It’s about time! The new National Vehicle Emission Control Programme which NESREA has unveiled is aimed at phased reduction of the level of pollution from the increasing number of old and poorly maintained vehicles that ply Nigerian roads. Although the federal government approved the National Environmental Control of Vehicular Emission regulations since 2011, little has been done to enforce the standards they specify.
Road transport is the most dominant mode of moving people and goods in Nigeria and, with the low employment opportunities and inefficient public transport services, and the prohibitive cost of purchasing new ones, an increasing number of old vehicles are being brought into use. Trailer vehicles belching out black toxic smoke, motorcycles and some cars with their excessive exhaust fumes should, under normal regulated circumstances, be deemed to be not roadworthy and removed from the roads until their emission standards are upgraded or corrected. About 10 million vehicles and 3 million motorcycles ply Nigerian roads, according to one estimate; the majority of these are found in urban centres where traffic congestion is a problem. As a consequence, commuters and passersby inhale toxic fumes in traffic holdups.
The reduction of emissions from vehicles is the key to tackling the menace of air pollution in the country. However, industrialization and poor electricity supply have also led to massive discharge of toxic fumes from alternative sources, like power generator sets, into the atmosphere. The World Health Organization states that in 2012, approximately 7 million people died as a result of exposure to air pollution, making it the world’s single largest environmental health hazard. The reduction of vehicle emissions requires an integrated approach involving improvements in enforcement of standards, cleaner fuels, vehicle inspection and maintenance and efficient transport planning. While NESREA’s new posture is welcome, the authorities should be wary of falling into the trap of creating another avenue for extortion of the motoring public. Declaring any vehicle as being not roadworthy should not be a subjective rule-of-thumb matter. Although it is easy to identify high-capacity vehicles belching black smoke, the case of motorcycles and generating sets and cars is different. There is need for the installation of some sort of device calibrated to measure emissions that will remove subjectivity from the issue. Furthermore, there is absolutely no need to create another agency or corps to tackle this menace and monitor emissions. Specialist sections on emission standards could be created in the Federal Road Safety Corps and Vehicle Inspection Officers to get the job done. Indeed much of the duty of enforcement lies with the VIOs, who routinely issue roadworthiness certificates to vehicles that they have not seen!
The government should ensure that manufacturers of vehicles destined for Nigeria are informed to fit such vehicles with emission-limiting parts that can be serviced and upgraded regularly. The government also needs to take a serious look at the issue of emissions from power generators. The problem is particularly prevalent in markets and shopping centres. Instead of operating a generator to service an entire neighbourhood, hundreds of small generators all working at the same time emit toxic fumes into the air and onto foodstuffs that are in open display, to say nothing of the deafening din they produce. The proliferation of small generators is a serious environmental hazard that needs to be discouraged through efficiency in the public power supply network. Clean air should be only the first step in a holistic approach to make the nation’s environment a healthy place to live and work in.