Corruption and state of the Nigerian environment

Gbenga Onabanjo founder GO-FORTE FOUNDATION

By Gbenga Onabanjo

Every human being is a product of the environment. Corruption is perpetrated by man, and its attendant consequences will certainly have negative impacts on our environment.

Corruption is defined as “a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefits”. In Nigeria, corruption has become systemic, hence the passionate drive for a collective effort to confront it head-on.

A story was told of an organisation whose output was below par. A performance audit was carried out. The report indicated that “certain workers had been discovered to undermine the company, and they will be revealed at the general meeting the following day”.  Everybody was eager to know the culprits. Early the following morning, all the workers were asked to file past a box where the names of the culprits were displayed. As each man looked into the box, they quietly walked away as each man saw a reflection of himself in a mirror placed inside the box.

Every man is guilty of the low performance of the organisation. So is the issue of corruption in Nigeria; everybody has a role to play. We are guilty either by omission or by commission.

The ecological funds meant to combat erosion, deforestation, land remediation or ocean surge are usually expended on other things that gratify the operators personally. The long-term effect of this corrupt practice can be very catastrophic on the environment!

There are instances when the master plan of an area is prepared and approved for implementation. As the area matures and becomes a choice place for people to live in, those who missed out on the allocation will begin to mount pressure on the development authorities to assign a plot to them at any cost. The authorities will often succumb to such pressures and allocate areas earmarked for open spaces, greenbelts gardens and recreational parks. The estate then loses its green allure and further compounds the scourge of climate change!

Back in the day, every settlement in Lagos had a big recreational park. There was Race Course and Campus Square on the island, Rowe Park and another popular park in Ebute Metta. The railway residential estate had beautiful parks. Lagos had lots of greens, particularly Ikoyi and Victoria Island. The present Parkview Estate used to be Ikoyi Park. The Marwa Garden Estate was designed for a recreational park before it was converted by the military administration into a residential estate.

Other glaring cases of corruption adversely affecting our environment are the indiscriminate siting of places of worship, eateries or event centres at locations not designated for such activities. The planning authorities do get compromised and allow such infractions to stay thereby overburdening the existing infrastructure and blighting the whole environment!

The vehicle inspection officer who releases a vehicle that fails an emission test only compounds the air pollution within the city.

Contractors paid to generate power renege on agreements perhaps because of their interests in power generating set companies or find importation of diesel more profitable. The whole environment is polluted with smoke from all types of generators. This has caused untold health hazards to millions of people, whilst quite a number have died as a result of respiratory infection occasioned by the toxic environment.

In planning, statutorily, certain areas are designated for wetlands, green belts and conservation. Oftentimes, when the custodians of these areas are compromised, they allow some greedy developers to enter into a public-private partnership with the government at the detriment of its effects on the biodiversity and the ecosystem of the area.

When an oil company prospects for oil in a field, the vegetation and ecosystem is usually disturbed. A plan for remediation is usually set up to clean up such areas, but more often than not the people who are meant to carry out the remediation bribe their way without carrying out any remediation.

There is yet another type of corruption, which is causing our environment to be completely ravaged!  This can be referred to as the ‘corruption of the mind’. Or how else can one explain a situation where all low-density designated neighbourhoods are suddenly converted to high-density neighbourhoods without upgrading the infrastructure or having any due regard for people who have opted to live in such a serene and nature-friendly environment? Apart from the high rate of commercial activities in these areas and its attendant nuisance factors, our environment has suddenly been turned into classless society where just about anything goes. This phenomenon has spread to all other decent neighbourhoods in the land. Caution has been thrown to the wind, and greedy developers are squeezing in as many units of accommodation as they can get without any recourse to planning regulations. All the statutory green spaces have disappeared. The whole environment is now gray, toxic and very arid! Yet we keep talking about climate change!

Our environment is endangered! We have enacted laws to protect the environment, but usually, the problem is with monitoring and strict compliance. Complying with environmental regulations imposes on firms costs that can be avoided through bribery. The effects of logging in the rain forest, groundwater pollution, air pollution, soil erosion or climate change can be global and intergenerational.

The watchdog institutions that should scrutinise government performance, such as ombudsmen, field officers, external auditors and the press, may be ineffectual because they can easily be compromised.

We need to strengthen our institutions and enable practitioners whose loyalty is to the cause of humanity rather than what they stand to benefit. The earlier we began to think deeply before taking actions about our environment the better it will be for us and generations unborn. Everything should not be looked at from the prism of “how do I make more money from it?” Let us align our thoughts and actions with those of the civilized communities, who though are equally battling “corruption”, but nonetheless do not allow it to have serious negative effects on their environments.

  • Onabanjo is the founder of GO-FORTE FOUNDATION, an organisation dedicated to the restoration of the environment.