Towards Achieving Clean Environment In Nigeria - by Prof. Olawumi Ajaja

The major contributors to environmental filth in Nigerian cities include lack of toilet facilities and/or running water in most homes, lack of public toilets (a recent estimate by The United Nations’ Children Fund said about 100 million Nigerians lacked access to sanitary toilets, leading to the spread of several diseases in the country), open drainage (gutters), street trading and poor refuse collection system. It is not unusual to see people urinating (and sometimes defecating) on roadsides and street corners even in broad daylight. 

A major step towards a clean environment is thus to ensure that homes and public places are furnished with modern toilets. The functionality of the toilets depends, of course, on the availability of running water which is squarely the responsibility of government.

The kind of open drainage system which adorns most Nigerian cities will not be found in any city in the developed world. Coupled with street trading, this poses the greatest threat to a clean environment. 

In a country like Singapore, dropping even a piece of paper on the roadside or in any public place is an offence which attracts substantial fine or a few days imprisonment in lieu! The signboards stipulating such punishment are conspicuously displayed all over the city under the watchful eyes of super-alert law enforcement officers.

Few Nigerian cities have efficient refuse collection systems. In many states, refuse collection is the sole responsibility of government waste management boards which, like other arms of government, could be grossly inefficient. 

For a clean environment, refuse disposal should be contracted to private entrepreneurs while government should limit itself to the enunciation of policies governing the modalities for waste management. Such policies would include, for instance, ensuring the procurement of refuse bins for each inhabited building and in public places, stipulating the charges payable by the occupants of each building, and demarcating waste disposal sites and modalities.

Environmental officers should be deployed to sanction those whose immediate building environments do not conform to stipulated standards. The cleaning of roadsides, gutters and public places is, of course, the responsibility of the government. 

There is the need for the re-orientation of Nigerians against indiscriminate dumping of refuse such as “pure water” sachets and polythene bags, especially on the roadsides and drainage. Street trading should be restricted if not completely banned. Motorists should be sensitised to the need to carry disposable trash bags in their vehicles at all times to forestall the temptation to throw refuse out of moving vehicles. 

In the final analysis, the maintenance of a clean environment should be a daily, rather than a once-a-month affair. This is the practice in developed countries where the environment is kept sparkling clean without enacting retrogressive and economy-strangulating laws. It is instructive that the Federal Capital Territory, citing the sanitation law’s ineffectiveness, decided to abrogate it in 2012. If only in the interest of our economy, every state of the federation should follow suit.