By Gabriel Ewepu and Funmi Olasupo
With the coming on board of the Minister of Environment, Mrs. Laurentia Mallam, and her familiarisation tour of parastatals and agencies under the Ministry, expectations are high that the new Minister will take concrete steps to address the daunting challenges facing the Ministry and the Nigerian Environment.
Critical issues requiring urgent ministerial attention range from corruption in the system to lack of office accommodation, poorly motivated workforce and dilapidated office furniture whose life span have long expired and are now an eye-sore all over the Ministry.
The most fundamental challenges in the sector have to do with the huge debts of over N10 billion hanging on the neck of the Ministry, the oil spillage in the Niger Delta and particularly in Bonga, which has affected shoreline communities in Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, and among others, the massive erosion threatening the entire South East and the lead poisoning in Zamfara State, yet to be comprehensively tackled.
Other problems have to do with drought and desertification threatening some parts of Northern Nigeria, poor implementation of the Great Green Wall project and challenges facing the National Parks.
Of equal importance is the issue of flooding in parts of the country occasioned by the consequences of climate change as well as issues of pollution control and waste management, environmental health. Gas flaring must be stopped at all cost, with no shift in date.
At the centre of all of these challenges is poor funding of the sector and low internally generated revenue.
It is worthy to note that the Minister has already acknowledged the fact that paucity of funds had hampered the performance of the Ministry. Recently, she lamented that the Ministry was only allocated N7 billion for the entire budgetary allocation for 2014.
It is imperative to state that without delay, the Minister should come up with the 2015 budget for the ministry in order to make adequate provision of funds for capital and key projects in the sector.
The Great Green Wall project should be a major focus and as one of the priority project, which the Minister is expected to convince the Federal government to adequately meet up with its counterpart funding. This is in addition to other key projects that are presently lying fallow.
Another option is for the Minister to utilise the area of supplementary budget to fund major projects that have direct bearing with the lives of Nigerians as far the environment is concerned.
Still on the Great Green Wall project, it is worrisome seeing plants cultivated to arrest desertification left unattended to. These plants eventually wither away as a result of lack of proper maintenance arrangement put in place with the contractors to nurture them to a level of maturity and handing over the ministry.
It is also important for the Minister to embark on adequate sensitisation programme for host communities who should also be involved in tree planting by providing enough tree seedlings to support the government’s drive to ameliorate their plight. They should understand that as host communities, they own the Great Green Wall Project.
Now that the rainy season has come, the Minister should make deliberate effort to identify with communities ravaged by desert encroachment by planting trees to keep the Great Green Wall project alive and make them have a sense of belonging. She should endeavour to plant at least 1, 000km out of the estimated 1,500km to be covered by the project. And it will be a major feat achieved by the minister.
Taking ownership is the best way to guarantee rapid planting, and maintenance of the expected forests that will spring out of the project. Other less endowed countries such as Mauritania and Mali have succeeded in this project. Why can’t the giant of Africa, Nigeria, achieve it?
Another area of grave concern which no Minister of Environment has ever confronted head-long is the issue of gas flaring. The starting point for her is to visit the Niger Delta region, and specifically oil installations and production facilities to see the degree of gas being flared since oil was discovered in 1956 into the atmosphere.
This will enable her understand fully the environmental consequences of these dangerous and deadly activities carried out by oil companies. But the huge challenge to the Minister will be the influence and courage to be mustered to stop the untamed evil by powerful oil multinationals, or will she chicken out as her predecessors?