Improper waste disposal has continued to be a serious issue of concern in Nigeria due to its effect on sanitation and general quality of urban life. It is constantly a topical issue because improper waste disposal is capable of severely endangering public health and/or the environment.

Despite long-established environmental sanitation laws, formal governmental structures and campaigns addressing cleaner environment, it is appalling that our people continue to dump waste into gutters, canals, highways, street corners and other available spaces. While it is raining, many confound flooding challenge by tossing their refuse into flowing water bodies and channels.

Our streets are choked with filth not due to lack of regulation codes but due to bad habits of indiscriminate waste disposal. 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. Lagos State is not an exception.

In Lagos, despite the availability of civilized options for waste disposal as provided by Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and its other PSP partners, unofficial garbage dump sites are still prevalent, making it difficult to conceive how the unscrupulous residents expect the political leadership to miraculously solve flooding and other consequential problems when obviously they are not prepared to change their attitudes.

In his inauguration speech, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu reiterated his administration’s commitment to environmental renewal when he said: “We will also focus on sanitation and waste management, by ensuring that our drainage systems are functional and kept clean.”

The administration has, thus, been working round the clock to rid the state of waste, necessitating the introduction of ‘Lagos at 4am’ operation and other laudable initiatives aimed at improving the state’s environmental architecture.

Over four months ago, LAWMA has commenced an intensive clearing exercise to unclog canals across the state. After clearing some canals especially in Adeniji-Adele road and Mushin areas and the volume of what was taken out, ordinarily it is expected sanity will subsequently prevail. No. The canals were turned into dump sites once again by unscrupulous people. Surely, community policing is inevitable as public enlightenment has not changed much of the “I don’t care” behaviour of the residents.

Also, the government has come up with Blue Box Programme for waste sorting. The programme is a single stream recyclable collection program that will encourage separation of recyclable materials from the general waste at the point of generation.

This should have rather encouraged residents to key into the government’s initiative of waste management especially when residents have been advised that they should have two containers – a black container for waste and big container for recyclables.

Adhering to civil ways of waste disposal is what citizens should be encouraging and supporting. Change would never be possible if we refuse to do our part to ensure a saner society.

What is required to maintain a sane and friendly environment is not just about what the government is doing, but also about the attitude of the people. Lagosians need to stop all practices that could put clog in the wheel of government’s efforts aimed at tackling waste.

The city-state of Singapore maintains its cleanliness by considering the little things. Stickers in bathrooms remind citizens to always flush the toilet. Littering fines are high and well communicated. Chewing gum sales are forbidden to avoid gum stuck to public subway stations or benches. While we probably won’t be outlawing chewing gum anytime soon, the government has no option but to demonstrate its zero tolerance for indiscriminate waste disposal by clamping down on offenders.

This has been demonstrated by recent arrest of some residents of Aboru in Alimosho, whose wards were caught emptying their bags of thrash into a drainage channel in front of their home during a recent heavy downpour, claiming they acted on the instructions of their parents.

Understanding and cooperation of the citizenry is germane to achieving the government’s agenda/vision. Just as we lament over bad leadership and assert failure of our compatriots 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 leaving the business of environmental rehabilitation to the government alone. No! It really began when their citizens started to take responsibility over their environment.

Like famous world cities such as London, Washington, Oslo, Dublin, Paris, etc., 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.

Rasak Musbau, Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja