Unraveling the Environmental Crisis

1. Introduction

Onitsha in Southeast Nigeria is reported to be the most polluted city in the world (Ogwu, 2019). Considering that Nigeria has enacted laws to address pollution and environmental degradation decades ago, it becomes necessary to consider why it may still be inadequate in addressing air pollution in cities like Onitsha. One of the reasons for this, as noted in the literature is the colonial baggage of Nigeria which also manifests itself in the way successive Nigerian governments have failed to make effective laws and policy to tackle air pollution (Eneh, 2011; Isiani, et al., 2021).


2. Research Question and Objectives

The research question is as follows:

To what extent has Nigeria’s colonial history impacted their response to air pollution in Onitsha which has been deemed “The city with the world’s worst air?

The research objectives are:

(a) to assess whether the colonial history of Nigeria limits response to air pollution; and

(b) to assess how academic literature depicts the impact of Nigeria’s colonial history on their current abilities to respond to air pollution in Onitsha.

3. Literature Review

Nigeria’s colonial history is considered to be one of the principal reasons why cities like Onitsha developed into areas with significant environmental problems (Obi-Ani & Isiani, 2020). Indeed, literature suggests that the current development of different aspects of African cities “follows the set direction of their colonial past” (Ogwu, 2019, p. 30).

Despite the enactment of Environmental Protection Act 1988 and the Environmental Impact Assessment Act 1992, Nigeria’s responses to pollution and environmental degradation are characterised by its ‘unresolved issues’, which includes its colonial history that led the Nigerian government to continue a “re-hashed colonial development era” which sees poverty as being a mediator in how people experience pollution (Eneh, 2011, p. 250). In the case of Onitsha, the uni-modal transportation system in Onitsha since the colonial period has meant that the city has not been able to address increasing traffic and consequent pollution in an effective manner (Iweze, 2015).

The continuing inability of Nigeria to respond to pollution in Onitsha may also be linked to the systems established in the colonial period which saw the incidence and impact of pollution unevenly distributed to the disadvantage of the poor (Ikporukpo, 2018). It is also relevant that Onitsha has become a city of slums and this has not received adequate attention from urban planners (Isiani, et al., 2021). Okechi (2017) argues that the colonial era practices of ruling classes emphasising on their own well being to the extent that they are blind to the well being of the masses has continued well into the present times with impact on how the current parliaments and politicians respond to issues like pollution and environmental degradation so that if they see no danger against their class and that of the former colonial administrators, they do not address the issues (Okechi, 2017). Thus, the environmental policies remain obsolete, inconsistent and untimely with the policy makers continuing with the adhoc and reactionary approaches that characterised the colonial era policy making (Okechi, 2017). Many of the environmental laws in Nigeria date back to the colonial era and these do not include a comprehensive legislation to address air pollution (Olajide, et al., 2018).

Another implication of the colonial history of Nigeria is in the post colonial conflicts, particularly in Niger Delta region; a link is considered to exist between environmental pollution and the rise of violent armed conflict in the Niger Delta region (Orji, 2012). Many of these conflicts are grounded in the colonial era processes of displacements, changes in religious lives, and deconstruction of “traditional values, social relations and means of subsistence livelihood in the region, without providing suitable alternatives” (Solomon & Madubuike, 2011, p. 41).

4. Methods

a. Statement of ontological and epistemological approach

Ontological approach for this research was determined by the structural realism approach, which posits that “structural properties of reality are knowable in themselves, and hence that, with a bit of luck, one may get them right” (Floridi, 2008, p. 221). Epistemological approach was informed by constructionist epistemology, which posits that the meaning of any phenomenon is open to different constructions and that reality is socially constructed by those who experience it (Darlaston-Jones, 2007). Document analysis was adopted to conduct the systematic review and evaluation of documents of both electronic and printed material (Bowen, 2009).

b. Description of methods

The following search string was used on Google Scholar to generate academic literature on the topic:

Nigeria’s colonial history AND impact AND response AND air pollution AND Onitsha.

The search string generated results that included all the catch words above. In order to retain literature that is not more than 10 years old, results were refined between 2011-2021. The titles of the articles was the first step in identifying relevant articles. The second step was to read through the abstracts of the articles to determine whether to include the articles in the literature review. Key word search with terms ‘Onitsha’ and ‘colonial’/ ‘colonialism’ was also conducted to see whether the articles related to the study.

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Bowen, G., 2009. Document Analysis as a Qualitative Research Method. Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), pp. 27-40.

Darlaston-Jones, D., 2007. Making connections: The relationship between epistemology and research methods. Special Edition Papers , 19(1), pp. 19-27.

Eneh, O. C., 2011. Managing Nigeria's environment: The unresolved issues. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 4(3), pp. 250-263.

Floridi, L., 2008. A defence of informational structural realism. Synthese , 161(2), pp. 219-253.

Ikporukpo, C. O., 2018. Urbanization and the environment: The debate and evidence from two new cities in Nigeria. Journal of Geography and Regional Planning, 11(5 ), pp. 61-79.

Isiani, M. C., Obi-Ani, N. A. & Obi-Ani, P., 2021. “Presumed urbanization”: The experiences of Onitsha city slums dwellers. Cities , Volume 119 , p. 103399.

Iweze, D. O., 2015. The Importance of Inter-Modal Transport System in Nigeria with Reference to the Asaba-Onitsha Transport Corridor since the Pre-Colonial Period. Lagos Historical Review , pp. 39-58.

Obi-Ani, N. A. & Isiani, M. C., 2020. Urbanization in Nigeria: The onitsha experience. Cities , Volume 104 , p. 102744.

Ogwu, M. C., 2019. Towards sustainable development in Africa: the challenge of urbanization and climate change adaptation. In: The geography of climate change adaptation in Urban Africa. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 29-55 .

Okechi, O. S., 2017. Population and Environmental Policies in Nigeria: A Part of the Whole of the Global Environmental and Population Challenges. J Res Development , 6(3), p. 158.

Olajide, B. E., Quadri, M. O. & Ojakorotu, V., 2018. Climate change, human security and good governance in Nigeria. African Renaissance , 15(3), pp. 173-196.

Orji, U. J., 2012. An appraisal of the legal frameworks for the control of environmental pollution in Nigeria. Commonwealth Law Bulletin , 38(2), pp. 321-346.

Solomon, V. A. & Madubuike, S. C., 2011. Social Impact of Environmental Change on Rural Communities: A Case Study of the Niger Delta Region, Nigeria. Journal of Governance and Development, Volume 7, pp. 37-45.

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