The provision of public access to environmental information is a priority for an individual can only be responsive and possibly pro-active if he has relevant and accurate information at his disposal. This connotes that a person must have access to environmental information to ensure his part in achieving sustainable development.
Access to environmental information means that individuals , groups and organizations should have access to information that are relevant to environment and development held by national authorities, including information on products and activities that have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment.
80 Information relating to the environment means any available information in written, visual, aural or database form on the state of water, air, soil, farina, flora, land and natural sites and on activities (including those which give rise to nuisances) or measures adversely affecting these natural resources or likely to so affect them and on activities or measures designed to protect them, including administrative measures and environmental management programmes.81
The dire global need to protect our environment led to the 1992 United Nations conference on the Human Environment “Stockholm Conference” and the 1992 United Nations conference on Environment and Development. Agenda 21 of Stockholm Conference emphasized the need for environmental education as a weapon that could be used by all nations to arouse peoples’ consciousness on promotion of effective environmental management. The Aarhus convention ensures public access to environmental information held by public authorities and establishes mechanisms to collect and disseminate such information.
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The Nigerian government through NESREA (formerly known as FEPA) and other relevant agencies has been making efforts to educate the public on environmental issues using both print and electronic media.
Inspite of the remarkable progress made in providing environmental information, there are still substantial constraints to the effective management and development of the environment. These include uncoordinated policies and legal instruments, weak database, inadequate enforcement, institutional conflicts, inadequate and untimely funding and lack of public awareness83.
A research work carried out in Owarri Central local government area of Delta state showed that only 43 out of 140 indigenes are aware that the use of firewood and charcoal for domestic cooking are injurious to the environment. This suggests that most of the indigenes are only aware of environmental problems that directly affect them and their immediate environment such as oil spillage and pipeline vandalization but are ignorant of global ecological problems and how their domestic practices might contribute to these problems.
Furthermore, another research showed that radio and television were the most easily accessed by the public for environmental information, while government officials, internet and library were the least effective sources of environmental information.84 The general constraints to environmental information include the following:- i. Language barrier, ii. Non-provision of adequate information iii. Lack of funds iv. Lack of time v. illiteracy.
Regrettably, the right to information is not yet a reality in Nigeria with the result that data and information regarding the violations in question are often times “buried” within government records as part of official secrets.85