In Time Magazine’s “Urban Wastelands: The World’s 10 Most Polluted Places”, of November 4, 2013, Bryan Walsh featured Nigeria as one of the top 10 most polluted places in the www. That is not in the world-wide-web but in the whole-wide-world. There is very little to contest as far as the environmental pollution which the article pointed out is concerned. It chronicles the environmental plague which the otherwise wealth of oil has become, particularly in the Niger-Delta. According to Walsh, the spills of about 240,000 barrels a year continually “contaminate water, air and land with carcinogens like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. A 2013 article estimates that widespread pollution from the spills could have an impact on crops and lead to a 24% increase in childhood malnutrition.” This is not to mention the other risks like infertility and cancer which can arise from crude oil contamination. It is indeed a sad chronicle. Yet it is one that is true, and needs to be confronted at its face value for what it is.
Now the focus of that Time article (at least in the case of Nigeria as an example of a world-ranking polluted place) was on pollution arising from the production of crude oil. Till date, Nigerian being the world 8th-producer of oil worldwide(even though with no meaningful consequence on the livelihood of citizens, the greatest irony of all times you may call it), is regarded as the 2nd biggest gas-flaring country after Russia. The Climate Law organization in Nigeria in fact claims the country is the worst culprit of gas-flaring on the globe. As far back as August 4, 2011, a United Nation Environmental Programme (UNEP) report had as a matter of fact declared Nigerian environmental pollution to be “the world’s most wide-ranging and long term oil clean-up exercise” that could ever be undertaken. It can only be left to imagination the extent of such pollution.
In a consideration of the consequences of this kind of environmental tragedy, emphasis is often on the immediate problems like the destruction of the main source of the economy of the people of the area (fishing), poisoning of the ecology, and colossal loss to the economy. What is sometimes left unconsidered is the future and more important consequences: a pre-disposition of the indigenes to a life of diseases and medical conditions in years to come. No matter how the issue is considered, the enormous nature of the tragedy is evident.
When such an environmental tragedy is considered, the question that continually ricochets at the back of my mind is: “why does this have to be so? And who is accountable for this irresponsibility?” There is no way we can hide from the obvious answer: the government of the people cannot be excused in the exploitation of the natural resources of a nation in such a way that it poses environmental hazards to such a nation. And in this wise, the Nigerian government has been so lacking in hearing the supplications of the indigenes of the Niger-Delta where the drama of the majority of these tragic pollution is playing out. We remember that it is in denouncement of such an unforgivable neglect that Ken Saro Wiwa and 8 other persons cried out to the world in agony for their native land been systematically killed in the guise of utilization of “national resources”. Unfortunately their voices were silenced, having been slammed with the ridiculous allegation of disruption of government and encouragement of fatal violence and killed for same allegations. That was in November 1995, exactly 18 years ago this month. But the situation of environmental pollution in Nigeria has not changed much. It is therefore no wonder that Time Magazine could name Nigeria as one of the 10 most polluted places in November 2013.
Again this brings us back to the question “who is responsible for all these?” We have already shown in what way the government is complicit, not listening to its people and not protecting them as needed from an inhuman exploitation of natural resources. But that is just half of the story. It is like the same half of the story that is usually told when the accounts of human depravity, like in slave trade for instance, are given. The village chiefs and leaders of the people are often blamed for having traded their own progenies for ridiculous items like gun-powder and mirrors. Decadent and morally degrading as such leaders were, the actions of the slave-buyers is equally as degrading and decadent. In the reconstruction of history, the magnitude of the moral decadence of these slave-buyers is often downplayed. The author here contests that it is the same unequal apportioning of blame that we have going on in the issue of environmental pollution.
It is obvious that the Nigerian government could not possibly be absolved from the guilt of not protecting her citizens and their well being, and that such monumental destruction of the habitat and of ecology is irresponsible of any government that is worthy of the name. But neither can the international community which often cries “foul” in all available media including the Time be absolved from this environmental tragedy. After all as much as 80% of Nigeria’s crude oil is processed and managed by multinational companies with international origins and interest. Till date the federal Government of Nigeria is still struggling to commit these multinational companies to end gas-flaring, the single most potent source of environmental pollution. Since 1979 the Nigerian government has successively set the deadline for gas flaring. But principally due to the unwillingness of multinational companies who would have to commit a lot of resources to make such a deadline come into fruition, and also due to the hazy, uncommitted efforts of successive and invariably corrupt Nigerian governments, such deadline has not come into realization.
The point remains that the two-level blame found in such a despicable practice like slave-trade for instance, still plays itself out in situations of environmental pollution of today. The people’s leaders display a gross irresponsibility in tackling a most important issue, and the international community while crying “foul” actively promotes such irresponsibility.
There has been much noise about the green-house emission for many years. If gas-flaring and other environmental pollution cannot be stopped by the multinationals, when would the deadly emission ever stop? We could lay the blames on the poor institutions in third-world countries, and on the denigrate third-world leaders. But would those of us in “advanced countries” and our hi-tech governments not be deceiving ourselves pointing the accusing finger while four point right back at us? As it is with the issue of poverty, bad governance, and even terrorism, so it is with environmental pollution issues. There is a heavy responsibility of reciprocity in the hands of the developed world. If the successive leaders in Nigeria are said not to have lived up to expectations in combating these germane issues, what do we say of the international democracies which lend support to such irresponsibility by the very participation of their multinational companies with international interests?
There is still very much to be done above the finger pointing. For now it appears the environmental pollution in Nigeria is only fatal for the Niger-Delta and her community. But as experience has proved in other social menace of our world, it is only a matter of time before the world realizes its culpability in form of a spread of negative ecological consequences. It is about time for the international community to strengthen the wee, unfocused attempts of such governments as Nigeria’s in the stopping of gas-flaring and environmental pollution. In the last analysis, the truth remains that governments of developing countries are not the only culprits of such pollution-shame. A big share of the burden of guilt equally weighs on multinational companies of international interest.
However, that having been said, the question comes back to Nigeria and her leaders: will this selling of the people for pittance and the infestation of the future of the young ones with disease-laden environment now be tackled immediately? That question can only have one meaningful answer: an urgent Yes backed with actions. Otherwise no other nation would have successfully planned an indescribably sad future for her progeny than Nigeria.