Author: O. M. Atoyebi S.A.N FCIArb. (U.K.)., Contributor: Anthony Akejelu
Locus standi is the legal right of an individual or group to bring a case before a court or other judicial body. In the context of environmental justice in Nigeria, locus standi refers to the ability of an individual or group to bring a case before the court that pertains to environmental damage or harm caused to them or the community they belong to.
Historically, Nigeria has experienced significant environmental degradation due to oil spills and gas flaring by multinational oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region. The affected communities have often struggled to access justice due to legal barriers such as the lack of legal right to bring a case before the court. The legal framework governing locus standi in Nigeria is primarily defined by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) and the Nigerian Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act of 1992. The Constitution provides that any person who alleges a violation of their fundamental human rights can approach the court for redress. However, Nigerian courts have narrowly interpreted this provision, impeding affected communities from accessing justice.
The Nigerian EIA Act of 1992 provides for public participation in the environmental impact assessment process and allows any person who may be affected by a proposed development to submit a complaint to the relevant regulatory agency. However, the Act does not provide a clear definition of who has the legal right to bring a case before the court in cases of environmental damage or harm. To address these legal barriers, the Nigerian judiciary has developed the concept of “public interest litigation”, which allows public-spirited individuals or groups to bring cases before the court on behalf of affected communities. The courts have also adopted a liberal approach to legal rights in environmental cases, allowing affected communities to bring cases before the court even if they do not have a direct legal interest in the matter.
Locus standi is a critical legal concept that determines the ability of affected communities to seek redress for environmental damage or harm. While the legal framework governing locus standi in Nigeria has historically been restrictive, the judiciary has taken steps to expand access to justice through the development of public interest litigation and a more liberal approach to standing in environmental cases.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION IN NIGERIA
Nigeria has been facing various environmental challenges that have caused widespread degradation of its natural resources. These challenges include:
1. Pollution: Nigeria is among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest levels of air pollution. The country has an estimated 150 million people exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution. According to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, air pollution in Nigeria causes 150 deaths per 100,000 people annually. Water pollution is also a significant problem in Nigeria, particularly in the Niger Delta region, where oil exploration and production activities have contaminated water sources. The country also generates a substantial amount of solid waste, which is often disposed of improperly, leading to land pollution.
2. Oil spills: Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, and oil spills from pipelines and production facilities have caused significant environmental damage in the Niger Delta region. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), between 1956 and 2015, Nigeria experienced more than 6,800 oil spills, with a total volume of 240,000 barrels of crude oil. These spills have contaminated water sources, farmlands, and fisheries, causing health problems and economic losses for communities in the region.
Nigeria is facing significant environmental degradation, which is having adverse impacts on the country’s economy and human health. While the Nigerian government has taken some steps to address these environmental challenges, much more needs to be done to protect the country’s natural resources and mitigate the impacts of environmental degradation.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND THE ROLE OF LOCUS STANDI
The challenges facing ordinary citizens and civil society groups in accessing justice in Nigeria are enormous. The government needs to take urgent steps to address these challenges by providing adequate funding for the judicial system, addressing corruption, improving court infrastructure, and making legal education and awareness a priority. By doing so, Nigeria can begin to build a more just and equitable society where everyone has equal access to justice.
One of the landmark cases in Nigeria where locus standi was used to deny citizens and civil society groups the right to challenge environmental violations is the case of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) v. Chief Gbemre & Others FHC/B/CS/53/05 (2005). The case was brought by Chief Gbemre and other members of the Itsekiri community in Delta State against the SPDC, alleging that the company’s oil exploration activities had caused environmental damage and violated their human rights. However, the court held that the plaintiffs lacked locus standi because they could not show that they had suffered any special damage that was different from the damage suffered by the public. This decision effectively prevented the plaintiffs from pursuing their case in court.
Another case where locus standi was used to deny access to justice in environmental cases is the case of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria & Another v. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 6 NWLR PT. 1299) 368. In this case, the plaintiffs, who were environmental rights activists, challenged the issuance of an oil prospecting license to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). However, the court held that the plaintiffs lacked locus standi because they had not shown that they had suffered any special injury or damage that was different from the injury or damage suffered by the public.
These cases demonstrate how locus standi has been used to limit access to justice in environmental cases in Nigeria. In many cases, citizens and civil society groups are denied the right to challenge environmental violations because they cannot demonstrate that they have suffered any special damage or injury that is different from the damage or injury suffered by the public. This effectively prevents them from seeking redress for environmental harm caused by corporations and other entities.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES TO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Environmental justice is the concept of ensuring that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, have access to a safe and healthy environment. Nigeria, like many other developing countries, faces various environmental justice issues such as air pollution, water pollution, and hazardous waste disposal. In addressing these issues, different alternative approaches have been employed in promoting environmental justice in Nigeria. These approaches include:
1. Public Interest Litigation
Public interest litigation involves using the courts to address environmental injustice. In Nigeria, public interest litigation has been used to challenge environmental damage caused by oil exploration and exploitation. One notable case is the 2005 suit filed by the Ijaw Youth Council V Chevron Nigeria Limited (PH 420 of 2005)  NGCA 101. The suit alleged that Chevron had caused widespread environmental damage in the Niger Delta, including the destruction of fishing grounds, loss of livelihoods, and health problems. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded damages to the affected communities.
2. Strategic Litigation
Strategic litigation involves using the courts to achieve broader social change. In Nigeria, strategic litigation has been used to challenge policies and laws that promote environmental injustice. In 2012, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria filed a suit challenging the constitutionality of gas flaring in Nigeria. The suit argued that gas flaring violated the fundamental human rights of Nigerians to a clean and healthy environment. The court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, ordering the government to take steps to end gas flaring.
3. Favour Approaches
Community-based approaches involve empowering local communities to take action to protect their environment. In Nigeria, community-based approaches have been used to challenge the activities of multinational corporations in the Niger Delta. The Ogoni people, for example, have organized protests and legal actions against Shell Nigeria for the environmental damage caused by its oil exploration and exploitation activities. The Ogoni people have also set up community-based organizations to monitor and report on the environmental damage caused by oil companies.
The issue of locus standi as an obstacle to environmental justice in Nigeria requires significant policy reforms and institutional changes to ensure that citizens can access justice and hold corporations accountable for their actions. Here are some policy recommendations that the Nigerian government could consider:
Addressing the issue of locus standi as an obstacle to environmental justice in Nigeria will require significant policy reforms and institutional changes. The recommendations outlined above should be considered by the Nigerian government to ensure that citizens can access justice and hold corporations accountable for their actions.
 Sections 33-46 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) 2011.
 Chapter 8 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.