Environmental Degradation And Oil Spillages; An Indictment To Environmental Law And Human Rights
Conclusion and Recommendations
So far effort has been made from chapter one to chapter four of this thesis in discussing how environmental degradation in the form of oil spillages or blow out and gas flaring or leakages constitute an indictment to human right and environmental law in Niger Delta region of Nigeria with references to degradation in other parts of the world like U.S.A, Australia etc. Global efforts, inability and how industrialized countries constitute environmental degradation culprits was also discussed.
There is no gainsaying, the fact that the dimension and the alarming rate of environmental degradation through oil blowouts or spillages and gas flaring leakages in Niger Delta region of Nigeria in recent times require environmental law that is workable and enforceable in order for the menace to be curtailed in Niger Delta region and the whole Nigeria at large. Lamentably, the National Assembly has shown lack of commitment and interest in protecting, preserving and conserving the blessed environment of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria through the instrumentality of a workable and enforceable environmental law.
Looking at the provisions of the NESREA Act in Section 8(g), (k), (n), (s) which clearly ousts the Agency from environmental degradation arising from oil spillages or blowout and gas flaring or leakages which has been the thrust of this thesis, shows that the Northerners who make up the majority of the National Assembly, passed this Act mainly because the Northerners do not suffer from environmental degradation as a result of oil blowout /spillages and gas flaring/leakages, due to negative politicking. I want to use this medium to remind persons in authority (like the Northern National Assembly members) of what Shridak Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary General, calls “otherness”. This concept is the attitude of persons who enjoy temporary advantage to perceive someone else as the other. The lessons of history are clear that each and every member of the society is in time a victim of the harsh mistreatment he metes out to others. Akin to the above, there is a story of Pastor Niemoeller who lived in Nazi Germany. He failed to speak out when the SS (Hitler’s elite guard) went for the Jews, the Communists, the trade Unionists and finally the Ernster Bibel for Chers (Earnest Bible Students as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known in Germany) because he was not one of them. Then, ultimately, the SS went for him; and there was no one left to speak for him.
What is the lesson here? Most of the oppressive and repressive rules made against certain group, body or region in a country (like Niger Delta) are fashioned by persons in authority (Northern National Assembly members) but no sooner do they make the rules than they become victims. Who says that oil cannot be found in the Northern part of Nigeria? If oil and gas can be found in the desert of Saudi Arabia, oil and gas can be found in Northern Nigeria with better and powerful technology. Thus, the National Assembly should stop all forms of negative politicking in the act of law making, for it does more harm than good, and nobody can tell where the next oil and gas will be struck.
Essentially, oil blowout/spillages and gas flaring/leakages are deleterious to the flora and fauna, including the environment at large. Thus, tackling the menace requires not just making laws on the part of the government, rather government should ensure that environmental laws made are enforceable, implementable and workable. For instance the Nigeria primary environmental law, the NESREA Act should be reviewed and the ousting provisions (Section 8 (g, k, n, s) which ousts the Agency from environmental degradation arising from oil and gas section should be repeated for the Act to be of relevance for the sustainable environmental development in resource exploitation and management.
Every environmental legislation in Nigeria and elsewhere aimed at sustainable environmental development in resource exploitation and management must capture the problems of multi-national oil companies, industry, mining, forestry, urban and rural dwellers, inland waters, marine resource, flora and fauna, air and atmospheric issues, soil and sub-soil etc in a holistic manner for the achievement of maximum potentials for all. Thus for this purposes environmental law should adopt a pattern, which ensures that a domino effect is achieved in various areas of environmental control and regulations.
Environmental degradation through oil blowout/spillage and gas flaring/leakages should be made a strict liability offence in Nigeria and the Chapter II of the Constitution should be made enforceable by repealing the section that made it unenforceable.
Fighting environmental degradation resulting from oil spillage/blowout and gas flaring/leakages requires a holistic approach; heavier punishments and enlightenment, issuing of draconian directives may therefore not be meaningful without addressing the causes for the continued rise in environmental degradation resulting from oil spillage/blowout and gas flaring/leakages – both historical and current. For example, can it be divorced from the widespread corruption in society? Or the harsh economic climate in Niger Delta and the whole Nigeria at large? Or high unemployment? Collin Powell aptly summarized this point thus:
Nigeria is a nation of (120) million people with enormous wealth. And what they could have done with the wealth over the last twenty years – they just pissed it away. They just tend not to be honest. Nigerians as a group, thankly, are Marvelous scammers. I mean it is in the national culture.
Nigerian leaders or Government in various levels compromise in the business of protecting, preserving and conserving the God given environment because of the money derivable from the sector. Similarly, disregard for the rule of law, lack of transparency and accountability in government certainly does not help matters.
The Nigerian constitution provides for rights from what environmental rights can be construed if the courts adopt an expanded and liberal interpretation of the provisions. The Nigerian constitution provides for a right to life. The right to life, which is guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, cannot be fully secured if that life is exposed to environmental hazards and pollution resulting from the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas or better put as a result of oil spillages/blowout and gas flaring/leakages. Thus there exists a close link and interrelationship between the right to life and a clean environment.
It can therefore be gleaned that the right to a clean environment can be construed from the provisions of the right to life guaranteed in the Nigerian constitution. The Nigerian courts can borrow a leaf from the imaginative interpretation given to the right to life by the Indian Courts. In the case of Francis Coralie v. Union Territory of Delhi, the Supreme Court of India observed as follows:
The fundamental right to life which is the most precious human right and which forms the arc of all other rights must, therefore, be interpreted in a broad and expansive spirit so as to invest it with significance and vitality which may endure for years to come and the dignity of individual and the worth of the human person. We think that the right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter. It was also captured by the same court, in the same spirit in Shanti Star Builders v. Nafyan Whimalal Totame & ors that:
Basic needs of man have traditionally been accepted to be…. Food, clothing and shelter. The right to life… would take within its sweep the right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment and a reasonable accommodation to live in… for a human being (the right to shelter) has to be a suitable accommodation which would allow him to grow in every aspect – physical mental and intellectual.
Thus by so doing our environmentally buried hope and opportunities in Niger Delta will be resurrected.
The Nigerian Government in collaboration with the multinational oil companies should expedite action in the development of Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Finally, Nigeria must through its environmental authorities or agencies continuously seek ways and means of developing bilateral and multi-lateral co-operation with other nations with a view to updating its implementation strategies for the use of the law in facilitating development in environmental policies. The countries of both North and South need to co-operate in order to ensure the continued existence of this planet .
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