Growing up, environmental sanitation days were a nightmare! The monthly nationwide schedule was usually on Saturday and as the month drew to a close, I dreaded the announcement since it meant unusual, unpleasant activities I would rather NOT do! Sound asleep, my mom would wake me (all of us actually!) up to do one chore or the other. These were not the ‘usual’ chores though. Cleaning the gutter, sweeping the compound and other things she thought would make the home and its surrounds cleaner. Thus, you could be drafted to clean the gutters, sweep the leaves in the garden (ours was quite large and with the accompanying dust and infamous sand flies THIS wasn’t one you’d like to do, especially if the leaves were also thick on the ground), wash the cars, clean rooms, bathrooms etc. Any and everything was in the offing and the added suspense of NOT knowing what you would end up tackling added to the reason I detested Environmental Saturdays.
Needless to say we hated it and knew that come THAT Saturday morning we’d have one thing or the other to do. Apart from watch the early morning cartoons and other delicious programmes we had no choice but to do them and quickly if we wanted to catch any! The hustle and bustle in the house was more than usual on an environmental day, but it would eventually die down, once chores had been completed to my mom’s satisfaction and life eventually returned to normal. So the tradition of environmental sanitation is one I’m well acquainted with. If I know anything, I’m sure my family wasn’t the only one that joined in this exercise. Other children endured the same torture at home and maybe mine was milder, although back then, it was the worst thing…ever!
It’s interesting to note that this national tradition has persisted (over two decades and counting) and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight either. The weekly exercise carried out in markets statewide is another event that has also come to stay. Every Thursday the markets open from ten am and the normal pace is only fully restored from noon. So, if you were in a hurry to buy something on a weekday, Thursday is not the day for you to have emergencies of that nature and if you do an alternative would have to be sought.
The most glaring eyesore from this monthly clean-up was the refuse generated. Evacuated waste from previously clogged drains and gutters was another. Residents usually came out to tackle collective projects and clean up their neighbourhoods, not sure how that works nowadays. With various groups doing this, garbage and gutter debris piled up. Before the advent of LAWMA, these were left out in the open to further decay and constitute an environmental and health hazard. Eventually, the evacuated substance (often left precariously balanced on the edge) was either sent tumbling back into the gutter or moved to other locations by vehicular or human traffic.
Once the refuse collection system was adequately structured and implemented, these sights became fewer and the time lag also diminished. Although not yet perfect, we have less waste languishing in public. Refuse collection has been regularised and once the monthly sanitation exercise takes place the wheel is set in motion for immediate and proper collection.
The mad dash that accompanies the month end exercise is another of its characteristic to which we’ve become accustomed. Once the clock strikes ten, getting behind the wheels of your car and leaving immediately is the only way to make any appointment scheduled for eleven or noon. The traffic snarls that develop post sanitation are famous and expected.
There are various options available for managing the enforced indoors stay during the exercise. If you must beat the go-slow then leaving before its commencement is an option. You’ll be amazed at how many take advantage of this and the mass movement pre-sanitation mornings. On the dot of seven, movement is restricted and if you’re caught violating the law, you must face the music. A few people have learned this the hard way.
These and many peculiarities accompany us as we demonstrate our collective ‘clean gene’ in Nigeria. Furthermore, we have also adapted as we’re wont. Now that I’ve come into my own, an environmental Saturday usually finds me indoors. I may choose to clean up a storm, laze about or just take things easy, either way I know I’ve earned it…