By Lyric BAMN, Abuja
A renowned environmentalist at the University of Abuja, Professor Bassey Etim Ubom has described the frightening earth tremors which shook the Federal Capital Territory, FCT,recently which compelled the government to suspend every form of stone blasting, sand mining and borehole drilling activities in the territory as timely warning about some of the natural disasters that await the country due to harmful human activities which contribute to environmental degradation.
In this exclusive interview,the environmentalist says unhealthy activities such as unregulated quarrying activities and uncontrolled drilling of boreholes in many Nigerian cities must stop.
The nation’s environment has experienced so much abuse and just recently we had disturbing earth tremor in some parts of Abuja. What do you think may have caused the problem?
The major problem is that the nation has refused to adequately recognise the importance of protecting the environment. When leaders deliberately ignore the signs and symptoms of decay and when people do things that are not wholesome or positive to the environment, there will certainly be negative reactions from the environment.
Avoidable things like flooding, soil erosion and earth tremors are the result of unhealthy activities of human beings who are over-exploiting the soil without regard to the consequences of their actions. When we block water tunnels and throw away refuse everywhere, what do we expect? People are simply ignorant or disobedient.
“Our value system is very poor and something drastic needs to be done and urgently too about the situation for the nation to survive”.
Car owners will eat things in their cars and throw out the rubbish including cans from the windows of moving vehicles. This is a very unhealthy practice. The activities of people who abuse our surroundings in Nigeria can affect people in other parts of the world because issues affecting the environment have made the entire world a global village.
The tremors that occurred are seismic problems which were the result of movement of under-ground soil or rocks as a result of too many blasting. Seismic problems occur when the balance of the soil is disturbed. We should all thank our stars that this part of the world does not experience earth quakes but this cannot be ruled out with the rate of unregulated activities by drilling companies.
It is disturbing that high level drilling and blasting of rocks by quarries and construction companies have been taking place for a long time within Abuja and around the surrounding villages yet, nobody cared to regulate the practices or caution the construction companies or even bothered to ascertain the calibre of dynamite used in these rock blasting activities. We do not even have environmental impact assessment policies in place or proper regulations to guide the drillers. The government should take responsibility for allowing people to violate the environment without proper checks.
There are also proliferations of boreholes on every street in Abuja because landlords, who can afford the minimum charges (N350,000), drill boreholes to start selling water without sanctions from the Federal Capital Territory Administration. Do you think that this can also contribute to earth tremors?
Every drilling activity has laws that must be obeyed and drilling for any purpose cannot just be allowed everywhere without dire consequences. It is now obvious from what happened that unrestrained drilling activities can transform into other serious environmental effects. Some of the drilling companies even drill boreholes and wells where there are refuse dumps or areas with high rate of human faeces with the result that the water from such dumps flow through underground currents or rain water movement into the boreholes and people consume them.
This is why many of the boreholes do not have purified water and these results to cholera and other water-borne diseases. The nation is currently not proactive about protecting the environment and our leaders only pay lip service to such things. For example, Lokoja, the Kogi State Capital experienced massive flooding some years ago and despite all the promises by government, nothing was done to prevent there-occurrence of the disaster. The meteorological agency warned that the same disaster might happen in Lokoja every year as a result of rising water levels.
Are you saying that the environmental regulatory agencies in states and the federal levels are not doing their work?
Many of the appointees in these agencies are square pegs in round holes and that is why we are experiencing persistent problems with the environment. Government has continuously sidelined people who are professionals and teachers in these areas who know what is wrong and how to correct the problems.
Another major fundamental issue is the absence of proper environmental education in the nation’s schools.Environmental education should be re-introduced in our schools starting from the nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary levels to enable the people understand that it is their duty to protect the environment. Sanitation and nature studies were in the old school curriculum but were removed for no just cause.
Our grandparents know how to conserve the environment better than the average Nigerian living today and that was why the villagers reserved some areas and called them “evil forests” where no farming or other soil related activities take place. The level of burning has also increased today with very negative effects.
There are so many cellophane and plastic bags around the environment. These materials which clog gutters and sewage canals are increasing every year and the society appears helpless about the situation. Is there anything that can be done to remedy the situation before it really gets worse?
Many of those cellophane bags around were used by some communities for what is called “short put” which means wrapping faeces in such items and throwing them into the bush or gutters.In environmental science, there is something we call the three “Rs” and this refers to reduce, reuse and recycling of wastes. We must redefine our environmental laws. If the government can declare war on environmental degradation by assuring the public that each fifty polythene or leather bags and plastic materials that are picked up will earn someone N100 or more, I can assure you that the environment will look better and neater. Today however, our water ways, farms, rivers and drainages are choking with plastic and cellophane materials that do not dissolve but pollute the environment. These materials are not bio-degradable and do not decay no matter how long they stay in an area.People should be engaged to protect our environments. The federal and state governments should return sanitation inspectors or environmental guards to towns and villages. Apart from returning these inspectors, there should be strict laws to prohibit indiscriminate dumping of refuse, throwing things out of cars, public defecation and engagement in activities that endanger the environment.
We need to rearrange and re-orientate our thinking processes in this country. Our value system is very poor and something drastic needs to be done and urgently too about the situation for the nation to survive. Even on the highways, there are many vehicles that smoke like locomotive engines and regulatory agencies do not care to call the owners of such automobiles that contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer to order. Chloroform-carbon emissions from such smoking engines contribute to depleting the ozone layer which prevents harsh sun rays from entering the earth atmosphere.
Is it not time for the nation to invest more in recycling plants for plastics, tyres and cellophane bags among others?
These products are a great business in Nigeria today. The average market woman has more than 200 cellophane bags in her house and at the stall. More are added everyday because people buy things and want them inside polythene bags. These bags can be reused instead of being discarded and new ones sought. Government should also start to create the environment whereby recycling plants can spring up for such things now that we are talking about creating employment and moving from waste to wealth.
Researchers at the University of Abuja designed and produced a nice incinerator that does not smoke. Industries can use the incinerator to recycle their waste material without damaging the environment. My final word is that the government and the people should put their heads together to fight the menace called environmental degradation to a standstill. Government should come up with well articulated policies for suitable implementation of ecological funds with proper monitoring processes. A proactive government will encourage people to look at issues through articulated, galvanized and metamorphosed ideologies that will take the nation to the next level of development.