By Usman Ibrahim Na’abba
Ahmad Sulaiman’s face is cheerless as he continues to grapple with thoughts of how poor sanitation and adequate hygiene bother his community. Ahmad lives in one of the densely populated communities in Nassarawa LGA, Unguwar Gaya, in Kano State. Not only does he lament that their community efforts are all in vain, but he is not hopeful about the well-being of his community in the coming years.
Sanitation and proper hygiene have been among the critical focus areas for governments at all levels in Nigeria. Hence, prominent international organizations carrying out activities across developing countries have factored these challenges into their projects and programs.
Organizations like United Nations Children Emergency and Fund (UNICEF) have been present in Nigeria for decades delivering projects in child health and WASH. The priority given to Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is so because poor hygiene and sanitation advance the spread of child killer diseases like communicable diseases such as Cholera, Diarrhea, Typhoid, etc. Moreover, it allows for the continuity of Malaria, a disease Nigeria has grappled with for a long time.
For Ahmad, the dream of having a disease-free community continues to run farther as they continue to chase after it. For over a year, his neighbour’s soak-away pit has filled up to its brink, releasing some of its contents to an open culvert close to it in his community.
Sanitation has deteriorated over the years due to negligence. It is the responsibility of both citizens and the government to have a clean environment. He admits that “passing by the open is extremely excruciatingly nauseating and terrifying, not to talk of neighbouring the area”.
In the past administrations, Kano State has formally declared every last Saturday of the month for general cleaning of markets, motor parks, culverts, hospitals and surroundings around communities with strict restrictions on movement. The session ends by 10:00 am, and it’s almost always expected that proper sanitation of surroundings is effectively discharged – dumping of refuse is executed correctly, and drainages are cleared, among others.
People like Ahmad have now become more aware of the utmost importance of hygiene and are more responsible in ensuring they keep tidy surroundings to combat diseases. However, the current overflow of a soak-away neighbouring dramatically contributes to environmental and health menaces that his community battles.
“Every member of this neighbourhood is at risk of contracting a health problem. Even passers-by aren’t spared of the stinking smell coming out of the unkempt soak-away”, he said. The pit also leads to an open culvert linked to many houses around his community. Hence, the danger of the odd combination is incomprehensible.
“I have tendered complaints to the mayor of the community countless times. It has been over one year, and nothing has been done. Tenants occupy the house, and I’ve observed that they don’t really care about the impact of what their negligence would cause,” he admitted. Upon understanding the dangers associated with improper sanitation by the tenants, he also proceeded to meet them one-on-one, but that hasn’t been helpful either.
Tenants occupy a significant number of houses around the area, which is why there are numerous hygiene and sanitation problems. However, he explains that “only a few people are concerned about the health impacts of overflowing soak-away and refuge problems. This is because tenants often feel it is the responsibility of house owners to take care of such things rather than themselves”.
Towards the end of July, Ahmad’s concern rose due to the anticipated heavy rainfall and possible flooding by the Nigerian government through the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), which he believed could deteriorate their health plight because of the unkempt soak-away pit. He then, together with a friend, who is also his neighbour, collaborated and submitted a written complaint to the Kano State Ministry of Health through the office of its secretary.
Only after their report did the ministry of health send officials to their neighbourhood to check the extent of the problem. Because the property belongs to tenants, the officials from the hospital that visited said that “if they didn’t repair it, they would sell some part of the house that will be equivalent to the money to repair the hazardous soak-away for them since they are not ready to take any action”. As I speak, the soak-away pit is as it is now. Ahmad tried to call the officials again, but they couldn’t respond to him or come back to the community and take the action they intended.
Usman Ibrahim is a 200-level student of the Department of Information and Media Studies, Bayero University Kano.