In a country reputed to have the largest number of mosque and church-goers, it’s simply amazing that one of the cardinal principles of both faiths is never given a second thought.
In Islam we have the authentic Prophetic saying ‘Cleanliness is part of faith’ and in Christianity we’ve heard the time-honoured dictum ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ yet environmental hygiene is the last thing you’ll ever hear a Nigerian cleric preaching about.
Once in a while, Muslim clerics harp on personal hygiene but making sure the place where that clean body resides is equally clean is a taboo topic for them. Today our youths are so used to living in dirt that they see it as normal, not as the aberration that it is.
So used are they to life around filth, that one of them openly declared that if PMB wins last February’s elections he would swim in a gutter for ten minutes, and he did. I was away in the lovely, plateau town of Ifrane, in Morocco, when I read this repulsive story and my first thought was that surely government officials, particularly health workers, will grab this young man and subject him to serious psychiatric treatment. But nothing like that happened.
In that beautiful city, which is also known as the Switzerland of the Arab world, the last thing one sees is dirt because both locals and visitors take the issue of environmental hygiene seriously. Imagine enjoying this heavenly location and reading that a supposedly sane adult decided to swim in some horrid gutter just to make a political point.
And that was when it occurred to me that if the clerics had spoken, it would have made a difference. We all know how our mosque and church-going compatriots swallow everything our religious leaders say, without question, so why did these clerics miss the opportunity to condemn what that deranged young man did, and also preach hard against anyone else trying to emulate him?
I mean they are loud enough when it comes to many societal issues, particularly politics, so why should something as worthwhile as environmental hygiene not be sermonised on from all mimbars and pulpits in Nigeria?
There seems to be a conspiracy of silence between our Muslim and Christian clerics, to the effect that getting their followers to embrace environmental cleanliness is the one thing they won’t do. This is because environmental dirt is the one thing we can all call a national trait.
From our towns and cities to our roads and highways, the story is the same. Local streets are strewn with rubbish heaps while GRA roads are adorned with overspilling dustbins. Of course covered drainages are a thing of the past in most GRAs. The same fetid gutters in traditional wards are the same ones in the once posh suburbs around the country.
Those of us who live in Abuja and think we are spared those unfortunate eyesores are realising that the Federal Capital is fast catching up with the rest of the country. The other day I was looking for a particular address in the GRA part of Utako district but could not believe that on a street with lovely duplexes and green, well-lined trees, each of those houses had it’s own private rubbish heap. I couldn’t believe what I saw.
And even though Abuja is no longer anything to write home about since dirt became an accepted culture, still when you are travelling out of the FCT by road, another torture awaits you from the moment you reach Madallah in Niger State. There is no visible barrier between the FCT and Niger State but you get to know you had left Abuja by the sheer road side dirt that adorns the highway. And that string of filth continues right through to Suleja, getting worse with every mile.
I often wonder whether successive governors of Niger State feel any envy, when they travel to Abuja, seeing the eyesores that show that one is in Niger state, before they reach the relative environmental sanity that says they’re now in the FCT.
Meanwhile, like I’ve said earlier, even the Federal Capital is a disgrace when compared to other capital cities around the world. Yet it is the shining light around Nigerian cities. How did we get to this?
I keep telling my children that once upon a time, road travel was such fun because all you needed to do was sit by the window and watch the world go by. Lush green vegetations and clean road side villages were the things we saw when traveling from one town to another. Today you can’t enjoy such luxury because the highways are completely overtaken by filth.
A colleague of mine from the South-south once said to me that he travelled from one South eastern state to another but the road linking the two states was one huge rubbish dump from the beginning to the end. A traveller has to keep his eyes on the other side of the road or risk growing nauseous.
And just last year my niece went for a course at the University of Ibadan. On her return she said to me that the Kano dirt I often complained about was nothing compared to what she saw in Ibadan. She explained that at least in Kano there is often some distance between one filthy spot to another but in Ibadan one runs into an eyesore every few minutes. And this is the town with the first University in West Africa (in case people attribute dirt to ignorance) as well as the first TV station in West Africa (which guarantees early exposure to superior civilisations and cultures).
During the last Eid-il-Fitr celebration, situation reports were sent from different parts of country, as is the tradition in newspapers. The only situation report that Aminiya newspaper published from Sokoto was that dirt had overtaken the town. And this was the same town whose state governor, Barrister Aminu Tambuwal, made a great show of personally launching an environmental sanitation exercise, early in his first time. Today it is making news just for it’s extent of dirt.
The same effort was made by Governor El-Rufai of Kaduna state, also in his first time and Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, in his second term but they all seemed to fail because there is little attempt to convince the people to wholly embrace the exercise; since it’s for their own good.
And this is why I think the clerics should pick the gauntlet. Imams, priests and pastors should make it a point to preach the importance and benefits of environmental hygiene. People listen to them and respect them. And they can even make it an interfaith effort. I mean if young Muslims and Christians come together every month to clean their environment and dispose of the dirt, do you think it will be easy for some disgruntled politician or any other demagogue to pitch them against each other? They would have a mutual cause to which they are committed and this might breed greater tolerance and understanding of their religious differences.
Whatever else we do, we must drag clerics into our environmental sanitation crusade since they do not seem keen on it. With their ‘blessings’ we may be able to achieve what the politicians are unable to.