Our long road to sanity

The whole country is a veritable junk yard. I must admit that Rochas is trying to clear the illegal structures along urban roads, especially in Owerri. Lagos in some parts is tolerable. Abuja is acceptable generally, but the suburbs, nko? You can’t go far from any Nigerian city before you begin to see junks; to smell the stench, dirty gutters, drainages and heaps of refuse. The whole place is littered with human waste and all names of embarrassing things that make the environment unsightly. Former Imo governor, Ikedi Ohakim tried his utmost with Clean and Green. Governors before them did all they could with monthly sanitation and the clean up exercise.  But the whole thing looked like a splash in an ocean. It flowed back immediately. I have never seen a wasted effort like that for a necessary thing.
Nobody has seen it as a war. But certainly the rubbish, refuse and junks are more formidable things in this country that will be more difficult to fight than boko haram terrorists or corruption. If you manage to curb economic recession, how can we remove what Rochas calls illegal structures? It seems the illegal structures are more than the legal ones. Certainly they are more. You find them every where. But the mistake we make is to neglect cleanliness and sanitation to take up removal of illegal structures first. If everywhere were to be clean, it would employ all the people putting up and occupying illegal structures to constitute street traders, [though I strongly believe street traders have a great value to social and economic life. They should be left to render the service they render. Without them life will be cheerless.  Life will be humorless, hard and stiff. No need trying, nobody can drive them away, since there is no other employment that can absorb all of them. They are too many.] Sanity in society begins with the individual mind and body which are clean. The people who parade dirty bodies and dirty minds about are regarded as the insane people.  To see completely sane people in Nigeria is not possible. People are insane generally to different levels and degrees. I will owe this to shortage or unavailability of water which is the failing of government. The insane people create the insanity in the environment. They build the illegal structures and litter the place. They have no sense of orderliness. They have no sense of decency. No matter what you do to impose sanitation, sweep the streets, clear the gutters and drainages, they will soon be refilled with pure water bags, plastic bottles and bags, cartons, clothing and all things thrown away after use. Without regard for plans and official laying out of spaces, they build structures wherever they find space and put up abode there, defacing the environ. Government itself is made up of some of these insane people. They cannot do any better than the insane people they govern. They didn’t have water enough. They were not trained to have clean bodies and clean minds.
But to achieve clean and sanitary conditions water is basic. Where is the water? Until people started providing their own water, by sinking bore-holes, there was no question of public health, cleanliness and sanitation. It was not an issue. Even today water is scarce in many places. Sanity in the country is still un-achievable.
Nelson Mandela wrote about his “long walk to freedom” which took over 27 years. He did the book when he got there (to freedom). Ours should be long road to sanity. The book cannot be written until we find sanity. But no matter how elastically I stretch my imagination I cannot see the end of our long road to sanity. From here (Owerri) to Abuja and other cities in Nigeria, can we de-junk all the roads and make them look like what we see in developed countries? We’ve not even started. We’ve not even thought about it. Nigeria is okay the way it is. It is clean enough. We’ve no time yet for that. We’re fighting corruption. We’re fighting other things, too numerous to mention. I am tired of rehearsing Nigeria’s recurrent, unsolvable problems each time I am writing. The list doesn’t get shorter, but longer and longer. Let me add today that Nigeria is dirty, short and simple. It should be cleaned up. I don’t mean throwing out the baby and the bathwater, the way it is being done now. Give people water everywhere. Use all the money available to give people water by all means possible. Then they can have their bath with clean water, wash their clothes, their homes and cooking utensils and drink clean water, from taps not pure water in plastic sachets, produced by God knows how, which nobody has ever cared to verify their safety.
We are replacing old fittings with modern shiny ones, mostly glazy, metallic and plastic materials. But go and see their remote corners and crevices after few weeks. The open places may look good for being mopped occasionally by old, tired women who rob dirt on the surfaces feeling it is no use cleaning such things that are shinning in the first place. It was just to suffer the poor, old people. They do it to get the money. They fulfill all righteousness, not to get the place really clean as the people of the developed world would do. There, they spend good money, buy chemicals, mechanized mops, even motorized mops, different soaps and detergents, foot wears, overalls, gloves, protective wears for the nose and the eyes and sometimes head ties. There cleaning is an industry, employing millions of professionals, who make, distribute and sell the equipment and materials, as well as those who do the cleaning. The first place new arrivals work is in the cleaning industry, cleaning the streets, sidewalks, mowing the grass lawns along the roads, in people’s compounds and premises of institutions.
By contrast, where there is a semblance of cleanliness in this country, it is restricted to the sitting and living rooms where the eyes can see, but not in the remote bathrooms or toilets; not under the bed, in shelf, kitchen or the so-called backyard, so-called because that’s where rubbish, dirt and refuse are stored for ever. Every home or house must have a backyard, where cockroaches and snakes can live, not to talk of rats and other harmful insects. From there they launch attacks and terrorize the house, more than what boko haram can ever do. Mosquitoes can be harbored at the backyard, so that malaria can be a routine sickness that our people can be proud to complain of, sometimes as an excuse for doing no work or not going to school and getting special attention. Malaria is a sickness of privilege we stay dirty to have. If this is not so, I don’t see why it cannot be eradicated with the mosquitoes that are said to cause it.
Keeping clean is of course undesirable in our public houses like schools where the worst toilets in the country are. To have bathrooms there is to institutionalize filth, and sources of disease. It is never part of the plan for our schools, simply because it cannot be kept clean. That is beyond us. If you then want to see amazing dust dirt and filth, go to the universities, ministries, hospitals, police and military barracks/stations, market stalls, private workshops, offices and churches. The indiscipline in those places about dirt is unthinkable, even in-explicable. What you call “clean-up exercises” are meant to bring out smelling refuse (sometimes excreta) and all unsightly things from remote places – gutters, kitchens, back yards and workshops that have accumulated and decayed for weeks – to the main road, so that there is no space for motorists and pedestrians to pass. In the end you wonder if it is not better to let the rubbish remain where they were.
These things are then transferred to the highways on inter-state or inter-city roads. There they become worse public eye saw and nuisance, smelling and spreading disease. When passing there, you must cover your nose, as you tend to choke from foul odor. This is dotted all over the country, as a place where dirt is ennobled as a display of national disgrace. What else can I call it? That witnesses to our poor sense of waste management as a country and misplaced priorities. Why this should be so is so hard to explain. But in some countries everywhere is not only clean but spotless. Let me end by saying that the difference between the developed countries and us is their level of cleanliness. We don’t even know it is necessary to be clean. We don’t have the wherewithal to be clean, supplied by the government of the country. It will take us time to appreciate the need to be clean, as a country, yes. Some people talk of catching up with them. In terms of cleanliness and sanitation alone, catching up with them is a very tall order. No, it is not possible. I would want our development to begin from there!

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