29 August 2013, Abuja – An environmental legal consultant, Mr Caleb Mutfwang, has urged the Federal Government to fast track the implementation of the Minerals Act, to check illegal mining in the country.
Mutfwang told the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in Abuja that it was not the absence of law that caused the Zamfara lead poisoning incident but non-enforcement of laws.
He said that the Minerals Act had more than enough provisions to prosecute illegal miners in the country.
Mutfwang said that Nigeria had so many environmental laws but lacked the political will to implement them.
NAN recalls that the lead poisoning that occurred in Zamfara between March and June 2012, led to the death of no fewer than 163 people, including 111 children.
“The pace of implementation of that law needs to be fast tracked so that we can avoid incidents like the Zamfara episode because there are a lot of illegal mining sites in Nigeria. The authorities need to step up because they have the backing of the law to be able to call those illegal miners to order and make sure that things are done in accordance with the law,” he said.
He continued: “People who grew up in that environment just felt it was a natural way of doing things so they need to be educated; part of the key instrument of enforcement of any law is education.
“If you don’t educate people to know that this is illegal or this is an offence, they will not be able to stop it.
“It is not an offence simply because it is national wealth, it is also an offence because the way they are going about it is injurious to their health and injurious to the environment in which they live.’’
Mutfwang said that the Koko incident was a wake-up call for the management of chemical and hazardous waste in the country.
NAN recalls the Koko Port shipment dump of 1988 in Sapele, Delta, was the first incident of toxic/harmful waste recorded in Nigeria, which killed some people.
The consultant recalled that the military promulgated a decree (now an Act of Parliament) that criminalised the issues of waste dumping and related offences after the Koko town incident.
He, however, said there were many constraints against the effectiveness of those laws, among which is the overlapping function of agencies enforcing the laws.
He further stated: “The effectiveness of those laws differ from sector to sector; some of them like NAFDAC law which is well known to most Nigerians has been reasonably effective. The NESREA (National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency) Act is also beginning to create a lot of awareness about environmental safety issues.
“There are many constrains against the effectiveness of those laws, part of the problem is that those laws were not properly worded in the first place to give clear cut powers to those organisations for implementation.
“Part of the problem is that the same powers have been given to different organizations, so there is a lot of conflict of management in terms of who should do what.
“The other issues of cause that hamper effectiveness include funding, the capacity of personnel to be able to effect enforcement and also the tools for those officers to carry out their work such as laboratories and so on and so forth.’’
The consultant said that the UN had supported Nigeria to do a study on those overlaps and gaps and how the country could fill them.
He said that Nigeria was selected as one of the pilot countries to test what he called the Quick Start Programme for the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management.
According to him, Nigeria has signed a Memorandum of Understanding that brought all the key ministries and departments of government involved in chemical management under one umbrella.
He, however, called for understanding among the agencies working to regulate the management of chemicals in the country, saying that such efforts would lead to effective implementation of relevant laws in the country.