On the environmental sanitation day
The cancellation, the other day, of the popular monthly environmental sanitation exercise by the Lagos State Government is not a well-considered decision given the mounting environmental challenges in the city and the fact that people have not attained the level of needed personal hygiene and cleanliness.
With about 20 million people swarming the city and the high volume of economic activities generating waste, there is no doubt that the environmental sanitation exercise remains desirable. It has, in fact, served as the one major activity in making the over-populated city habitable.
Before the exercise was introduced, Lagos was like a dumpsite. Mountains of refuse and solid wastes were all over the place as the streets were littered with garbage. Corpses were abandoned and left to decompose on streets, at bus terminals and on highways. There was practically little governmental consideration for the way people lived and the city of Lagos was synonymous with filth or decay, thereby creating public health hazards.
The introduction of the monthly sanitation exercise and street sweeping programme made a huge difference and refuse trucks were brought in to evacuate tonnes of garbage on daily basis while hand cart refuse collectors were gradually being phased out.
With uncommon aggressiveness in the evacuation of refuse, the face of Lagos city and the suburbs began to change and people began to imbibe the culture of cleanliness. That culture has still not fully taken root, which is why it is sad that the useful exercise has been cancelled.
The government in announcing the cancellation said it was convinced 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, it said it was not convenient to restrict movement for three hours at a time people should be engaged in commercial and entrepreneurial activities.
While appreciating that Lagos had in the last two decades grown into a city with huge environmental problems associated with a large population, the government expressed sadness that the environmental laws, policies and procedures being practised in the state have not been able to match the phenomenal growth and dream of a 24-hour economy. Hence, the 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 the legal cases against the sanitation exercise may have also contributed.
It would be recalled that a lawyer, had last March, filed a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos against the state government after he was arrested during the sanitation exercise by agents of the state on June 29, 2013, while on his way to a television show.
The presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Idris ruled that the restriction of movement during the sanitation exercise, which takes place every last Saturday of the month from 7a.m. to 10a.m. was unlawful and a violation of the citizen’s right to liberty and freedom.
According to the judge, the restriction 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 around on environmental sanitation day.
Lagos State Attorney-General then, Ade Ipaye, who filed an appeal challenging the judge’s decision on behalf of Lagos State, subsequently argued that the judge did not declare environmental sanitation exercise illegal but only the restriction of movement.
Anyway, the issue is not who wins that particular case or why the exercise has been cancelled, but the necessity of everyday cleanliness and citizens’ well-being. Good enough that apart from the monthly sanitation day, there is also the weekly clean-up exercise on Thursdays that enables markets and industrial concerns to spruce up their environment. A street sweeping programme is a daily affair and it is paying off. It is indeed sad that the people have to be forced to have a hygiene or healthy life.
It is the civic responsibility of citizens to keep their surroundings clean. This should be inculcated in children from schools, as making people imbibe the culture of sanitation and personal hygiene is more effective than legislation.
The Lagos State Government should, therefore, consider this in its environmental reform programme.