MILITARY MENTALITY IN CIVILIAN DEMOCRACY, COST OF MONTHLY ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION DAY

By NBF News
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I was in Abuja on the last Saturday of June 2011 and found that I could not leave my home or attend to any business activities until after 10.00am. It was environmental sanitation day. I remembered with angst, the military brutality that attended the introduction of environmental sanitation in Nigeria.

I was not sure if it was part of the War Against Indiscipline but i know that the security agencies were at their wits end in the enforcement of the rule. Nigerians were subjected to all manner of inhuman treatment in the name of environmental sanitation.

I joined the night bus in those days from Lagos and found myself in the notorious Upper Iweka area of Onitsha, where the combined team of mobile police and military personnel reduced us to less than animals. The only offence i committed on that faithful day was taking the risk of travelling through the night and finding myself in Onitsha after seven in the morning of 'Environmental Sanitation Day'.

I have lived in Nigeria where things easily become norms and nobody questions why it was started in the first place. Sentiments and some 'job for the boys' perpetuate some wasting of resources and we all become apathetic and not bothered. At a time when we are talking of moving Nigeria forward in the comity of nations, when we want to make real economic liberation, shouldn't we be revisiting the way we do certain things and consider the gains we could make by little changes in our policy direction?

Some simple statistics would help us to understand what i am talking about. The Independent National Electoral Commission registered about 66 million eligible voters who are 18years and above for the 2011 election. This figure is the only figure available to me for the adult population of Nigeria.

For the sake of this argument, if i assume that only two third of this figure represents the working population of Nigeria, we have 44 million people. Every last Saturday of the month, we have three hours (7am-10am) dedicated to environmental sanitation. In one year we would have 156 hours dedicated to environmental sanitation.

The first argument is that if the 44 million workers who stayed at home during the environmental sanitation should work and earn an average of N100 per hour based on the national minimum wage of N18, 000, the economy would have lost over 680 billion naira annually (156 x 100 x 44 million). This figure is using the most basic assumption without accounting for the entire business activities that set the figure as high as 1 trillion naira.

The second argument is that if people are allowed to work for those three hours and the money used to finance a well articulated environmental sanitation policy, what can we get from 680 billion naira investment in cleaning our environment?

The fact of the matter is that the environmental sanitation as was forced down on us by the military government is no more working. It was not structured to work. Nigerians of working age are adults who have the right to make choices. If i chose to clean my room is entirely up to me. The job of cleaning the public places is that of the government. Also the job of ensuring that citizens live healthy and not expose other citizens to health hazards are also that of government.

Instead of trying to enforce a policy that is fraught with difficulties, government should use the money above to employ environmental health officers who would go to homes for inspection and prosecute offenders. There is no way you can force an adult to do what he does not want to do. I want to clean my environment when i want to as long as it is conforming to the laws of the land.

I have no problem with a law that makes it a punishable for people to live in filth and set out government machinery for enforcing such law but a law that state that i should not move around for 3 hours every last Saturday of the month does not imply that i must clean my environment during such time. Even if it imply cleaning the environment, it is impossible to police the implied part of this law which is what the environmental sanitation day is all about.

I read the Lagos state environmental sanitation law and was appealed by the fact that the governor who is a senior advocate of Nigeria and all his advisers and a good economic team has not considered repelling this law.  It also does seem that they have not worked out the real cost of those three hours to the economy of Lagos state.

Section one of the law mandates every owner, tenant and occupier of any building to amongst others, a) keep clean the sidewalks and gutter area (45cm from the side walk into the street) along the building frontage, sides and back at all times….h) not litter, sweep out, or throw ashes, refuse, paper, nylon, and rubbish into any street, public place or vacant plot. The penalty for non compliance as provided by the first schedule for the first a), is a minimum fine of N500, maximum N2,500 (side walks), and N1,000 minimum, N2,500 maximum for failure to clean drains and gutter area. For the second- h), a fine of between N500 and N2, 500 was stipulated.

In the above case, I am inclined to ask a question; in any building occupied by more than 5 tenants in which the landlord is non resident  as is clearly the case in most accommodation, who would the law hold accountable for any breach of this section one? In a building occupied in whole as an office complex for many organisations, who is responsible for implementing section one above? In Europe and America, the duty of cleaning the sidewalks and street is that of the government. In return, the residents pay council tax or levies as agreed with government from time to time.

In the same Lagos State law, section four provides that no pedestrian shall dispose of any scrap paper, newspaper, candy wrapper, fruit skin and similar refuse anywhere except in litter bins. Presumably offenders of this section are liable to the same fine as those who litter the street as found above. Section five imposes an obligation on every commercial vehicle to carry litter bins. I can count the number of Lagos commercial buses that I have entered in my life's sojourn so far that complied with this provision. Even when it was provided, the culture of using the bin (which cannot be forced on people) is still lacking.

When the law is considered to have outlived its usefulness if any, it should be revised and possibly repelled and a new law put in its place. I am calling on government at all levels to consider crapping the environmental sanitation day. It was one of those programs that the military juntas used to deride our consciousness that they are better than the civilians that they toppled. The rank and file soldiers were thrown into our street to whip us like animals and force us to do things. Now that we are back in civilian democracy, such military mentality should be erased from our national psyche.

The various arms of government should articulate a workable and enforceable environmental policy that is built on best practices in other parts of the world. I consider it a waste of resources that we spend three hours every month wasting away at home when we could meaningfully contribute to the economy of the nation and still keep our environment clean.

Dr Duke Igwilo is the Director General of Alex Ekwueme Foundation