The1968 African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources was revised in 2003 by the African Union and boost the commitment by African governments to protecting the environment and the sustainable use of natural resources and the collective approach to bio diversity conservation in Africa. The Revise Convention is comprehensive and modern regional treaty in the environment and natural resources conservation. The first to deal with a wide spectrum of sustainable development issues, including land and soil, water, and biological diversity conservation and sustainable use. The original convention entered into force 16th of June, 1969 and currently has 31 ratifications from African countries. The Revise Convention will enter into force once it has been ratified by 15 African states. Currently, 8 countries have ratified it.
On 25th September 2014, in this interview by O.J Matthew of Vision FM Abuja with the Senior Programme Officer of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Kolawole Banwo discusses extensively on the importance of revised African Convention on Nature and Natural Resources. Excerpts:
Now can you explain to us a little about the African Union Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Convention?
BANWO: Thank you very much. The African Union Convention on the Conservation is a multi-lateral agreement between countries in Africa to decide and resolve issues on how to harness to environment and manage nature and its resources in a sustainable manner to ensure that, it serves the interest of man and it is not destroyed in the process. The idea is that the environment is a cross cutting thing, and what happens in one region affects other regions. Therefore, it is essential that people come together and reach a common understanding on how to do it. The convention was entered into firstly in 1968 in Algiers to manage that. And then, subsequently, for some reasons, it was revisited and amended in 2003 to reflect certain new realities. So, it is all about managing the environment and harnessing nature for the best interest of man and ensure that it is sustainable and used for common good.
What do you think are the reasoning behind the revising of the document from 1968 document to the 2003 document?
BANWO: The reasons are threefold basically, the first is that, the Algiers Convention (that is the first convention that was reached) did not have in it a structure to facilitate implementation. So, people reached an agreement but there was nothing in built to facilitate the implementation of what was agreed. The second which link to it is that, there was no mechanism for enforcing sanctions for anybody who defaults. And when you have an agreement and there is no sanction, it is not worth more than the paper which it is written. And of course, the third is related to the fact that between 1968 Algiers and Maputo 2003, there have been technological development and other things that have been discovered, that impacts on the environment either positively or negatively, that were not envisaged in 1968 and it was necessary that countries come together and incorporate this, and take note of it in making new agreements. Technologies that can pollute the environment, research that people go into that are not accommodating and regulated, all of these necessitated that they needed to revisit Algiers and got to Maputo so that this changes can be amended. And of course, law generally is an ongoing thing and it is a dynamic thing.
Nigeria is not among the countries that have ratified this document, so what are the implications for the country?
KOLA: The implications for the country can again be considered from three points of view. First is that, for the wider African continent, you need 15 countries to ratify before it can come into force. If Nigeria does not, that is one country short, and then it will not come into force after all the effort that came into it. This is not good for a country like Nigeria. Secondly is that, it was Nigeria and Cameroon that initiated the process of moving from Algiers to Maputo (getting the revised version).
Morally, when you lead a process, you own up to it. The fact that we led and initiated the process, got the amendment done and the Convention made and then retrain from signing it does not portray us in good light as responsible members of the international community. Thirdly, unless you ratify it, domesticate it, and begin to implement, the decisions and resolutions are not binding on you. That means that, the management of our nature, for a country that is dependent on the extractive industry, again, is left to the whims and caprices of our leaders. They are not subjecting themselves to internal regulations and that means that it can be mismanaged. We are now left as Nigerians to try to make them accountable. But usually, when you have external accountability from other sources, states behave themselves more responsibly.
So what benefit do you think the ratification and full implementation of this convention have for Nigeria?
BANWO: Well, that’s a converse to the question I just answered. That portrays us in good light as a continent leader. I mean, the giant of Africa has signed on to it. The benefit of that is that, it can now trickle down, other smaller countries cab buy in. That speaks well for our country because the foreign image and the advantage of having such a positive foreign image is good. Secondly, if it is ratified, it is also domesticated and if implementation begins, we would have better management of our resources, we all know the situation of the Niger Delta and all of that. We have the United Nation Environmental project; we have court cases, Shell and all of that. It means that, because there is now a higher level of accountability because we have ratified the convention our leaders are more likely to behave more responsibly in managing our resources. Remember, all of this is related to issues of sustainable development which says that, you should make the most of the resources you have today without jeopardizing the rights and benefits of future generations too. So, these resources, some of them are not renewable and if we don’t manage them well now, we would jeopardize the future. If we subject ourselves to that level of accountability, we can now (the citizens) have basis apart from internal, mechanisms and laws, to hold their leaders accountable and make them behave. Overall, that ensures that our resources are well managed, our environment is sustainably managed and the safety and interests of the citizens are taken into consideration. When that is done, we can have sustainable development. Those are the benefits that Nigeria can enjoy if we do go in to ratify, domesticate and begin to implement. I emphasise that because they are key. If you ratify and you don’t domesticate, it cannot be implemented, if you domesticate and you don’t implement, there can be no impact. So, the value change must be complied with and that is why we are in this campaign.
What do you think the government should do urgently to see to the ratification, domestication and implementation, and which government MDAs should work towards seeing this done?
BANWO: The government as a matter of urgency in responding to its international obligation and behaving as a responsible member of the international community and a leader in Africa, take urgent steps to ratify this. And this is by following all the necessary processes that are required. This involves several MDAs working together, Ministry of Environment should take the lead because this is an environmental issue and it affects nature and the natural environment. But they should work with other MDAs who have a stake in it. Water is important; it is one of the things that are being protected. Ministry of Water resources should be interested. Agriculture, because we are talking about Forestry, Forest Reserves, we are talking about the soil and its use. We are talking about research and its pollutants and all that can destroy fisheries and all of that. So the Ministry of Agriculture should also be interested. And of course the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because that is our link to the outside world, should work with them. You also have the Ministry of Justice, which is supposed to be basically responsible to provide the leadership that ensures this agreement comes to table at the Federal Executive Council, it is approved and adopted and then a bill is sent to the National Assembly for it to be properly passes into a law and enacted which is what we call domestication for it to be implemented.
All of these working intern den with the relevant legislative committee in the House of Assembly; House Committee on Environment, House Committee on Water Resources, House Committee on Judiciary, Committee on Foreign Affairs, they should harness as a matter of urgency, in a well-coordinated manner and serious government institution to ensure that this is done. There is ratification, i will deposit the necessary instruments with the AU office, there is domestication, it is passed into domestic law and then, they begin to implement and ensure there is oversight in its implementation.
Are there any roles for citizens and Civil Society groups toward to ratification and implementation of this convention?
BANWO: Yes, Civil Societies as representatives off the citizens have a say, because the natural resources and nature is all about the citizens. The food they eat depends on it, the environment they live, the water they drink and everything. And so they can be involved in this, and we are already involved because this programme is a product of that involvement. We are doing a campaign to highlight and sensitize citizens to be part of the process of influencing and engaging government to ratify, domesticate and implement, educate them on what their rights and duties are and how they can be involved. We give them information that makes them have a stake, and then we advocate to the relevant agencies that should act to make this happen.
We also engage them, we do policy briefs, we do press statements as the need arises, all to ensure that people are mobilised, Civil Society is sensitized and the government stakeholders also know their roles and what they should do. Perhaps, we can get them to do. These are the things we can do. And the more people speak, the louder voices, the likely the chances that our leaders will hear and act up on it. That is something we can do and we are already doing.