Public health and the court ruling on sanitation


Recently, a Federal High Court in Lagos delivered a judgement on the restriction of citizens’ movement during the monthly environmental sanitation exercise in Lagos State and held that the restriction was unlawful. Justice Mohammed Idris, in his judgement, declared that the movement restriction in the name of sanitation is a violation of the right of the citizens to personal liberty and freedom of movement guaranteed by sections 35 and 41 of the nation’s constitution.

Justice Idris thus voided the Lagos State Governments’ power to arrest citizens moving about the state within the 7 to 10am duration of the general sanitation exercise on the last Saturday of every month.

Incidentally, the suit had been filed by Lagos lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, against the Inspector-General of Police and the Lagos State Government. It would be recalled that the lawyer, prior to filing the case, had been arrested by the police and LASTMA officials, during a sanitation exercise, on the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, for defying the stay at home directive.

Since the momentous judgement of Justice Idris was delivered, there has been strident public debate among public commentators on the propriety or otherwise of the judgement, even though the Lagos State Government has appealed the verdict.

While some people see the judgement as a victory for the rule of law and an end to one of the relics of military dictatorship in the country, others have flayed the judgement and argued that nullifying movement restriction during sanitation will bring stifle the monthly exercise and take Lagos State back to days of yore when people neglected cleaning their environment and filth was everywhere.

It must however be said that this court ruling, in the long term may, have a far-reaching effects on the health of Lagos residents because the state of the environmentusually affectsthe health of the people. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) in a report stated that there are specific diseases and injuries that are caused by environmental factors, which include unclean surroundings among others.

The WHO report, titled: “Preventing disease through healthy environments” estimated that more than 33 per cent of diseases in children under the age of five are caused by environmental exposures and that preventing environmental risk could save as many as four million lives a year in children alone, mostly in developing countries.

According to the report, more than 13 million deaths annually are due to preventable environmental causes, while one-third of death and disease in the least developed regions is due to environmental causes. It also stated that over 40 per cent of deaths from malaria and an estimated 94 per cent of deaths from diarrhoea, two of the world’s most dreaded ailments killing children, could be prevented through better environmental management.

It is without doubt that malaria, which is said to be responsible for more deaths, hospital visits and admission in Nigeria, can be tamed – if the environment is clean and if there are no stagnant waters or open gutters for mosquitoes to breed. Also, conditions like cholera, diarrhea etc that kill many Nigerians yearly can be tamed by improving the hygiene level in the environment. It must be said that despite the monthly environmental sanitation exercise, our environment is still not as clean as it should be.

While it is incontestable that the ideal thing is that people should strive to keep their environment clean daily and refrain from waiting till they are compelled before doing what is right, the fact remains that the monthly exercise has tremendously helped in keeping the environment clean. Many people now subscribe to the culture of trooping out on the last Saturday of the month to clean their surroundings, even though there are people who use the period for other activities besides the cleaning exercise.

However, while we await a resolution of the legal disputation of the monthly sanitation exercise which is now on appeal, it is important to stress that it is important to take the issue of ensuring hygienic environment in Lagos and even the whole Nigeria beyond the monthly exercise.

In developed climes, environmental issues are now big political topics that politicians pay attention to. These are countries that are no longer battling with the construction of drainage canals/gutters, waste collection or sweeping of streets. However, their understanding of the vital impact of the environment on the health of the people makes them to consistently seek ways to keep their environment hygienic.

Nigeria and Nigerians should follow this laudable path. This nation should be doing more to raise awareness and reawaken consciousness on how to consistently keep the environment clean. Our health wealth as a nation depends on it because health is wealth.

Cleaning the environment should be done daily, by all Nigerians, with or without the monthly environmental sanitation exercise.