Definitions of cleanliness may, of course, differ across the world. Nonetheless, the strategic importance of cleaner environment as bedrock upon which development and economic prosperity rest is not in doubt. As such, cleaner environment is among the yardsticks for ranking of the cities and for attracting foreign investment.
Undeniably, famous world cities like London, Washington, Oslo, Dublin, Paris etc. are splendid because of the beauty of their sparkling clean environment. Nigeria is obviously lagging behind among nations with cleaner environment.
The attitude of Nigerians towards environmental sanitation is not positive as many have refused to make cleanliness a prime issue in spite of long established environmental sanitation laws, formal governmental structures to address cleaner environment issues and numerous campaigns on same. The difficulty of Nigerians in allowing modernity and education to change their attitude toward orderliness has sadly made unclean environment a normal syndrome in our national life. Lagos State is not an exception.
As was in 1999 prior to the then Governor Bola Tinubu initiative of Private Sector Participation in Waste Management, recently, there was much hysteria about refuse taking over Lagos. Not a few people have seen on the social media sharing pictures of mounting refuse in parts of the metropolis. Surely, those mountains are now disappearing and would soon become history but it helps to briefly talk about how other cities outside Nigeria are maintaining their cleanliness.
The city-state of Singapore maintains its cleanliness by paying attention to the little details. Stickers in bathrooms remind citizens to always flush the toilet. Littering fines are high and well communicated. Chewing gum sales are forbidden to avoid gum stuck to public subway stations or benches. While we probably won’t be outlawing chewing gum anytime soon, Singapore has established a high level of cleanliness with consistency in minor actions. Lagos state government will continue through every available communication media that every scrap of litter adds up. Small actions, like reminding the public to avoid dropping a straw wrapper on the sidewalk or tracking mud onto public transportation, can lead to big results.
By emphasizing recycling, Adelaide in Australia drastically reduced their dependence on landfills, leading to a much cleaner living environment. The city encourages citizens to consider giving quality, unwanted items to charity and to urge each other to rely on the city’s recycling services.
Minnesotan are especially proud to see Minneapolis on so many “cleanest cities” lists, as Block by Block works hard every day to keep the city clean. Minneapolis’ stance on vandalism and graffiti is to remove it within 24 hours. This reduces new graffiti and keeps areas looking welcoming. On their part, Zurich citizens often choose to travel via public transportation. They have many options available including tram, bus, boat and train. Public transportation reduces carbon emissions by decreasing the number of individual cars in transit every day. The city keeps their systems well kept and reliable.
Now to the big question, “Can cleaner environment be achieved in Lagos?” The answer, of course, is yes. In fact, it can be achieved in the whole country if only we all play our part in the efforts toward achieving it.
In 2016, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration took a second look at Lagos and was convinced that Lagosians could live in a cleaner and healthier environment and came up with Cleaner Lagos Initiative. The CLI, which is a new waste management policy of the State Government, was established to address, enforce and regulate the challenges in the solid waste management systems within the State in line with global best practices.
The vision of a better landscape gave birth to Visionscape. Everybody agrees that Lagos State can be cleaner and healthier. Like a child in the womb, rarely do the pregnant mother knows which part of the body will show first, the head, the shoulder or the legs. And so it is with this progressive dream. The challenges of the logistics affected the perfect sequence choreographed by its designers. The compactors came in later than expected but the good story is that they are here now. The greater story is that 27,500 street sweepers are now hitting the streets while compactors are now at work all over the city, evacuating refuse both day and night.
Considering that refuse is generated every minute by 22 million people, it is going to be a Herculean task getting Lagos cleaner. But trust with time and the cooperation of all stakeholders, speedily and steadily, the battle to rid our Lagos of filth will be executed with tenacity.
However, understanding and cooperation of the citizenry is germane to achieving the vision. Just as we lament over bad leadership and assert failure of our leaders to practice at home ideals they are exposed to when they travel abroad, we need to understand that developed nations did not get to the enviable position of having the cleanest cities in the world by leaving the business of environmental rehabilitation to the government alone. No! It really began when their citizens began to take responsibility over their environment.
Like famous world cities such as London, Washington, Oslo, Dublin, Paris etc, with the needed discipline and conscious determination, we could also turn most of our cities into amazing haven of cleanliness. This could begin with a simple habit of not throwing dirt in unauthorized places. It could be as simple as not urinating in public places. Make it your goal to erase graffiti within 24 hours just as in Minneapolis.
Lagos also has the advantage of achieving cleaner environment with what the Ambode government is doing through through implementation of the phase 2 of the Lagos Urban Transport Programme (LUTP). The strides in the public transportation sector will encourage the use of public transportation thereby causing decrease in carbon emissions when the cars on the road are reduce.
All that the citizens need to do is to join hand with government by establishing environmental awareness campaigns in all nook and crannies of the state especially in the face of ongoing massive communication campaign on cleaner Lagos. We must understand and appreciate that just like people are instantly struck by the fresh air on setting foot on the streets of Ottawa and how spotless the area was, Nigerian cities can achieve same if we step out of our selfish and foolish attitude and make a conscious effort to keep our public places dirt-free.
Ultimately, the responsibility for making Lagos cleaner and compete among the cleanest world cities rests on both the state government and the people. Together, we must make this happen!