Creating the right balance between development and environmental protection has assumed the front burner in various discussions at different levels including international, regional and national. The failure to create the right balance often results in environmental pollution and, accidents, some of which comes with a tremendous financial loss for society. For example, billions of dollars was spent cleaning the footprints of the Deepwater Horizon incident of 2010. Nigeria, as a country has experienced several environmentally related accidents in the marine environment. The latest accident which has garnered attention is the littering of thousands of dead fishes deposited by tidal waves on the coastline of some of the riverine areas of Niger Delta, Nigeria. The Association of Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria (AELN) has been at the forefront of several interactions with stakeholders to arrest the situation and, forestall future occurrences. We have the privilege of speaking to AELN, represented by the President and, Founder, who is a renowned Associate Professor of Law, River State University, Dr. Samuel Chisa.
SDL- We know that the Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria (AELN) have been interacting with stakeholders concerning the incident of tons of dead fishes found in the coastline of some parts of Niger Delta, Nigeria. On that basis, can you tell us the exact cause of the latter mentioned incident?
Ass Prof Samuel Chisa Dike-Thank you for your concern about recent developments in parts of the Niger delta. The AELN is still investigating the real cause of the contaminated fish in the coastal states of the Niger Delta which cuts across Delta, Bayelsa Rivers and Akwa Ibom States not only in Bonny Kingdom. We are in touch with Bonny Environment Consultants Committee and Centre for Environment and Development in Bayelsa state. We also had a meeting with the Commissioner for Environment in Rivers State. As we speak, samples of the contaminate fish are being tested in various laboratories in Rivers state and the outcome are being awaited. We are aware that NOSDRA has been alerted of this development. There are however speculations of possible causes in Bonny and Furtado’s areas of Delta State but we shall not dwell on speculation until considered findings are made.
SDL- What are some of the fears expressed by the ELN on the possible effect of the consumption of such dead fishes?
Ass Prof Samuel Chisa Dike- As you already know from basic science that contamination of marine lives must be due to foreign object on the sea. This object, we surmise must be injurious harmful, and or hazardous to be able to kill the fish in their numbers and scale with which the impact had been noticed. Already, there are evidence that large containment of fish had been consumed at different locations and even sold indifferent States since February or so the incident was noticed. The fish could have been sold to far way Lagos or Abuja; that is why injury to one should be considered injury to all. The health impact is quite obvious because it will be injurious to the health of the Niger delta people and indeed any Nigerians who may consume the fish. The economic impact is enormous because most of these people depend on fishing for their daily subsistence. As sensitization is no on going for cessation of consumption of the fish popularly known as s Crooker ( Ona or broke marriage ) , they would surely lose their occupation and source of living .That is why some palliatives similar to the COVID 19 should be immediately arranged as alternative to the continuing consumption and sale of the contaminated fish
SDL-Can it be said that the said incident is attributable to possible lapses in the legal framework for environmental protection in Nigeria.
Ass. Prof Samuel Chisa Dike- Yes, I quite agree with you that the ineffective environmental laws and poor regulatory functions contribute to environmental degradation. There are institutions that have oversight functions to monitor and prevent the dumping of hazardous wastes in our seas and creeks in Nigeria. These institutions have not lived up to their regulatory functions. There are also existing regulation providing for the minimum effluent waste to be discharged into the sea and hazardous substances from industries and facilities generating waste in Nigeria. This agency has equally failed. There is also the Ministry of Environment, and Petroleum that have oversight function over some of these regulatory bodies and companies within their ministries; they have equally failed. These is a National legislature that should make new laws to prevent the pollution of our seas and creeks if the extant laws are not efficacious. where are the law makers? . There is a government that swore to protect and uphold the constitutional and environmental rights of Nigerians as vide Chapters 2 and 4 of the 1999 constitutions (as altered,) .what do you make of the government ? Perhaps, the Niger delta people are not part of Nigeria. There is also an international community that would urge on their subsidiary corporations to maintain and respect local and national laws the same way with their parent companies overseas. Is this role ably performed? The answer to these questions is unequally NO .
SDL- What measures can be adopted to forestall the pollution of water resources in Nigeria?
Ass Prof Samuel Chisa Dike- First, the existing laws should be enforced by independent regulators not government nominees or appointees, with adequate punishment for defaulters which will include withdrawal of operating license. Second, new laws to deal with emerging environmental concerns should be enacted by the Legislatures .Thirdly, the issue of environment is everyone else duty. Thus, sensitization and monitoring of our water ways by dedicated officers of the coast guard be empanelled to forestall damage to our creeks and sea. Fourthly, where government fails, NGO should sit up to complement the role of government agencies. AELN came up timely at period such as this. We shall do our best to change the environmental narrative of Nigeria with the support of Government IOCs, and all stakeholders that appreciate nature and ambient environment.
For more information about AELN, contact:
Associate Prof. Samuel Chisa Dike, President of the Association of Environmental Lawyers of Nigeria (AELN’)
Associate Professor of Energy Law and Head of Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, Faculty of Law, River State University. Email. firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel +2348143310952