The recent decision by the Lagos State Government to enforce stricter compliance with environmental laws by shutting some markets in the state is commendable and should serve as an example to governments across the country. The affected markets in Lagos were the Ladipo Spare Parts Market, Agbado Oke-Odo Market, Oyingbo Market, Alayabiagba Market and the Mile 12 Market.
Statements released by the government revealed that the markets were shut for “serial environmental infractions”. This should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with these markets and others scattered around the country. Despite being the lifeblood of the nation’s economy and bustling hubs of community interaction, Nigerian markets are often overcrowded, with poor sanitation facilities and practices.
In most of these markets, piles of waste accumulate, straining the limited resources available for waste management and disposal. These markets are also characterised by open drains that are clogged with garbage, as well as harmful odours and pests, all of which inevitably result in a vicious cycle of poor sanitation and a declining quality of life.
It is noteworthy that, in shutting the affected markets, the Lagos State Government might not necessarily have chosen to “witch-hunt”, as was being peddled by some sections of the public. The decision, as announced by the government, was purely punitive and was meant to serve as a deterrent to violators. The Lagos State Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Folashade Kadiri, specifically listed environmental breaches, such as reckless waste disposal, unhygienic premises and non-payment of waste bills and others, as major reasons for the disciplinary action. “It is imperative that markets in the state adhere strictly to environmental laws and regulations put in place for the well-being of residents.” she stated.
It is undeniable that in an age of infectious diseases, filthy and unhygienic environments aid the transmission of harmful microbes, which can cause food poisoning and contamination of natural resources, such as water, soil and the air. This justifies the action of the Lagos State Government. Moreover, the action is in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6.2 of the United Nations, which seeks to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation.
In apparent validation of the action of the Lagos Government, the CEO of Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) Yakubu Mohammed Baba, recently reaffirmed the decision of the council to implement sanitation and hygiene laws across board in the country. This, he said, is to safeguard the populace from avoidable morbidity and mortality caused by infectious diseases.
According to Baba, “I believe with the framework we are bringing, we want to trigger the sanitary inspectors to really start enforcing the law, because the policy and guidelines are there but the challenges are the enforcement of those laws. The council, under my leadership, has come up with a framework where we will start the enforcement vigorously at all levels of government and I believe it will not be business as usual. We need to change the narration.” It is our expectation that the council and other relevant agencies of government will truly advance their efforts in this aspect of enforcement.
It should be particularly concerning that UNICEF has reported that 73 per cent of the diarrhoeal and enteric disease burden in Nigeria is associated with poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene. This should jolt government at all levels in the country to invest in market infrastructure, including proper drainage systems, sanitation facilities, and garbage disposal points. These improvements will not only boost sanitation but also make the markets more appealing for customers and investors.
As the giant of Africa, which serves as a commercial nerve centre to other neighbouring countries, it is incumbent on the Federal Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Environment, to follow the Lagos State worthy example in enforcing environmental sanitation and hygiene regulations across the country, by intensifying prosecution of violators. The Federal Government must also renew its commitment to the attainment of SDG 6 and WASH programmes, in ensuring that the 2030 target of SDG is a reality.
In all, environmental sanitation in Nigerian markets is a challenge that must be met head-on. It is not only a matter of health but also a critical factor for economic growth and prosperity. The government, market authorities, traders, and citizens all have a role to play in keeping these vital centres of commerce hygienic and safe. Now is the time to take the necessary steps to clean up our markets and secure a brighter future for the country.