When the people of Obajana gave their land to Dangote cement in June 2012 for the construction of the biggest cement factory in Sub-saharan Africa, it was with an enthusiasm and assurance that the company will compensate residents, re/construct roads, provide basic amenities, employ the people, and most importantly ensure residents are not exposed to undue health hazards. Five years down the lane, the people are lamenting a betrayal of trust.
According to a field report by Ripples Nigeria https://www.ripplesnigeria.com/trail-broken-promises-story-dangote-cement-people-obajana-1/ ,the farmers were given peanuts on destroyed crops as against the original value of their lands while they have been constantly exposed to undue health hazards from dust, water, and soil pollution. Moreover, the company has been accused of refusing to provide health facilities to the community; the hopes of the people may have been dashed.
A case of an Environmental Impact Assessment?
Following the 1972 Stockholm UN Conference of Human Environment, the 1988 dumping of toxic waste in Koko Delta State, and the 1992 UN Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, Nigeria joined other nation in establishing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act of 1992 together with other environmental acts.
An EIA is necessary for any proposed development project on the natural and human environment in order to identify, predict and assess future environmental impacts. This is to ensure that these impacts are addressed and potential problems are foreseen at the appropriate project design state.
If an EIA is mandatory on every natural and human environment project, the question then is were the current issues faced by the people of Obajana not assessed?
Of course they were. Ripples Nigeria reported that the company had assured the people in the EIA submitted that the company was to operate on modern technology that will properly/adequately contain hazardous content. In addition, final EIA report presented in 2014 claim that dust emitted during cement manufacture is generally non-toxic nor hazardous.
What then could have gone wrong?
Although Ripples discovered that Electrostatic Precipitators (ESP) are the major machines that exhaust dust in the factory, dusts escape only when there are bag filters failures or ESP overload. Some staff of the factory also confirmed that though bag filter failures rarely occur, ESP failures occur up to five or six times a year and when they do, pollution spreads in spilt seconds while it takes weeks to rectify the deed.
Beyond an EIA
Although an EIA is a step towards guiding against potential environmental risks in business operations, this one-off assessment does not guarantee a life-long safety of any project on the people or the environment. There are still unforeseen, changing and new environmental and social issues (such as those being experienced in Obajana) that could arise years after the commencement of a business operation. Such issues necessitated an Environmental and Social Risk Management (ESRM) structure.
A committed ESRM structure not only ensures the protection of the environment and the people, it also guides against clashes between a business and its community of operation. When environmental and social risk issues are not properly managed however, the aims of the EIA are defeated whilst the people’s hopes are dashed and the company faced with one of the greatest challenges any business can face – Reputational risk.
The Dangote-Obajana issue once again nudges the need for organisations and governments to take the issues of environmental and social risk management more seriously. Businesses need to continuously adhere to environmental and social standards while consistently engaging stakeholders. ESRM should be the consciousness of any business to operate a social, environmental, and economically rewarding venture at all times. Moreover, it should be remembered that reputational risks are capable of soiling the image of a business in the media and in the public in a split second.
Bestowed with the role of protecting the safety and the well-being of citizens, the government must go beyond ensuring that companies carry out proper and reliable EIAs, but also constantly demand social and environmental accountability from them. Then can the Nigerian socio-economic environment be peaceful and sustainable.