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Abuja’s digitalised mosquitoes vs mounting refuse heaps

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Refuse dump at the parking lot of the Federal Ministry of Works, Land and Housing in Mabushi. PHOTO: ITUNU AJAYI

Refuse dump at the parking lot of the Federal Ministry of Works, Land and Housing in Mabushi. PHOTO: ITUNU AJAYI

• The Missing Link On World Malaria Day
Every year, Nigeria and particularly the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) join the global community to mark World Malaria Day. The media is briefed on the determination of government to put an end to a preventable disease that has killed thousands. The government, however, seems to be short on how it intends to achieve the feat.

This year, the FCT health secretariat gathered members of the Fourth Estate and, once again, a script was read on the need to stamp out the scourge.

The theme was: ‘End Malaria for good’, a feat the World Health Organisation (WHO) described as ambitious, but achievable. The health watchdog said 400,000 people died in 2015 alone, as a result of Malaria, stressing that Africa must invest more to eradicate the disease.

At the media briefing, the acting secretary of FCT Health and Human Services Secretariat, Mrs. Alice Odey-Achu, said FCT authorities would put necessary measures in place, to eradicate the disease in the capital. Did she again forget to divulge the modalities for achieving this objective?

The FCT Minister, Musa Bello, when he assumed duty, promised to fumigate the city. Till now, nothing has been done in that direction. Some residents have suggested wryly that the species of mosquitoes now in the FCT are insecticide resistant, and like the rest of us, might even have gone digital.

But for the big boys of Abuja who live in highbrow areas, all other residents in satellite towns and slums springing up almost daily are at the mercy of mosquitoes. Those who have the mandate to keep Abuja clean only concentrate on the big boys and their employers. They collect refuse in those places. But in the other areas, people are left to dispose waste by whatever means they can.

Arguments have been made on the imperative of educating the masses on their attitude to dumping of refuse. But a question that demands urgent answer from the government is: where should the people dispose their waste when there are no bins around them? The best they can do under this circumstance is set them on fire or dump them anywhere, as no law can really be enforced without infrastructure in place.

As part of measures to curtail Malaria, development partners had distributed insecticide treated nets to residents. But apart from the fact that these nets do not go round everyone, it is instructive to note that their use only stops with the night, as no one is expected to ‘wear’ them all day. The mosquitoes, meanwhile, are all over the place during the day. Who says the dreadful insects bite only at night?

Sanitary inspectors tasked with ensuring that residents clean their surroundings are no longer noticeable anywhere. Apart from complaints that they are understaffed, the few available ones sit in their air-conditioned offices, and the job is done.

Odey-Achu advised people not to rely any longer on government for the sanitation of their environment, as it can no longer sustain the exercise.

“The minister’s first open assignment was going round all the area councils, reminding residents of the FCT that there is a link between our environment and the health of the people, and that we have deviated from our tradition of cleaning our environment, and that the over reliance on government for environmental sanitation cannot work. It is very obvious that the government cannot sustain it because of dwindling revenue. His call is that cleanliness should start from every home; we should go back to our tradition, as Africans, of cleaning our houses and we should not dump refuse in gutters. The burden on government is too much; we don’t have the funds. The resources are no longer there,” she said.

Waste disposal in the FCT is a big problem and the many refuse heaps littering the entire city are a convenient breeding place for mosquitoes.

Odey-Achu blamed delayed passage of the 2016 budget for almost non-existent primary health care in the FCT and inability of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) to keep the city clean. Still, she admitted that even if the budget were passed, it might not sufficiently cater for the huge needs of the sector.

There is hardly any part of the FCT that is immune to indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Currently, there is a dump that is contesting space with the parking lot of the Federal Ministry of Works, Land and Housing in Mabushi. The stench emanating from the heap is dizzying.

The fact remains that anyone coming into the city and seeing refuse all over the place might not bother to ask for any chairman of any area council but for the minister himself. The onus, therefore, lies on him to either privatise waste management in the FCT and block the drain in payment of salaries to undeserving employees of area councils or get his council chairmen to work, so that they can justify the votes given them by residents in the last elections.

Different sectors of the economy have come to realise the importance and effectiveness of Public Private Partnership (PPP). Environmental issues of the FCT can also be solved in the same manner. The FCT has been keen on increasing its revenue base. Management of refuse via recycling might be its proverbial cash cow. But are the authorities paying any attention to this?

The area councils, akin to local government councils in states of the federation, have the primary responsibility of managing refuse in their domains. It is commonplace all over Nigeria for local government staff to appear only at the end of every month in order to pick their salaries.

Everybody has his own schedule. And this, Odey-Achu pointed out, when she tried to exonerate the FCTA of any wrongdoing on the city’s waste management.

“Cleaning of refuse in the FCT is not the responsibility of the AEPB; it is the responsibility of the area councils, in conjunction with the Satellite Towns Development Department (STDD). We cannot hide our heads in the sand, like ostriches. Everybody knows that the weakest link in governance is the area councils; it is not peculiar to the FCT alone. So, we have our challenges.”

Much as this excuse is tenable, the fact remains that anyone coming into the city and seeing refuse all over the place might not bother to ask for any chairman of any area council, but for the minister himself. The onus, therefore, lies on him to either privatise waste management in the FCT and block the drain in payment of salaries to undeserving employees of area councils or get his council chairmen to work, so that they can justify the votes given them by residents in the last elections, as the minister too was a voice to reckon with in the elections.
Blame game or buck passing will do no one any good, if malaria must be stamped out of the FCT.


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