chapter  8
Pages 4

This book proceeded from the standpoint that the drive for effective public participation, as it relates to public access to environmental information and participation in decision-making processes, is rooted in human nature and widespread in human culture; and that Nigerians and Nigeria were not exceptions. Little wonder why, as noted earlier in the book, the concept is an integral part of human rights law from which the environmental perspective discussed in this book generally sprouted and is based on. Given the potential positive influence of public participation in environmental matters on the environment and human wellbeing, numerous international environmental regimes have also sought to require or commit states to guarantee adequately the public right to access environmental information and decision-making processes. As highlighted, Nigeria is bound by or committed to many of these international environmental regimes, and is thus expected to develop laws and practices that ensure adequate public participation in environmental matters. In addition, apart from this legal motivation, the relevance of public participa-

tion to proper and sustainable societal and environmental development in Nigeria as already discussed, are fundamental reasons for Nigeria to ensure that the twin elements of public access to environmental information and decision-making processes are effectively guaranteed in the laws and practices of the country. Thus far, a valuable contribution of this book to the procedural environmental

law field is the transnational comparative methodological approach it employs to assess and recommend improvements to laws and practices relating to public participation in environmental matters in Nigeria. The elaborate justification and use of the norms in the Aarhus Convention, blended with similar norms from other international environmental regimes, to develop a body of international best practice principles that is politically and legally relevant to Nigeria has fulfilled a dual function. First, it has enabled an informed assessment of whether or not, or to what

extent Nigeria’s laws and practices are in compliance with its international procedural environmental obligations and commitments, as well as providing a basis for recommending remedial actions where gaps were revealed the better to enable Nigeria to meet those obligations and commitments. Second, in achieving the first, the approach has also helped to identify broadly why the laws

effective or may run into problems, and how such a situation may be addressed. On the whole, the usefulness of the methodological approach is not limited to

the Nigerian context but will arguably be useful for other countries, especially those that share similar international environmental law commitments with Nigeria. More than this, the approach of the book has also demonstrated in broad terms the usefulness of the Aarhus Convention; in this case, not as a binding document to be enforced vis-à-vis the parties to it but, arguably, as an authoritative reflection of a burgeoning set of general or customary rules of international (environmental) law, which can be used as a widely acclaimed and effective interpretative guide in non-treaty contexts. Furthermore, public access to environmental information is one of the two

major elements of environmental public participation dealt with in this book. The discussion basically exposed ‘Nigeria’s’ history of relative openness in pre-colonial traditional governance, its century of official secrecy initiated during its colonisation, and how far the country has come in this regard since its return to democratic rule in 1999 and the enactment of the Nigerian 2011 FOI Act. In this regard, a thorough discussion and comparative analysis of Nigeria’s recent FOI Act, together with the general state of its implementation thus far, was undertaken. The analysis found that considerable strides towards achieving standards reflected in international best practice were achieved with the enactment of the FOI Act. The findings confirm that some core provisions of the FOI Act are essentially

sound and in line with best practice; and, in a few instances, they even go beyond it. This has helped to engineer the gradually unfolding practice of ensuring public access to (environmental) information that would never have been released to the public prior to the enactment of the Act. However, the comparative discussion equally uncovers weaknesses and gaps in certain provisions of the Act (and access practices) and reveals that, arguably, the older and more entrenched traditions of official secrecy have partly been maintained via liberal exemption provisions. These findings led to recommendations for the improvement of the Act and its implementation in line with best practice, in order to ensure better public access. The second major public participation element that forms the other part of the

book is public participation in environmental decision-making processes. The analysis of this issue essentially unravelled Nigeria’s history of relative participative pre-colonial traditional governance, the transformation to public exclusion from processes of governance for many decades as initiated in the wake of colonialism, and the progress the country has made in this regard since the promulgation of the 1992 EIA Act. However, unlike the case with access to environmental information, the comparative analysis and discussion in this regard has revealed that Nigeria would seem to have made very little progress in the aspect of ensuring public participation in environmental decision-making processes, despite the existence of the EIA Act to that effect for more than two decades now. The EIA Act, which embodies the provisions on public participation in

environmental decision-making on specific activities, was shown to be largely inadequate in achieving the latter. Cconsidering the interrelationship between

clude that the general lack of meaningful public participation in environmental decision-making processes, if at all, partly limits the usefulness of the recently acquired public right to access environmental information. This is so considering that members of the public may not be able fully to deploy relevant environmental information that they have accessed to influence some major environmental decision-making processes that affect their lives. The provisions of the EIA Act, which are largely anachronistic and fall below

international best practice, were also argued to have provided the enabling environment for government agencies and developers to exclude the public from environmental decision-making processes on a regular basis. This weakness of the EIA Act and its inability to engender better practices on public participation cannot be separated from its undemocratic and military background. In this light, the EIA Act was generally recommended for urgent comprehensive review in order for the practice of public participation in environmental matters to be enhanced and made effective in Nigeria, and for the country to come into compliance with its international obligations and commitments in this regard. In addition, further discussion on this theme revealed the lack of an existing

formal procedure for public participation in plans, programmes, policies and legislations/binding measures relating to the environment. In this regard, the point was made that, given the importance of public participation at these levels of decision-making which, if missed, could seriously and negatively complicate matters further down the road to development, there is the need for Nigeria to develop formal (binding) measures that would enable the voice of the public to be heard at those levels. However, drawing on earlier discussions, it is clear that improvements to laws

and practices on public access to environmental information and decision-making processes in Nigeria would have to take due account of the socio-political and economic realities of the country, including the issues of illiteracy, poverty, official corruption, language diversity etc. Recognition of these was seen to be crucial to the successful reform and implementation of any law concerning public participation. Also, the point was made that consideration must be given as to how the rapidly growing use of ICT in the country can be engaged to contribute further in enabling effective public participation in environmental matters among the relevant segment of the public. In fact, to ensure sustainable environmental public participation, whilst taking

these non-legal factors into consideration in the meantime, the Nigerian Government must sit up and radically tackle the problems of the elements that are crucial to effective environmental public participation; e.g. if poverty and illiteracy is drastically reduced, the public will be better armed to engage in participation in environmental governance, and if public understanding of the English language is improved, the need to spend resources on translation will be reduced. In general, the analysis in this book has shown a significant level of government

hesitation or weak political will to enforce and give effect to the available laws in

tion in decision-making processes. Obviously, this attitude must change if environmental public participation is to be enhanced in Nigeria and its benefits delivered to society, considering that public institutions are naturally well placed to play a significant role in fostering appropriate implementation and enforcement of environmental procedural rights in the polity. For example, earlier discussion in this book generally highlighted the strategic

responsibilities placed on public entities such as the Nigerian Attorney-General of the Federation and NESREA to implement and ensure compliance with the FOI Act and the EIA Act, respectively, how they have carried out some of their duties and the room for improvement. The discussion in this regard also touched on the key role public institutions can play in ensuring alternative non-judicial enforcement of environmental procedural rights as a way of helping aggrieved members of the public scale the barriers to accessing justice in Nigeria. The Nigerian Government must engage in self-reorientation, and faithfully

commit itself, not just to reworking the country’s laws on public participation in environmental matters in line with best practice, but to serious and innovative implementation of their provisions, in a manner befitting the transition from an era of dictatorship to one of democracy. An important starting point for the reflection of this required political will to ensure a thriving system of environmental public participation would be the government’s provision of adequate resources to realise the objectives of environmental public participation laws. Finally, the valuable role of consistent public pressure on public institutions to ensure adequate laws on environmental public participation and, importantly, their faithful and innovative implementation, cannot be over emphasised.