In December 2009, Ikoku Spare Parts Market in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, was shut down by the Rivers State Government, due to what it termed “its poor sanitary condition”.
The state environmental sanitation authority boasted that the closure of the market was to ensure cleanliness in Port Harcourt. Mr. Lekan Ige, then the spokesman for the state’s Environmental Sanitation Authority said, “Ikoku spare parts market is one of such areas that have remained very dirty in Port Harcourt.” The agency, to attract the pity of the Rivers masses, added that nothing it did to appeal to the conscience of the traders worked. This was why they went to the market and shut it down. The word Ige used on the closure of the market was “indefinitely”, and again, “pending when the traders will see reason with the sanitation authority and ensure the cleanliness of the entire place.’’
Majority of the Rivers masses are today laughing at people like Ige, who saw the Ikoku spare parts market as the only place where poor sanitary condition was in Port Harcourt, and shut it. Their laugh was following the dirty environment the residents have come to live with and endure in the entire Rivers State.
The mentality of people in the recent times is that the closure of the market then was aimed at scoring cheap political relevance compared to the monumental poor sanitary environment in Rivers State as of today; the closure of the market then was just an act of eye service, to attract the attention of the unsuspecting public, to say that the Governor Chibuike Amaechi-led administration of Rivers State was out to put the debilitated Rivers State well, oblivious that the governor perhaps has exhausted the stamina of his earlier vibrancy along the line he started the race.
While the major reason the sanitary agency said it closed down the market was that the traders littered the area with scraps and unused cars, it further claimed that these items blocked traffic on the road and the nearby Ntawogba creek, causing flooding in Port Harcourt. But if that was the case, Rivers masses said, then many companies needed be closed today, so that Rivers State could attain a sanitized environment they had longed for.
Against that influence, people are spurred to traverse through all the areas of Port Harcourt and see for their selves, if flood has not been tempting the abodes and surroundings of the residents. In some of the misused gutters that were built decades ago, all forms of cellophane bags liter them, but most especially, pure water bags become the major cause that are blocking the waterways.
The idea of building fence-to-fence houses has been labeled the major culprit why some streets are over flooded during rains, and not the spare parts. But who is actually complying with the sanitation in the state? The then Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Kingsley Chindah, who has been catapulted to the national assembly, boasted through Ige, that the closure of the market, was the government’s determination to ensure cleanliness. Whereas, the government hesitated to close other markets, companies or public places with dirty premises. Or was the government not seeing?
An observer was pleading to Amaechi in a feedback to turn his searchlight of innovation and transformation to the Environmental Sanitation Authority. He further advised the governor the need for a complete transformation starting from the agency’s corporate office, employees (esp. taskforce), to the system of waste disposal.
“That office is opposite of what the agency stand for and it does not befit Rivers State,” he said.
Plans to recycle waste, contemplations have been heaped on the Environmental Sanitation Authority, whether it is directly responsible for the disposal of waste within the city. Did it procure waste disposal trucks and provide good and decent waste bins in the streets, like then days when the authority was created? If it did, what is the sustenance? Is the authority held responsible and to respond to urgent needs now that the needs have arose?
A serious awareness has to be created in the sanitation in the state, some persons said. What has the authorities been thinking considering waste management due to the influx of people into the state? They asked. Is it appealing to see refuse monuments along Aba road, waiting for the recalcitrant waste managers? Residents see rubbish everyday along the major streets of Port Harcourt in the name of sanitation. What will happen if these ugly refuse sites are moved into the streets?
“That agency with the level of exposure of the team, the mental frame of seeing the office as a platform of advancing and promoting political aspiration of its leader and very weak technical orientation, no amount of money and advice to that mind frame will transform that place. That is not a place to play politics with; it is something for pure professionals and should be driven on a business model not total social service. I am sure the Governor knows this very well, even though he used it to settle some political purpose,” an observer pointed out.
The observer further said that other issues in sanitation are essentially behaviour of the citizens, and finally, the problem of laws and enforcement. He reiterated that the governor has proper brief on these; but it’s about his present focus and priority against available resource and the desire to change things fast; absence of people with similar passion and right competence to drive change in that sector on the governor team, the conflict between Chindah who was a humble, brave and fast learner, the sanitation authority head and the LG council which by law is the right level of government, was not helping matters either. Surely, the biggest challenge from his perception of what was going on was the political decision by the governor.
Others pinpointed the need government should go from administration to real management of waste in Rivers State. They suggested that the Rivers State Environment Sanitation Authority (RSESA) should forget about catching people, bucket sales etc. to the real thing: provide locations; landfills that are properly managed, recycle or convert waste for economic purposes. Advise was also given that the drainages in Port Harcourt should be cleaned regularly; they are nuisance this rainy season.
“For me, cleaning the drainages should not be the work of contractors but workmen in the ministry of Environment or RESA, so as to check consistency… Citizens of the state should go beyond cleaning their personal homes but also their neighbourhood and ensure that littering the environment is checkmated by one another.” However, some people praised Amaechi for his stewardship, but advised that “…there should be a proper monitoring unit to the environmental unit that has been created by the administration.” This was suggested would help to make the government’s effort a success.
Just like the Ikoku spare parts market was shutdown, artisans risked daily harassment and confrontation with the Task Force officials who curbed the city to apprehend defaulters, but this did not make a good work without a provision to relocate them. With the government’s directives on removal of illegal mechanic and welding shops in Port Harcourt, they abound. The areas for authorized welding and mechanic operations mapped out by the government are underutilized: Mile 111, Elekahia and Akpajo.
Against that backdrop, some people have said that in defiance to government directives, a handful of illegal welding and mechanic shops still thrive in the city; such illegal operations had not evaded the un-winking attention of the task force. Reportedly, one of the operations of the task force in the Ogbunabali axis of Port Harcourt, shaped-up into a mild drama, as the Task Force swooped on a shop along Ede Street. Th
e task force numbering about seven over powered the shop owner who put up a futile resistance, and impounded his items. The Task Force left impudently after the operation.
After the scenario, a report had it that the owner of the illegal welding shop, an average aged man, alleged that the Task force invaded his shop at least twice every week to impound his goods and the impounded items were only released after some stipulated amount had been paid to the Task Force office. (The man had since relocated).
There were stories of goods been impounded by the task force operatives of the RSESA, and the victims paid money to the task force officials to redeem their seized items. There were allegations that the task force office was involved in real business, they collected huge amount of money from people to allow them carry out their activities that were banned by the government at designated places. For the removal of illegal mechanic and welding shops from the city? Napolean Ali, then Chairman of Special Task Force, dismissed the allegations of the owners of illegal welding and mechanic shop in Port Harcourt, as baseless.
“We are only concerned about the removal of illegal mechanic and welding shops in the city, we carry out our duties according to directives and we do not collect money from anybody,” he said.
In another vein, a report had it that an official of the Environmental Sanitation Task Force, on removal of illegal mechanic shed welding… explained the hazards of their official duties. He said that their job requires physical confrontation with people who see them as a hindrance to their daily means of livelihood; the task forces were detested by such people and the people hate them with passion.
“We thank God for every day we live because we don’t wear masks while carrying out our duties,” the man said. “We just wish that people should learn how to act according to law, to save their selves from embarrassment.”
While the workers saved their selves from embarrassment, three members of the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation taskforce reportedly killed a woman trader in Rumuigbo, Port Harcourt, in the recent past. This was said, in an attempt to seize her wares and drag her into their vehicle. The report further expressed that eyewitnesses said that the woman was hit by one of the men and she slumped, while resisting the task force officials who were trying to drag her into their vehicle.
“When the men realized that the woman, who was in her 50s, was dead, they fled.”
When the state’s police command was informed of the development and the then Chairman of the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority, Nnamdi Nwokekoro, the later instead he would rally round for the deceased, rather he disowned the purported task force officials, saying that “all the task force attached to the agency had been dissolved before the incident…those men acted on their own, and advised the public to report whoever claims to be a task force member to the agency or the police.”
While it was adduced that the taskforce men lacked integrity in carrying out their duties, it was a known fact that the sanitation provision in Port Harcourt is grossly deficient.
“As in most cities in sub-Saharan Africa: most people do not have access to a hygienic toilet; large amounts of faecal waste are discharged to the environment without adequate treatment; this is likely to have major impacts on infectious disease burden and quality of life,” said a report.
Notwithstanding, advise is that the state government should make effective sanitation access, sewerage system/management, sewage treatment, sanitation in low-income districts, responsibility, sanitation master plan, sanitation financing, major investments and donor interventions, and not about shutting down any phase of a market or company because the users were not complying with sanitation rules.