..pondering on the un-sanitary state of our cities
I remember my very first trip to Calabar, Cross Rivers state a few years ago.
I had been looking forward to seeing what the city was like and also tick it off my “states visited in Nigeria” list. I had heard a lot about how beautiful and clean the city was and I was not disappointed.
From the airport to the hotel and all the surrounding areas, everywhere really looked clean. There was no dirt on the road, there were very visible garbage bins in public areas and the air quality seemed better.
Maybe it was the trees but everywhere was also cool and calm. Sadly, it was a flying visit so I didn’t get to see much of the city but I could only assume that was how most of the city looked. If this is still the case, Cross River needs to teach many Nigerian cities a thing or two about cleanliness.
Flying back into Lagos was a jolt back to reality. The aerial view looked like someone had liberally sprayed some dust and brown powder all over the place and the closer the plane got to land, the more apparent the sanitary situation was.
Lagos has improved in the last few years but it still has a long way to go. Many urban roads are constantly filled with dirt dumped indiscriminately.
Aside from garbage disposed of in public areas, another major sanitary issue is the amount of sand on roads and streets. Every day, on these same roads, you will find street sweepers clearing the sand and dirt away, yet the next day, there would still be sand for them to sweep away. Where does this sand come from? Roadworks, illegal road digging, dirt roads, and badly tarred roads. Sand every where results in dust that settles on buildings, windows, and doors and affects the overall look and feel of the city.
Successive governments have done some work in addressing the state’s waste disposal issues working through the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) PSP programme which has been focused on waste collection across the local governments. The PSPs in turn have established and maintained a waste collection schedule to guarantee that waste is picked up on a timely basis. However, waste collection is dependent on the collation of the waste which is the responsibility of citizens. Now, the citizens’ attitude towards waste management is where I have a major issue.
It always irks me to see a pile of dirt on the road or people walking through makeshift garbage dumps as though they were walking through a boulevard, and sometimes these garbage lined roads are next to food markets! Don’t people realise the implications on their health? And then, there are those people who throw all sorts of things on the road while walking or out of the window while riding in public and private vehicles without a care in the world. I often wonder, what do such people think happens to all the plastic bottles, nylon bags, and half-eaten pieces of food they throw out?
For many people, it all boils down to indiscipline and this is a major reason our cities are so dirty. You buy a sachet of pure water, suck the life out of it, then throw it on the ground, or you just take out the trash from your shop and throw it onto the street.
You go to the beach and then leave all the evidence of your sun and fun living on the sand, forgetting that the wind blows and the tide will turn, and all your non-biodegradable materials will get washed into the sea, sometimes to reappear on land elsewhere or even worse, to be consumed by fishes and other water creatures. We don’t take water pollution issues as seriously as we should, probably because we don’t have all the dirt washing up in front of ours houses so we don’t feel responsible.
Littering and indiscriminate dumping of waste is one thing, urinating and defecating in very visible place is another: over bridges, along public roads, in front of houses and offices, and even in “so-called” green areas for example. We certainly need more public toilets, maybe if this is addressed, we would have fewer open defecation issues.
Whilst I am not perfect, I always make a conscious effort not to litter or dispose garbage improperly.
A Sesame Street song from years back is constant reminder of my role in maintaining clean surroundings: “Now if every kid did it, can’t you see what a messy place it would be?” The accompanying visuals to the song was of a young boy going around throwing stuff everywhere and making a mess. One scene had him sailing in a boat and throwing dirt into the water till the whole lake was clogged up!
I think the monthly environmental sanitation programme previously observed every last Saturday for so many years, was what made a lot of people lazy. Whilst intended to address sanitation issues, one should not have to wait for one day a month to clean and clear their surroundings. It doesn’t enable people to build a consistent culture of cleanliness and we definitely should not have sanitary officials like the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) brigade go around flogging people for disposing waste improperly.
Governments at all levels should take sanitation issues more seriously. At the Federal and State levels, we need to introduce and enforce recycling laws. Whilst educating people would take time, the second-best time to plant a tree is today and with greater awareness, more people can be enlightened on the needs and benefits of recycling. If we sort out our waste in various buckets: food, paper, plastic, glass, clothes etc, it would be easier for the waste disposal companies to dispose of the waste. It would also enhance waste to wealth creation opportunities for many people who could start related businesses. They would find it easier to source the waste products they are interested in thus enhancing their supply, and this could be another income stream for the PSPs who would then sell these wastes to interested buyers.
At the local government level, if there isn’t one already (and I would honestly be surprised if there isn’t), there should also be legislation requiring people to be responsible for keeping the front of their houses or business establishments clean. If this is properly enforced, it would increase the cleanliness of our city.
The Federal Government’s initiative like the Clean Nigeria Campaign to end open defecation is a good step in the right direction but it is still a long way from having the desired effect if the sorry sight of grown men taking a dump in public is anything to go by .
People must take responsibility for ensuring the cleanliness of their immediate surroundings. If we keep waiting for the government to clean the city, we will wait in vain. Let’s at least do our part by focusing on the areas that we can and making whatever contributions we can.
If we don’t do anything, one day, we might just find ourselves walking around with gas masks because we wouldn’t be able to stand the stench and that is the way I see things today.