Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
THE conviction of anyone visiting Warri, the celebrated oil city in Delta State, is that the folks in the city must be living lavishly and in healthy environs. Regrettably, by what has become the melancholy of oil communities in the Niger-Delta, this is mere illusion.
The filth in some areas of the oil city, Effurun and other satellite cities in Warri South, Warri South-West, Uvwie and Udu Local Government Areas of the state offends the visitor. And the indifference attitude of the people to the dirty environment only baffles one, as Warri turns into a shanty town
Outraged by this and propelled by the determination to finish strong, the governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, while unveiling the renovated Cavegina Primary School and Olodi Primary School, both in Warri, in February, bewailed the pitiable sanitary habits of the city dwellers and asked them to gear up to shed the dirty city image of Warri.
His verses: “They refer to Warri as a dirty city. This has got to stop. And it must start with proper guidance of our children on basic hygiene from our homes and in our schools.” But as the saying goes, “old habits die hard.” The poor waste disposal among residents increased. However, the governor, is determined to change Warri and other cities .
He started the battle with the constitution of a 25-man Special Sanitation Task Force, headed by the Deputy Governor, Prof Amos Utuama, to clean up Warri within one week. The tenure of the task force expired with the work half-done and a special Environmental Sanitation Task Force shepherded by the Commissioner for Environment, Chief Frank Omare, was reconstituted this month.
Pains and gains
Unquestionably, the war has not been without casualties. At the very beginning with Utuama as team leader, a tragedy occurred in Warri when the driver of a bulldozer engaged by government accidentally crushed some persons to death. Also, over 500 persons might have lost their do-it-yourself shops and other illegal structures as a result of the exercise.
For Mr. Kingsley Urhobo, a trader on Okubor Street, Effurun, who was forced to dismantle his shop, one of the unlawful structures that defaced the city: “Uduaghan and PDP have killed us, I do not know where to turn to now, where do I get money to train my children.”
Many others are raining curses. But Mrs. Joan Akinlugbe, whose shop at Sokoh Estate Road, Effurun, was also affected in the exercise is different: “What the governor is doing is for the good of all of us. People dispose waste inside the drains as if we are pigs. Can you imagine that a man channeled the waste disposal pipe from the toilet in his compound into a drain in this Sokoh Estate Road?.”
“Nobody could challenge him and people knew what he was doing. They are waiting for Uduaghan to come and talk to him. Some landlords in Warri convert their car parks, bathing rooms and toilets into rooms and rent them to people. In such compounds, there is no sewage system and nobody is talking. Is this the kind of thing that should be allowed in a decent society? She asked.
Chief Omare told Saturday Vanguard that there was no vindictiveness on the part of government in the exercise, adding: “People are complaining, but this exercise is not intended to victimize anybody. The Governor of the state who instituted the committee has no influence over our mandate. His fence on Okunu Road was brought down.
My own fence and those of other top government functionaries have been brought down in course of our removal of illegal structures, so no one can say we are victimizing anybody.” Uduaghan is fanatical about purging Warri of its dirty look.
Some weeks ago, he had come down from an Abuja flight to Asaba when he stormed the Ogbegonogo market in the state capital with his commissioners, talking to market women on the need to keep their environment clean. He had carried out similar campaigns in Warri and Effurun, saying, “I know what I am talking about when I tell you to keep your environment clean, I am a medical doctor.”
Weeks into the re-energized war, a semblance of sanity is returning to Warri, Effurun and Udu, but it has also left mutilations on the city. Secretary of the Task Force, Mr. O.P Origho, in a statement, last week, said, “It has come to the notice of the Special Environmental Sanitation Task Force that most premises are now in a deplorable condition following the removal of illegal structures that were attached to them.”
“In view of this, the Special Environmental Sanitation Task Force hereby directs the immediate removal of the debris and the painting of all premises particularly along the major roads in Warri South, Uwvie and Udu Local Government Areas.
“Owners and occupiers of such premises have two weeks, starting Wednesday May 14, 2014 within which their houses must be painted and their environment thoroughly cleaned up. Premises where sewage is discharged into the public drains, those with rough fences and unsightly environment should correct such observed lapses while those still using containers as well as similar structures to display wares should remove them immediately,” he added.
According to the task force, “All premises, estates, plazas, shops, places of worship, eateries and other business centers in the area are to also make arrangements to use the waste collectors assigned to their respective areas as all forms of illegal dumping of waste is not allowed.”
The committee stated that Mobile Courts has been put in place to try those who contravene sanitation laws, while environmental health officers would intensify house to house inspection.
167 suspected offenders arraigned
At least, 167 suspected offenders were prosecuted and fined various sums of money by designated courts. Between 7.00 am -12.00 pm that the clean-up lasted, Warri, Effurun and Udu were like apparition towns, as vehicles were totally off the road. Residents, who spoke to our reporters, commended government’s efforts at ensuring that the three localities were rescued from dirt.
At the Effurun market, Chief Omare frowned at the market women, who pile refuse on the road sides despite knowledge of designated evacuation points. He ordered a closure of the market till the traders signed undertaking not to display their wares on the road again.
“Continuous display of goods on the road by the traders in the three local governments has caused a lot of embarrassment to the state government. This will no longer be tolerated and anyone found wanting will face the wrath of the law,” he warned.
I won’t surrender – Uduaghan
During the week at Agbor, where he inspected some on-going projects, Uduaghan disclosed that removal of illegal structures in Warri and its environs was a project that would be implemented in all parts of the state, and urged Deltans to imbibe good attitude towards the environment by eradicating shanties, planting trees and flowers. He said he would not relent on the war against filth, as it is a battle that must me won.