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Air Pollution: What Nigeria Must Do to Fight the Importation of Used Vehicles

By Olamide Francis

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) raised the alarm over the effects of environmental effects of importation of used vehicle into Nigeria. In the report published on 26 October 2020, it said millions of used vehicles exported from Europe, US, and Japan to developing nations are significant contributors to air pollution. In the period UNEP torch lighted (2015-2018), Africa imported 40% of the total number of used vehicles. Most of the exported vehicles are of poor quality, some with wear engines, and are inhibitors to the fight against climate change and global warming. Adding to these, UNEP also revealed that only 20% of the air in Africa is of good quality – a strong indication that we have created more environmental trouble for ourselves than we can solve.

Attempts to mitigate environmental pollution must take off from the known/visible agents of pollution to the unknown/invisible. The importation of used vehicles is a subtle but relevant agents of pollution in Africa and Nigeria that requires urgent attention. I will attempt to x-ray the cogent things that Nigeria must do if we must address the prevalent issue of used vehicles importation, its catalysts and associated environmental challenges.

In a bid to check this menace, it will be unfair not to put into consideration the reason for the request for used vehicles in Nigeria. Used vehicles which have proved to be a major contributor to environmental pollution in Nigeria aren’t just ferried here because we have a beautiful country. They got here on the premise of demand and supply forces. If there was/is no demand for them, there cannot be supply. Hence, Africa has become a dumpsite for used vehicles and other unusable materials. So, why do Nigerians prefer used vehicles to new vehicles? The reason isn’t far-fetched. A lion share of citizens cannot afford new vehicles. The cost is relatively high, so, they choose to settle with the second best. Adding to these, the lack of/little support for locally manufactured vehicles is an enabling factor as well.

The first and most important solution is to increase the collective and individual wealth of citizens. Purchasing power is low and only few can afford vehicles that pass emissions regulations test. Poverty has an interrelated relationship with environmental degradation and pollution. So, we must bring poverty to the barest minimum first if we desire permanent panacea to the prevalent importation of used vehicles in to Nigeria. To stop communities from using firewood, there must be an alternative provided or empowerment to afford the alternative. Poverty treatment first, then, every other thing will fall in place.

Another challenge facing the curb of the importation of used vehicles is the lack of strong policies to mitigate the importation of used vehicles. In Nigeria and in many other African countries, there are no/weak policies against the importation of used vehicles. Used vehicles find their way into the country without restriction or check. This issue is a reminder of a generic problem with the African continent – lack of policy implementation at all levels. There is no use of policy formulation without implementation. Government institutions must be allowed to function independently. The federal ministry of environment must set up task force with the duty to properly access vehicles that arrive the border of Nigeria. Such task force must be strengthened with the autonomy to work without prejudice.

Most used vehicles allegedly imported into the country are financed by the affluence, who seem to be above the law of the land. If regulatory commissions and institutions will function effectively, it must be independent of any individual, power and persons. The lack of effective standards and regulations results in the dumping of old, polluting and unsafe vehicles in the Nigerian environment and Africa at large. The government of Nigeria must relate with nations responsible for the exportation of used vehicles into Nigeria towards the improvement of used vehicles that are Nigeria-bound. While we aggressively fight poverty at home, we must fight the entrance of life-threatening objects and substance, visible or invisible, into the Nigerian space.

The immediate health and environmental impact of poor air quality (an aftermath of the prevalent importation of used vehicle) might be few but it is always detrimental on a long run. Air pollution related epidemic could be in the works for Nigeria as well as a high mortality rate. Nations that are nonchalant with the current environmental ‘hand writings on the wall’ will definitely pay for it on a broader scale in the nearest future. Nigeria and Africa must act now or brace up for the impending and deleterious consequence.

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