It was early in the morning, just a little before dawn. I needed to hurriedly ferry a brother to catch an early bus so he could meet up with an urgent appointment. My mind was appropriately fixed on getting him to the park on time so I could get on with my schedule for the day. So, I could have missed it. But I saw it! What did I see? The sight was quite nauseating. It was a mountain of rubbish dumped almost in the middle of the road. I am talking about a major road that is well lilted and properly maintained.
With the dexterity of an acclaimed formula 1 racer, I instantaneously swerved to avoid crashing into the heap of rubbish. Then, I began to think. Who, in the right frame of mind, could have done this? My mind was pondering back and forth. It couldn’t have been an act of ignorance. I thought. My conviction was hinged on the enlightened status of the neigbourhood. But then, being enlightened might not necessarily denotes sensibility. I reasoned.
It is sad that in this age, people could still indulge in such a despicable act. Sadly, a lot of people are still yet to come to term with the truth that the quality of our lives as human beings is substantially a reflection of the quality of the environment which we inhabit. Many still seem not to comprehend that the environment which we inhabit, like kola in Igbo culture, is life in itself. It is whatever we give to the environment that it gives back to us.
Most cities of the world experience environmental abuse because of ignorance, carelessness and ineptitude of the people. It is from this perspective that one really takes exception to various habits and activities of Lagos residents that could have grievous implications on the environment. How, for instance, does one explain such despicable attitudes as defecating or urinating in public places, indiscriminate refuse dumping, drainage blockage, construction on waterways, drainage alignments ,throwing of refuse into canals, turning garden and parks into arena for environmentally unfriendly activities among others ?
No matter the strength of the justification, there is no rational explanation for anyone to indulge in such unhealthy and uncivilized habits. As a people, we need to really come to terms with the significance of an improved environmental habit. When we deliberately choose to act in manners that could endanger the environment, we are the ones that would certainly bear the consequences of such actions. Hence, we need to realize that the need to ensure a clean environment should be everybody’s responsibility. Research has shown that people who reside in filthy places are more prone to contracting terrible diseases and as such easily vulnerable to avoidable deaths.
It is, therefore, important for residents of densely populated areas such as Okokomaiko, Ajangbadi, Ajegunle, Ijora Badia, Ojo, Mushin, some parts of Badagry and others to fully imbibe the culture of strict personal and environmental hygiene. In most of these places, it is common to see human feaces along the road or even see people engaged in open defecation. It is rather frightening that not a few of the houses in these locations are without toilets. So, residents make do with anything when the call of nature comes. This is an unhealthy practice which, if not properly checkmated, could open the door for chaos in the land. Nothing should be spared by concerned individuals and relevant authorities to reverse this dangerous trend.
With current threat to global health, we need to become conscious of the danger of poor sanitary habits. If we are to achieve an improvement in health and sanitation, reduction in occurrence of infectious epidemics, reduction in man-hour lost to sickness and disease, reduction in absenteeism amongst school children as a result of avoidable illness, improvement in aesthetics and beauty of the environment, we need to start treating the environment better. Funds spent on treatment of preventable infectious diseases could be conserved for other projects.
With global upsurge in the occurrence of natural disasters, partly caused by abuse of the environment, Lagos residents need to note that protecting the environment is, without doubt, the best way to protect themselves against diseases and other harmful environmental hazards. That we have not experienced monumental environmental tragedy should not be interpreted as being immune from such.
Sadly, it seems only a few people appreciate the extent of this problem which could degenerate into an epidemic in the state. It is a fact that many deadly diseases currently ravaging the world are linked to open defecation and other such poor sanitary practice. It triggers death, contaminates food, transmits skin diseases, causes respiratory diseases, eye problems, scabies, intestinal parasites resulting in kidney damage, tuberculosis and diarrhea related diseases. A study has claimed that unhygienic tendencies can cause all manners of dreaded diseases as well as lead to astonishing economic losses. A 2012 World Bank report reveals that Nigeria loses NGN 455 billion annually due to poor sanitary habit. This is 1.3 per cent of the national GDP.
The way forward is for Lagos residents to have an attitudinal change towards the environment. No matter the level of government’s commitment to upgrading infrastructure and improving the aesthetics of the State, if residents are not on same page with government, it might simply amount to wasted efforts. This is why the campaign for improved sanitary culture should not be left for government alone. The media, artists, comedians, religious bodies, Community Development Associations and Civil Society Groups etc should be actively involved. The State government could also explore opportunity of its diverse town hall meetings and other such public outreaches to further impress on Lagosians on the imperative of living a dignified life through proper sanitation.
Perhaps, more importantly, agencies saddled with the responsibility of enforcing sanitation and environmental laws in Lagos state must be alive to their responsibilities. Management of the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) should equally step up efforts to extend their services to the nooks and crannies of the State. This way, no one would have any rationalization for brazenly engaging in unfriendly environmental actions.
On a final note, Lagos residents need to note that protecting the environment remains the best way to protect themselves against diseases and other harmful environmental hazards.