Ralph Egbu

The tragedy called Sanitation Day

SO many things to say especially on politics and economy; there is even the peoples parliament that ought to sit today but I had to shelve all that to put my hands on a matter that may look insignificant but very vi­tal in national development. It is about keeping our na­tion clean and the strategy to be adopted. Some of us call the project sanitation exercise and for this, most governments across the dif­ferent tiers have adopted a one line strategy which is the designation of a particular day as sanitation day. From what I know no other thing preceded the inauguration of this policy, no enlighten­ment, no consultation, no clear idea on how it is to be done, it is all about a sanita­tion day, a day where every activity including economic engagement must be halted so that the citizens can clean up their environ­ment.
I will discuss the anomalies and why this option is very wrong, but let me first reveal my encounter with a friend early last week and the lessons we can take from it. My friend asked me if I know why our nation is going down and I told him we have never since independ­ence taken a step forward. We first circulated around what was left for us by the colonial masters and thereafter the journey downwards started. In the last few months we have approached the precipice of a crash, everybody on board this flight is aware of the danger, hence the loud shouts. My friend wanted to know the reason for the change in fortune and again I said it is simple: we left the things we ought to have done and been doing and holding tight to symbols we should abhor. Corruption, abominable as it is, is not the reason we are in deep mess, it is just that at the time we should have built a nation, create a people, establish functional institu­tions and particularly a productive economic model, we left all that and began pursuing vain things like ethnicity, superficial religios­ity, white elephant projects which have no reproductive life of their own.
Reading a book to refresh my mind last Tuesday entitled “Seek­ing A More Perfect Nation, the American Heritage”, I came across a portion where an American poli­tician of the foundation era, James Bryce, had this to say about the importance of ideals (ideology) in forging a stable, prosperous nation: “The people of every nation have a few great ideals that characterize their political life, but Americans are a special case, their ideals are the basis of their national identity, other people take their identity from their common ancestry, thus long before there was a France or Japan, there were French and Japanese people, each a kin­ship group united through blood. Not so for Americans, they are a multitude of immigrant peoples linked only by a political tradition, United States was a nation that was founded abruptly in 1776 on a set of principles that became its peoples common bond. America’s principles are habits of mind, a customary way of thinking, scientists call it political culture something that refers to character­istics and deep seated beliefs…” I don’t want to waste my time here expanding the above quote since I would be contributing to the debates on economic downturn and possible revival strategies anytime from now, I recalled the quote above to prove a point that a people that stand for nothing would embrace anything and term it worthwhile. Our leaders pretend to subscribe to capitalism, but the surprise is their ignorance about the principles behind it, no true capitalist would promote the waste of productive hours. That has been part of the trouble; there is nothing creative about our solutions to our problems, we move either at the push of outside forces or on instinct (impulse) and that is why we clutch at everything whether it makes sense or not, just stumble along if it turns out good or bad we don’t care. If we had clear ide­als we would know what we want and how to go about them and the journey even though of a million miles would be interesting and have no cause to weary anybody, as it is presently the case.
The concept of centralized sanitation on the surface would look well intentioned, but in terms of substance and as a strategy for nation building it is hollow, bereft of sound reasoning, out of order, obtrusive, anti-democratic and wasteful. It is a deliberate invitation of tragedy; many innocent Nige­rians became victims of avoidable road accidents and armed robbery attacks because a journey that was carefully planned for the daytime became a night movement, reason being that the journey had to be halted in a particular state for over five hours to observe sanitation ex­ercise. No productive nation does this. If we were a nation of critical reviews we would have found out man-hours lost state-by-state and the sectors affected most and the cumulative amount involved. I’m sure we would scream at the harm we do to ourselves. We would also have discovered that the citizens don’t take sanitation exercises seriously rather major­ity have converted those hours to rest periods, they just extend their sleep, read their newspapers, watch television, wash clothes or just while away time talking irrelevances. Nothing proves the futility of the sanitation day option than what the youths make of the deserted streets on sanitation days. Issues of sanitation have for long been the cheapest way to steal public funds, beyond funds taken through the sanitation agen­cies, citizens and businesses are charged high fees for no services offered at all; in many states, local governments are asked to fund the exercise; anybody’s guess is as good as mine.
Ideally governments should be responsible for professionally planning environment and keep­ing it clean. By now we should be talking about scientific ways of waste management. Naturally individuals should keep their immediate settings clean; citizens can keep at it if hygiene is taught in schools as was the case in the past. The Cross River State exam­ple has shown that government can give us a very clean environ­ment without holding citizens cap­tive. The act of asking teachers, public servants and students to cut grasses is repugnant. What is required is enlightenment and well trained people engaged to do the work; that is the common practice everywhere.
I heard the Minister of Environ­ment is contemplating introduc­ing a National Sanitation Day. He should be told to perish the thought and find new but modern ways of keeping the nation clean if he can’t, he has the right to engage experts who have the knowledge, and I am sure they would teach him what to do. The compelling challenge should be to get states and local governments to do away with this sanitation day idea, it is outdated, antidemo­cratic and very destructive of the economy, we can’t continue with it especially at this time.

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