A don in Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Professor Gaius Okwezuzu has called for a review of the Nigerian constitution to make environmental degradation punishable by law. The don made the call while delivering his inaugural lecture titled ‘Fishing in Poisoned Waters: The Law as a weapon to combat Environmental Degradation in the Niger Delta’. He said it had become glaring that the traditional common law torts, and the constitution of the country, have not produced the desired results in protecting the environment, especially in the Niger Delta. It is, therefore, necessary he argued, to deploy more potent legal weapons in the battle to protect the environment. He called on the Nigerian Government to summon the political will to deal with the challenge of oil spill and also implement the law on gas flaring which is long overdue, bearing in mind its extremely dangerous effects in the people and the environment.
While delivering the 20th inaugural of the University, Okwezuzu suggested that the right to protect the environment should be moved from chapter two of the 1999 constitution to Chapter four in order to make it enforceable, recommending that the constitution should be amended accordingly. He stated that the Niger Delta is plagued with so much environmental pollution that constitutes a serious threat to human survival not only to the inhabitants of the locality but the impacts extend to the entire global community, stating that such threat can be described as ‘environmental genocide’ which some scholars have also termed ecocide.
According to the professor of Law, the Niger Delta is one of the ten most significant wetlands and marine ecosystems in our planet; and the oil industry in the area has undoubtedly made great contribution towards the growth and development of the whole nation but unsuitable oil exploration activities have made the Niger Delta region to be among the five most severely petroleum damaged ecosystem in the world. He recommended that the proposal of including ecocide as the fifth crime against peace should be urgently resurrected for serious consideration by the United Nations as its recognition in International law could be a potent and effective measure to address contemporary environmental plagues in different places in the world.
The don further stated that , ‘while the recommendation that an environmental restoration fund for Ogoni land be set up with a take-off sum of one billion dollars is commendable, it must be noted, however, that there are other communities in the Niger- Delta that have equal or even worse cases of oil pollution than Ogoni land. It is, therefore, recommended similar scientific assessment and restorative approach should be extended to the entire Niger Delta region’
The event attracted people from far and near, including some of his kinsmen from the Niger-Delta region. The Vice- Chancellor, Rt. Rev. Professor Dapo F. Asaju, later declared that Professor Okwezuzu, who is also a Venerable in the Diocese of Western Izon, Church of Nigeria ( Anglican Communion), had successfully inaugurated his chair as a professor in the University.