ban on the use of two-stroke engines in Nigeria, Mobile air quality monitoring programme; and E-waste – within the past two years, government has intercepted and arrested five ships carrying e-waste to Nigeria. The imported e-wastes were sent back to their ports of origin.
In the last one year, we have had to prosecute some people over the abuse of the environment through the importation of e-wastes. This is one country where you have shiploads of e-wastes; old computers that are supposed to be in dump sites somewhere are brought into our country and dumped at our ports. Every day we have these things coming in for people to open to use the copper wires inside.
If you go to our markets in Lagos and other parts of the country, you will understand what I am talking about. This has enormous health implications. Again, we have taken a number of firms to court for violations of these regulations. Although we will not mention names here, you can be rest assured that it is quite a number. Nigeria will not tolerate these things again.
We cannot allow other countries to produce whatever they like and bring them here to dump. And our people buy them because they think they are cheap. We buy cars that cannot be used in Kenya, or any other country, because they have passed their service years. The Ministry of Environment will not tolerate that. We will be working, and we are working with the Federal Roads Safety Corps, the Nigeria Police Force, and we will be making a very significant pronouncement.
The Ministry through its Environmental Assessment mandate carried out registration of 367 new EIA projects; 22 EIA approvals issued for projects; 103 new development projects registered; 34 impact mitigation monitoring exercises on EIA approved projects were carried out in all sectors; 29 existing facilities (companies) were reviewed for environmental audit certification; and 12 Environmental laboratories were accredited and revalidated.
Are there efforts on environmental governance?
The Ministry has taken steps to enhance Environmental Governance through the resuscitation of the annual National Council on Environment in September 2011. The event was last held in 2007. The next meeting of the NCE is scheduled for Port Harcourt, Rivers State in September 2012.
Also, the Ministry has produced and aired Jingles on radio in the three major Nigerian languages and Pidgin English under the National Sensitization and Public Awareness Programme (NASPAP).
What are the challenges facing your ministry?
        Some of the challenges facing the Ministry consist of unique and time-bound nature of some of the Ministry’s projects do not exactly fit into the country’s budget cycle; Heavy dependence  of populace on fuel wood and agricultural expansion makes afforestation efforts difficult; Need to strengthen partnership and collaboration amongst Federal, States and Local Governments and other key stakeholders on environmental issues; Poor public attitude towards compliance with Environmental laws and regulations; and Inadequate allocation of budgetary provisions and a need for a more timely release of funds.

Status of the Nigerian Environment
A glance at the current Environment situation shows the country under the siege of drought and desertification, erosion sites, fuel wood extraction or deforestation, pollution etcetera, and what the geographical expression called the north has turned into. People are compelled to move.
There is hardly sufficient water. We do not have sufficient land for agriculture. And so the Ministry of Environment has to work together with all Ministries to ensure an enabling environment for Nigerians to survive. If all of us continue to move, the centre can no longer hold. Things will fall apart. Erosion, people coming up: Desertification, people going down. What are we going to do about it.
The transformation is moving. The train is moving to ensure that the coastal areas of Southern Nigeria are really taking care of. That we have the flood plains of major rivers properly rehabilitated, and that we have these flat low-lying urban areas well laid out
In carrying out all the programmes and projects detailed above, the Federal Ministry of Environment has indeed increased forest cover; increased income and generated more employment; reduced poverty and increased revenue generation; ameliorated drought and desertification; enhanced and augmented the provision of basic amenities; ensured conservation of Biodiversity; improved protection of National Park Resources for sustainable development; and boosted ecotourism development.
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