By Obinna Chukwuezie
One of the things that have become common sights in Nigeria is refuse dumps and garbage. Everywhere one goes, one will find “pure water” sachet, plastic bottles, cans, glass bottles, polystyrene containers, paper, cups and several other waste materials littering the environment which covers the parks, residential areas, rivers, religious buildings, highways and many other places.
Another disgusting practice that has continued unabated is open defecation both in the farms, by the roadsides, markets and open places meant for relaxation. The litter culture is sucking, people litter from moving vehicles, roof tops, and windows of homes and practically anywhere they are. No strata of the society are exempted in the act of litter.
Although there are agencies and ministries of environment at the Federal, State and Local levels, yet Nigeria is still grappling with the basic challenge of how to improve her environment through anti-litter efforts.
In order to keep clean environment, governments at all tiers have engaged women to sweep the roads, especially litters. Yet, the more they sweep, the more the litter.
With this in sight, many state governments introduced sanitation days mostly on Saturdays of every month to encourage cleanliness. As it is often the case, vehicular movement are restricted from 7 to 9am during such days, except for vehicles on essential duty, like medical, security and media personnel. It is expected that while the exercise lasts, citizens would tidy up their places of abode, livelihoods and environment in compliance with the state government’s directive.
However, what happens most of the time is that while some citizens convert some of the deserted roads to soccer pitch, others use the period to get some rest after a busy week thereby not complying with the sanitation exercise declared by government. In reality, very few engage in clearing the ubiquitous dirty environment.
During a recent visit to one of the oldest cities in Nigeria, Ibadan, I stopped to ask one elderly woman, near Iwo road, why the lack of interest in the sanitization exercise. She pointed to heaps of refuse (collection point) by the middle of the road which was gathered for several weeks, yet the government had not evacuated. I asked, “Do you have ministry of environment in Oyo state?” She answered, “efi wole” (leave them).
But as wastes continue to litter in many cities in Nigeria, scavenging business continues to grow. Currently, there are over a thousand scavengers in Abuja where I live, according to a scavenger who, spoke to me recently and does not want his name on print. “We have a scavengers union and elected officials.”
With big sack hanging behind their back and a wooden or iron hook in their hands, the scavengers rummage through the open air dump sites and waste bins daily in neighborhoods in search of waste items. “I make between Five to Ten Thousand Naira daily on average from proceeds of sales of waste materials”, a scavenger who is a father of two, and has been in scavenging business for five years told me.
Indeed, nature bequeathed environment to us generously. All that is required from us is to just preserve it for the benefit of mankind. However, by our actions and inactions, we have made the environment so unfriendly and unsafe. During rainy season, the gutters and drainages which were blocked with litter have caused flooding that have claimed thousands of lives, properties, rendered many homeless and internally displaced. These tragedies could have been avoided by simply clearing the gutters, canals and drainages or even make it bigger for ease of passage of rain water. It is just an amazing way to preserve our environment and our lives.
Another way that one can play a part in preserving our environment is resist the temptation to litter the surroundings. Litter does not generate itself; it is often generated by humans. So, the only cure for litter is humans-just don’t litter, leave it in a trash can. But then, there is need to provide trash can all around our surroundings, as well as collection points. This will make it easier to evacuate and make the environment clean and safe.
Again, if most of the consumers and retailers are persuaded to use biodegradable materials instead of the plastic materials, the environment would be friendly and green. Laws to this effect can be implemented and enforced by the State.
Most times, defecations are washed off into sources of water, and these spreads water borne diseases. Most public places have no or inadequate toilets, making citizens defecate indiscriminately. To this effect, open defecation can be cut down by providing toilet facilities everywhere. When that is done, stiffer penalties can be meted out to defaulters.
In addition, there is need for continuous awareness creation of the dangers of litter, and how citizens can take positive action against litter. It will help a great deal. Not only that, there should be national anti-litter laws, as well as anti-litter enforcement team.
In 2016, I attended a training programme in Ghana. During a conversation with some other international visitors at the Movempick hotel, where the training was held, I learnt something new about how Nigeria can improve her environment. While I was in Ghana to participate in the training, some Europeans were in Ghana to buy garbage. “We use it to generate electricity,” Mike told me. It was an eye-opener. In Nigeria, where power generation is still very low, investing in power generation using garbage will be amazing and rewarding experience if Nigeria decides to not only keep clean, but also generate income.
In all, no one can preserve or improve our environment; it lies in our hands to preserve. When we realize that whatever affects our environment, affects us, then improving our environment will never be an issue of concern.
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