By Akintola Benson-Oke
Lagos once had a reputation for being a very dirty and disorganised city. However, tailored and sustained efforts in this direction since 1999 have ensured that Lagos is no longer in the class of extremely dirty cities. However, there is still work to be done.
In an article entitled, Lagos Must be Clean, a policy analyst wrote that, “One striking feature of a capital city in any developed country is its cleanliness. There are no heaps of refuse. No abandoned broken down vehicles. No bloated dead bodies on the road. No suicidal beggars competing with moving vehicles and threatening to harm motorists who fail to give out alms. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of Lagos, which used to be the Nigerian capital, and a major entry port for visitors coming into the country through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport. Other international capitals like London, Washington, Oslo, Dublin, Paris etc. are beauties to behold because of their sparkling clean environments, which leads one to the question of how these capital cities manage to attain their cleanliness. The answer is simply that governments in those cities and countries pay painstaking attention to personal hygiene and have developed very effective waste disposal systems, right from individual households to the larger public space”
It is one thing to have a plan or policy in place, but it is a different matter altogether to have a strategy for communicating the import, nature, benefits, changes and opportunities inherent in the policy. The importance of communication in public administration cannot be over-emphasised.
It is also helpful to call to mind why a cleaner city is very important. Indeed, while no one can possibly be in doubt as to the need for a clean environment, it helps to briefly discuss the most important of the benefits. The first and primary reason is for the better health of the residents and tourists. Hygienic environment helps us to stay fit and augurs for a longer, healthier life. The fact we all know is that mosquitoes, insects and flies carry a lot of germs and bacteria in them. They are the main transmitters of diseases like chicken pox, malaria and jaundice. We do know that these mosquitoes and pests are frequently attracted tow ards heaps of garbage and wastes.
Also, a cleaner city is always a sure bet that it would attract more and more tourists from around the world. Historical buildings, iconic sites along with cleanliness constitute the perfect combination to attract tourists and make for people to enjoy their holidays in the city. But garbage lying here and there would be a turn-off for tourists.
Avoidance of degradation is another benefit of a clean city. Plastic wastes and carry bags are the factors that degrade the quality of our environment. Nowadays, we find that plastic wastes enter into the stomachs of animals along with other edibles, thus affecting their health which in turn affects the animal kingdom. We are also very well aware of the fact that many plastic wastes are non-degradable, thus they deface the environment and lead to the degradation of the soil.
Another benefit of keeping our cities clean is that it helps in maintaining a respectable ranking when cities are ranked. The ranking of cities is helpful in terms of employment and development opportunities. Multinational companies are attracted to set up their offices in cities with good rankings. It is necessary to understand the strategy for communicating hard facts on environmental pollution such as those compiled by the “Do Something Project” The hard facts are as follows.
“Pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people. That’s comparable to global diseases like malaria and HIV. In 1975, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that ocean-based sources, such as cargo ships and cruise liners, had dumped 14 billion pounds of garbage into the ocean. “Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year. People who live in places with high levels of air pollutants have a 20% higher risk of death from lung cancer than people who live in less-polluted areas.
The Mississippi River carries an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution into the Gulf of Mexico each year, creating a “dead zone” in the Gulf each summer about the size of New Jersey. Approximately 40% of the lakes in America, for example, are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming. While children make up 10% of the world’s population, over 40% of the global burden of disease falls on them. More than three million children under age five die annually from environmental factors. Recycling and composting prevented 85 million tons of material from being disposed of in 2010, up from 18 million tons in 1980.”
It is clear from scientific analysis that stopping pollution is a complicated issue that takes the effort of big industry as well as individual lifestyle changes. Also, and most importantly, there are a number of factors and practices that may not be so easily understood by the generality of the populace. This is where strategic communication becomes of utmost importance.
What strategy are we going to adopt to communicate that pollution affects all the elements of an ecosystem, including air, water and soil? What strategy will effectively communicate to our people the concepts of clean energy as renewable energy which does not deplete natural resources or cause environmental harm? What of the related concepts of bioenergy, wind, hydroelectricity, solar and geothermal energy? Electric cars are powered exclusively by electricity instead of gasoline, which is stored in the car’s rechargeable batteries. Is this an idea for our land and our time? How do we communicate our position on developments such as these?
Also, how do we effectively communicate the several things that individuals and communities can do to prevent water pollution? Without any iota of doubt, there is need for a strategy to communicate and reiterate the proven steps we can take to help prevent water pollution. These include the following: Don’t litter, especially in or near water sources; Organise a community clean-up event near a river or lake where you live; Use green household cleaners and laundry detergents; Use natural lawn fertilizers, such as manure instead of chemical fertilizers; Buy organic food that is produced without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers; Dispose of hazardous materials, such as paint, motor oil, antifreeze and lawn fertilizers responsibly, never throw them in the drains or in the gutter.
Cleanliness is absolutely important because pollution is devastating. It is important to communicate to our people what is at stake and what needs to be done in the most effective way.
Lagos State Commissioner for Establishment, Training and Pensions, Dr. Akintola Benson Oke, delivered this speech at a workshop entitled “Strategic Communication for a Clean Lagos”.