By Gbenga Coker
One of the major challenges of cosmopolitan cities in the world is environmental pollution. What invariably separates the men (clean cities) from the boys (filthy cities) is how effective, and even preemptive, multiethnic cities are in managing their waste disposal processes. That is the bedrock of a clean society. For Lagos, with its titanicpopulation, coupled with the congested city centres, which had given rise to satellite towns and slums, the inability to maintain statewide pristine environmental sanitation has been a serious clog in the wheel of progress.
Though attempts were made in the past by successive administrations in the state to tackle the problems headlong, the issue of proper waste disposal and transformation of Lagos into an immaculate environment, proved a hard nut to crack. The desire for a cleaner Lagos pigheadedly remaineda mirage. While concerted efforts were made to make the state live up to its sobriquet, the Centre of Excellence, by making its environment cleaner and serene, little result was achieved as Lagos state continued to expand to accommodate itsgrowing population.
The waterways and canals had been turned into dumpsites, while the ugly sight of people defecating openly into the canals and drainages became a routine. Areas designated as public parks and open spaces, were turned to safe havens for criminals. All these aberrations largely turned the state to an eyesore and one of the dirtiest in the country despite being the commercial nerve centre, not only of Nigeria but the West Africa sub-region.
Apparently determined to reverse the horrid trend, the administration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu set up Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) to ensure a neater and cleaner Lagos. With the establishment of KAI, it became an offence to litter the environment and failure to properly dispose waste was no longer tolerated. The culture of indiscriminate throwing of waste out of vehicles abated, as commercial vehicles were mandated to provide wastebaskets.
Equally, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) was repositioned to offer quality and timely services in the area of waste disposal, while dumpsters were provided in major locations for the populace to dispose their waste. The fear of KAI officials and their mobile courtsbecame the beginning of wisdom for Lagosians who realized that failure to observe environmental norms would henceforth have dire consequences.
Lagos residents suddenly realized that the task to keep a tidier Lagos was no longer a joke.
In the area of environmental pollution, emission test on vehicles was introduced and made compulsory, while a great leap was achieved in curbing blockage of the waterways, drainages and canals with refuse. No doubt, the steps by Lagos towards a garbage-free environment were on a sound footing.
Consequently, the Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) administration concentrated on the beautification of Lagos landscape, with a view to creating an aesthetic, serene and idyllic environment so that Lagos could wear the look it deserved.
Obviously determined to consolidate on the efforts of his predecessors in actualising a cleaner Lagos, the incumbent administration of Akiwunmi Ambode, decided to raise the ante with the inauguration of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative.
To bridge the lacuna and cater for the inadequacies that had bedeviled prior attempts by Lagos State to achieve a cleaner environment, Governor Ambode pushed and ensured necessary legal reforms (legislation) were put in place. So,with the new Environmental Management and Protection Bill, passed by the Lagos State House of Assembly, Kick AgainstIndiscipline (KAI), will be transformed into the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps Agency.
This agency will spearhead enforcement of the stringent penalties imposed on defaulters. This bill, which has been accented to by Ambode, would ensure, among others, that structures on sewage systems without approval aredemolished, all commercial drivers have litter bins in their vehicles, enforce the ban on street trading as well as ensurethat residents obtain permits before sinking boreholes.
Meanwhile, when KAI officers are fully integrated into LASECORPS, the agency will be tasked with monitoring and maintaining surveillance along the highways, streets and public drainages, canals, markets and parks and will have the primary responsibility of ensuring that citizens fulfill their civic duty by paying the Public Utilities Levy- a property-based charge, payable by property occupants for the management of solid and liquid waste, wastewater and environmental intervention for Lagos State.
In the same vein, LASECORPS will be supported by PUMAU (Public Utilities Monitoring Assurance Unit) a unit that will have oversight responsibility by using innovative monitoring tools to ensure the new standards are effectively enforced.
Depending on the nature of the offence, defaulters of the new laws will face stiff penalties ranging from N250,000 to N5,000,000 and/or imprisonment. The state government has deliberately set a stringent penalty in order to discourage environmental misdemeanor and consciously navigate an attitudinal change towards acceptable ecological norms. The message is clear, mess up Lagos and pay through the nose.
On the mandatory provision of litterbins in commercial vehicles, the law expressly says: “If the driver fails to provide the litter bin, the driver will also be penalized alongside the passenger or the occupier of the vehicle who commits the offence”.
On all illegal structures built on the sewage systems without approval, the expressly stated that such structures will be demolished.
Also in the new law, anyone who wants to sink borehole or any structure connected with the supply of water must obtain permit from the office of drainage services.
Though, the new environmental bill was meant to ensure a cleaner Lagos, tackle air and water pollution, prevent diseases and halt the deterioration of the environment to avert advert effects on socio-economic activities, the attendant benefit of creating about 27,500 new jobs for teeming Lagosians, will indeed be a welcome relief.
With this giant leap towards ensuring a well protected and dirt-free environment, Lagos, under the leadership of Ambode, despite its huge population (human and vehicular), is set to provide the best salubrious environment for Nigerians to live in.
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