Environmental pollution encompassing air, water and waste generation are major environmental problems in Nigeria.

In terms of the country's air quality, national reports show that air pollution continues to plague many Nigerian cities. Data indicates that the average annual level of particulate matter (PM2.5) in Nigeria is almost 10 times higher than the WHO recommended value (5µg/m3). Air pollution, therefore, poses a significant threat to the health of the population, especially in Lagos, the country’s commercial capital and one of the fastest growing megacities in the world. According to the World Bank’s study ‘Cost of Air Pollution in Lagos’, illness and premature deaths due to ambient air pollution in 2018 caused an estimated economic loss of $2.1 billion, representing about 2.1% of Lagos State’s GDP. The number of premature deaths due to air pollution in 2018 was estimated at 11,200, the highest number in West Africa. Children under five were the most affected, accounting for 60% of total deaths [1], [2]. In addition to ambient air pollution, almost 130,000 deaths per year are attributed to household air pollution from indoor burning of cooking fuel [3].

High rates of water pollution are also a significant public health burden in Nigeria. Nigeria's water bodies are heavily polluted with untreated sewage, used plastic bottles, nylons, and solid household waste. There is a high prevalence of E. Coli contamination affecting about 91% of the water supply in the country. Water pollution is worse in urban areas, especially in densely populated coastal informal settlements such as Makoko, Iwaya, Ilaje, Amukoko, Okobaba, Ijora Oloye, Ogudu Village in Lagos, Andoni, Bundu, Captain Amangala, Emenike, Marine Base and Rex Lawson in Port Harcourt [4].

At the same time, the burden of solid waste management is increasing in Nigeria, especially in urban areas. In 2019, the total amount of domestic waste per year in Nigeria was estimated at around 36 million tonnes (0.50 kg/capita/day) and is increasing according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Waste is indiscriminately disposed of in many areas, and solid waste dumps dot the urban landscape in many parts of the country [5]. As at 2016, only 6.2% of solid waste was collected and managed in controlled facilities [4], leaving so much unattended to in many parts of the country [5]. Dumping sites become the source of air, soil, and water pollution, release large amounts of GHG, and pose a serious threat to public health.


Environmental pollution in Nigeria is increasing due to large concentrations of human population, industrial activities, agricultural changes, use of new technologies, and poor institutional, logistic and policy frameworks for managing pollutants [5].

Air pollution in Nigeria is particularly influenced by factors such as industrial activities and the use of fuel biomass in the country [5]. According to the World Bank’s study ‘Cost of Air Pollution in Lagos’, the top three sources of PM 2.5 in Lagos are road transport, industrial emissions and generators [1]. The primary sources of indoor air pollution in Nigeria include wood fuel in household cooking and poorly ventilated houses [4].  

Water pollution mainly results from the discharge of household and industrial effluents, as well as petroleum products through oil spills, into water bodies and streams. The use of fertilizers and other agricultural inputs also contribute to soil and water pollution in many parts of Nigeria [5].

Solid waste management challenges are linked to the high rates of urbanization and economic growth in Nigeria. The amount of waste produced is increasing and unless sufficiently managed, will continue to have a negative impact on the environment and public health.


Key policies and governance approach

Nigeria's efforts to control environmental pollution include the passing of laws and regulations, as well as its commitments to several pollution-related multilateral environmental agreements, including the Basel, Montreal and Minamata Conventions. Key pieces of pollution-related legislation include, among others, the National Environmental Standards Regulations and Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act 2007 (NESREAA) and the 33 Regulations made by the Minister of Environment under section 34 of the Act; and the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (Cap E12 LFN 2004) [6]

The NESREAA establishes the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), as responsible for the effective enforcement of standards, Regulations and all national and international agreements on the environment to which Nigeria is a signatory. Specifically, the agency, among other things, makes Regulations setting specifications and standards to protect and enhance the quality of Nigeria's air resources; makes Regulations for the protection of water quality; and establishes effluent limitations for new point sources which shall require application of the best control technology currently available and implementation of the best management practices [7]. Some of the main governing regulations on air pollution control are the National Environmental (Ozone Layer Protection) Regulations 2009 and the National Environmental (Air Quality Control) Regulations 2013. The quality control and required standards of surface waters and groundwater are governed by the National Environmental (Surface and Ground Water Quality Control) Regulations, 2011 [6]

Regarding solid waste management, two policies, namely the National Solid Waste Management Policy and the National Plastic Waste Management Policy, were approved by the Federal Executive Council in June 2020. The National Solid Waste Management Policy, which was developed by the Federal Ministry of the Environment in conjunction with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), aims to guide effective, sustainable, socially acceptable, environmentally safe and sound management of solid waste in Nigeria. In addition to this, the National Plastic Waste Management Policy has been developed to address plastic pollution and its negative impact on the environment. It lays the foundation for a circular economy in the country, complementing the government's efforts in the waste sector.

Further, in 2019, the country put in place legislative interventions that seek to curb the proliferation of single-use plastic bags in the country. The legislation outlines the responsibilities of key stakeholders in the plastics sector, including on the side of government, consumers, and businesses [4].  


Successes and remaining challenges

Despite the government’s efforts to prevent environmental pollution, pollution remains a serious issue for Nigeria, especially around the major urban areas [5]. Challenges to addressing environmental pollution in the country include gaps in the institutional and policy framework; poor institutional capacity to build evidence through the monitoring of pollution and the application of tools; limited equipment for the sufficient monitoring of air quality, water quality and waste management; and limited incentives to address environmental pollution [2], [4].  

In March 2019, the country's Federal Ministry of Environment highlighted several critical areas, including pollution control, for budgetary prioritisation during its consultations with the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Habitat in Abuja. Notably, the Ministry pointed out that the country's inadequate budgetary provision to the environment portfolio continues to hinder its efficiency in the implementation of environmental protection measures [4].  

However, Nigeria’s environment has and continues to benefit from inflows from external sources, such as resources directed to various projects at country and regional level by its development partners, including through UN entities and international financial institutions. For example, in June 2019, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), jointly with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) directed US$ 15 million towards the transformation of Nigeria’s e-waste sector through the creation of a robust circular system at the national level [4].  


Initiatives and Development Plans

To improve air quality, Nigeria has developed the Pollution Management and Environmental Health (PMEH) Program and the Air Quality Management Program [1].

Additionally, Nigeria joined the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) in 2012 and has embarked on a program to reduce climate pollutants commonly known as Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs). The National Action Plan for the SLCP was approved by the Council of Ministers in 2019 and has paved the way for the development of informed policies and emission reduction strategies that will ultimately result in direct benefits for Nigeria, such as improved health and economic growth.

Nigeria is also involved in the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) Initiative, which seeks to address environmental pollution and clean up oil contamination in the Ogoniland region. This project is an integral part of UNEP's ongoing support to the Government of Nigeria.

Further, in 2021, Nigeria became a member of the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP). The GPAP provides a platform for governments to work together to champion a transition to a new plastics economy by addressing the root causes of plastic pollution, from production to consumption and reuse. GPAP is being integrated into Nigeria's National Plastic Action Partnership (NPAP) to support circular economy initiatives in the country.

  • Address the gaps in Nigeria’s institutional and policy framework for pollution control. The country should initially focus on key sources of pollution that can be addressed through targeted policy action. For instance, this could include policies that target the country’s transport sector which constitutes a major source of PM2.5. This could be approached through land use planning, urban design, and urban focused regulatory interventions [4].
  • Improve institutional capacity to build evidence of pollution through the monitoring of pollution and the application of tools [4].
  • There is a need for strong data, information and knowledge sharing on pollution to support decision-making [4].
  • Close monitoring of data on air pollution facilitates early response that can help to reduce it. In addition, air quality networks need to be strengthened in order to foster a community of practice [4].
  • There is a need for environmental health legislation and inspection in Nigeria to ensure the public and industries adhere to the regulations that are set [8].
  • Clean energy improved stoves at an affordable price could reduce over 70% of Nigerian homes' dependence on biomass as a cooking fuel. Biogas and other renewable energies such as solar power and wind energy can be used as alternative energy sources to reduce petroleum products' dependency [8].
  • A central sewage system, government-built dumpsites, and garbage sorting as part of proper waste management will help keep a sanitary environment, reduce water contamination, and recycle and reuse some recyclable waste. Waste management legislation, adequate policy, and a planning framework for waste management are also needed [8].
  • Road transport accounts for over 90% of total petroleum product consumption in Nigeria and contributes to outdoor air pollution in urban areas. Low-emission vehicles could reduce air pollution if they adopt cleaner fuels, combined with advanced emission control technologies [2].

[1] Karin Kemper and Shubham Chaudhuri, World Bank Blogs (2020). Air pollution: A silent killer in Lagos. [Online].

[2] Croitoru, Lelia; Chang, Jiyoun Christina; Kelly, Andrew. 2020. The Cost of Air Pollution in Lagos. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

[3] Climate Risk Profile: Nigeria (2021): The World Bank Group.

[4] United Nations Nigeria (2022). COMMON COUNTRY ANALYSIS.

[5] Federal Republic of Nigeria (2021). Second Biennial Update Report (BUR2) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

[6] Ejide Sodipo, Onome I Omofuma and Vivian C Nwachi, Ejide Sodipo & Co (2017). Environmental law and practice in Nigeria: overview.

[7] FAOLEX Database (2022). National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, 2007 (No. 25 of 2007).

[8] Pona, H.T., Xiaoli, D., Ayantobo, O.O. and Tetteh, N.D., 2021. Environmental health situation in Nigeria: current status and future needs. Heliyon7(3), p.e06330.