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Sanitation: The Lagos example

The Lagos State government recently abrogated the environmental sanitation law which for years had restrained the movement of people in the state on the last Saturday of every month. The exercise was a hangover from the military era that had eaten deep into the peoples’ consciousness and become a normal chore across the country. Yet, in spite of its decades-long existence, the country has not fared better in terms of environmental health.

For Lagos State which had grown into a modern city state, a perfunctory monthly observance of restriction of human movement definitely could not make the environment neater.  Even its satellite towns have started threatening to spill over to the neighbouring Ogun State and a routine monthly event of mere restriction of human movement would simply not suddenly improve its overall environmental health. Also, the massive industrial wastes generated daily in the state are not likely to be removed by merely keeping people indoors. In short, the urban essence of Lagos needed a robust review of its laws to keep human activities going on a 24-hour basis and without compromising the states’ environmental health. In any event, what has the restriction of human movement got to do with a healthy environment if the peoples’ orientation and attitudes are not environment-friendly?

So, after a deliberate consideration of the phenomenal and exponential growth of the state, the state Executive Council decided to confront the state’s environmental challenges with a more robust legislation that will not just keep people indoors while the streets remain dirty and polluted. In the statement announcing the decision of the  Executive Council, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Steve Ayorinde, said the present economic climate could no longer support the continued lock-down of a mega city like Lagos when the citizens should ideally be free to engage in commercial and entrepreneurial activities that could promote economic growth and prosperity.

We agree with the decision of the Lagos State government to engage the unique environmental challenges of the state more creatively and we think that the step should be replicated in other states that are similarly circumstanced. There is a desperate need to confront the deterioration of the country’s urban centres more creatively to improve their health and, by implication, the citizens’ health.

The monthly environmental sanitation exercises have become routine, observed merely to fulfill all righteousness, without necessarily making the environment neat and healthy for the citizens. In this connection, the sanitary inspectors should be brought back into reckoning in the 36 states of the country. The sanitary inspectors should be well trained for the onerous tasks that they are expected to perform. The added advantages of employment opportunities and healthier citizens will be a welcome development.

We believe that the various dump sites in the states should harbour waste recycling plants as it is done elsewhere. We also believe that industrial pollution and other infractions should attract sanctions. But beyond scrapping the monthly sanitation days, the Lagos State government must be prepared to enforce the subsequent statutes that will replace this routine observance diligently and scrupulously. This is because there is the tendency for the mega city to deteriorate fast and sink deeper into a massive slum on account of the slightest laxity.

As a matter of fact, alternative structures should have been put in place on a trial basis before the scrapping of the sanitation exercise, so as not to risk the horrendous implication even of a tentative failure. We endorse the proactive stance of the Lagos State government and we recommend it to other states especially in their quest for urbanisation. However, the government must scrupulously enforce whatever will replace the observance of the sanitation days.