New environmental permit pits NESREA against other agencies
Plans by the National Environmental Standards and Regulatory Agency (NESREA) to enforce import clearance permit may have unsettled importers and other federal agencies, with some alleging an overlap of functions.
The agency recently introduced Environmental Import Clearance to regulate imported items and to ensure that banned chemical and hazardous substances are not imported into Nigeria as well as to ensure that end-of-life of the items is considered under the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programme as required by law.NESREA’ in a recent advertorial requested importers needing to clear goods at the wharf, to first apply for its newly formulated Environmental Clearance permit.
According to the agency, this would replace the import permit usually issued by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) as well as the Standards Organisation of Nigeria Conformity Assessment Programme (SONCAP) certificate usually administered and issued by the SON.
The question been raised among some stakeholders is how much of traditional environmental issues NESREA has effectively tackled since inception to delve into other areas where an appreciable level of job is done. The second is how did NESREA obtain the authorisation to be the sole authority for the issuance of that the said document?
An aggrieved importer, Mr. Cyril Onyema, said that requisite capacity manpower is key in the ability of an agency to carry out such statutory functions. “One would have been very comfortable, if NESRA has concerned itself with containing the legion and one environmental issues, bedevilling the country, rather than desiring a spot at the ports where sister agencies have established a reputation and can run the rounds effectively.”
He listed several efforts of the government in the past, to harmonise the activities of the regulatory agencies at the ports. This idea was to reduce duplicity of functions, checkmate corruption as well as quicken the process of checking goods entering the country through its waterways.
“We all know that the statutory functions of the NESREA centre around environmental protection, conservation and natural resources safeguard. This alone raised issues concerning the ability of that agency to perform, for as at today, a gargantuan number of issues afflict the Nigerian environment which ordinarily should keep the agency busy.”
These centre on sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources and environmental technology coordination. In other words, the agency ought to have developed a sustainable programme of liaison with relevant stakeholders to make its impact felt more in the society.As a matter of fact, oil spills, desertification, loss of natural habitat, exploitation for firewood, uncontrolled logging, fire, petroleum exploration activities, mining as much as grazing continue to constitute major environmental challenges confronting the nation.
In the Niger Delta region for example, where more than 70 percent of the people rely on natural resources for existence, life has been very vulnerable. This is on account of the fragile terrain of the area, especially with oil a mere five meters below the surface of the ground.A few years ago, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) submitted that the people in the Niger Delta, Ogoniland, particularly, have lived with chronic pollution all their lives. Benzene levels were as much as 900 times higher than the World Health Organisation recommendations, and Nigeria was losing about 0.6 per cent of its treasured land to desertification on a yearly basis..
By far, the biggest concern is the issue of extensive exploration in the country, which has led to massive pollution with irs far reaching implications. The high volume of associated gas in Nigeria’s light crude coupled with a poor history of investment in gas gathering and utilisation infrastructure has made the elimination of gas flaring difficult.Dr. Remi Afolabi, an environmentalist expressed reservations concerning this latest posture of the NESREA. “Going by the NESREA functions, its responsibility as enshrined in NESREA Act is mainly protection and development of the environment, biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of Nigeria’s natural resources in general and environmental technology including coordination and liaison with relevant stakeholders within and outside Nigeria.
‘‘ The irony about NESREA clearance permit is that the same certificate is used to obtain Form M unlike the SON certification where you are required to get PC ( product certificate) first and later get SONCAP after getting Form M. Again, no certificate validation required for NESREA. Go straight; use your permit to apply for Form M and subsequently”.But in reaction, the NESREA Director General, Dr. Lawrence Anukam denied any wrong doing in promoting the Environmental Import Clearance permit. According to him, there is no overlap as the agency is strictly enforcing environment related issues.
For instance, he said that NAFDAF handles drugs, SON tackles new products while NESREA is out to check influx of used equipment, especially e-wastes. “Nigeria is turning to a dumping ground for e-waste and the permit will stop it,” he said.Anukam pledged to work harmonously with other agencies to ensure there is no overlap of functions. “We will handle it carefully to ensure a common cause in the development of the country.”He also mentioned that the agency is working with NAFDAC and SON on Alliance for Sustainable Consumption and Production. “If we get the consumption right, the type of raw materials imported will take care of itself,” he stated.
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