By Kunlere Idowu
To combat the spate of incessant environmental pollution and indiscriminate depletion of natural resources, and to assist in promptly and judiciously dispensing with environmental disputes at community levels in Nigeria, arrays of suggestions, including the establishment of Environmental Corps Marshals, ECM, have been made at different times by stakeholders in the environment sector.
In a recent public workshop reported in the Guardian Newspapers on January 2, 2017, the decade-old suggestion in favour of the establishment of ECM re-surfaced following a presentation by a Nigerian don, Prof. Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan, a Professor of Law with specialization in Comparative Jurisprudence, Humanitarian, Human Rights, Gender and Development, Environmental Security and Developmental Laws at the Department of Public Law of the Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State. But, good as the suggestion sounds, does Nigeria really need “another” unit of environmental corps marshals?
Prof. Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan was quoted to have re-stated the case for the establishment of Environmental Corps Marshals while presenting a paper titled: “Draft Background Documents for UNEP-Assisted Review of NESREA’s Environmental Enforcement Policy” at a Workshop on the review of environmental enforcement guidelines of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, (NESREA).
According to him, the application of the public trust doctrine to natural resources and environment justifies the need to have the armed volunteers, also adding that NESREA had in 2009 suggested that corps marshals and men volunteers be established to promote and police compliance and environmental enforcement at the community level.
While the points raised by the Prof are right, however, in 2010, Nigeria’s top environmental watchdog, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, took a giant and commendable step in establishing the NESREA Green Corps Initiative which was launched by the then Environment Minister, Mr. John Odey.
According to information on the official website of NESREA, “The NESREA Green Corps (NGC) Initiative focuses on individual responsibility to achieving a cleaner and healthier environment. It affords the individual the opportunity to render selfless service to humanity, particularly to his community in the protection of the environment. It also empowers the individual to be a true Vanguard and Watchdog of his/her environment.” NESREA also adds on its website that “The overall goal of the NESREA Green Corps Initiative is to actively involve the citizenry in environmental governance through volunteers under the guidance of NESREA”.
Already, there are various chapters of NGC in many states across the country. Also, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and NESREA have collaborated to establish the NESREA/NYSC Environmental CDS (Community Development Service, CDS) Group where youth corps members serve as green volunteers amongst other things to create environmental awareness, identify environmental hotspots, and promote and sustain a healthy environment.
In-depth analysis reveals that the goals and objectives of the NESREA Green Corps (NGC) Initiative and some units within NESREA could overlap with those of the suggested Environmental Corps Marshal, ECM. Thus, rather than a whole new, scratch-to-top, autonomous Environmental Corps Marshal unit, the NESREA Green Corps (NGC) Initiative and such existing units could be rejiggered, better empowered and expanded to carry out their core functions and to more robustly meet other expected objectives. Also, an independent ECM appears impossible without a prior amendment of the NESREA Act, the legal basis for the establishment of NESREA which also empowers it as the enforcement arm of the Federal Ministry of Environment.
Instead, a new unit within NESREA may be mandated to handle community-level issues that could be outside the scope of the NESREA Green Corps (NGC) Initiative while like obtains in the United States, a specialized environmental prosecution unit could be established at the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, manned by specialized prosecutors, with both offices (NESREA and the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation) working in close collaborations, for quick dispensation of environmental cases in Nigeria.
However, if the Environmental Corps Marshal, ECM, would anyways go on to be established as a full-fledged and independent unit, to avoid unnecessary duplication of roles and counter-productive moves, and to ensure that the ECM unit achieves tangible results with palpable impacts on environmental protection in Nigeria, clear cut mandate, goals and criteria must be set and put in place before its setting up.