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Return of Lagos monthly sanitation day

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Recent reports that Lagos residents have urged the Lagos State Government to re-introduce the monthly environmental sanitation to engender sustainable cleaner environment is not unexpected, given the mounting environmental challenges facing the mega city. Environment, no doubt, is a serious issue in Lagos that should not be toyed with. But more important, the authorities should be more systematic and assertive in handling environmental matters in the state.

The fact that many people have not attained high level of personal hygiene and cleanliness reflects in the poor habit of the inhabitants.  Indiscriminate dumping of refuse in unauthorised places is rampant. The Lagos environment is still filthy and is exposed each time there is a heavy downpour. The state Commissioner for the Environment and Water Resources, Tunji Bello, had announced a possible re-introduction of the environmental sanitation when the leadership of the market leaders paid him a courtesy visit at his Alausa, Ikeja office.

Deputy Speaker, Wasiu Eshilokun-Sanni, lawmaker representing Ifako-Ijaiye I in the State House of Assembly, had earlier warned his constituents, to desist from the habit of indiscriminate refuse dumping in drainages and canals, saying that anyone caught would be arrested and prosecuted under the environmental by-laws in a customary court.

The truth is that there is gross environmental abuse all over Lagos, which needs to be checked. How to make the masses change their dirty habit too has been a major challenge.

With about 20 million people swarming the city and the amount of economic activities generating tons of wastes on daily basis, there is no doubt that the exercise is a necessity. It had, in fact, served as the saving grace in making the city to be habitable. Otherwise, the filthiness of Lagos is intolerable as it impacts on public health. People can still not enjoy fresh air in parts of Lagos touted as the economic capital of West Africa.

Prior to the introduction of environmental sanitation, Lagos was more of a mega dump site. Mountains of refuse and solid wastes littered the streets.  Even corpses were abandoned and left to decompose on the road, bus stops and highways.

Residents literally lived on top of garbage. With filth and decay, the streets were an eyesore, thereby creating serious public health hazard. There was practically official intervention. Handcart refuse collectors provided succour to some households.

And so the introduction of the monthly sanitation and street sweeping made a huge difference in the general outlook of Lagos. For the first time, refuse trucks were brought in to evacuate tons of garbage on the streets as official intervention.

With uncommon aggressiveness in the refuse evacuation process, the face of Lagos began to change and people began to imbibe the culture of cleanliness. That culture has not taken root, before the useful monthly sanitation exercise was cancelled by the Lagos State Government. The cancellation was thoughtless as events later showed.

Announcing the cancellation then, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Steve Ayorinde in the previous administration, said the decision was taken at a State Executive Council meeting.He said the council agreed that there should be a review of sanitation laws and procedures to meet present challenges for a clean and healthy environment.

Citing the harsh economic situation in the country, Ayorinde said it was not convenient to restrict movement for three hours at a time people should be engaged in commercial and entrepreneurial activities.Obviously, the cancellation has made people relapse to the old habits, as the efficiency of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) also declined. The subsequent experiment made by engaging Visionscape Sanitation Solutions failed to make impact.
 
It would be unfortunate if the gains recorded earlier on environmental sanitation were allowed to diminish. That is why the Lagos State Government should do something to close the gap and ensure that the grounds gained were not lost.

A lot of work is needed to maintain cleanliness in Lagos. It is good that some concerned market leaders have drawn the attention of the state government to the need for reviving the sanitation day.While appreciating that Lagos had in the last two decades grown into a mega city with the associated huge environmental challenges, it is sad that the environmental laws, policies and procedures being practiced in the state do not match the phenomenal growth and the dream of a 24-hour economy.

There is, therefore, need for reforms that would harmonise the environmental laws to drive meaningful changes in the areas of billing, waste management, modern landfill sites, noise pollution, introduction of environmental trust fund and environmental advisory council.

Although, the State Government cited the prevailing economic condition, as the main reason for its decision, there is reason to believe that legal tussle against the sanitation exercise also contributed.It would be recalled that a lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos challenging the state government, after he was arrested by agents of the state on June 29, 2013, while on his way to appear on the Sunrise programme on Channels Television.

The presiding Justice Mohammed Idris ruled that the restriction of movement during the exercise, which takes place every last Saturday of the month from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. was unlawful and a violation of the citizen’s right to liberty and freedom.He said the restriction of movement violated Sections 35 and 41 of the Constitution, which guaranteed personal liberty and right to movement. Consequently, the court voided the power of the State Government and its agents to arrest any citizen found moving on federal highways on environmental sanitation day.

Lagos State Attorney-General, Ade Ipaye, who filed an appeal challenging the verdict on behalf of Lagos State, argued that the judge did not declare environmental sanitation exercise illegal but only the restriction of movement.If that be the case, Lagos State authorities should know how the exercise could be carried out without flouting the law.

Good enough that apart from the monthly sanitation day, there is also the weekly Thursday industrial clean up that enables markets and industrial concerns clean up their environment. The street sweeping programme is a daily affair and it is paying off.

 
Owing to the people’s low level of cleanliness, they have to be forced to comply otherwise the place would be filthy. This is unlike in the past when people were conscious of personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness and sanitary inspectors helped to enforce sanitation rules.

It is the civic responsibility of citizens to keep their surroundings clean. This culture should be inculcated into the young ones right from school. Making people imbibe the culture of sanitation and personal hygiene is more effective than legislation.

Above all, the Lagos State Government should not rely on the ad-hoc arrangement of the monthly environmental sanitation to sustain a clean environment. There should be a blueprint and policy thrust on how to integrate the policy instrument into a socio- economic programme that can employ a lot of people in ways that can enhance the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Relying on people’s time and energy is an anachronism that should be discarded in good time. This is 21st century that technology and good thinking drive. So, the monthly exercise should not be celebrated beyond measure.


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