Things have never been this bad. Our epileptic industrialisation is leaving problems we cannot cope with. If I told my son that as early as 1970s a refuse disposal van drove past our neighborhood in the campus of the University of Nigeria Nsukka collecting refuse, and that the Estate Department would come round once a month to cut the hedges…he would think I am a clown. We have normalised the sight of refuse heaps at our door steps. How did things get this bad. This image is from my street! In a “middle class” neighborhood in Owerri, that was famed at sometime in the past as a quiet, clean and serene town. Not any more….

The story is the same all over the country. Calabar…also called the Canaan city was often used as an example for what a city should be like. By the time the new government of Cross River state came into office, Calabar was literally swallowed by gabage. The Governor, Liyel Imoke spent weeks on his “sudden impact clean up campaign to restore the cleanliness of Calabar metropolis”…yet the heaps keep reappearing….

The residents of the sprawling city of Lagos, with its over 10 million people who dump refuse indiscriminately. Some defecate and urinate in open places. The city is regarded by many as one of the dirtiest in the world. But the end is in sight! The Commissioner of the Environment recently announced “illegal dumping of refuse to attract six months imprisonment”!!! …He boldly continued…”We cannot continue to fold our hands and watch people desecrate our environment…bla la bla…”. Having laws has never been the problem in Nigeria, we have them a‘plenty, neither are long speeches.

Kano State is actually doing something about refuse disposal! A workshop! …organized in collaboration with InWent, a German based organization. His Excellency, Governor Shekarau told participants that government has invested millions of naira in trying to control refuse dump in the state…no surprise there…

Not to be left out, the National Orinetation Agency (NOA) at the weekend flagged off the South West Zone of “Keep Nigeria Clean” campaign in Oshodi, Lagos. NOA is launching this campaign in all the states.

Governor Ohakim brought the Senate President all the way from Abuja to Owerri to launch his “Imo State Clean and Green programme”. Ohakims’s goal… “working together, we shall recreate Imo State to become a Garden State and Owerri, the jewel in its crown, into a sparking clean and alluring metropolis, where flowers bloom and the fields chlorophyll green all year round”. Imo is on the march…

At least the Governors seem to have recognised the problem. Refuse disposal is not rocket science, but it is not an easy endeavor either! It needs strategic thinking and planning beyond once-in-a-month “clean-up” days! It needs investment and expertise. Until we go beyond the rhetoric…we will keep drowning in our own filth.

But with all the noise the Governors are making…can we be hopeful? What role do we have to play? What is the use of building all the mansions from Lekki phase 1 to 100 when we step out unto heaps of refuse and pools of dirth? Can Nigeria be clean again? We can…if you want us to… If you do not like the picture below…do nothing!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Seriously, if we were to generate electricity from the garbage around Nigeria today, at least 20 villages would have uninterrupted electricity for like one month straight !!!!!!

  2. Patrick Johnson (U.I)

    nicely said. i am doing a project on waste management in Ibadan markets. you dont want to know the scenerio! when i’m through with my research i’ll give you the scoll

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