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Sustainable Environmental Management: The Dr. Essien Philosophy, by Promise Etim

dr-essien
Dr. Iniobong Essien

As of today, Akwa Ibom is widely regarded as one of the cleanest states in the country. This is unconnected to the fact that Akwa Ibom people are generally known to be decent and hygienic. Another correlating factor could be that, since the creation of the state in 1987 from Cross River, it has witnessed appreciable infrastructural and human capital development.
Sustaining the momentum as a clean and green destination in Sub-Saharan Africa has been the focal point of successive administrations in the state for the past two decades. This is evident in the various environmentally friendly policies developed by the state to check excesses of pollution and environmental degradation from a domestic to industrial point of view.

The emergence of Udom Emmanuel as Governor of the state in May, 2015, was seen by many as the icing on the cake, given his track record in the private sector, motivating many Akwa Ibom people to see him as a competent and resourceful hand capable of effectively managing resources available in the state and various infrastructures brought to bear by the Obong Victor Attah and GodswillAkpabio administration’s respectively.
Some of these infrastructures are quite composite and require effective and efficient environmental management framework, given the fact that most of them have direct interaction with residence, as well as serving as a source of income generation. It is generally believed that the infrastructural renaissance witnessed in the past couple of years directly led to increased economic activities and excessive influx of people into the state. There certainly was need for a competent environmental management expert, to ensure people both in the public and private sector are safe, healthy and productive.
Governor Udom Emmanuel’s choice of Dr.  IniobongEssien, a revered medical practitioner and environmental health expert was greeted with cheers, as many believed his wealth of experience in the public health sector was very key towards achieving a sustainable and green Akwa Ibom, through the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources.
Knowing that a clean and healthy environment breed productive citizens, Dr. Essien immediately settled in and modelled a tangible environmental management framework to Carter for the aspirations of Akwa Ibom people as well as the Industrialization blueprint of the Udom Emmanuel administration.
The modeling, remodeling and transformation process began with the re-introduction of the monthly environmental exercise, which became extinct in the previous administration. The exercise has genuinely provided the platform for Akwa Ibom people to get involved in the process of achieving a sustainable environment, rather than leaving such responsibility solely in the hands of Government.
Under the supervision of Dr. Essien, the Akwa Ibom Green Brigade campaign got a face lift, as more Akwa Ibom people were drafted in and more grounds covered. The programme has seemingly provided more than two thousand jobs for Akwa Ibom people. The Ministry of Environment over the past couple of months have embarked on numerous tree planting project, with emphasis on promoting afforestation and provision of more vegetative cover.  At the moment, the state has a functional sanitation court, that does not only handle issues related to the monthly sanitation exercise, but also checkmates the excesses of environmental activities in the state.
In a bid to address some basic ecological challenges of the state, Dr. Essien engaged staff of the ministry, stakeholders as well as some persons from the academia, for an on the spot assessment and thorough research on more than one hundred erosion sites within the state. The emphasis was to study proposals made by previous administrations to ascertain if they were in line with global best practices.
The efforts of the state is gradually yielding result, as the Federal Government recently adopted and included the Akwa Ibom as one of the beneficiaries of the Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWPAD), a project funded by the Federal Government in conjunction with the World Bank and counterpart funding for the Akwa Ibom State Government.  The inclusion of the state in the NEWNAN framework as announced by the Minister of Finance, Mrs.  Kemi Adeosun, was hailed by many as a remarkable feat.
Funding of Environment development programs has been a major concern in recent times. In line with Governor Udom Emmanuel led administration’s vision to ensure that MDAs explore alternative sources of funding to drive their programs and better the lot of Akwa Ibom people, the state’s ministry of Environment under Dr. Essien initiated a couple of programs titled towards promoting Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) in the environmental sector.
One of the after effect of the PPP initiative is the collaboration with Zenith Bank PLC towards promoting a cleaner and healthy environment in Akwa Ibom. The financial institution recently donated a good number of high quality waste collection bin (receptacles) to people of the state. The move was aimed at promoting local content and addressing the immediate concerns of Akwa Ibom people particularly as it affects waste management. Such laudable venture has reduced pressure on the Government, as well put smiles on the faces of residence.
In July 2016, Akwa Ibom played host to technocrats and professionals in the environmental sector across the globe as the state’s Ministry of Environment and Natural resources in collaboration with Water Safety Initiative Foundation and the Environmental Communications Limited held a climate change and clean energy summit in Uyo. The programme saw stakeholders in the Industry brainstormed and developed a short-medium-long term framework for sustainable environmental management and integration for the state and country in extension. It also provided the state an opportunity to key into basic climate change programs at the global stage.
The four day programme witnessed Akwa Ibom people being enlightened and informed on how to achieve a low-carbon economy for sustainable empowerment. The summit also created a pathway for: embarking on awareness to the people on the causes and consequence of climate change; encouragement of the citizens to participate actively on issues bothering climate change in the region; building of synergy between institutions on tackling the menace of climate change; activation of a reliable framework for multi-sectorial intervention for climate change and sustainable development and strategic repositioning of the state towards achieving low carbon economy.
Recently, there has been incessant complains and displeasure by residence of the state in the area of noise pollution due to domestic, religious, commercial and industrial activities. Committed to the plight of Akwa Ibom people and strategically ensuring that noise pollution is reduced to the nearest minimum, the Ministry of Environment has constantly advocated for increased awareness of the public on the threat posed by noise pollution and its impact on humans and the environment.
A more efficient framework has been put in place for effective monitoring and relocation of businesses and commercial centers, which possess greater risk of noise pollution, to the masses. At the moment, there is a proposal for effective legislation, to ensure relevant laws are put in place to regulate noise level in residential areas. Such laws when derived by the state House of Assembly will empower the ministry and other stakeholders to checkmate the excesses of factors that promote noise pollution within the state.
Reducing the risk of environmental pollution as a result of industrial activities through emission of used gases has been a major concern for the state. Akwa Ibom is strategically positioned to explore alternative sources of energy in the areas of wind power, solar power as well as hydro power. Exploring and utilizing alternative source of energy is the bedrock on which the effect of gas flaring and pollution of the atmosphere will be limited.
To achieve this, the state has identified research, training and strategic partnership as key factors. This informed its decision to sponsor stakeholders in the environmental sector to various climate change seminars, conferences and symposiums at both national and international levels.  One of such was the climate change summit held last November in Paris. At the forum, the delegates from the state, led by Dr. Essien engaged global warming and climate change agents and researchers from other climes on topical discussion, as a basis for drawing comparison with what is obtainable in the state for effective capacity building.
Aside from waste management and environmental protection which remains core objectives of the ministry, the state has witnessed signing of memorandum of understanding (MOU) with some companies within the state to see to the empowerment of Akwa Ibom people, especially ones that have direct impact on communities they are located. This has technically been achieved through effective monitoring of activities of the companies to ensure their activities conform with laid down environmental laws of the state.
Through a collaborate framework with the ministry of works, there has been improved monitoring of activities of miners and sand dredgers across the state. Informed by the concerns of residence, the Udom Emmanuel administration recently placed a ban on dredging of sand in the state, to allow for holistic review of dredging and mining activities to limit damages on land and water resources. The move was hailed by many as a step in the right direction, given the fact that sand dredgers and miners previously never considered the health and safety of people living within the environment they operate.
An accelerated waste management system is very key to sustaining a clean and healthy Akwa Ibom State.  In recent times, there has been increased call by residence of old-stadium road for relocation of the only recognized dump site in Uyo metropolis, as a result of its environmental impact on the people. According to them, the inability of previous administrations to champion relocation of the dump site has adversely resulted in massive air pollution and contamination of ground water, a situation that posed great concern.
The Ministry of Environment and Mineral resources has lived up to its billing in the regard, by identifying and developing a makeshift dump site along Uyo village road, to alleviate the sufferings of persons residing along old-stadium road. The swift response to the plight of the affected persons has portrayed the ministry as well as the state Government as a responsibly committed to the well-being of Akwa Ibom people. The new dump site is expected to complement the waste management structure the state Government is working towards completing at EkimItam in Itu Local Government area.
Throughout his stay in office, the Ministry of environment generally witnessed unprecedented development in the areas like: timely waste collection and disposal; land reclamation; acquisition of site for accelerated development of an integrated waste management structure; gully erosion control at strategic locations in Uyo, Oron and Itu; mediation between oil companies and host communities through signing of various memorandum of understandings; prompt intervention at some flood prone areas; landscaping, development and beautification of parks; development of an action plan for biodiversity and activation of a green and alternative energy roadmap for Akwa Ibom State.
Within the period in review, there has been more efficient monitoring of environmental activities in the state via the Global Information System (GIS) and constant update of the state’s environmental laboratory. It is worthy of note that the environmental concerns of Akwa Ibom people have adequately been addressed in the past couple of months, under the watchful eyes of Dr. Essien during his stay at the ministry of environment.
On a positive note, the sustenance of this philosophy is genuinely pivotal towards the realization of Governor Udom Emmanuel’s plans to industrialize the state and create employment opportunities for Akwa Ibom people.

* Promise Etim, an Agricultural Engineer is a research expert and lecturer in the Akwa Ibom State University

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