The strategic importance of cleaner environment as bedrock upon which development and economic prosperity rest has been an area of research well documented across the globe. Undeniably, major world cities like London, Washington, Oslo, Dublin, Paris etc. are famous because of the beauty of their sparkling clean environment.
Indeed, while no one can possibly be in doubt as to the need for a clean environment, it helps to briefly talk about the most important of the benefits. The first and primary reason is for the better health of the residents and tourists. Hygienic environment helps people to stay fit and thus enhance a longer, healthier life.
Also, a cleaner city attracts more and more tourists from around the world. Historical buildings, iconic sites along with cleanliness constitute the perfect combination that attracts investors and tourists. But garbage lying here and there would be a turn off for tourists as it would disappoint them.
Heap of garbage and waste product that is accumulated on the roadside occupies a lot of space and thus prevents people from utilising that space for positive ventures.
Cleaner environment is among the yardstick for ranking cities and for attracting multinational companies. Ranking of cities is helpful in terms of employment and development opportunities. Multinational companies are attracted to set up their offices in the cities with good rankings. Avoidance of degradation is another benefit of a clean city. Plastic wastes and other such are factors that degrade the quality of the environment.
Nigeria is obviously lagging behind among nations with cleaner environment. It is thus not surprising that it is only Lagos that has been in the ranking of 140 cities rated for world liveability cities. Environment is among the criteria for ranking.
The attitude of Nigerians towards environmental sanitation is not positive as many have refused to make cleanliness a prime issue in spite of long established environmental sanitation laws, formal governmental structures to address cleaner environment issues and numerous campaigns on same. The difficulty of Nigerians in allowing modernity and education to change their attitude toward orderliness has sadly made unclean environment a normal syndrome in our national life.
The horrible attitudes towards environmental sanitation either exhibited inadvertently or deliberately by Nigerians are highly alarming and serve as indicator of level of understanding of the significance and need for a cleaner environment by Nigerians. Mosquitoes, rodents, cockroaches, reptiles, cobwebs are common features in many homes, with some even taking their dirty habit to the public arena. The fact we all know is that mosquitoes, insects and flies carry a lot of germs and bacteria in them. They are the main transmitters of diseases like chicken pox, malaria and jaundice. We do know that these mosquitoes and pests are frequently attracted towards heaps of garbage and wastes.
Despite the projection that about 30 states could experience flooding, it is still very common for people to create a dumping ground right beside their home or residence. Many gutters in our cities and towns are blocked due to our poor sanitation habit. It is rather awkward to see people deliberately sweeping and dumping rubbish into nearby gutters. This has continued, notwithstanding, past experience of magnitude of havoc wrecked by scandalous environmental attitude when flood sacked some states.
One wonder why it is difficult for many among us to stop the habit of flinging the scrap papers, sweet wrappers, fruit skins, water sachets or other waste on the road or into the nearby gutter, rather than disposing it properly in a bin. This communicates no other message but foolishness and disrespect for the environment.
Traditionally, talks on cleaner cities often centre on the role of government, legislation and law enforcement. However, examples abound where despite availability of civilised options for waste disposing like in Lagos State, people still turn canals, streams and drainages into refuse dumping sites. Nigeria’s followership problem is also glaring looking at instances when people find it difficult to appropriately deal with their domestic waste.
Just as we lament over bad leadership and assert failure of our leaders to practice at home ideals they are exposed to when they travel abroad, we need to understand that developed nations did not get to the enviable position of having the cleanest cities in the world by merely leaving the business of environmental rehabilitation to the government alone. No! It really began when their citizens began to take responsibility over their environment.
The question to discerning minds is, can Nigeria ever achieve cleaner a nation status and have many of her cities rank among livable cities in the world? Yes. We can. But only with a change attitude. We need to change our attitude to environmental issues especially. A clean environment is the responsibility of every Nigerian, as everyone is a direct beneficiary of its consequences.
Like famous world cities such as London, Washington, Oslo, Dublin and Paris, with the needed discipline and conscious determination, we could also turn most of our cities into amazing haven of cleanliness. This could begin with a simple habit of not throwing dirt in unauthorized places. It could be as simple as not urinating in public places. It could also be as simple as not patronising illicit waste disposal agents.
To achieve a cleaner and sustainable environment in Nigeria, we have to wholly embrace the culture of tree planting and avoid all habits that mess up the environment. Also, key stakeholders such as government, civil society and other such relevant bodies must step up enlightenment campaigns on the imperative for a cleaner environment. We must understand and appreciate that just like people are instantly struck by the fresh air and serenity of Ottawa and other such beautiful cities, Nigerian cities can achieve same if we step out of our careless and carefree attitude towards the environment.
With natural disasters occurring across the world partly as a result of environmental abuse, it should be considered a wise option for everyone to have a rethink about our attitude to the environment. It is whatever we give to the environment that it gives back to us. It is that simple!
By Rasak Musbau (Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja)