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Environmental laws can be game-changer in herders-farmers conflicts

Published by The Nation on Tue, 04 May 2021


Prof Margaret Okorodudu-Fubara, internationally renowned Professor of Environmental law and Policy, retired from the services of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife few weeks ago. In this interview She shares her views on the development of Environmental law in the country, climate change and sundry national issues. Legal Editor, JOHN AUSTIN UNACHUKWU met herWhat prompted your interest in Environmental Law in Nigeria'Environmental law is a relatively new field or subject of law compared to the Law of Contract, Law of Torts, Land Law, Criminal Law, Law of Evidence, Constitutional Law, Labour Law, Family Law, etc.The novelty is not peculiar to Nigeria but cuts across the globe. As a matter of fact, when I was studying for my LL.M/Doctorate degrees in Harvard Law School, USA in the late 1970s, Environmental Law was an emerging field of law in the law school curriculum. The United Statesholds the distinct record as the pioneer of the first substantive environmental statute in the world. The National Environmental Policy Act (USA), 1969, NEPA which was signed into law in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, requires all federal agencies in the United States to go through a formal process before taking any action anticipated to have substantial impact on the environment.So, how did thepolicy get to Nigeria'Here in Nigeria, the watershed, origins or the birth of Environmental Law is tied to the countrys infamous Koko Toxic Waste Dump experience in 1987. Before that date environmental law as a distinct course did not feature in any law faculty curriculum. When the incident occurred, the Koko toxic waste dump was widely condemned as an unconscionable crime against the country with serious implications for the health of the people. Nigerian students in Italy at the time deserve all the commendation for alerting the Nigerian government and the press to this surreptitious toxic waste deal between the private Italian companies and their nave Nigerian business partners.What and how did it happen'Before the shiploads of barrels of toxic waste took off from the Italian port, the Nigerian students had alerted strategic segments of the country, including the newspaper houses. When the toxic wastes eventually arrived at Koko Port, these patriotic Nigerian students in Europe didnt stop at that. Despite the alarm they raised, they doggedly insisted on crying foul and making sure that the Nigerian press did not blink and allow it to be swept under the carpet. The government was kept actively engaged on the matter in order to avert adverse consequences to the detriment of human life.What wasthe Nigerian governments role in the Koko waste saga'The government was awakened to its primary constitutional duty for preservation of life and security of the country and people. So, the question was: what can we do to these people who transported these toxic wastes to our country' Unfortunately for us, there was no existing law in the country under which the Italians and their Nigerian partners could be tried for any crime relating to importation of toxic and hazardous wastes. That is the Rule of Law, no person can be tried for a crime which was not inexistence or prescribed as such crime at the time of commission of the alleged crime under a valid extant statute or law. Nigeria resorted to international law and extant treaties both global and bilateral and we got the Government of Italy to take responsibility for the toxic wastes exported from Italy; scoop up and shipback to Italy several drums of toxic wastes and contaminated soil from the Koko Port, in the then Bendel State.What was the effect of this experience on Nigeria'It became imperative for the government to promulgate appropriate laws and policies for the protection of the environment in Nigeria. Support for this national commitment was received from international organisations and friendly western countries, notably Germany, United States, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.Was this what prompted your foray into Environmental Law'My foray into Environmental Law started in 1988 when I was consulted to write a paper (co-authored with Professor Antony Imevbore, Director, Institute of Ecology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife) titled: Review of Existing Laws and Statements on the Environment in Nigeria, to be presented at the International Workshop on Goals and Guidelines of National Environmental Policy for Nigeria organised by the Environmental Planning and Protection Division, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in conjunction withthe United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP) at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja Lagos in September 1988. At the time that I was commissioned to write this paper, I was the Acting Head, Department of Jurisprudence and Private Law. Basically, what I did was that I scanned through all the laws of the federation in my departmental office searching for laws that had relevance or tangentially related to the integrity of the environment mediathe air, land and water. The aim was to search for laws with bearing on environment protection that can serve as the basis for the prosecution of those that brought the toxic wastes into the country. Of course we had several sanitation/hygiene type laws in the statutes. But all these fell short of a comprehensive and substantive environmental law that fits into the modern post Industrial Revolution construct, for the preservation of wholesome environment and conservation of natural resources.What was the fallout of this'The fallout of the 1988 International Workshop on Goals and Guidelines of the National Policy for Nigeria where I presented the almost 100 pages paper Review of Existing Laws and Statements on the Environment in Nigeria was my determination to develop the paper into a book on Environmental Law, first of its kind in Nigeria, that would help to promote the emergence and inclusion of Environmental Law as a course of study on the curriculum in law faculties in Nigeria. By the special grace of God, I got unprecedented support for this book project. I won the Fulbright (Senior) Scholar Award, 1990/91 and the Robert S. McNamara (World Bank) Fellow, 1990/91, and I was reliably told by the Focal Person at the USIS while congratulating me on the double awards that that was the first time a Nigerian University Scholar would clinch both highly prestigious awards in the same year. With this I was able to go on sabbatical leave from the university in order to carry out further research and start writing the Environmental Law text book in the United States.ow has the field evolved since your involvement'To the glory of God, I would say exponentially. Nigeria today easily boasts of a vast array of environmental legal experts and practitioners. I was really impressed to observe that not less than 75 per cent of the newly constituted Nigeria Law Professors Forum indicated Environmental Law as their field of expertise. There is rising interest in Environmental Law as a subject and field of research by law students and scholars as well as other fields of study, especially post-graduate students from department of ecology who subscribe for Environmental Law as an elective course.What do you consider to be the impact of your book on Environmental Law in the development of the subject matter in the country'The publication of my book, Law of Environmental Protection: Materials and Text the first in Nigeria was sponsored by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Nigeria. As I stated earlier, the proposals I submitted on the basis of my proposed book project won the two most coveted Scholarly Award. The book was very useful in the training of the first crop of Environmental Law students. Over the years, the book has been used in tutoring many students who are now very sound experts in Environmental Law. It was also used as a resource material in training new set of law makers at the inception of the Fourth Republic in the country. So, the book was written in a very easy to read and comprehend style. It has helped to build up lawyers and non-lawyers quite knowledgeable in Environmental Law. And today many of them are taking the subject to the next level. I am most appreciative of the role SPDC played in getting the book published without expressing any bias, not minding the fact that I unequivocally called out the company in aspects where I found the company falling short of national or global environment protection best practices.How do we develop Environmental Law to tackle climate change, without stifling the poorer global souths development'Climate change is a major global issue. So lets consider it from the sense that Environmental Law is a facilitator of the development. To put this into proper perspectives, lets revert to the incidence of impacts of oil drilling, gas flaring and climate change in the Niger Delta region of the country. For now Nigeria is reluctant to heed the demand of environmental activists to leave the crude oil in the soil.Why'Simple. Oil is the major foreign revenue earner for the country and the Niger Delta acknowledged layer of the golden egg of the country. Climate Change has implications for varied socio economic problems plaguing the region, primarily driven by crude oil drilling/production which exacerbate conditions of poverty, hunger, diseases, insecurity and other forms of ecological disasters in the region. In the process of crude oil production there is massive gas flaring with emission of carbon dioxide which is seriously implicated in global warming. Fortunately, the 2015 Paris Agreement has come up with what I would characterise as global standards to tackle climate change. However, although there are global best practices, there is no universal pace or modelfor this, each country has the mandate to define its own priorities for compliance with the Paris Agreement. Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to combat climate change, which are essentially non-binding national plans highlighting climate actions, targets, policies and measures government plan to implement in response to climate change and as contribution to achieve global efforts at curbing climate change.Was Nigeria part of this agreement'Nigeria has its NDC well-articulated and presented to the global body. The issue is how do we walk the talk to feel the positive impact of the NDC' Probably this is where to enlist the legal tool which Environmental Law affords. In my view we do this by creating a climate(using that word in the colloquial sense) in which the goals of sustainable development can be attained, and innovation and sustainable lifestyle can thrive, through enacting appropriate laws and setting in place apt policies to check the long-term impacts of climate change through mitigation and adaptation. Right now in Nigeria, there is low capacity for adaptation and inadequate adaptation strategies.Can Environmental Law help to lessen if not eradicate Nigeria farmers/herders crises'The answer is yes and no. The reason that I say yes is because there are extant environmental law/regulations relating to livestock grazing in Nigeria. But law as a tool of environmental control and management cannot exist in isolation. We have provisions in the National Environmental (Wetlands, River Banks and Lake Shores Protection) Regulations S.I. 26 of 2009 and the National Environmental (Protection of Watershed, Mountainous, Hilly and Catchment Areas) Regulations, S.I. 27 of 2009 which attempt to regulate open livestock grazing in environmentally sensitive areas. The local government is required to determine watering points and routes for animals to have access to water in each river or each lake. And every land owner or user of land in the vicinity of a river or lake is required by law, that is, duty bound to prevent the degrading and repair degraded river banks and lakeshores by several measures listed in the law, including the control of livestock grazing.What is the role of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) in this respect'NESREA (the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency) in collaboration with the state government, has the mandate under S.I. 27 of 2009 to restrict grazing in areas that are identified as threatened by environmental degradation. In collaboration with the state and local government the Agency may prescribe maximum number of animals allowed to graze on a particular area of land. Under this same S.I. 27 of 2009, a person who desires to graze livestock in the specified areas must submit an application endorsed by the Chairman of the Local Government Area to the Agency in the prescribed form under the Regulation. It is an offence under the law for any person to cause or permit his livestock to graze in contravention of this Regulation. Penalties including imprisonment and or fine are stipulated for violation of these environmental regulations. We all know that these are toothless laws and regulations, hallowed more in breach than compliance.Why do you say this'Herdsmen roam the length and breadth of the country to graze cattle completely mindless of extant environmental laws and regulations. Despite the seemingly good intentions of the draftsman, these laws as presently drafted are largely inadequate and do not fully address the sustainable development, environmental protection and socio-economic issues as major targets of the environmental laws and regulations. The fallout from this is the fact that regulatory impact is at variance with specified goals and long term objective. Some of the provisions are grossly people insensitive, causing non-compliance. There are no economic options for segments of the regulated community, as the Regulations are silent on economic and market incentives.How'For well over a decade the country has witnessed threat to security from the herdsmen farmers conflict. Indiscriminate grazing of cattle by the herders has been the main cause of the conflicts. Several attempts have been made to find a solution to the incessant conflicts and violence, including the unpopular and controversial RUGA (Rural Grazing Area) policy which was suspended. So, I believe the question is whether Environmental Law can lessen or eradicate Nigeria farmers/herders crises' Barring the political, ethnicity, tribal and national territorial integrity dimensions of this Fulani herdsmen/farmers crises, I believe appropriate environment laws and regulations combining measures required to make implementation, compliance with and enforcement of the laws more effective, will definitely be a game changer going forward to establish peaceful co-existence between the herders and farmers. Cattle grazing are an industry/business; therefore the law also should critically address the establishment of industrial grazing plots/acres as private enterprises. The regulated community should be given facilitative incentives and support for maximum compliance with the environmental laws and regulations. Nigeria can borrow a leaf from other parts of the world where there is civilised cattle rearing as private business/industrial enterprise.What is the solution in your view'Education can go a long way to help us overcome the herdsmen/farmers crisis. What we are witnessing with the Fulani herders/farmers crisis is a very serious civilization crisis in Nigeria today. Education can also be the panacea for this crisis. As I pointed out in my valedictory lecture, the educational value inherent in the Earth Charter (a unique declaration of fundamental ethical principles for building a just, sustainable and peaceful global society in the 21st Century, to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations) would highlight what we have in common.What do you mean by this'We must find what we have in common, what binds us together rather than highlighting our differences and what divides us as human beings, which if care is not taken and wisdom applied, will only tend to war or severe conflict. This makes it all the more imperative for us as a country to entrench education for sustainability into the national psyche. It is a sine qua non for peace and political stability and viability of our national development.Why did you remain in Nigerian academia, when many of your colleagues opted for teaching jobs abroad'The patriotic spirit in me made me to stay. Moreover, I believe that I am divinely located here in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I have enjoyed the entire period of my stay here in OAU. This place of my divine location has been a huge blessing to me. I got married and reared amazing Godly children in this place. I give all the glory to God Almighty. I had the opportunity to have carried out research and taught in law schools in the United States, during my Sabbatical years at the St. Marys Law School, Saint Marys University, San Antonio Texas 1990/91 and School of Law, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, USA, respectively. So, really I cannot pretend to have taught only in Nigeria. The experience of teaching both here and abroad has been quite fulfilling, I must confess. I had the best of both worlds with my colleagues in the legalacademia and the students, with pleasant memories that linger.How did you manage, combining marriage with your high flying academic career'It is purely the Lords doing, and it is marvellous to me personally. It is not by power or by might, but by His grace that I have successfully combined raising kids with a successful career. That ismy loaded response to that question.What advice do you have for the young brainy girls who want to be where you are in the next 50 years, amidst all the sexual harassments, sex for grade issues'I will say to the young brainy girls, have a very close relationship with God Almighty, your Maker. Make sure you do not breach the edge and remain divinely cocooned inside His envelope of Divine protection. Loving fear of God will keep the young brainy girls in the right path as theynavigate through the treacherous paths of university life, even when theyaremiles away from their doting parents/guardians. Temptations will surely come knocking, but with divine guidance they can solidly holdtheirown ground and able to overcome. They must remain focused on their studies; the primary goal for seeking university education; and the ultimate goal to make a huge success of their lives ambition such that their generation and future generations will notice their footprints on the sands of time.
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