Environment & Health

Trafficking and Dangerous Disposal of Hazardous Wastes in Nigeria: Tackling the Root Cause

The Nigeria’s oil and gas industry provides more than 80% of the government revenue. Ironically, it is also the major generator of dangerous wastes in Nigeria. The dangerous wastes associated with oil & gas activity exhibit hazardous characteristics such as toxicity (i.e., producing a harmful effect which may be lethal); carcinogenicity (i.e., causing cancerous growth in humans and animals); teratogenicity (i.e., causing deformation of foetus); ecotoxicity (i.e., causing immediate or delayed adverse impacts to the environment); radioactivity (i.e., causing cells death or mutation, including genetic diseases such as leukaemia in affected persons and possibly their future generations); flammability; e.t.c.

The oil & gas industry commenced operation more then fifty (50) years ago without any facility to manage the dangerous wastes arising from its exploration and production activity. The oil & gas industry has been practising unregulated disposal of wastes, thereby causing harm to public health and the environment.

Development of Regulations on Harmful Wastes in Nigeria
The infamous toxic waste dumping at Koko, Delta State, Nigeria in 1988 revealed the inadequacy in Nigeria’s environmental protection institutional framework and regulations. Immediately after the Koko incident, two major legislations on environmental protection were enacted. They were Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) Decree No. 58 of 1988 and Harmful Waste Decree No.42 of 1988.

The Harmful Waste Act (Cap 165 LFN 1990) was the first comprehensive legislation against dumping and trafficking in harmful wastes on any land or in territorial waters or contiguous zone or exclusive economic zone of Nigeria or its inland waterways.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA) Act (Cap 131 LFN 1990) gave rise to the establishment of the first comprehensive institutional framework for prevention and control of pollution in Nigeria. FEPA became the core of Federal Ministry of Environment (FMENV) in 1999. National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), a parastatal under FMENV, has inherited the statutory duties of the defunct FEPA.

The oil & gas industry would always explain away its reckless and irresponsible attitude towards the environment on lack of adequate institution and regulations to control industrial pollution prior to 1988. It is however worrisome that the multinational oil & gas industry has also been acting in notorious breach of numerous regulations enacted to protect the environment since 1988.

The Nigeria’s National Policy on the Environment
The National Policy on the Environment was formally launched on the 27th November 1989. Chapter 2 contains the policy goal to achieve sustainable development in Nigeria, and, in particular to:
a) Secure for all Nigerians a quality of environment adequate for their health and well – being;
b) Conserve and use the environmental and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations;
c) Restore, maintain and enhance the ecosystems and ecological processes essential for the functioning of the biosphere to preserve biological diversity and the principle of optimum sustainable yield in the use of living natural resources and ecosystems;
d) Raise public awareness and promote understanding of essential linkages between environment and development and to encourage individual and community participation in environmental improvement efforts; and
e) Cooperate in good faith with other countries, international organisations/ agencies to achieve optimal use of transboundary natural resources and effective prevention or abatement of transboundary environmental pollution.

The national policy on the environment also provides the strategies for implementation toward major sectors and problem areas of the environment. The detailed implementation strategies for sanitation and waste management, toxic and hazardous substances, mining and mineral resources, energy production and use are contained in chapter 3.6, 3.7,3.8, & 3.10, respectively.

Basel Convention and Waste Management
Nigeria ratified the Basel Convention on the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposals in 1989. The Basel Convention considers the following elements as major requirements for the management of hazardous wastes in a manner, which can be justified and defensible.
a) Generators of wastes subject to the Basel Convention and particularly of hazardous wastes should be responsible for the management of their wastes from their generation until they have been accepted at a facility to be managed in a manner which is environmentally acceptable to the competent authority;
b) Provide a regulatory infrastructure with the ability to monitor, control and regulate, as necessary, all activities concerned with Basel wastes and particularly hazardous wastes;
c) Those involved in all aspects of waste management and disposal must operate according to national standards and international agreements or arrangements, entered into by their country, particularly in the areas of environmental concern such as storage, transport, emissions or discharges to air and water, and disposal on land ;
d) Those involved in the management and disposal of wastes must be able to demonstrate that they posses the capability in terms of equipment and personnel within their organisation for the undertaking in a manner which safeguards human health and the environment:
e) The importation of hazardous wastes from another country should not be permitted, even when there is no domestic legislation in this regard.

Waste Management Practices in Nigeria
The roles of the government and industry in the on-going irresponsible and dangerous disposal of wastes in Nigeria are blameworthy. The government at all levels (i.e., federal, state and local governments) has failed to provide adequate facilities recognised and approved by local and international regulations for environmentally sound management of municipal wastes. Wastes are being dumped in unlined and unprotected pits, and as a result, governments have no moral right to enforce relevant regulations for environmentally friendly disposal of industrial wastes.

Following the government’s examples, the oil & gas industry also indulges in indiscriminate and dangerous dumping of waste arising form exploration and production activity. A few examples will suffice:

In 2000, ELF Petroleum Nigeria Limited, Port Harcourt (Now a subsidiary of TOTAL FINA ELF) caused its foreign waste management contractors, namely SAIPEM and CKS Environment Services to dump harmful drilling waste near a piece of land belonging to Umuokporo Umuosike family in Obagi, Rivers state, Nigeria. As an environmental advisor to the victims, I took part in the joint inspection and other investigations with the environmental regulators, to confirm the hazardous nature of the drilling waste.

Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Environment (FMENV), vide a letter of June 8, 2001 with ref. no. FMENV/PHZO/63/VOL.VIII/230, advised the defaulting company as follows: ‘The results of the analyses of the samples presented by the regulators and the community show some evidence of toxicity of the samples, and to avoid any clash with the community we hereby advise ELF to stop further dumping of the contested waste at the site.’ The case was eventually swept under the carpet. This is a clear indication of the hollow authority without teeth in our enforcement regime.

Following pressures international communities with respect to unregul

ated disposal of oil & gas related harmful wastes in the Nigeria’s Niger Delta, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, Port Harcourt (SPDC – E) conceived a waste management facility (IWMF) in 1996.

The SPDC – E’s wastes were, prior in the proposed IWMF, being disposed of dangerously in open dump sites. Worryingly, the SPDC-E abandoned the IWMF due to its refusal to comply with the due Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process, which the project approval was subject to. According to the official minutes of the review panel meeting for IWMF held June 19, 2000, SPDC-E had threatened to continue with its indiscriminate dumping of wastes if it was not allowed to do the EIA process its own way. The EIA process was abruptly terminated in 2006 and IWMF abandoned before construction. Hence, the SPDC – E has continued with its dangerous disposal of wastes in the environment with impunity.

In a chance arrest, Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) clamped down on Shell, C & E Global Limited and two international companies (Western Atlas and E.D. Wales) while carrying out illegal transportation of dangerous wastes suspected to be radioactive substances from Port Harcourt, Rivers state to Warri, Delta state.

Subsequently, the Federal Government filed a suit against Shell, the three other companies and seventeen (17) members of staff of these companies before an Abuja Federal High Court on March 23, 2007. In the charge cited as FHC/ABJ/CR/30/2007, the accused were said to have conspired between September 9 and October 9, 2006 to carry, transport, handle, store and transfer radioactive sources to an unauthorised person. The story was carried in most Nigerian dailies of March 26, 2007.

The oil & gas industry is notorious for using foreign waste contractors to dispose of its harmful wastes indiscriminately in the environment. The foreign waste trafficking syndicate operating in Nigeria has no facilities to manage the wastes. The syndicate induces and trains some selected local citizens as waste carriers, and uses them to dump the wastes in a manner that threatens public health and the environment. This lucrative dirty business has created more unauthorised waste carriers who now solicit dangerous wastes from foreign countries for a paltry amount of money.

The notorious activities of unauthorised local waste carriers came to the lime light with the Koko toxic waste dumping incident. In June 1988, about 3,888 tons of assorted hazardous wastes from Italy were illegally dumped at the fishing port of Koko, Delta State. The Nigerian government and people only became aware of the issue as a result of information provided by the Nigerian students in Italy. The government ensured that the wastes were returned to Italy. But the nefarious activities of waste carriers have continued on the sly and unabated uptil today.

Nigeria is a dumping ground for hazardous wastes, and substandard and disused goods, which constitute hazards to public health and the environment. These hazardous ‘goods’ get to Nigeria through our airports, seaports and border posts. No thanks to security lapses in Nigeria.

Sometime in January 2009, some drums of harmful wastes were discovered by the Police in Ikorodu, a suburb of Lagos, Lagos state, Nigeria. No fewer than eight (8) persons evacuating the deadly drums were hospitalised after inhaling the waste. The government is yet to make any pronouncement on the origin of the waste.

Greenpeace (an international environmental activist group), on Wednesday, February 18 2009, revealed its three (3) years investigation on transboundary movement of harmful electronic wastes from western countries to developing countries. According to the investigation, second-hand electronic products (such as television sets, computer sets, etc); which are slated for recycling or outright disposal in western countries are shipped to Nigeria, where they are sold as scrap or illegally dumped in the environment.

Consequent upon the report of the electronic wastes, the Federal Government and Federal House of Representatives have taken the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement. Agency (NESREA) and Nigeria Customs Service to task over the issue. This appears to be an impossible task even as NESREA and other relevant agencies have lost control over the indiscriminate disposal of locally generated harmful wastes in Nigeria.

Currently, Nigeria is facing the worst case scenario. The dangerous waste traffickers and carriers have gone beyond dumping wastes secretly in our backyard; they now have an effrontery to dump the wastes on our doorstep with impunity.

The Way Forward
The government should act responsibly to halt the on-going unregulated industrial activities and indiscriminate waste disposal, which are already causing impairment of public health and irreversible environmental damage.

The government at all levels should play an exemplary role by ensuring that municipal wastes disposal practices in their various territories comply with relevant local and international regulations. This will give them the moral courage to enforce the necessary law and regulations against the generators / traffickers of industrial and dangerous wastes.

The various state governments and the federal capital territory (FCT) should, as a minimum, set up:

i) Incinerators and sanitary landfills for environmentally sound management of municipal solid wastes;
ii) Liquid effluent treatment plants for management of sewage and other hazardous municipal liquid wastes.

The federal government should also through the federal environmental regulator establish hazardous wastes incinerators and engineered (i.e. secured) landfills for management of industrial wastes. The facilities should be run profitably on behalf of the government by waste management practitioners /companies with proven expertise in industrial waste management. The operators shall charge and collect appropriate fees from industrial wastes generators. The various state environmental regulators shall liaise with the federal regulator, to ensure that industrial wastes generated in their territories are taken to the designated facilities. This will entail ensuring that a chain of accountability and responsibility is established from the point of wastes creation to their final disposal.

The federal government should also address the dumping of foreign substandard products and or dangerous wastes occasioned from dereliction of duties by the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Nigeria Customs Service, Environmental Regulators and other relevant agencies.

In conclusion, Nigeria’s quest to put a halt to the reckless and indiscriminate dumping of wastes can only succeed if the government chooses to change its attitude of dangerous dumping of municipal wastes in unlined pits and water bodies, enforce legislations on management of locally generated industrial wastes, and live up to the provisions of the Basel convention (ratified by Nigeria in 1989) against transboundary movement of hazardous wastes into Nigeria.


  1. NSO and customs have no idea what the impact of their failure to control the inflow of goods containing hazardous substances is on public health and environment. Thus training of their staff would be recommended. Alternatively, NESREA should be mandated to send its staff to relevant border posts, seaports etc to checkmate these nefarious activities

  2. The government should act very fast on environmentally friendly management of municipal & industrial wastes.


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