PUBLIC RIGHTS: The concept of Public Participation evolved from research and needs assessments of the concerned public to all forms of development projects. Therefore, public participation has been widely accepted as a local mechanism that is quite capable of making major contribution to the sound and sustainable development of proposed projects in the Environment.
According to Agenda 21, the comprehensive forty (40) Chapter Action Plan,
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.
The Aarhus convention ensures public participation in decision-making and the public participation relates to: i. specific activities such as permit procedures that may have an effect on the environment. ii. Early public participation in plans, programmers and policies relating to the environment and iii. Executive regulations and rules that have a general application on environmental questions.
The rationale behind Public Participation in environmental decision-making is to require consultation with interested or affected members of the public at all stages of proposed projects development which may adversely affect the environment. The rising tide of the process of public participation in environmental issues with special reference to proposed projects with a potential for adverse environmental Impacts has been responsible for its increasing relevance in Environmental impact Assessment.
PUBLIC RIGHTS: ACCESS TO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
The term ‘Access to Justice’ simply refers to the substantive and procedural mechanism existing in any particular society designed to ensure that citizens have the opportunity of seeking redress for violation of their legal rights within that legal system. It focuses on the existing rules and procedures to be used by citizens to approach the courts for the determination of their civil rights and obligations.
The importance of the environment to mankind cannot be over emphasized. Humankind is the consumer of the environment.
Since a pollution of the environment could result in decay, which will affect meaningful social and economic development as well as the quality of life of humankind and other species of biodiversity, litigation is prescribed to protect and preserve the environment from any misuse, abuse or destruction. Aggrieved parties therefore resort to environmental litigation in accordance with the procedure laid down by law.
While justice itself is an elusive concept, it can loosely be said that it implies equity and fairness; and for there to be meaningful access to justice, there must be some element of fairness and equity in a system to guarantee the realization of basic human rights. In instance of actual or threatened degradation of the environment, litigating the right to a healthy environment is dependent on the access of the victims or potential victims to court.
Access to court for victims of environmental degradation is usually dependent on the intersection of two factors vis-à-vis legal rights recognized in a given society and the procedural gateways created by law for the enforcement of such rights.
The latter is very important as most people whose rights had been infringed or threatened by environmental degradation in Nigeria, have been denied access to justice because of the burdensome procedural rules or injustice in the legal and court system.
It is in view of this that the adoption of the fundamental rights (enforcement procedure) rules, 2009 is a welcome development in promoting access to court for victims of environmental degradation in Nigeria.
Finally, access to environment justice entails right to a healthy environment, right to development, right to be different, sharing in common heritage of man and right to receive humanitarian assistance. In laying out provisions on access to environmental justice, the Aarhus convention covers cases of violation of procedural rights i.e. participatory and information rights.
Nigerians whose environmental right are violated most often, cannot assert these rights many are not aware of their environmental rights and when they do, they cannot resort to the courts, owing to poverty and procedural technicalities. By far, the heaviest group violators are the industries and the environmental protection boards or agencies. Generally, the agencies offend through omission, while the industries pollute through commission should the Nigerian public continue to suffer in silence?
Where an individual’s interest has been harmed, there is a friable issue and therefore Locus standi but certain impediments either delay or destroy the enjoyment of this right. Our rural and urban poor, who are mostly affected by pollution, are not habitual record keepers; therefore, damages and compensations are based on inaccurate facts. The fewness of environmental lawyers and judges in Nigeria escalate the litigation cost and time. Disproportionate environment treatments affect the health and lives of the poor more than the wealthy. Our constitution and environmental regulations need to provide adequate coverage for such cross sartorial problems.
For group action, to correct the repressive experience of plaintiffs in environmental damage, current environmental laws should provide the means for achieving an enduring solution o the problems of cost, locus standi, etc.
such a legislation as envisaged would force all environmental managers to take their responsibilities serious, liberalize the rights of any person affected by environmental manage and encourage them to bring justifiable action before the appropriate environmental courts or tribunal