Lagos, CSOs, others differ over new Environment Law

Barely three weeks that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode signed into law, the new Environment Bill put in place by the Lagos State House of Assembly, coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), friends of the environment and concerned public at large, have expressed their reservations to the law.

While government insisted that the law was put in place for the overall interest of the residents, CSOs perceived the law as nothing but “a clandestine manoeuvre to unleash extreme capitalism, business without morals, and politics without values on Lagos State. It is draconian, obnoxious and anti-people,” they argued.

In their recent parley with the media, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said signing the Bill into law by Governor Ambode without allowing time for public sitting is tantamount to “high demonstration of arrogance and insensitivity to public sensibilities.”

In his address, the Deputy Executive Director of the group, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said when it was reported that on February 20, 2017, the Bill had been passed by the law makers, both residents and civil society groups were shocked to hear the news.

“We received with shock that Lagos House of Assembly had passed the Bill it called ‘A Bill for a Law to Consolidate all Laws Relating to the Environment for the Management, Protection and Sustainable Development of the Environment in Lagos State and for Connected Purposes.’ Noting that the House members had cut short their six weeks-recess to attend to the Bill and after passing it, immediately announced they were going for another recess.

“Ordinarily, news that the new environmental guidelines have been set should elicit joy. But alas, it was discovered that the environment was not the main concern of this bill, but other ulterior considerations as the contents of the document revealed,” he said.

Besides, he noted that the new law was only subjected to a hurriedly-conducted Public Hearing by the House Committee on the Environment on February 9, 2017, which was at the time the group had raised an objection to the timing of the hearing, stating that there was no sufficient time to review a 190-page proposal.

However, Lagos has denied some of the allegations, especially, the levy on installation of bore-holes for domestic purposes.

In a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde, and made available last week, he said the new environmental protection and management law initiated by the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration was done in the overall interest of all Lagos residents to ensure cleaner environment and public health safety in the state.

The statement explained that the law was in tandem with the reforms in the environment sector, aimed at charting a new direction in recognition of the fact that water, sanitation and hygiene are non-negotiable requisites in a mega city like Lagos.

“With the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, the government reassures all and sundry of its determination to clean the environment in our state and we are already taking the necessary steps in that direction,” he said.

While stressing that government will not be frustrated in its determination to achieve a cleaner Lagos by “seeming vested interests working against the reforms,” Ayorinde gave assurance that all issues pertaining to the Cleaner Lagos Initiative are being addressed, especially in the crucial area of waste management.

“The government is aware of the complaints by well-meaning citizens over delays being experience in the area of waste collection. The Ministry of Environment, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and our ‘sanitation gangs’ are on top of the situation and will not give in to the sabotage by those who are opposed to the reforms,” Ayorinde stated.

He also clarified that there was no such thing in the law that seeks to criminalise individuals sinking boreholes, stating that only boreholes dug for commercial purposes require license or payment and this is not a new practice as it has been in existence since.

“The position of the Law today as provided in sections 253 and 259 of the Environmental Management and Protection Law as it relates to construction of borehole or well has not changed from what it used to be.

“First, Landlords are free to dig or construct boreholes in their houses without any permit or licence, provided that the regulation on location of such bore-hole is followed, that is the bore-hole, or well must not be sited near soak away or septic tank,’’ he explained.

The commissioner stated that licence is required only by landlords that intend to construct a borehole or a well for commercial or industrial use, “meaning that if you dig or construct to sell or for industrial use, you need location permit.”

He urged the residents to team up with the government to work for the realisation of its development agenda and sustainability goals, particularly as they relate to the reforms in the environment sector where the people are the direct beneficiaries of the 27,500 new jobs being provided through this initiative; a cleaner state, and all-year-round drainage management for effective and efficient flood control, among others.

But other issues raised over the bill that civil society organisations want explanation include allocation of fund and guarantees; The Trust Fund Board; Power to make regulation, Sinking of Borehole and other Structure, among others.

“For example, section 7 (2) (a) stated that the state shall secure the payment in respect of contracted services and concessions for long term infrastructure investments with an Irrevocable Service Payment Order (SPO) as the first line charge on the state’s Internally generated revenue (IGR).

“It stated that in the event that the state’s IGR is insufficient or unavailable to discharge its obligations, the state shall apply monies due to it from the monthly allocations from state’s federal allocation account and/or any other source to secure its payment obligation to contractors and concessionaires under this law.”

However, ERA/FoEN observed that the provisions as contained in section (a) and (b) is anti-people and will tie the hands of Lagos citizens to agreements that are filled with ambiguity.

According to the group, these clauses will make government, through tax payers’ money, to pay corporate entities unfailingly no matter their performances, even when there are other pressing issues requiring funding.

“Literally this is saying that Lagos government must pay these corporate entities before discharging other critical responsibilities, such as payment of salaries, health care, roads, among others.

“We also feel that taxpayers in Lagos should have a say on how the state’s federal allocation will be used. These provisions elevate government spending towards private concessions over all other government spending. For us, everything is wrong about these provisions and they should be reviewed.”

On the Trust Fund Board, the group also faulted provisions of section 8 (1) that says members of the Trust Fund Board shall consist of the following: The Office of the Chairman vested in the Commissioner of the Environment; Senior representative of the Ministry of Environment, Director; Representative of the Ministry of Finance: Director; Law officer from the Office of the Attorney-General;

Others are the Executive Secretary, senior member of an organization involved in environmental management, billing and/or training services, and nominee from the trustees charged with administering the fund.

To the civil society group, the composition revealed a disproportionate membership, as two out of the six recommended slots go to the Ministry of Environment.

“The commissioner, being the chairman, gives the ministry too much influence over how the funds will be used. It’s our candid opinion that the chairman should be outside of the ministry but working in close collaboration with the ministry.

Another contentious issue was the section 120 that confers on the commissioner to make regulations generally for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of the law, whereas, that position gives him undue advantage.

“There should be devolution of powers but absence of such devolution creates room for authoritarianism”, said Comrade Yusuf Aremu, another concerned environmentalist.

However, the most criticized aspect of the law is sinking of borehole hydraulic and structure.

Section  137 (1) stated that no person or group of persons shall:- (a) Sink or causes to be sunk bore holes, hydraulic and other structures connected with the supply of surface ground water or treated water without obtaining the necessary permit from the Office of Drainage Services. It also stated that any reason causes to construct or causes to be constructed any structures or building for the purposes of sinking of boreholes, hydraulic and other structures connected with supply of surface ground water or treated water without obtaining the necessary permit/approval from the Office of Drainage Services.

To the operators, it’s agreed that indiscriminate drilling of boreholes, hydraulic, has potential environmental hazards, but notwithstanding, government must realised that stream, bore hole and other natural means are main sources of water supply to the people.

“Lagos residents who are currently using these means to access water are only victims of a system that failed to provide them a basic human need that is their right.

“The law does not mention how its application will affect owners of existing boreholes, hydraulic.

“But most fundamentally, section 141(1) of the law that stated that no person or group of persons shall abstract water from any lake river, stream or other natural resources forming part of state water except with the approval of department of water resources of the Office Drainage Services is not only considered insensitive, but also unacceptable.

“Besides, the law make sell, distribute or causes to be made, sold or distributed water by container, tanker or any other method whatsoever without a valid license being issued by the Department of Water Resources of the Office Drainage Services.

Besides, the law says any person or group of persons who fail to comply with the provisions of subsection (1) shall be guilty of an offence under this law and shall be liable on conviction in the case of an individual to N100,000 fine or to six weeks imprisonment or community services or to both such fine and imprisonment and in the case of firm or body corporate, to a fine of N500,000.

In addition, equipment and facilities of such firm or body corporate shall be confiscated by authorised officers of the Department of Water Resources of the Office Drainage Services.

“These measures would further burden Lagos citizens at a time that the government has no clear and articulated plan to fix the public water system,” said Oluwafemi.

From constitutional perspective, Bolaji Adetunbi, a legal practitioner, noted that issue relating to granting of borehole license is the responsibility of local council authority.

Citing Section 7(5) of the 1999 constitution, Adekunbi says as follows; “The functions to be conferred by law upon local government councils shall include those set out in the fourth schedule to this constitution:

“The entire Schedule 4 of the constitution deal solely with the “functions of a local government council” and it is so titled, that the main functions of a local government council are as follows:- licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks). Canoes, wheelbarrow and carts; Establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, market, motor parks and public conveniences: Provision and maintenance of public conveniences, that include sewage and refuse disposal, among others.

“Therefore, there is no justification for state government to take over these functions under the guise of trying to protect the people and the environment”, he argued.

In the final analysis, ERA/FoEN, described the law as a conspiracy against the people. “We believe the added pressure which the crafters of this law impose on Lagos citizens could be the guise to introduce Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the water sector which Lagosians have roundly condemned.

“Lagosians have rejected PPP in the water sector through civil disobedience, public marches, using the instrumentality of the media. We are again rejecting the push towards PPP through the backdoor as this law portends.

“The ‘Our Water Our Right Coalition,’ which is made up of civil society, grass root campaigners, women groups and community voices has already recommended the solution to the challenges to accessing water in Lagos in a document titled:  ‘Lagos Water Crisis: Alternative Roadmap for the Water Sector’, launched October 2016”, This is only alternative means to meet the water needs of the people without adding to their financial burdens.



Culled from tribuneonlineng.com

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