Pre – independence period, Nigerians enjoyed a robust environmental healthiness, which was instituted by colonial rulers who ensured that good hygiene and sanitation were given priority even in rural areas.
People were educated on personal and environmental cleanliness by sanitary experts and environmental health professionals.
At the time of independence, most Nigerians were well-versed in the culture of environmental cleanliness. This was in addition to the old tradition that compelled villagers to cut grass in their vicinity, provide toilet facilities, ensure adequate protection of their water sources, and holistically secure their places of residence.
During this time, the government employed professional health educators, sanitary inspectors, and other ancillary workers who focused on the environmental health of rural residents.
The world has gone digital
It is extremely concerning that these health experts are no longer available in the majority of the country’s rural areas. As a result, Nigeria is now dealing with an epidemic of environmental hazards such as open defecation, waterborne diseases, unkempt habitation, and a lack of personal hygiene.
The fact that these manifest in the 21st century, when the world has gone digital, causes one to be concerned about the country’s image.
Regrettably, most local government health departments are not functioning as expected, despite the fact that environmental issues are directly under their purview.
Some health departments lack qualified environmental and sanitation officers because non-professionals were hired for political, tribal, and other clannish reasons.
Now that the National Assembly has revisited and granted autonomy to local governments, there is a need to strengthen health departments as part of a concerted effort to improve health standards in the nation’s hinterland.
The work of sanitary inspectors and environmental health educators must be re-energized as soon as possible. Health educators should be hired to educate rural residents about personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness.
Various fora, such as Town Union meetings, cultural groups, marketplaces, traditional rulers, religious organizations, and other stakeholders, should be identified and used as a veritable avenue of enlightenment.
Traditional and local modes of communication can play an important role in getting the right messages to the right people. Furthermore, governments at all levels must pay close attention to the provision of public water supply.
It is unfortunate that people in some communities’ drink water from the same sources as animals. Pollution of various kinds had become the norm in most rural areas.
Even major cities are not immune to these environmental and health risks. Boreholes haven’t helped matters because the water they produce hasn’t been certified as safe for public consumption.
They say that health is wealth. To save the nation from the ravages of open defecation and outbreaks of cholera, ebola, yellow fever, and other killer diseases, the government must collaborate with other non-governmental organizations and become very proactive.
As a form of orientation for the next generation, it is critical to make hygiene a mandatory subject in primary and secondary schools.
Both traditional and new media should continue to educate and enlighten the public on environmental and health issues.
Writing by Fidel Onyeneke, a public affairs analyst; editing by Saadatu Albashir