ALONG with the international push to curtail toxic-waste dumping, Nigeria - a victim of such dumping last summer - is taking steps to prevent a recurrence of such incidents. The government has already enacted a Harmful Waste Decree, which stipulates life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of dumping or aiding the dumping of toxic waste in Nigeria. In addition, a federal environmental protection law and an Environmental Protection Commission will soon be established. Several analysts point out that many industrializing nations such as Nigeria will soon be producing their own toxic wastes - and will need national agencies to regulate disposal.
The punitive measures are part of an effort by African countries to tackle the rising incidence of toxic garbage ``imported'' or dumped by businessmen from the industrially advanced countries. All 16 members of the Economic Community of West African States now have such laws. However, at an international meeting last week in Basel, Switzerland, Nigeria was among 40 member states of the Organization of African Unity that refused to sign an agreement on toxic waste dumping. These states want an outright ban on waste exports to Africa.
Until last summer, most Nigerians were unaware of the existence and effects of chemical wastes. But news media reports revealed that, between September 1987 and May 1988, an Italian firm, with the help of corrupt Nigerian port officials, illegally shipped 10,000 barrels of radioactive nuclear waste products. These products were deposited in an empty lot at the small Nigerian port of Koko. Thirteen persons were later arrested.