Enviromental Problems in Nigeria: A Discource


Nigeria has a total land area of 983,213 square Kilometers of which 773,783sq kilometers are in the savanna zones 75,707sq kilometers are in the derived savanna zones and 133,717 square kilometers are in the forest zone. Nigerian population is more than 150 million yielding an average density of more than 150 persons per square kilometer. Although this density may vary from one region to another, it is obvious that Nigeria is already experiencing high population density. The manifestation of these impacts includes; urbanization, deforestation, desertification, overpopulation and all kinds of pollution. These impacts have both negative and positive effects on the natural environment. It is the negative impacts of man’s interaction with the environment that is emphasized in this study.

The unwise use of the natural environment due to ignorance, poverty, overpopulation and greed amongst others has led to the degradation of the environment. The charges (degradation) occur as Nigerians attempt to adjust their seemingly endless wants and desires for food, shelter, recreation, infrastructural facilities, and so on to the land and other resources available to them. This study examines the nature of environmental problems in Nigeria.

Conceptual Framework

The concept of environment has been viewed from diverse perspectives and defined in various ways. The variety of definitions and conceptions of environment is closely linked to the fact that the study of environment is mufti-disciplinary, and thus each discipline tended to develop and adopt definition(s) in line with its interest. This multiplicity of definitions, concepts and usage of the term in various disciplines.The multiplicity of the usage and concept of the term environment have resulted in a variety of adjectival forms which include; social environment, molar environment, physical environment, home environment, psychological environment, behavioral environment geographical environment.

The word environment is such an ambiguous term which is difficult both to identify and to restrict its scope, because it could be used to encompass anything from the whole biosphere to the habitat of the smallest creature or organism. In the broad sense, dictionary definitions of the term ‘environment’ range from – the totality of physical, economic, cultural, aesthetic, and social circumstances and factors which surround and affect the desirability and value of property or which also affects the quality of people’s lives, to the conditions under which any person or thing lives or is developed; the subtotal of influences which modify and determine the development of life or character. This is the broad meaning by which the concept ‘environment embraces everything within and around man that may have effect on or be affected by man; in other words, human environment as contrasted with physical environment. The broad meaning will subsume historical, cultural, technological, natural, economic, political factors, influences and milieus within the concept of environment.

Similarly, the Environmental Impact Assessment Decree of Nigeria defines the term ‘environment’ as including:- a) land, water and air, including all layers of the atmosphere; b) all organic and inorganic matter and living organisms and, c) the interacting natural systems that include components referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b)

Environmental Law

Environmental Law in Nigeria is a body of rules and regulations which have as their object or effect the protection of the environment from pollution and the wasteful depletion of natural resources and ensure sustainable development. Further, the structure of the Judicial system (with its emphasis on adversarial and backward-looking two-party litigation and with its procedural rules which are not user-friendly to those wishing to bring environmental cases and which fail to give the public interest a separate voice) is not particularly well-suited to consideration of environmental disputes, because typically they have multiple causes; give rise to complex scientific arguments; involve a complex interplay between public, private and criminal law; and require the balancing of difficult political or policy questions. One of the Characteristics of the law and policy of environmental protection is that it evolves, constantly reflecting the various values and priorities which we place upon different aspects of environmental issues. This means that in recent years as environmental issues have gained in importance, we have seen a period of unprecedented rapid change. In a subject area such as this where activities have to be planned reasonably far in advance, it is always helpful to know what is likely to happen in the future as well as what is the law at the time. In this sense environmental law is forward-looking law.

Environmental Problems are harmful aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment. Environmentalism, a social and environmental movement that started in the 1960s, addresses environmental issues through advocacy, education and activism, current problems faced by the environment.

Environmental Policy

An environmental policy can be an instrument of power to solve some perceived problems in the environment. The formulation of this policy attracts many actors from different levels of government- international, national and local. To understand the concept of environmental policy, the knowledge of framing, implementation and actors involved must be a prerequisite. Environmental Policy is further defined as planned actions to be followed by institutions with the objective of achieving a target. Based on this definition, environmental policy is action to foster and improve the quality of the environment, with the thrust of balancing economic and social issues. In achieving the thrust of economic and social balance, many actors’ interests will be represented. This actors could be internal or external- each pushing for its own interest without minding the consequences to the other. Policy is located in political and bureaucratic settings, and should involve political processes Major Environmental Problems in Nigeria

i. Urbanization

Urbanization is caused by high population growth rate and rural- urban migration. Urbanization in Nigeria is characterized by city slums with serious environmental consequences. The problem has been described as acute and exemplifies the inability of development measures to keep pace with the rate of population growth. The problem of the disposal of savage and refuse is quite serious because of the rapid rate of generation of non-biodegradable materials such as plastics.

ii. Overpopulation

Population is a major factor in all environmental- related problems. Overpopulation causes stress on the environment. Environmental problems such as overpopulation, degradation, erosion, desertification, etc. are caused by man’s misuse of environmental resources. Until very recently, Nigerians regard their large population size as a symbol of greatness, power and prestige and tend to resist attempts to reduce it drastically.

iii. Deforestation

Forest are large area of land with trees and are noticeable in area with sub equatorial and monsoon types of climates. They act as sanctuary for rare and/or endangered animals. Forests act as storm breaks, thereby protecting the towns and villages from destruction. They provide useful products such as wood and char-coal for fuel, fibre for study and textiles, medicine from the back and leaves of some plant, breeding ground for animals, check erosion, and supply of food and materials for building houses.

iv. Desertification

Desserts are barren lands, waterless and treeless and often sand covered such as Sahara desert which spread across Africa continent. Desertification is therefore the encroachment of the desert on land that was once fertile. Desertification can be induce either by natural process or by the action of man. Natural hazards such as drought and sand deposit by winds are prime factors in the desertification process. Desertification is more pronounced in the northern part of the country where the Saharah desert has eaten deep into the once fertile land.

v. Pollution

Environmental pollution can be categorized into three groups. These are air or atmospheric pollution, aquatic or water pollution and land or surface area pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines air pollution as limited to situation in which the outer ambient atmosphere contains materials in concentrations which are harmful to man and his environment. Man’s activities on the earth surface have largely degraded the quality of the lower atmosphere. The growth and development of industries and Urbanization has contributed greatly to the excess carbon monoxide produced by combustion and other human activities.

vi. Flooding and Erosion

Most of Nigeria’s 853km coastline is prone to coastal erosion. This is of grave ecological concern because a large part of Nigeria’s population and economic activities are located within the coastal zone. Nigeria has an estimated population of over 25 million located in its coastal areas with economic activities which include oil and gas exploitation, agriculture, fishing, aquaculture, shipping, industries, and tourism. Over fifty highly vulnerable sites have been identified along the Nigerian coastline and all the eight coastal states are affected by erosion problems.

vii. Sanitation

Sanitary facilities like sewers, sewage treatment facilities, septic tanks and toilets for home are known to be grossly inadequate in Nigeria and have worsened over the years due to rapid rate of urbanization in the country. Indeed, disposal of waste is perhaps the most serious environmental problem in Nigerian cities. The increasing accumulation of refuse in cities forms breeding grounds for various diseases.

Sources and Effects of Environmental Problems in Nigeria

The prevalent environmental problems identified in this study to be associated with human activities which constitute serious threat to sustainable development in Nigeria are as indicated below:

Slums and Squatter Developments: Rapid urbanization due to rural-urban migration and natural population increase; inadequate housing and infrastructure; legal dualism in land administration and control. Lack of proper monitoring of physical development activities in urban areas Enhances rapid deterioration of physical environment and provide breeding ground for prostitutes, criminals and social miscreants. They constitute affront for human dignity with associated adverse health implications on residents, and thus negate the goal of environmental sustainability.

Urban Sprawl: Absence of updated master plans; uncoordinated spatial urban growth; decay of inner cities; land speculation and rapidly growing urban population Depletion of green areas and open spaces resulting in the loss of biodiversity, air pollution and traffic congestion due to increasing use of private automobiles. There is also the issue of incompatible land use due to lack of planning and haphazard developments. Pollution (land, air water): Inefficient waste management systems, emissions from automobiles, industrial plant and power generating sets; gas flaring Pollution general poses health risks to humans, terrestrial and aquatic lives. Land pollution through indiscriminate disposal of solid wastes provides breeding grounds; bush and refuse burning; solid and liquid minerals extraction activities and agrochemicals.

Weak institutional and regulatory framework for enforcing appropriate legislation for infectious disease vectors, while air pollution results in acid rains which destroy buildings and infrastructure. Oil spillage is a threat to the livelihood of oil producing communities. While air pollution contributes to global warming by depleting the ozone layer Urban Flooding: Absence of efficient storm water discharge system; ocean surge due to rise in sea level, extensive use of hard landscape elements; reclamation of swamps and natural storm water swales for building construction. Physical development on natural flood plains and non adherence to physical development regulations result to flooding in low lying cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt Destruction of human lives, properties and means of livelihood as well as public infrastructure, leading economic losses. Destroys plants and animal lives, and thus leading to destabilization of the ecosystem which comes with adverse consequences. Erosion Indiscriminate destruction of vegetation for fuel and construction materials. Construction, installation of infrastructure, agriculture and mining activities Threat to human lives, means of livelihoods and infrastructure as well as loss of land areas and reduction in biodiversity.

Role of Environmental Law in Regulating Land Use and Protection of the Environment in Nigeria

In order to examine the role of environmental law in regulating land use and environmental protection in Nigeria, this part of the paper seeks to:

(1) identify land use problems in Nigeria that lead to land degradation; and

(2) examine key environmental legislation that aim at regulating land use in order to protect the environment from gross abuse. Key environmental legislation on land use regulation and environmental protection

The freedom to use and enjoy land in particular, and private property in general is guaranteed by our laws in Nigeria, but it is trite that the rights cannot be absolute. They have to be regulated in the interest of the generality of the populace and in the protection of the rights of others in society. To minimize and control the above mentioned problems of land use and their negative impact on land resources, Nigerian government has put in place a number of legislative measures locally. One of the most important is the land Use Act, the objectives of which, among others, is to ensure that there is a sound land and environmental development and that the ecological and aesthetic values of the nation are preserved and enhanced.

Since the Land Use Act deals primarily with the acquisition, use and enjoyment of land, in accomplishing these objectives, the activities of an individual, government or organisation either private or public, is likely to create environmental problems. For example, where permission was given for land to be used for mining purpose or for industrial purpose or for a town and country planning purpose or for any other commercial or public work or convenience, environmental problems are surely going to crop up in the land use enjoyment of any of these services or purposes.

Essentially, the Land Use Act is not strictly an Act for environmental protection. However, environmental protection is one of those considerations which a holder of certificate of occupancy has to observe, though it is not explicitly provided for in any of the provisions of the Act. If the Act is read without such importation, the result is bound to be absurd and environmentally unsound. Policy Measures to Environmental Problems in Nigeria

Due to the environmental problems existing in Nigeria, laws and acts relating to environmental protection were made. These laws/acts were promulgated to address specific and identified problems. They were narrow in scope and spatially restricted. But Decree No 58 of 1988 as amended by Decree 59 of 1992, gave birth to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency FEPA (Now Ministry of Environment) it empowers the ministry to have control over all problems relating to Nigerian environment, resources, exploitation and management. But the success recorded by the Ministry is nothing to write home about. Problems of urbanization, desertification, pollution and deforestation continued due to the Government’s Top-down approach, inconsistencies of government policies, neglect of indigenous knowledge, and use of inappropriate technology, sectoral approach, inadequate funding, and inadequate awareness.


Nigeria has a total land area of 983, 213 km2 occupied by more than 167 million people. The interaction of these millions of people with their environment has left indelible mark on the landscape. Attempts by these Nigerians to adjust their seemingly endless wants and desire for food, shelter, recreation and infrastructure facilities to mention but a few have resulted in deforestation, desertification, urbanization, over population and all kinds of pollution. Although, these land-use activities contribute to over all development of the country, they equally produce negative impacts in the environment.


This study has been able to explore the nature of environmental problems in Nigeria. It also explores some relevant laws / legislations on the environment. Therefore, for the purpose of overcoming the hurdles reminiscent in environmental problems and ensuring effective implementation of environmental laws, the following recommendations have been made:

1. The current environmental problems should be visited and reviewed as they are too old. During the reviewing processes, the public participation and consultation should be embraced, and all the necessary actors should be allowed to involve. Based on this full participatory process all interests will be included and an enforceable policy tool will be designed.

2. The government should increase the budgetary allocation for environmental institutions and their programme. Adequate funding will encourage capacity building of the human resources in the environmental institutions through trainings both at the local level and international level; this will exposed the agents of the institutions into the latest knowledge on environmental governance and diplomacy.

3. The Nigerian government should explicitly share the responsibilities on environmental matters to the different institutions involved. So every institution will know its own jurisdiction and responsibility and where it should not venture to. This will help solve the problem of overlapping responsibility and power tussling among the institutions.

4. The government should encourage and enforce regular reporting and audit on the state of the Nigerian environment and such reports and audits should be made available to the public via internet and books in the public library.

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