Gutters, drainages, canals that empty nowhere (1)

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“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there’s no hope for it.’’

– Albert Einstein


A very old age of over 82 years, I have refused to give up on my nation, Nigeria. I see the calamities and catastrophes that are happening and are about to happen everywhere because of the fast changing global climate and evolving world. I made predictions some 25 years ago on some of the calamities we are experiencing today but nobody listened. I have risked my life so many times to bring these problems to the fore but those in authority did not pay heed to my warnings or take me seriously. I did all that because that was my way of sensitising ordinary minds and heads about the hopeless future we were likely to face if we did not make changes to our lifestyle.

The developed world built their nations with visions anchored on solid plans of how to achieve them; they are still planning and building. Just as it is true that no nation can industrialise without agriculture, it is also true that no nation can grow without solid infrastructure to propel movement of people, goods, services, and wastes. The British did that with the London Underground and the British Rail Network, all built on the backs of our slave brothers and sisters. The freeway system in the United States of America was so designed and interwoven that a country the size of a continent is interconnected in such a way that trips and journeys are actually painless. In both these countries, farm produce harvested at one end will be on dinner tables at the opposite end of the country in 36 hours or less. European cities and towns are connected with fast trains that convey people and goods from one place to another at speeds of more than 200km/hour, made possible by constant electricity. China is building a railroad network along the Silk Road routes that can take goods from China and Asia to the heart of Europe in 10 days or less. I could go on and on.

Suffice to note that infrastructures are not limited to roads and railways. There are infrastructures that are required for the delivery of services (telecommunication, power, healthcare) and waste management (sewage, garbage, drainage). Most services and waste disposal infrastructure can be located above or below ground. The choice of placement is usually governed by geology and space. For instance, if you are in loose formations or earthquake zones, it might be foolhardy to position your pipes and drainages underground. In areas where rock slides and flooding are common, you should on the other hand avoid above-ground placement of infrastructure.

Nigeria is a country located in both the tropics and the Sahel. We, therefore, have a tropical climate in the south and a drier, dusty, Savannah climate in the north. In both regions, though more in the South, we have lots of creeks and tributaries that are natural water and drainage channels. Yet, when we build our roads, we somehow fail to adequately manage the storm drains that are meant to keep the roads from flooding. If and when we build the drains, as I have observed in all our cities, including new ones, these are usually open drains that get clogged with debris of all sorts and become stagnant water pools, and/or are drains that empty into nowhere. People have been known to break their limbs or lose their lives in such drains during flooding episodes. There are three main types of drainage channels, namely, the primary, which are the big canals that people see around, and then the secondary collectors, which are the ones that take water from the catchment into the big canals, and the tertiary drains, which are the drains in front of our houses. In most cases, these drainages are full of waste and debris that prevent water from flowing freely.

Nigeria is not prone to earthquakes or rockslides, so why are we afraid of building underground services? Why are we constantly breeding mosquitoes that will kill us with malaria and dengue fever inside these open drains? Why do we impoverish ourselves and impair our health while making the drug companies richer? Why are we not utilising the natural drainage channels in our tributaries and creeks to aid the safe evacuation of storm waters?

Our sewage disposal practices are a health disaster waiting to happen. To handle our sewage, we build individual septic tanks and soak-away pits for all our houses and most commercial buildings. Outside Abuja City, there is no city or town in Nigeria with a central sewage system. There exist many private companies who engage in the business of dislodging these septic tanks when full. The regulations governing the practices of these companies are not clear. What is clear though is that they discharge their wastes, without treating them, in places of their choosing. This is environmental pollution of the most deliberate order. Consider a flooding situation that can occur from time to time in our coastal cities, or mudslides arising from flash floods in our hinterlands like what happened in Delta and Benue states in 2012. These septic tanks would be inundated, compromised, and swept away. The freed wastes would contaminate the environment, streams, and rivers, making people so sick that Coronavirus, SARS, and Ebola combined may be no match for what may befall us.

It is also a fact of life that the government at all levels has abandoned any pretences of providing potable water to the general public. Every household now sinks a borehole, sometimes only a few feet from a septic tank. As everyone knows, septic tanks are not leak-proof. The aquifer feeding the boreholes receives ground water recharge from rainfall that soaks into the ground. Though natural filtration occurs, biodegradable wastes and agents are not entirely eliminated, and we could be drinking ourselves to death, slowly. This is no conjecture, for in many areas in Lagos, people are already complaining of foul, sewer odours in water from boreholes. It is almost impossible to walk past a gutter without being assailed with the foul smell oozing out of it. Not only do they pose many environmental and health risks, they deform the aesthetics of a city.

Next week, I will continue this discussion but, for now, I will leave us with question to ponder on: “What kind of a nation do we want Nigeria not to be?”


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