Nigerians are indeed a special breed. Our scant regard for the environment is legendary. All across the nook and cranny of the country are people who, perhaps out of ignorance or mischief, treat their natural habitat with disdain. This is quite unfortunate!

All facets of our lives are replete with negative examples on how a civilised people should not relate with their surroundings. Take for instance our solid waste disposal methods. I’m sure many of us reading this have seen or are indeed complicit in reckless waste management. Some of us empty our dustbins in the gutters thereby blocking drainage and causing flood. Many of us are also fond of the dirty habit of throwing our trash through the windows of moving vehicles. Open defecation is still the norm in many rural and urban communities as there is no provision for toilet facilities in many homes. A November 2015 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund revealed that over 50 million Nigerians do not have access to toilets. Therefore, many of them answer the call of nature in the open. The report also revealed that Nigeria ranks among the five countries in the world with the greatest rates of open defecation.

The report entitled, “Improving Nutrition Outcomes with Better Water, Sanitation and Hygiene”, points out the emerging evidence of links between inadequate sanitation and malnutrition among children. It informs that “Nigeria loses over 150,000 children to diarrhoea annually. After pneumonia, it is the biggest killer of Nigeria’s under-fives; 88 per cent of diarrhoea cases in Nigeria are attributed to unsafe water and sanitation. Where rates of toilet use are low, rates of diarrhoea tend to be high. Intestinal parasites such as roundworm, whipworm and hookworm are transmitted through contaminated soil in areas where open defecation is practised. Hookworm is a major cause of anaemia in pregnant women, leading to malnourished, underweight babies.” Imagine that!

Still on hygiene, it is a common sight in this country to see many occupied residential buildings overgrown with weeds and littered with used tyres, broken bottles and plastics. This is the ideal environment for breeding of mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and other dangerous insects and reptiles. Little wonder we have failed to make appreciable progress in our efforts to roll back malaria. According to the 2015 statistics on the killer disease, there are an estimated 214 million malaria cases globally resulting in 438,000 deaths. Ninety per cent of the fatalities occur in sub-Saharan Africa with 70 per cent of deaths recorded among children under five. Thirty five per cent of malaria deaths occur in just two countries: Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aren’t we good at something?

Illegal felling of trees is commonplace in Nigeria. The trees are mowed for commercial or building purposes. They are cut off to be sold as planks, firewood or burnt off as charcoal. The saddening part is that there are no trees planted in place of the felled ones. This is largely responsible for the high level of desertification experienced in Savannah part of the country. This has added to the Ozone layer depletion, global warming and concomitantly climate change. The same with the despoliation taking place in the Niger Delta region occasioned by oil spillage and gas flaring caused by reckless and unethical oil exploration activities of the international oil companies. It’s not only the IOCs that are degrading Nigeria’s coastal region; Nigerians indulging in pipeline vandalism are also among the scoundrels. Several heart diseases and cancers have been traced to the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta region.

Drinkable water is in short supply in Nigeria. According to information gleaned from the website of Wateraid Nigeria, 57 million Nigerians don’t have access to safe water; over 130 million people don’t have access to adequate sanitation, while over 25,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. The story does not end there. Did you know that much of the little pipe-borne water produced for our consumption in Nigeria is wasted through burst pipes? In the urban centres where the water corporation or board managed to provide safe water, it is disheartening to see how this precious resource is wasted in many homes. Some people use a bucket of water for mouthwash while children are also allowed to play with it. Faulty water taps are left unrepaired for a long period.

Many customers still refuse to pay their water rates. I recall that in 2010, during my maiden visit to the United States of America, the hotel where I lodged gave a $5 voucher per day to customers who would not demand daily change of bedspreads. These vouchers can be used to purchase gift items or food at the hotel restaurant. The hotel is doing this to reduce the amount of water it will need for laundry and thereby saving the environment.

As a result of desertification and oil spillage, the ecosystem has been badly affected. Animals have been displaced from their natural habitat while fishes, crabs, shrimps that are natural source of protein have died off in many of the rivers of the Niger Delta. As a result of this, several thousands of people have lost their occupations and homes. Even the way we pollute our environment with noise and fumes leaves much to be desired. Neighbours care less about the peace of their co-tenants as they put on their generators and play loud music on their electronic devices. This is bad!

It is gratifying to note that government at various levels has embarked on some remedial measures. I recall that as part of the War Against Indiscipline launched by the military government of Muhammadu Buhari in 1984 was the monthly environmental sanitation observed every last Saturday of the month till date. Many state governors have sustained this over the years by extending it to our markets where a day is set aside every week for the cleaning of the market environment for about three hours. The setting up of the Office of Environmental Health Officers popularly known in Yorubaland as “Wole-Wole” at the local government areas has also helped to sensitise Nigerians on the need to sanitise their environment. Ministries’ of Environment have also been established at the federal and state levels. At the National Assembly, both chambers have committees on environment.

Despite these initiatives and those of the donor partners and the civil society, a lot still needs to be done on how to protect the environment. Federal and state ministries of information, the National Orientation Agency, and media must key into sensitising the populace on how to be environment friendly.

Follow me on twitter @jideojong

Copyright PUNCH.

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