It is indeed exciting to be a part of this epochal reception. One reason is that it is not easy to move from the civil society space and perform creditably on the government side. Some even say that civil society campaigners are more effective as critics than as public service leaders. Our hope is that you will prove the sceptics wrong. And that you will epitomise what it means to lead with the people leading. The thoughts here expressed are directly mostly at the Minister for Environment, Amina J. Mohammed and the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, who you will permit me to address as Comrade Kayode Fayemi.
Bearing in mind that the environment is a living system and that environmental problems are interlinked; and keeping in mind that our peoples depend on the natural environment for economic and living activities, resolving our environmental challenges can indeed be a unifying pathway for Nigerians. The Niger Delta has been on the spot light as a region despoiled by petroleum extraction and soon the story may shift to mine pits across the nation as States scramble to generate revenue from a sector that allows decentralised investment in a way the petroleum sector does not permit.
We are children of the environment and that what we call natural resources are actually Nature’s gifts and elements that help her maintain and reproduce her natural cycles, the best approach to solving our environmental challenges must be narrowed down to what impacts most on the lives of our peoples.
ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION- the challenge of extractives
Environmental remediation/restoration and stoppage of polluting activities and processes. The determination of the President and the HM of Environment to make the clean up of Ogoniland in line with the UNEP report of 2011 is commendable and must be supported. It is essential that this be extended as a Pan Niger Delta recovery initiative including heavily polluted areas such as Ikarama, Forcados, Ibeno, Koluoma, Kalaba and Oruma to name a few. Environmental remediation must extend to challenged communities like that of Makoko, Lagos (Which the HM E has visited) and the communities depending on the Challawa River in Kano and the water ponds of Zamfara and the tin pits of Jos.
We are children of the environment and that what we call natural resources are actually Nature’s gifts and elements that help her maintain and reproduce her natural cycles,
Sanitation, including solid waste management and access to potable water. This requires deliberate campaign for change of mind-set to discourage careless handling and disposal of wastes. Efforts in this direction must be in cooperation with the Ministry of Water Resources with a view to halting the privatisation of water through purchase of public facilities as well as through the bottling of water and an enforced absence of public water supply.
Use of plastic bags should be outlawed as a means of curbing wastes, general pollution and clogging of our drains. Our people must return to the use of durable goods and accept to recycle, reuse, reduce and also refuse some items.
Gully, wind and coastal erosion are serious challenges in Nigeria. A comprehensive framework to tackle this menace needs to be developed. Again we note that solid mineral extraction will aggravate this problem. Where we once had gullies, we may now have craters.
GREAT GREEN BELT and DEFORESTATION
There is no reason for southern Niger Republic to be greener than Northern Nigeria. Annual tree planting rituals will ultimately remain television activities. Communities must own the agenda, with government supporting. Having farmer-farmer exchanges would help our farmers acquire knowledge from their counterparts in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali would help in learning techniques of restoring otherwise arid lands.
In the same vein is the crucial need to stop the assault on our forests, including the very poorly conceived plan to take a 6 lanes super highway through Ekuri Community Forest, one of the last pristine forests we have left in Nigeria. The thought of compulsorily acquiring 10 km on either side of the road in public interest is a euphemism for dispossessing the poor forest communities and to throw open a logging bazaar without regard to equity, justice or concerns for the looming climate change.
Nigeria has submitted her intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to emissions reduction as required by the UNFCCC. One task before you in this direction is to translate the intentions to action. And if we may suggest a starting point it would be to stop gas flaring.
STATE OF NIGERIAN ENVIRONMENT REPORT
Ultimately we require to have an Annual State of the Nigerian Environment Report that would both provide a baseline and a means of monitoring and evaluating our efforts in this sector. The only such report that we have was prepared in 2008 and published six or so years later. It was a good starting point that needs to be taken forward.
It is often said that there are sufficient laws in Nigeria but not enough will to enforce the laws. There are laws that require urgent review or repeal. One of such laws is the Biosafety Management Act of 2015 signed into law in the last week of the last presidency. The management of our Biosafety is not helped by the fact that the regulatory and research bodies are more concerned with promoting rather than regulating the introduction of agricultural modern biotechnology and do not appear to consider ethical, environmental, health and other issues.
We need a law that gives an agency like the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) teeth, including enforcing sufficiently high penalties to discourage environmental misbehaviour such as oil spills and gas flaring.
The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act does not cover the oil and gas sector. The presence of captains of the oil and gas sector on the board of NESREA is an anomaly and that space should be closed.
The Environmental Impact Act (EIA) must be given teeth so that compliance ceases to be a token requirement for project proponents. The EIA and environmental management plans for mining projects must consider the fact that every mine pit or oil well has a life span. This necessitates the preparation of exit or closure plans, including decommissioning at the end of the lifespan of such activities.
We are lending you to the governance machinery and expect that your civil society sensitivities will keep you open to engage continuously with the people whom you have been called upon to serve.
Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation @NnimmoB
**Presented at reception for Nigerian ministers with civil society background at Abuja on 22 February 2016
 See my blog on this at https://nnimmo.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/forests-on-rocky-soils/.