MEDIA REPORT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS COUNCIL PARTICIPATION AT THE PUBLIC HEARING OF A BILL FOR A BYE-LAW PROHIBITING THE INDISCRIMINATE DISPOSAL OF WASTE AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL OFFENCES IN PORT-HARCOURT CITY LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREA OF RIVERS STATE ON THE 31ST DAY OF AUGUST 2022
In a Letter dated the 16th of August 2022, from the Legislative Department City Council Office Port Harcourt, the Civil Rights Council was invited to a Public Hearing of a bill for a Byelaw prohibiting the indiscriminate disposal of waste and other environmental offences in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area of Rivers State. The event took place at the City Council Hall in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area of Rivers State on the 31st of August 2022. It had in attendance the Leader of the Port Harcourt City Local Government Legislative Council, Honorable Hanacho Noble representing Ward 13, the sponsor of the bill Honorable Onu Amadi Oparaeli, members of the house committee on environment, counselors, heads of various government departments in the Local Government, members and representatives of the Rivers State Waste Management Agency, Chairman and Members of the Port Harcourt City Local Government Environmental Sanitation Committee, The Chairman of the Community Development Committee of Tere-Ama Communities, Ukukalama, Somiari and Fimie Communities, Mr. Standfast S. O. Fimie, The Founder/Coordinator Sanitation Martial Volunteers Mr. Prince Sodin Akiagba, The Representative of the Ministry of Environment Dr. Sydney George, Clerk of the Port Harcourt City Local Government Legislative Council, Members of the Press/Public and Staffs of the Local Government Non-Governmental Organizations and the Civil Society.
In his opening address, the Leader of the Legislative Council thanked all that have submitted Memorandum or made contribution to the bill. He said that the bill is designed to check indiscriminate and reckless dumping of refuse by members of the public along the streets and gutters of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area and bigger environmental issues caused by corporate bodies and big businesses in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area. He noted that the city has become very dirty of late, leading to a lot of environmental hazards and degradation. He acknowledged that it is the constitutional responsibility of the Local Government to ensure a clean and safe environment for the welfare of the citizens. To achieve this, the bill when passed into law will provide a legal framework to enforce and regulate the use of the environment in the disposal of waste by both individuals and corporate bodies.
Introducing the bill, the sponsor of the bill Honorable Onu Amadi Oparaeli said that the bill is not targeted to witch hunt any individual rather a response to the challenge of environmental pollution and indiscriminate disposal of refuse carried out in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area by individuals and corporate bodies. He said that as Legislators, it is their mandate to make law for the good and wellbeing of the people and in response to that, he has sponsored this bill to further strengthen other environmental legislations operational in the Local Government. He made it clear that Rivers State Government have Environmental and Waste Management Legislations, however the bill is an attempt to domesticate state legislations and bring it into operation within the confines of the peculiar needs of Port Harcourt City Local Government Area. He stated that the bill is made up of Sixteen (16) Sections and a schedule of punishment and penalties made up of Eleven (11) Items. He encouraged all participants in the public hearing to be objective in making their contributions as that will guide the counselors in the final debate and passing of the bill into law.
In their contributions via a Memorandum title “Public Hearing on The Bill for A Bye-Law Prohibiting The Indiscriminate Disposal Of Waste And Other Environmental Offences In Port Harcourt City Local Government Area Of Rivers State”. The Rivers State Waste Management Agency denounced any further action on the bill and insisted that the law makers should discontinue further action on it forth with. It is their position that the bill is a replication of already existing and operating legislations in the State and that Sections of the Bill run contrary to Rivers State House of Assembly Legislations. They referred to “Rivers State Waste Management Agency Law No. 2 of 2014” with reference to Part VII of the Said Legislation which provides for Waste Generation, Storage, Transportation, Treatment and Disposal and further referred the legislators to Part VIII which provides Offences and Penalties.
Furthermore, they referred to the Rivers State Environmental Protection and Management Law of No. 15 of 2019 and the “Dumping of waste in public places (prohibition) Law No. 5 of 2020”. Relying on the Sections of the Said Legislation, they opined that the Rivers State Government Legislations have covered the field and therefore the bill is unnecessary as it will create challenge and conflicts in the administration of environmental laws in Rivers State and insisted that the continuation with the bill is an effort in futility.
In their contribution, the Civil Rights Council acknowledged with gratitude the invitation by the Port Harcourt City Legislative Council to make contribution to the bill. According to Arochukwu Paul Ogbonna Esq. he maintained that issues of Human Rights is of paramount importance to the C.R.C., he acknowledged that a safe and clean environment is the right of the citizens and preconditions of a healthy life which must be guaranteed by the Government, Corporate Bodies and Big Business. He maintained that the CRC is committed to the defense of the all the rights of the citizens of whatever nature. They C.R.C. he stated disagrees with the position of the Rivers State Waste Management Agency that the Legislative Council should discontinue with the bill as the Rivers state waste management agency claims it runs contrary to existing legislations of the State Government.
It is the position of C.R.C. that instead of discontinuing with the bill, the bill should be crafted and designed in such a way that it takes care of Environmental and Waste Management Issues that are peculiar to Port Harcourt City Local Government which the Legislative Council exercises jurisdiction and of which state legislations may not have taking cognizance of. For the C.R.C., different Local Government Areas have their different environmental challenges and waste management problems. It is therefore difficult to for close any Legislative Council from making laws for the good and welfare of the citizens in any area of life that requires legislative attention. For the C.R.C all laws are to maintain order in the society and ensure a safe and happy living.
Going forward, the C.R.C. took a look at various sections of the bill particularly Section 8, Section 14, Section 3, Section 2, Section 7, Section 13 etc. on Section 8, the C.R.C. argued that placing a fine of ₦100,000 (Hundred Thousand Naira) on corporate bodies for environmental pollution is insignificant. The C.R.C. recalled that many cases of environmental pollutions in Port Harcourt City Local Government and in Rivers State is carried out by Multi-National Corporation and Big Businesses and therefore must be made to take responsibilities for their actions. A fine should be imposed to deter them from acts of pollution which threatens human lives and the environment. The C.R.C. therefore proposes a fine of ₦5,000,000 (Five Million Naira) for corporate bodies and two (2) years jail imprisonment for the directors of such a company for violations of environmental laws.
On Section 14 of the bill, the C.R.C. frowned at a provision that makes it mandatory that citizens who suffer injury on the cause of implementing sanitation laws from sanitation officers or law enforcement agent should first seek and obtain the consent of the Attorney-General in writing before instituting any civil action. This provision gives unlimited powers to sanitary officers to deal with the citizens recklessly. It is the contention of the C.R.C. that even the process of obtaining the Attorney-General consent could be bureaucratically challenging and the means to do so not easily available to all and therefore this section should be abrogated not impede the fundamental rights of the citizens. On Section 3, Paragraph C, of the bill it is the position of the Civil Rights Council that the liability of a passenger in a bus who has indiscriminately disposed waste should not be put on the driver given the principle of actus and mensrea that governs criminal proceedings globally. It was as well the contention of the C.R.C. that power should be given to law enforcement agents to enforce the legislation without having the authority of the Local Government first in writing. For ease of administration of the law, law enforcement agents like in every other circumstance in our country should enforce the law on the face of the violation of same.
Further contribution to the bill came from the Sanitation Marshal’s in Rivers State. In their Memorandum, they acknowledged the importance of the bill and narrated their experiences in trying to enforce sanitation laws. However, they are of the opinion that in the face of the “public health law, the Rivers State Waste Agency Management Law 2014, the National Environmental Health Practices Regulations, Dumping of Waste in Public Place Prohibition Law of 2020, the bill is not necessary as these legislations have adequately covered the field. It is their position that the legislators should not enact any further law on environmental protection but should take recourse to state laws. They specifically pointed out Section 9 and Section 13 of the Said Bill which they hold conflicts with the Rivers State Legislations and advised the legislatures to direct their energy to some other vital issues requiring legislative attention.
In their contribution, the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area Sanitation Committee hailed the Legislative Council for the proposed bill and promised to give their support to the legislative council on all issues of environmental sanitations. They made contributions and addition to the proposed bill demanding that Private Domestic Waste Disposal Services should not be allowed to operate without registration, such registration they argued should be carried out by the committee, that companies carrying out dredging activities should not carry wet sand across the city, tipper drivers should cover their trucks with tarpaulin, quarterly inspection of waste disposal systems by the committee and establishments of a sanitation court to be situated within the Port Harcourt city council premises for the prosecution of offenders of environmental law etc.
Further presentation was made by Mr. Standfast S.O. Fimie representing communities of Tere-Ama, Ukukalama, Somiari and Fimie. For him the said communities are under the siege of illegal and indiscriminate dumping of refuse by the public. He cited the dumping of refuse in front of community market and road junction leading to the community along Abuloma road which has caused damage to sections of the road, block drainage, cause water to settle on the road. This development has given right to traffic holdups and that criminals use the dump sites to hide stolen items including the hazardous fumes and the offensive odor emanating from the dump sites. He urged the legislative council to outlaw the dumping of refuse at Abuloma Road, Tere-Ama Market Front, Okuru Junction, J.D.P Roundabout, Sasun Roundabout, Joe Alagoa Road etc. He proposed that the legislature should legislate and designate a refuse dumping sites for the communities.
In their reaction, the counselors acknowledged the contribution made by all and promised to make a law that will address all the issues raised in the public hearing in order to make the bill when passed into law a framework to address the numerous challenges of waste and environmental management in the local government