Ojodu-Berger and its filthy environment

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OJODU-BERGER

Late Afro beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, means different things to diverse people. While some people see him as a gifted musician and inexorable activist, others see him as a social nuisance.

Despite this varied perception of the maverick musician, one thing that is, however, incontrovertible is that he provided a voice for the voiceless in the country and, indeed, the continent through his music.

His music was his weapon to fight perceived oppressive military and civilian governments and their collaborators to a standstill. When Fela sang, powerful men in the society simply ran for cover.

In one of his ever-green songs, “Beasts of No Nation”, released in 1989, the iconic Afrobeat originator, as usual, addressed important social and political issues prevalent in Africa. In the song, Fela attacks corruption and military dictatorship, while advocating for freedom and justice.

In “Beasts of No Nation”, Fela refers to some of those in power as “animals in human skin”, suggesting that they have lost their humanity and are disconnected from the needs of the people. The song conveys a strong message about the sacrifices and struggles faced by ordinary citizens under a corrupt government.

Years after Fela symbolically used the message of “animal in human skin” as a satire to draw attention to the oppression of the masses by those in power; I actually witnessed a scenario that tends to endorse Fela’s position.

A few days back, while driving along the Ojodu-Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, I was stunned by the sheer volume of excreta on the newly constructed roads, especially on the median strip (the median strip refers to the central reservation, roadway median, or traffic median that is usually reserved to separate opposing lanes of traffic on divided roadways).

It was highly shocking to see defecation covering the long stretch of the median strip from Ojodu-Berger to OPIC, a distance of almost two kilometers or so.

As I was pondering on whether what I was seeing was the defecation of animals or that of men, right in the sunny afternoon, I saw three guys at different parts of the road, defecating live on the median strip.

Generally, the people complain about the government not providing enough basic amenities, but is it not ironic that the same people mess up the same infrastructure as soon as they are put in place?

As I continued the trip along the road, I couldn’t help but keep meditating about the gory sight of large scale excrement on the over 2 kilometer stretch of median strip.

“Why on earth should a human being openly engage in such a disgusting act? Could the contemptible action be justified by any means? Is there really any major difference between man and animal, especially when it comes to such shameless practice as open defecation? Was Fela really right that there are truly animals in human skin?

Out of utter curiosity, I tried to make enquiries about the availability of public toilets across the axis. My finding was astonishing. That axis has enough public and mobile toilets (indeed, the late Otunba Gadhafi popularized mobile toilets along the area), and they are in fairly good shape. Yours truly saw quite a few.

I did not stop there. I made efforts to seek information from some folks along the axis about their views on the gory sight. Many were of the opinion that the government should build a barrier on the long stretch of median strip to prevent people from having access to it. Others are of the view that such barricades would be vandalised, as it has been done in the past.

“I think it is important for stakeholders to be united in educating the public about the danger of open defecation”

Some are of the view that the government should deploy some personnel of the Lagos Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC) to protect the place from such environmental abuse. But the snag with this idea is what happens at night?

As puzzling as the issue is, I think it is important for stakeholders to be united in educating the public about the danger of open defecation. Open defecation is one of the fundamental aspects of sanitation that mirrors our underdevelopment as a people.

It is a terrible practice with various consequences on human health, dignity and security, the environment, and social and economic development. The profoundly damaging health and developmental consequences of this menace has often been overshadowed by other aspects of our socio-economic life that are also in decay.

Many people seem not to understand that the quality of our lives as human beings is substantially a reflection of the quality of the environment which we inhabit. Many still seem not to comprehend that open defecation creates a host of problems that exceed the merely aesthetic.

The spread of numerous gastrointestinal and diarrheal diseases is associated with it, whether through direct contact with faecal matter or via tainted food and water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 88 percent of diarrhea cases are attributable to poor excreta management. Diarrhea is the second largest killer of children below 5 years, only next to pneumonia yet open defecation practice is commonplace in our country.

Hygienic lifestyle helps in creating a strong economy, as well as improving health and protecting people’s safety and dignity, particularly women’s and girls’.

Therefore, aside from the health risks inherent in the lack of proper human waste disposal, it also has significant impacts on dignity and security, the environment, and social and economic development.

It needs to be stressed that the people cannot live a truly productive and fulfilled life if they persist in living in an unsanitary environment.

Employers of labour and owners of businesses should endeavour to provide good toilets for their employers, not leaving out motor parks and markets.

Priority attention should also be accorded the provision of good and hygienic restrooms for travellers and customers respectively. This would contribute to healthy living in the society.

More importantly, major stakeholders should not relent in carrying out public enlightenment activities to promote attitudinal change towards eradicating open defecation and other such unhygienic habits.

The citizens should handle issues of the environment with zest because the environment is the superstructure on which the survival of every one of us rests. It is whatever we throw at the environment that it throws back at us.

On a final note, we should all, by our actions, always endeavour to prove Fela wrong that there are a whole lot of differences between human beings and animals.

•Ogunbiyi is a Director in the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy