LOCUS STANDI:- Locus Standi generally connotes the legal capacity to institute proceedings in a court of law. Where a party has no locus standi, the proceedings however ably conducted by a court of component jurisdiction, will be a nullity. The constitution of Nigeria provides for locus standi in civil proceedings.
As a matter of general law, the constitution vests in the Attorney –General the locus standi to prosecute criminal cases. The constitution vests in the Attorney-General of the federation the locus standi to prosecute offences, while it vests in the Attorney-General of a State to prosecute offences. Therefore, Environmental prosecution under the laws indicated above will, by virtue of the constitutional provision, be handled by the Attorney-General of the federation in view of the fact that they are federal status.
The ability to institute legal action is a virility test adopted in many jurisdictions to enhance or reduce the ability of persons or organizations. Even in judicial systems that guarantee freedom of access to Justice, specific regulations can sometimes preclude the exercise of such rights, or prescribe procedures which render the rights nugatory.
Applicants will have standing to seek judicial review if they have a sufficient interest in the matter to which the application relates. What constitutes a sufficient interest is essentially a matter of judicial discretion. The most straightforward situation is where applicants can show that they have been personally adversely affected by the action being challenged.
As noted earlier, in few cases where private rights have been affected and individual plaintiffs have the standing to sue for damages or injunctive reliefs, such plaintiffs must have resources to sustain lengthy litigations….
Environmental matters now come under the fundamental human rights in Nigeria by reason of the domestication of the African Charter on Human and People’s Right. The effect of this that private citizens can now being actions to enforce their rights in environmental issues and will not be barred on account of locus Standi as has been the case before now.
Conversely, Nigeria’s rules regarding the standing to sue or enforceability remains vague and applied pragmatically by the courts. A major consequence of this is that the courts may deny a claimant the right to sue even where it appears apparent that such claimant has standing as evidenced in the case of Oronto Douglas v Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited.
In this case, which suggests government interference in the enforcement of environmental rights, the plaintiff alleged that the mandatory provisions of the Environmental Impact Assessment Act, 1992 (E I A Act) had not been compiled with by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas whose project was about to be commissioned. The project was a multibillion dollar investment owned by the Federal Republic of Nigeria, represented by the NNPC, which owns 49% of its shares and other oil- multinationals including Shell, Totalfina, Elf and Agip.
The plaintiff sought an action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that the first to fourth defendants can not lawfully commission or carry out or operate their project at Bonny without complying strictly with the provisions of the EIA Act which mandates that for such intending projects, an environmental impact assessment must be carried out with the active public. The court struck out the suit on the ground, inter alia that the plaintiff has no standing to institute the suit. This decision was reached despite the fact that the plaintiff is a native of one of the project’s host-communities and well-known environmentalist.
It is worthy of note that the Court of Appeal set aside this decision and ordered a retrial before a judge on the grounds that the Federal High Court had breached a number of procedural rules. However, the retrial did not proceed as ordered by the Appellate court because the project had been completed by the time the appellate court delivered its decision.
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The uncertainty in the rules results in denying claimants and entire communities their rights to law justice and the consequences may jeopardize their environment and means of livelihood. Similarly, the strict application of the locus standi rules in causes of action arising from public law, has led to the failure of environmental cases against governmental bodies as seen in the case of Chinda and 5 ors v Shell – BP Petroleum Development Company21 and Shell petroleum Development company V Chief W. W. Amachree and 5 Ors.
Indeed, the process of enforcement has been undermined. Public lands are seized and sold to private developers without any regards to environmental regulations. Similarly, land earmarked for drainage channels, parks and children’s play grounds have been converted to private use by powerful people in government and their associates. The results of these actions are both environment degradation and environmental stress. This is even worsened by the fact that those who should enforce environmental laws are sometimes the beneficiaries of non-enforcement.