Litter The Law
Monday, August 13th, 2012
I am very passionate about the environment, more importantly the environment where I reside: Nigeria. And there is something that always speaks to me: litter. I see it everywhere and it begs me to pick it up…on the streets, just beside a trash can, on the road, in the gutters….everywhere! Nigeria is filled with litter! But what can we do about it? The government is already overburdened with problems of security, education, employment and others with such magnitude of importance, and to add that, the burden of the environment might even seem cruel or harsh, not to mention the issue of opening the floodgates of the court. Therefore the constitution has made the rights to the security of the environment non-justiciable according to Section 20 of the 1999 Constitution.
There seems to be a way out with the public trust doctrine, which is a common law principle that provides that certain resources are preserved for public use, and that the government is required to maintain them for the public’s use. In the American case of National Audubon Society v Superior Court, the court held that public trust is an affirmation of the duty of the state to protect the people’s common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelines.
According to an article by Patricia Kameri-Mbote, the public trust doctrine holds that certain natural resources are held by the sovereign in trust and on behalf of all the citizens because of their unique characteristics and central importance. This doctrine, according to most scholars, originated from the Justinian Code under the doctrine of res communes, which claims that some things are ‘common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea [and] the right of fishing in a port, or in rivers, is common to all men’.
In Nigeria, we are quite reluctant to sue the government on issues relating to the environment probably because we would be tagged as meddlesome interlopers by the judges or maybe because we have a wave of other problems cascading over us and no one really sees the environment as his or her personal property, so why bother? It is, however, important to note that the environment is a heritage that should be preserved for posterity. A good maintenance culture is an attribute that I would want to pass on to my kids. It is really important for us as a people to understand that the environment is a part of who we are, almost an extension of us. Thus it should be treated with care and preserved. This can start with little actions like picking up trash in our neighbourhoods and on the streets and also organising groups to make it more fun. Environmental sanitation should not be relegated to the last Saturday of the month, but should become part of our lives. Better still the day should not be observed by sleeping lazily in bed because you cannot go out on the ground of environmental sanitation. Even if the government is not actively taking steps to safeguard the environment they are not unaware that it needs to be safeguarded. I recommend partnership with the government to ensure that we have an environment worthy to pass on.
 ‘The use of the Public Trust Doctrine in Environmental Law’,3/2 Law, Environment and Development Journal (2007), p. 195,available at http://www.lead-journal.org/content/07195.pdf
 Joseph L. Sax, ‘Public Trust Doctrine in Natural Resource Law: Effective Judicial Intervention’, 68Michigan L. Rev. 471 (1970).
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