Litigation is a legal tool that has been used globally as a means of environmental protection. The use of litigation has been instrumental in the protection and preservation of the environment in Nigeria.
The Nigerian legal system has provided an avenue for citizens to seek redress for environmental degradation, pollution, and other violations of environmental laws. In this essay we are going to buttress on the causes of environmental problems and ways of protecting such problems.
KEYWORDS: Litigation, Tool, Environmental, Protection, Nigeria.
Prior to June 1988, Nigeria responded to most environmental problems on an ad hoc basis. The discovery of toxic waste dumped in Koko, at remote part of southern Nigeria, in June 1988, and the attendant media and public outcry prompted the government to react swiftly.
Through diplomatic channels, the Nigerian government succeeded in getting the Italian government and the Italian company that was the culprit to lift the toxic waste out of the country.
The Nigerian government followed this action by organizing an international workshop on the environment. The result was the formulation of a national policy on the environment.
Consequently, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency 1988 (FEPA) was created and charged with the administration and enforcement of the environmental law.
In addition, the government enacted the Harmful Waste (Special Criminal Provisions) Act, 1988, to deal specifically with illegal dumping of harmful waste.
- Definition of Terms
1. Litigation Meaning and its Uses: Litigation, which refers to the process of resolving disputes through the legal system. Some of the main uses of litigation include:
a. Resolving disputes: Litigation is primarily used to resolve disputes between two or more parties. These disputes can arise in various contexts, such as civil disputes (e.g., breach of contract, personal injury claims), criminal cases, and family law matters.
b. Deterrence: Litigation can serve as a deterrent to prevent individuals and organizations from engaging in illegal or harmful behaviour. The prospect of facing legal action and the potential consequences can discourage people from engaging in wrongful conduct.
c. Public accountability: Litigation can also hold public entities accountable for their actions. For example, lawsuits against government agencies can force them to be more transparent and accountable to the public.
2. Environmental: Any factor relating to the physical environment, something pertaining to the environment.
3. Protection: is any measure taken to guard a thing against damage caused by outside forces. Protection can be provided to physical objects, including organisms, to systems, and to intangible things like civil and political rights
4. Environmental Protection: The process of keeping environment from degradation and exploitation. The process of keeping the land, water, air etc. from degradation and exploitation.
- Causes of Environmental Problem
There are several factors that contribute to environmental problems in Nigeria, including:
1. Oil and Gas Activities: Nigeria is a major oil producing country and the oil and gas industry is a significant contributor to environmental problems in the country. Oil spills and gas flaring have caused damage to land, water and air quality in many areas of the country.
2. Industrialization: Rapid industrialization has led to increased pollution levels in many cities in Nigeria. This has resulted in air and water pollution which can have negative impacts on human health.
3. Improper Waste Disposal: Improper waste disposal is a major environmental problem in Nigeria. Many people dispose of waste indiscriminately, leading to pollution of the environment.
- Need for Environmental Protection
There are many reasons why it is important to protect our environment, including:
1. Sustainability: Our environment provides us with the resources we need to sustain ourselves, including clean air, water, and food. If we do not protect the environment, we risk depleting these resources and undermining our ability to survive.
2. Biodiversity: The environment is home to a wide variety of species, including plants, animals, and microorganisms. Protecting the environment helps to preserve biodiversity, which is important for maintaining the balance of ecosystems and the survival of different species.
3. Climate change: Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing our planet today. Protecting the environment is crucial in mitigating the impact of climate change, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving natural carbon sinks like forests and oceans.
- Strategic Ways to Tackle Environmental Problems
There are several strategic ways to tackle environmental problems, including:
1. Education and Awareness: One of the most important strategies for tackling environmental problems is to educate and raise awareness about the issues. This can be done through campaigns, workshops, and other forms of communication.
2. Pollution Control: Pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems. Controlling pollution involves monitoring and reducing emissions, as well as managing waste effectively.
3. Policy and Regulation: Governments can play an important role in addressing environmental problems through policy and regulation. This can include setting standards and regulations for pollution control, as well as providing incentives for sustainable development.
- Litigation as a Tool for Protecting the Environment
Litigation has been an instrumental in holding companies and the government accountable for environmental violations. The use of litigation as a tool for environmental protection has been facilitated by the Nigerian Constitution, which guarantees the right to a clean and healthy environment.
The constitution also provides for the protection of the environment as a fundamental duty of the government and its citizens.
Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that, states shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air, forest and Wildlife of Nigeria.
The Federal Government has established and instituted other agencies through the National Assembly and the Federal Ministry of Environment like the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agencies NESREA to regulate the environment exploitation.
- The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency.
The National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) is an agency under the Federal Ministry of Environment in Nigeria.
It was instituted by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Act of 2006 with the core mandate to oversee the implementation of the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) which also incorporates the National Oil Spill Contingency System (NOSCS) for Nigeria.
This is to ensure compliance to Nigeria’s signatory to the International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC, 1990).
Therefore, the agency has focused on building conformance with environment legislation in the Nigerian petroleum sector from inception. By the virtue of section 19(2) of the NOSDRA Act 2006, NOSDRA is the lead agency for other oil spill contingency plans in Nigeria, including the ports and industries.
It fulfils its mandate through joint investigation visits, environmental remediation of impacted sites, monitoring oil spill drill exercises and facilitating inspections.
- The National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency
NESREA (National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency) is a Nigerian government agency that was established in 2007 to ensure compliance with environmental standards, regulations, and policies in Nigeria.
It is charged with the responsibility of enforcing environmental laws, regulations, and standards in order to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.
NESREA plays a key role in promoting environmental awareness and education in Nigeria.
The agency conducts public awareness campaigns and provides environmental education and training to various stakeholders, including government officials, businesses, and communities.
By raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices, NESREA helps to create a culture of environmental responsibility and stewardship in Nigeria.
On the one hand, the common feature of various statutes in Nigeria is that they are laced with penal provisions and hence they prohibit the doing of certain things that will cause environmental pollution.
The objective of this is to inflict some pain on polluters or cause them some monetary loss. Most pieces of legislation on environmental protection have provisions enabling the institution to initiate criminal prosecution for the breach of their laws or regulations.
For instance, section 1(2) (C) of NESREA Act, makes the agency capable of suing and being sued in its corporate name. Specifically, section 8 (f) of the Act empowers the agency to establish mobile courts in collaboration with the relevant agency.
The section provides thus:
‘subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and in collaboration with relevant judicial authorities establish mobile courts to expeditiously dispense cases of violation of environmental regulations.’
It is the duty of the judicial system to convict, while it is the power of the agency to carry out such prosecutions. Section 32 (3) of the Act gives the agency powers to carry out such prosecution subject to the provisions of Section 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
The civil litigations, on the other hand, are founded on tortious liabilities or the breach of a duty of care imposed by law dominant form of environmental litigations in Nigeria is on oil pollution by individual citizens against oil companies.
A regulatory institution may also institute civil actions with a view to obtaining order of courts for closing down premises of an area endangering the environment.
The NESREA Act in section 30 (1) (g) empowers the agency to ‘obtain an order of a court to suspend activities, seal and close down premises including land, vehicle, tent, vessel, floating craft or any inland water and other structure whatsoever.
One of the significant cases of the use of litigation for environmental protection in Nigeria is the case of Agbogugu v. Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria.
In this case, the plaintiffs, who were farmers and fishermen in the Niger-Delta region, sued Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria for oil spillage, which had caused significant damage to their farmlands and fishing grounds.
The plaintiffs argued that Shell’s activities had violated their right to a clean and healthy environment.
The case was heard by the Nigerian Federal High Court, which ruled in favour of the plaintiffs. The court held that Shell was liable for the oil spillage and ordered the company to pay compensation to the affected communities.
The ruling was a significant victory for environmental protection in Nigeria, as it sent a strong message to multinational corporations operating in the country that they would be held accountable for environmental violations.
Another significant case is the case of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) v. Federal Ministry of Environment. In this case, ERA/FoEN sued the Federal Ministry of Environment for failing to enforce environmental laws and regulations in the country.
The plaintiffs argued that the ministry’s failure had led to significant environmental degradation in the country, including air pollution, water pollution, and deforestation.
The case was heard by the Nigerian Federal High Court, which ruled in favour of the plaintiffs.
The court held that the Federal Ministry of Environment had a duty to enforce environmental laws and regulations in the country and ordered the ministry to take immediate steps to address the environmental challenges in the country.
The ruling was a significant victory for environmental protection in Nigeria, as it emphasized the importance of enforcing environmental laws and regulations in the country.
Also, in the case of Shell Nigeria v. Bodo Community. In 2008, a pipeline owned by Shell Nigeria ruptured, causing a massive oil spill that devastated the environment and local communities in the Bodo area of the Niger Delta.
The spill destroyed farmland, polluted rivers and creeks, and caused widespread damage to the ecosystem. The Bodo community filed a lawsuit against Shell Nigeria, seeking compensation for the damages caused by the spill.
After years of legal battles, in 2015, Shell agreed to pay $84 million in compensation to the Bodo community. The settlement was one of the largest ever paid by an oil company for environmental damage in Nigeria.
The case set an important precedent for holding oil companies accountable for environmental damage and compensating affected communities.
The use of litigation has been instrumental in promoting environmental protection in Nigeria.
It has provided an avenue for citizens and environmental groups to hold companies and the government accountable for environmental violations.
The use of litigation has also contributed to the development of environmental jurisprudence in the country, which has helped to shape environmental policies and regulations.
However, there are still challenges to the use of litigation as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria. One of the significant challenges is the high cost of litigation, which makes it difficult for citizens and environmental groups to access justice.
Another challenge is the slow pace of the Nigerian legal system, which can delay the resolution of environmental disputes.
The use of litigation as a tool for environmental protection in Nigeria has been instrumental in holding companies and the government accountable for environmental violations. It has contributed to the development of environmental jurisprudence in the country and has helped to shape environmental policies and regulations.
However, there are still challenges that need to be addressed to make litigation more effective in promoting environmental protection in Nigeria. The government needs to provide better access to justice for citizens and environmental groups, including reducing the cost of litigation.
The Nigerian legal system also needs to be reformed to ensure that environmental disputes are resolved in a timely and efficient manner. With these reforms, litigation can continue to be a crucial tool in protecting the environment in Nigeria.
About the Author
Asanawa Ghide Kalava, is a 200 level law student of Edo State University Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law. She has special interest in Contract law, Human Right Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), legal Writing.
She has a deep quest for knowledge which has propelled her into taking and participating in law related trainings and acquiring various certifications such as Project certificate of the learned minds virtual courses and mentorship 2022, certificate of completion and active participation in the LIFIN mentorship and internship program 2022, certificate of active participation in a virtual training on advocacy and peace building 2022, certificate of participation of the BABU writing Masterclass sessions on the methodology of legal research , article and project writing 2022, certificate of participation of the BABU virtual moot and mock masterclass training 2022, certificate of participation of the BABU webinar on the rudiment of the client briefing in legal practice, certificate of participation in the SLAN law virtual class 2022. She recently attended the just concluded Harlem Solicitors-5-days online webinar (telecommunication masterclass) 2023.