By Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba… There ought not to be any debate about the pollution in the four sister cities above or over their ranking. The places are badly polluted. The debate should focus on the way forward. But it helps if we first understand how the pollution started and developed as a warning to what could or is happening in other places in Nigeria and the world. I must state that I do not know much of Kaduna since I had only spent a mere two days in the city in the early s70’s and even then did not go round. The area I was (GRA) was quite clean really. But I accept the findings. Much of what I will write would be about Onitsha, Aba and Umuahia, cities I know rather well.
First: The history
These towns were rural towns that existed BEFORE city planning came into vogue in Nigeria with interruption of British government. Enugu which is a creation of government was/is a well laid out, planned city from the scratch. Even the present efforts to make it uninhabitable by the state governments and the residents both by neglect of maintenance and otherwise by littering, it still manages to be habitable. But the four sisters grew from just a few people mostly a few families, it continued to expand without planning for centuries. Houses were built around the family hearth without streets or any infrastructural development awareness. Things like drainage were not a problem during these earlier stages. Refuse was thrown into the bushes and did not create any problems. In those days refuse were biodegradable. Then came plastics and other refuge which made the eyesore that we now see.
Also the new residents of the sister cities were/are inventors and small industrialists. They started making and selling things and attracted visitors in trickling and then in waves and finally by storms and tsunamis. Without planning things quickly got out of hands. It is what we are seeing presently. People who read economic history would see this development in other parts of the world. Birmingham, England was once such a place, Calcutta, India belonged to this group. Locally Obalande, Lagos was a place very much like Onitsha until very recently. These places existed before modern government and city planning. They represent the wages of the sins of industrial age.
As an anecdote, an Achi man, an engineer, by the name of Humphrey Adibe, came back from London in the late 50’s and having learned how a town could be destroyed by rapid development proposed that Achi people start planning their development by building streets and creating sections for agriculture, dormitory areas, etc. He was laughed out of town. Even the town union which was the government at the time saw it as a way to confiscate other people’s property or even communism. Today. Achi is on its way to being Aba or Onitsha. Nnewi, the new industrial city, is moving closer to being Onitsha than to being Enugu.
Second: What to do?
Sometimes it looks as if the only real solution is to find a bomb that is human sensitive and drop a few of them on these cities and start all over. Another solution have to be found since sensitive bombs do not exist. The amount of resources needed to clean up and plan these cities is beyond the resources of any Nigerian government, even if all the resources were devoted to just one of the cities for we are talking of billions of dollars for just one city. I suggest a two-pronged approach, Clean up and Planning.
- Clean-up. Cleaning up the environment is a challenge to all governments around the world including the highly developed. But it is a task that must be done. In the four sister cities the government could start by new regulations, strictly enforced, on garbage disposal, a measure that is gradually being phased in, in Enugu. This hopefully will stop the bleeding. Then the government would find a parcel of land for the already accumulated refuse – away from sight to relocate current waste. In SE or indeed all of Southern Nigeria, finding such a parcel of Nevada, USA, is nearly impossible. But the governments must try. Once the pollution is relocated, chemists, physicists, engineers, and environmental scientist would be put to work. University dons could make getting rid of the waste parts of their research and use the site as their experiment/labs.
- Planning. Former governor of Eastern Nigeria, Mr. Michael Okpara brought the idea of “New Layouts” in Eastern Nigeria. Under this concept new development areas were created in most cities in the east at the time; Ogui New Layout in Enugu, Fegge Layout in Onitsha, Gborokiri New Layout in PH, are a few of such creations at the time. This idea should be resurrected more especially in the four cities under discussion. Population in these cities would need to be gradually moved out to suburbs that are better planned.
But while all the above are under consideration and implementation, the attitudes of the citizens need to be re-orientated. The definition of refuse must be thought as leaving anything in the wrong place. For example a paper in a folder in a filing cabinet is not refuse. The same paper left on the street is refuse. Hair on your head is not refuse but hair on your food is refuse. So citizens must learn to put things, no matter how small in their proper places starting from our homes to public places. This solution can be easy to enforce if disposal places are provided for the residents. Let us provide waste baskets every 100 yards of our city streets. Metal baskets or cement baskets strongly protected from thieves would make a new Aba a different place in a couple of years.
We must all realize that even with the best planning and investments management it will take at least a half a century before we see meaningful improvements.
Patience is called for.
Ripples Nigeria…without borders, without fears