Improper waste disposal has continued to be a serious issue of concerned in Nigeria due to its effect on sanitation and general quality of urban life. It is constantly a topical issue because improper waste disposal is capable of severely endanger public health and/or the environment.
Despite long established environmental sanitation laws, formal governmental structures and campaign addressing cleaner environment, it is appalling that our people continue to dump household waste into gutters, canals, highways, street corners and other available spaces. While it is raining, many confound flooding challenge by tossing their refuse into the flowing water bodies and channels.
Our streets became choked with filth not due to lack of regulation codes. Bad habits die hard is the expression that best explains Nigerians’ attitude of indiscriminate waste disposal. 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.
In Lagos, despite the availability of civilized options for waste disposal as provided by Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and its other PSP partners, unofficial garbage dump sites are still prevalent making it difficult to conceive how the unscrupulous residents expect the political leadership to miraculously solve flooding and other consequential problems when obviously they are not prepared to change their attitudes.
In his inauguration speech, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu reiterated his administration’s commitment to environmental renewal when he said, among others that: “ We will also focus on sanitation and waste management, by ensuring that our drainage systems are functional and kept clean.”
The administration has, thus, been working round the clock to rid the state of waste, necessitating the introduction of ‘Lagos at 4 am’ operation and other laudable initiatives, aimed at improving the state’s environmental architecture.
Over four months ago, LAWMA has commenced an intensive clearing exercise to unclog canals across the state. After clearing some canals especially in Adeniji-Adele road and Mushin areas and the volume of what was taken out, ordinarily it is expected sanity will subsequently prevail. No. The canals were turned into dump sites once again by unscrupulous people. Surely, community policing is inevitable as public enlightenment has not changed much of the “I don’t care” behaviour of the residents.
Also, the government has come up with Blue Box Programme for waste sorting. The programme is a single stream recyclable collection program that will encourage separation of recyclable materials from the general waste at the point of generation.
This should have rather encouraged residents to key into the government’s initiative of waste management especially when residents have been advised that they should have two containers- a black container for waste and big container for recyclables.
Adhering to civil ways of waste disposal is what citizens should be encouraging and supporting. Change would never be possible if we refuse to do our part to ensure a saner society.
What is required to maintain a sane and friendly environment is not just about what the government is doing, but also about the attitude of the people. Lagosians need to stop all practices that could put clog in the wheel of government’s efforts aimed at tacking waste.
The city-state of Singapore maintains its cleanliness by considering the little things. 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, the government has no option but to demonstrate its zero tolerance for indiscriminate waste disposal by clamping down on offenders.
This has been demonstrated by recent arrest of some residents of Aboru in Alimosho, whose wards were caught emptying their bags of thrash into a drainage channel in front of their home during a recent heavy downpour, claiming they acted on the instructions of their parents.
Understanding and cooperation of the citizenry is germane to achieving the government’s agenda/vision. Just as we lament over bad leadership and assert failure of our compatriots 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.
While enjoining residents to bag their wastes appropriately and patronize assigned PSP operators, one can also urge LAWMA and other PSP operators to expedite action on distribution of waste disposal bags, under its Blue Box Initiative, for appropriate waste sorting and disposal.
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, Lagos residents have to embrace 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.
On a final note, agencies saddled with the task of enforcing sanitation and environmental laws in Lagos state must be alive to their responsibilities. Management of the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) as well as PSP operatives 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.
Musbau is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja