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By Jide (Oso-) Alabi
In Nigeria today as it has been for a long time now, living with waste as part of the natural environment has become a way of life. Though vastly improved from the situation of the late eighties/early nineties, it nevertheless remains true and was most recently brought to the fore by the documentary by BBC in which they depicted Lagos our “Centre of Excellence” as a vast slum.
Immediately of course, patriotic Nigerians of all shades and colorations, including career civil servants such as Nigerian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Dr. Tafida up in arms against the lopsidedness of a report that failed to just as equally recognize the massive improvement made by Nigerian governments in general environmental sanitation. Describing Lagos as a slum is not only controversial but slippery.
In the United States, slum is often used to refer to marginalized neighborhoods, but in developing countries, it usually means a settlement built in or near a city by residents themselves, without official authorization or regulation. Such housing are typically substandard, and the infrastructure and services range from non-existent to improvised. This later definition is more in keeping with the Oxford dictionary definition. This defines a slum to be a section of a city that is very poor and where the houses are dirty and in bad condition. From the standpoint of BBC as an outsider from a country in which things not only work but one can proverbially eat from the sidewalk, whatever the agenda, their position becomes perhaps understandable.
But is the whole of Lagos like this? Can the whole of Lagos fit into that definition? Hell no (A drive to Adeola Odeku, Victoria Island or select parts of mainland will put paid to that). However, their error is not total.
The problem with Lagos as with many other great cities of the developing world - I can name a few Mumbai(India), Nairobi(Kenya), Cape Town(South Africa), Bangkok(Thailand), Rio de Janeiro(Brazil), Medelin (Colombia), etc is that development is not general. For instance within the same axis that you find the high brow Lekki and Ikoyi estates of this world would you also find drab looking living habitations as the run down Jakande Estates and satellites of the same. (How often it is that I have passed through Bourdillion Avenue in Ikoyi or the “law school” area of the Island and thought to myself –if only all of Nigeria or at least all of its major cities was like this). ( Continues below….. )
Not to mention the more obvious places like Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Iwaya, and Makoko . And in Nigeria this situation is replicated all over the country in places like the FCT, Ibadan and Port Harcourt. Accordingly the verdict passed by BBC albeit erroneously on Lagos could just as well go for many other cities or areas in Nigeria. It could perhaps also go for half of the other cities of the developing world. Thus consider these statistics.
According to the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) report of 2003:-
• Some 923,986,000 people, or 31.6 per cent of the world’s total urban population, live in slums; some 43 per cent of the urban population of all developing regions combined live in slums; some 78.2 per cent of the urban population in the least developed countries live in slums; some six per cent of the urban population in developed regions live in slum-like conditions.
• The total number of slum-dwellers in the world increased by about 36 per cent during the 1990s and in the next 30 years, the global number of slum-dwellers will increase to about two billion if no concerted action to address the challenge of slums is taken. Although (my word) sub-Saharan Africa had the highest rate of slum-dwellers with 72 per cent of the urban population living in slums, followed by South Central Asia with 59 per cent, east Asia with 36 per cent, western Asia with 33 per cent, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 32 per cent. In numbers alone, Asia accounts for some 60 per cent of the world’s urban slum residents. Asia has about 550 million people living in slums, followed by Africa with 187 million, and Latin America and the Caribbean with 128 million. While slums have largely disappeared in developed countries approximately 54 million urban dwellers in high-income countries live in slum-like conditions.
• Slums are also places in which the vibrant mixing of different cultures has frequently resulted in new forms of artistic expression, including some of the major musical and dance movements of the 20th Century, such as jazz, blues, rock and roll, reggae, funk, hip-hop, soukuss, break-dance, fado, flamenco and (Afro-beat-my words) .
Having said that though let it be noted that my aim for writing this article/paper is not as a defense piecefor Lagos or even Nigeria for that matter. Though an incorrigible patriot, the sole purpose of my writing here is to offer a solution. The first step towards a solution is to admit that there is a problem. Irrespective of the congestion problems that our cities face, Nigeria and the vast majority of Nigerians are dirty. Please note that I say this with respect to our people’s attitude towards the environment and not necessarily their personal hygiene. In that sense, I want to look at the solution from three angles. One-Law, two-entrepreneurial participation as a panacea to unemployment and environmental sustainability, and three- environmental reorientation.
Though strictly speaking a positivist and so subscribing to the positivist view of law as a command given by a political superior to a subordinate and backed by sanctions (of course, I am aware that there are problems with this definition), I am nevertheless an equally fervent believer in Roscoe Pounds interpretation of law as a veritable tool for social engineering. In view of that fact, it behooves not only our legislatures every where to utilize their law making powers to help bring about an environmentally sustainable polity, but equally too, we citizens as potential beneficiaries of a sanitized system to participate in the process of law making and law observance.
As often as we care to look for it in Nigeria, remarkably we always find laws for the regulation of hitherto apparently unregulated or legislatively unaddressed issues in the land. Environmental protection is a case in point. The Federal environmental Protection Agency Act no. 14 of 1999 ,earlier finding life as no.58 of1988 and the FEDA decree no. 59 of 1992 respectively is instructive. It is an act which establishes the agency of that name with the function of protecting and developing the environment and bio-diversity conservation of Nigeria’s natural resources…. (S.5 thereof). Another is the Environmental sanitation law cap E5 of Lagos state . It is styled “A law to provide for Environmental Sanitation in Lagos State, to establish the Environmental Sanitation Corps and for connected purposes”. In view of the discussion at hand, let us consider briefly a few provisions of that law. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Nigeria
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.
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.
Section seven provides that no person shall dispose of refuse or waste except through a private sector participation operator. Although Lagos State Management Agency (LAWMA) has been doing a highly commendable job, many people still violate this tenet on a regular basis. What is the laws bill?-where that waste is burned, between N5, 000 to N10, 000. Section sixteen equally provides that no person shall leave silt, earth or other materials excavated during construction or maintenance of drains on the road roadside beyond 48 hours. The fine for non compliance with this is N1, 000 minimum and N5, 000 maximum. People still widely flout this regulation. There are also like provisions it should be noted for the regulation of markets, bukkas, restaurants, hotels, carpentry and mechanic workshops, iron mongers/workshops, construction companies, brick and tile industries and the like.
Thus from the foregoing it can be clearly seen that government has put into place laws geared towards the attainment of a clean, hygienic and aesthetically pleasing environment. What is lacking irrespective of the existence of the Environmental Sanitation Agency Law Cap E6 is like much legislation in Nigeria, enforcement. Now although nobody is praying for the good old Buhari styled administration of yesteryears, it is incontrovertible that at least with respect to environmental sanitation and enforcement, till date that administration remains an unrivalled champion.
The situation in Nigeria today with respect to the issue of compliance reminds one of the differing approaches taken by two European countries England and Germany with respect to tax administration. Whereas the former leans more towards persuasion and an appeal to the societal values of the British public, the latter is more force driven with its emphasis on tax enforcement using the police . We could go the way of the British and perhaps have to wait for some hundred odd years before the average Nigerian imbibes the values germane to a clean environment, or we can go the way of the Germans. If the last performance of these two teams in the recently concluded world cup is anything to go by, the German option is no doubt the better one. However this is not football and we don’t need an octopus Paul to tell us that we will definitely end up on the losing side should we fail to sit up to this and other like issues. I bet you other documentaries will come that will paint our cities and institutions in a worse light.
So what do I suggest? Look, we can have it both ways. First, our sanitation law needs to be rigorously enforced. In fact if need be scapegoats should be made of some people to serve as a deterrent to others. In that instance, not only will people be mindful to make sure that they observe environmental sanitation laws individually but also pro-active in stopping others from contravening them. This holds true especially where not doing this could lead to they themselves being punished. For example where they fail to stop somebody else from littering their gutter and building areas (as provided under section one, Para. a).
Section thirty of the same law (Lagos Sate Environmental Sanitation Law) provides for the establishment of an Environmental sanitation corps. Whereas section thirty one to thirty five provides variously for membership, appointment of, registration, identification card and comprehensive register of members, it is pertinent to note that membership needs to be opened up to other interested individuals apart from the five persons from each registered Community Development Association; one person from every approved market in the state; and one person from each ward in every local government in the state as the law provides. I for one having an interest in environmental sustainability would not mind being a “part time” member (since it is voluntary) if such is possible. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: A Lagos reconstructed road
In Lagos state where you have roughly 33,000 officers to a population of 18,000,000 , working out to 1 police man per 545 persons, the number of “corps” members that the law provides for and that are on active service is inadequate. Accordingly their numbers need to be greatly increased. (They need to be out there in the society working. People need to feel their existence before they will/ can be respected). This may take a toll on the resources of the state, but if that be the case, owing to relative distrust to which the average police man is held by Nigerians, I see no reason why either a special wing of LAWMA cannot be created to enforce this law or provide these functions (This is particularly viable in the light of LAWMAs 25,000 strong staff ).
Alternatively some or all members of LAWMA can be simultaneously designated “corps” men with all the requisite powers of that office and an increment of their salary. I say this with all seriousness knowing full well the success of LATSMA and the fear with which erring members of the public, particularly “danfo” bus drivers hold them. However we cannot stop there. When a law is made, government and law making bodies should strive to equally make obedience to that law as easy as possible. In that wise, it is important for government to provide suitable waste disposal baskets at convenient spots all over the metropolis so that people will not be tempted as I have on several occasions been, to litter. In the absence of this alternative any law to ensure compliance with sound waste disposal is not only impractical but will ultimately fail.
Environmental sanitation reorientation: Environmental sanitation as a way of life. Having stated the above and having opted for the dual approach to environmental sanitation, we must now consider the place of environmental awareness and conscientisation as a working process towards that end. The government has indeed done much through advertisement and the like to bring this to our people. But this is not enough. Not only does this need to be reiterated, the messages have to be reinforced through popular culture mediums like music (afro hip-hop for instance), films (Nollywood) and by the corporate social responsibility drives of our businesses who are essentially better at cooking up or at least implementing interactive projects for it. For example I see no reason why a quarterly or bi-annual award of best environmentally clean street, district, business premises, L.C.D.A, local government council (for states this can be annually) cannot be initiated through some public/private or purely private initiative.
Alongside this as part of a purely privately organized venture, a sanitation lottery of sorts can be established. My proposed format for this is simple. The corporate organization involved divides each of Lagos 245 (federally recognized) wards of its 22 local government areas into between 5-10 districts depending on size. Everybody in the state who wishes to take part in the venture is to register online or through text message. All and sundry is encouraged to keep their environment clean. For those taking part in the venture they are to then send a picture showing the efforts they have been making to make sure their district and immediate surrounding is clean, via MMS or on line.
Thus for this purpose, although people may work individually, they will be encouraged to work as teams. Alternatively people need not have to send in their pictures but make sure that their houses and immediate environment are clean. On a monthly basis inspectors will go out to inspect and determine which 10 local government area are the cleanest and/most improved. From these 10 another raffle is done from which 5 local government areas will be selected. Now taking each local government area individually 5 wards are chosen by draw from each. From each of these wards, three districts are chosen and from each of these districts, persons exhibiting the cleanest work areas or home areas are awarded N50,000-N80,000 (depending on sponsoring power of corporation). To encourage continuity, persons in those districts winning prizes are eligible for the biannual draw for N1, 000,000 if they continue to maintain the cleanliness of the environment. Please note that inspection tours should be at any time but should not coincide with the monthly environmental sanitation so that participants do not pass its result off as their efforts towards the venture. Moreover note that since it is a monthly thing and a fresh exercise springs up immediately the draws and consequent sanitation/Keep Lagos Clean lottery winners are known, continuity in the sanitation exercise will more or less be ensured. Again there ought to be a television show to run concurrently with the venture, documenting each monthly inspection, participant effort and draws. (The author can be contacted for more details on the particulars of the venture and the problems likely to occur.) Note however that such sanitation lottery is not meant to be indefinite. It should serve merely as a leeway to helping people form the habit of cleanliness and environmental pro-activity. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria
This said, television and money alone though will not change people. Change and mindset reorientation is effected through engagement. Accordingly active awareness through the recruitment of trained young men and women to go into their communities to disseminate this information must be considered. There must be regular workshops to bring home the desirability of a clean environment to people and the prime actors in that venture must be the youth. In doing this the government should seek to bring NGOs with similar objectives on board. For all that it is worth if there already isn’t, it may be useful to set up a national online database of these NGOs as a tool towards their effective coordination and for information dissemination. The ultimate aim would be to make environmental sanitation a way of life. Next let us consider another idea. This idea takes us back to laws avowed social engineering tenet.
Entrepreneurial Participation as a panacea to Environmental sustainability.
As rainy season would go, this years has been none the worse than others that I have experienced. What as been a new experience however was the picture presented to me of people of all types-civil servants, business people and “fine girls” in certain areas having to pull on their wellington boots in order to go from one street to the other or indeed jto literally swim through knee deep water to get to their front doors. The situation was not much better in parts of even traditionally regarded better living areas of Lagos such as Victoria Island and Ikoyi. Research into causes of the perennial floods that engulf our neighborhoods and roads on a yearly basis ,point to the presence of either inadequate drainages or overflowing gutters and drains. These gutters and drains in their turn usually lost functionality after being clogged by dirt and waste material constituted mostly of plastic/polythene material.
A material too I have observed which has been a major pollutant of our water ways. A fine example of that being found of the waters of the Atlantic on either side as you cross going to or from Lekki, the little bridge between Bonny Camp and Round about bus stops on the island. Thus it would appear solving Lagos polythene waste problem might in more ways than one contribute to the environmental sanitation and sustainability drive of the government. How to do this.
Previously government had proposed a venture wherein manufacturers of sachet and bottled water can collect these waste items from designated locations from a public that had deposited them there and thus possibly recycle them for reuse while at the same time ensuring they don’t end up polluting the environment. I lose track of the specifics. Again there was the plastic waste buy back programme , a programme which I have since come to learn has many of the hallmarks I will present in this paper)Nevertheless what is obvious is that it never took off nor it appeared was there an economically viable incentive to make it worthwhile for individuals to participate therein.
In view of this what I propose is first and foremost a law that would mandate all makers of sachet and bottled water to include no less than 40% recycled polythene materials in their products packaging material. This will first of all create a demand for such recycled material. Nigerians are not lazy. We are extremely industrious. Next thing it would do is “ginger” individuals whether as free lance collectors, partnerships or companies to search for this type of waste material in lieu of either recycling them or selling them off to said water companies. At the same time there will be agents or government workers whose primary job amongst others would be to ensure that such materials are genuinely of waste origin.
Note that priority is to be given to collectors collecting from the most polluted or environmentally sensitive areas of the state such as Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Iwaya, Makoko, Agege and Olasosun etc and our water ways. A reward system of note can equally be devised as a further incentive to do this. For example assuming a collector is entitled to N5/bottle on his waste bottles, those that collect from areas that fall into these categories will be entitled to say N6/bottle instead. Secondarily and most importantly regulating officials will issue a ticket to these independent collectors who in turn will show such to companies they are selling the materials to. These officials can be created as a division of LAWMA. LAWMA itself can take part in the exercise.
They can do this by insisting that people especially commercial establishments-shops, restaurants, hotels etc provide two dustbins-one specifically for polythene materials and one for “others”. These materials can then be recycled in like manner**. However note that selling price by LAWMA to companies should be higher so as not to work against the interest of independent collectors. As part of a wider government effort government can move further in the direction of recycling by extending this mandate to all Lagos households. In this case though there can be a further dustbin for just food and like materials, which materials are to eventually be utilized in fertilizer production (I recently learnt that LAWMA does actually recycle some of the waste they collect at several centers in Lagos, deriving fertilizer from such. However this is not done on the basis of the two/three waste bin per house format ).
In fact in most slums of the developing world today recycling is a way of life. The Dharavi slum in Mumbai has 400 recycling units and 30,000 rag pickers. Six thousand tons of rubbish are sorted every day. In 2007, the Economist reported that in Vietnam and Mozambique, “Waves of gleaners sift the sweepings of Hanoi’s streets, just as Mozambiquan children pick over the rubbish of Maputo’s main tip. Every city in Asia and Latin America has an industry based on gathering up old cardboard boxes.” There’s even a book on the subject: The World’s Scavengers (2007) by Martin Medina . Again LAWMA or private organizations working with LAWMA can also look to generate bio-gas from waste for the purpose of power production , a thing sorely needed in Lagos due to its highly industrialized nature, and in Nigeria as a whole. As we look to decrease our dependence on oil and find more clean fuels, this should be taken as a viable complimentary energy source.
The good thing about these ideas for recycling and the enforcement of Lagos state sanitation laws is that not only does Lagos stand to eventually wear a cleaner and healthier look at all times of the day, help decrease the incidence of flooding, raise some self financing funds for the participating LAWMA, create employment opportunities for hundreds of currently jobless youth in our society today, is adoptable by other states of the federation but that it can actually work. It is actually doable and relative to these benefits, would probably not cost the Lagos state government much to set up. In view of this fact I urge that government and all other relevant stake holders concerned with the environmental management of Lagos and its general well being consider fully and effectuate the ideas contained in this paper. EKO O NI BAJE O.
Jide (Oso-) Alabi can be reached at
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