The Buhari Years: What We Ordered vs What We Got – civil society leaders reflect on the Buhari administration and its achievements, shortcomings, and regressive steps.
This article focuses on the environment.
The outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s environmental protection footprints in the past eight years can be evaluated under two subheadings thus:
Policies and legislations
Within the past eight years of the President Buhari administration, I can say some milestones were achieved in the area of legislations and policies for the protection of the Nigerian environment.
The above assertion is premised on some of the practical steps taken by the outgoing administration from the beginning of their tenure.
In September 2016, President Buhari, before addressing the opening of the meeting on Taking Climate Action for Sustainable Development in New York, co-hosted by Nigeria and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as one of the side events of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly, signed the Paris Agreement, where he committed Nigeria to reducing “greenhouse gas emissions unconditionally by 20 percent and conditionally by 45 percent in line with Nigeria’s Nationally Determined Contributions.” And in November 2016, while addressing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-22) in Marrakech, Morocco, he reiterated the pledge that Nigeria would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by the year 2030.
In 2017, the federal government adopted the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan 2017-2020, which, among other things, stated the position of the government on how to raise resources from the otherwise wasted associated gas through flaring by petroleum industry players. This will further reduce the hazardous impacts of gas flaring and increase the revenue base for the nation.
In 2018, the government enacted the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Policy 2018. The policy is clear that gas flaring is prohibited.
In 2021, Mr President signed into law the Nigerian Climate Change Act 2021, which provides the strategic focus of Nigeria in combating climate change and the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, whose long and unenviable history is in the public domain.
Despite there being issues of concern with the Climate Change Act and the PIA, as an environmentalist, I will not be afraid to say that the passage of these laws with environmental protection provisions were positive acts by Mr President in the area of environmental protection and preservation within the years under review.
The enactment of the above showed the seriousness of the outgoing administration in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change which is one of the key drivers of environmental degradation and havoc in Nigeria.
The above, especially the Flare Gas (Prevention of Waste and Pollution) Policy 2018, which clearly states that gas flaring is prohibited, and the Nigerian Climate Change Act 2021, which provides the strategic focus of Nigeria in combating climate change, are in line with the judgment in the case of Jonah Gbemre V. Shell & Others – a case we supported and are still supporting at the Appeal Court.
Practical protection of the Nigerian environment
Whereas we can say that the outgoing administration fared well in environmental protection policies and legislations, I dare say that cannot be said of the practical protection of the Nigerian environment. The critical failure areas include:
Implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA): In almost all the rehabilitation and construction of roads and railways by the outgoing administration, there were no consultations with the local residents through whose communities these will pass through let alone presentation of EIA Reports for their scrutiny and either adoption or objection in line with the EIA Act requirements.
New oil finds in the era of divestment from fossil fuel extraction: It is disheartening that in this era when the rest of the world is looking towards alternative, cleaner energy sources, the outgoing administration supported through legislation the search for new fossil fuels/dirty energy and celebrated the new discoveries in the northern Nigeria without a clear cut mechanism of combating the negative environmental impact associated with it.
Environmental disaster management and handling profile: As is already known, the outgoing government at all levels showed lack of capacity to handle environmental disasters that have occurred within the period of their stewardship. From the flood disasters to the gas explosions, oil spills and pipeline explosions to ship wrecks and explosions, it was almost the same story of both lack of capacity to either contain or mitigate them.
Handling of military waste and environmental destruction in the North-East and other theatres of military activities: The Nigerian military under the environmental lens did not do well under this administration. From the harvesting of existing timber and other forest woods, dropping of military wares with associated chemicals in the name of identifying and flushing out marauding “insurgents” in the North-East to the “Show of Force” operations under various names in the south-east and south-west to the burning of vessels and “illegal oil refinery camps” in the South-South geopolitical zones, it is clearly evident that the Nigerian environment was a major victim of Nigerian military operations under the outgoing administration.
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Clean up of Ogoniland and the Niger Delta: (i) The outgoing administration showed energy towards the clean up of Ogoniland when that was flagged off in 2016 by the Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osibanjo. However, looking back almost seven years down the line, not so much has been achieved especially in terms of visibly reclaimed, remediated, recovered and restored portions of the polluted sites.
Despite the very slow pace of the clean up exercise, at least there was a departure from the past where nothing was done at all for some years, even after the release of the UNEP Report on the environmental situation of Ogoniland with recommendations spanning both short, middle and long term remedial and restoration actions.
(ii) No mention was made by the outgoing administration on the call for a comprehensive environmental audit of the Niger Delta to determine first the level of pollution within the region and propose mechanisms and processes for the recovery and restoration of the environment, citizens’ livelihoods and health. The call for the establishment of environmental restoration bonds by both divesting and new investing companies in the Nigerian Petroleum Sector was not given the due attention it deserved as one of the steps towards protecting the Nigerian environment from any petroleum operational disasters.
Flowing from the above, it is evidently manifest that it was not all celebrations in the Nigerian environmental protection milieu by the outgoing administration’s policies and practices, and we therefore call on the incoming administration to look at the lacunas and fill them up.
•Williams is the executive director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria & 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize (Nobel Green Prize) Winner for Africa.