Africa, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Health


Toye Olori

LAGOS, Nov 14 2003 (IPS) - Blocked drains, heaps of garbage in the streets, remnants of food and disused household items: these things have become a common sight in the Nigerian commercial capital of Lagos over the past few years, prompting some to label it the “dirtiest city in the world”.

The unsanitary conditions have reportedly led to cholera outbreaks, and in a suburb like Iwaya disease spreads quickly.

As with many other areas of the city, it is densely populated. Residents live in what are called “face-me-I-face-you” single rooms with shared kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities. In some buildings, these rooms can house as many as eight people.

“Some residents are very dirty and they are not worried about their…environments. I have often quarreled with the residents of the house near ours over their dirty habits which cause blockage of the drains,” says Caroline Oluwadare, who lives in Iwaya.

Starting this month, however, Lagos might just find itself turning over a new leaf. A programme called “Kick Against Indiscipline” (KAI) has been launched to clean up the city – and the state in which it is situated, Lagos State.

A similar initiative was tried in 1999, but it fell flat after residents complained that it was bad for business. On the days when clean up operations were scheduled, no company was allowed to operate during the three hours set aside for garbage collection.

President Olusegun Obasanjo later cancelled the exercise, saying people should get into the habit of cleaning their own environments – and not be forced to do so.

State officials seem to be adopting a sterner position this time around, however. About 500 people have been trained to help implement KAI.

Street captains have been appointed for the various suburbs to identify and arrest people who disobey sanitation and environmental laws. Possible offences include indiscriminate dumping of refuse, patronising unauthorised refuse collectors and the failure to pay for services rendered by registered collectors. Throwing garbage from a moving vehicle is also considered a crime.

Previously, unregistered collectors, or cart pushers, had competed with government-sanctioned operators in the collection of refuse from homes. The unregistered cart pushers have been accused of dumping garbage on highways and elsewhere, endangering public health.

The Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) is also supposed to collect refuse, but does not deliver the service it should. For many Lagos dwellers, LAWMA is simply another parastatal rife with corruption and inefficiency.

“Every (piece of) refuse that is dumped on the streets assaults (a) neighbour, lowers everyone’s dignity (and) keeps decent and meaningful visitors away from our shores,” said Tunji Bello, State Commissioner for the Environment, during a ceremony to kick off KAI.

“Refuse that is dumped in the drainage eventually…destroys property through flooding, and tarnishes good roads. Surely that is neither democracy nor liberty? Liberty lacking in order can only be a license to the jungle,” he added.

Any one caught flouting the law risks going to jail for between six months and a year, paying a fine of up to 27 dollars – or both.

The KAI initiative will hold monthly clean up sessions, the first of which occurred last weekend (Nov. 8 to Nov. 9), when people of all ages took to the streets with brooms, rakes and shovels in hand. All traffic was ordered off the roads for the duration of the exercise.

KAI will also focus on shops and stalls that have been illegally erected. Bulldozers have already pulled down several structures, including one that housed a thriving business centre.

“The action of government is an invitation to chaos and banditry. A lot of our things worth several thousands – including electric typewriters, photocopiers, air conditioners, lamination machines and generating sets – have been damaged in the process,” lamented the owner of one of the shops.

The bewildered trader, who gave his name simply as Emanuel, told IPS “We traders and hawkers massively voted for the governor in the last elections, but this is what he is paying us with for voting for him.”

“He has disappointed us with what he has done today because this is a plot to stifle us economically, though we have been paying taxes to the state government…We also paid the Lagos Island local government before we were permitted to do business here,” he added.

Traders are now required to deposit all their wastes at registered collection points near markets, and to cooperate with sellers’ associations to maintain the cleanliness of their markets. Previously many traders, especially fruit sellers, often left their rotten produce at the point of sale, instead of clearing it for collection.

While the majority of people interviewed on the streets of Lagos support the sanitation programme, some aspects of it – especially the banning of street trading – have been condemned.

“I am worried that the new law also bans street trading, especially on highways. Most of these boys and girls who sell in traffic jams live and help their family through that…If you send them off the streets, what will they be doing?” asked John Ihilegbu, a civil servant.

“They cannot afford shops even if the shops are available. I think government will only create more unemployment and more criminals,” he added.

The government does not seem to have any policies for accommodating youths who would be sent off the streets, to prevent them from resorting to crime.

“I do not know of any programme yet…The officials who can talk to you on the issue have all gone out on assignment. Call back later in the day,” an official who declined to be named told IPS.

Republish | | Print |

Related Tags