…A News Analysis by Abdulrahman Kadiri…
The Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) is the government agency saddled with the responsibility of protecting the environment of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The agency was created in 1987 and its main objective, according to the board’s mission statement, is to ensure a clean, hygienic and sustainable environment for the wellbeing of the residents.
AEPB was established to ensure a healthy environment for the residents of the FCT, while conserving the environment and its natural resources.
The agency was also set up to reduce the impact of physical development on the territory’s ecosystem, while raising public awareness and promoting the people’s understanding of the essential linkages between the environment and development.
Section 37 of the AEPB Act specifically empowers officials of the board to gain access to any premises between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. for the purpose of detecting and abating nuisance to public health.
Over time, however, the board has been facing some challenges which hamper its efforts to discharge these responsibilities.
Mrs Aishat Adebayo, the Director of AEPB, said that the major challenge facing the agency was the apathy of most FCT residents towards efforts to protect the environment.
“We are constantly challenged by the negative behaviour of residents towards environmental issues, ranging from indiscriminate littering, open defecation to poor payment of service bills, amongst others.
“So, we just need to change our attitude by imbibing good environmental practices.
“These services come at a cost and it is frustrating when some residents refuse to pay for them,’’ she said.
She said that for instance, the people’s refusal to pay sanitation bills resulted to the closure of Banex Plaza in Wuse recently.
“Occupants of the plaza failed to heed several warnings which the board gave them to pay the arrears of sanitation levies.
“They have this attitude of harassing our staff when they go there for enforcement; they even ignored a court order that gave them a period of two weeks to pay up,’’ she said.
Adebayo said that the board, in efforts to discharge of its duties, was executing plans to rid the environment of diseases, urging FCT residents to cooperate with the agency in this regard.
“The major causes of morbidity and infant mortality are traceable to factors that are related to environmental sanitation.
“Most residents, even though they are aware of the consequences of living in dirty environments, will do nothing about it until they are forced to act,’’ she said.
She underscored the need for residents to take charge of their immediate environment and keep it clean
Adebayo, however, commended some residents of the territory for their cooperation with the board.
She said that AEPB had explored various avenues of relating with residents as part of strategies to bridge the gap between the agency and its customers.
She stressed that the board organised a special environmental sanitation programme on the last Saturday of every month to sensitise residents to the need to maintain a clean environment and sanction those flouting sanitation laws.
“We established the special cleanup day to thoroughly sensitise the public and hold our special court sessions in neighbourhoods where offenders are sanctioned.
“We are empowered by law to ensure that residents, particularly those in estates and high-rise buildings, do not compromise their hygiene and that of their neighbours,’’ she said.
Besides, Adebayo said that residents’ sanitation forums and school advocacy programmes were introduced to bolster public awareness of the benefits of a clean environment.
“These residents’ sanitation forums serve as an effective link between the board and residents of various communities within the territory.
“Residents are able to collaborate in efforts to tackle specific environmental challenges and when they have difficult challenges, they present them to the board for assistance.
“The school advocacy programme will ensure that the young ones take home the message of cleanliness, right attitude to the environment and environmental sustainability,” she said.
Adebayo said that the board would launch a waste transfer station in 2014 to aid the fulfilment of waste recycling schemes and the waste-to-wealth programme.
“This year, we shall complete one critical infrastructure: the waste transfer station in Gosa, Abuja.
“This will ensure that useful components of the waste are recycled and optimally utilised, she said.
Mr Uche Agbanusi, AEPB’s Head of Department of Environmental Health and Safety, said that the board had the responsibility of educating urban and rural dwellers in FCT on hygienic ways of preventing the spread of diseases.
Agbanusi, who said this at a community sensitisation programme in Jahi village in November 2013, noted that the positive response of Jahi villagers to the special community cleanup programme meant that the sensitisation activity was effective.
“We are using this opportunity to educate the people on the things they should do to preserve their environment and I am impressed with the people’s turnout.
“Sanitation is a major aspect of good health and a healthy environment can easily prevent sicknesses and diseases,’’ he said.
Dr Emma Akuche, the Head of Community Sanitation and Clinic, said that AEPB’s focus on sanitising rural communities was informed by the outbreak of contagious diseases such as cholera in some parts of the country.
“This exercise is an opportunity to educate residents on proper waste disposal procedures so that they can live healthier lives,’’ he said.
While some residents of the FCT commend the board for doing a good job, others urge the agency to adopt fewer sanctions.
The Chief of Jahi village, Alhaji Adamu Dogo, commended the AEPB for its efforts to ensure a hygienic environment in his neighbourhood, adding that the board’s presence should be more regular so as to sustain its achievements.
He pledged the community’s support for AEPB programmes and urged the board to provide the village with large waste receptacles.
Mr Festus Ojo, a resident of Garki, however, advised the AEPB not be too harsh in enforcing sanitation laws.
He said that some residents preferred to keep their waste receptacles at the back of their houses for safety reasons, adding, however, that the AEPB saw the move as a tacit violation of its regulation.
“There are times we keep our dustbins outside and by the time we return from work, the waste bins are stolen.
“It is better for the officials to come regularly to educate and sensitise us; the use of force or sanctions is not always effective,” he said.
Another resident, Mr Ada Halilu, said: “It has become somewhat difficult to understand what constitutes an offence under AEPB regulations.’’
He said that in spite of his resolute efforts to abide by AEPB regulations, he was once summoned to appear before a mobile court for trial.
“We abide by any notice they give us and we do our best to ensure that our environment is clean but most times, they do not come to collect the waste,” he said.
Halilu urged the board to provide bigger waste receptacles for the evacuation of refuse.
Mr Samuel Chukwua, a shop owner in Banex Plaza, Wuse, said that AEPB’s decision to seal off the plaza last year was rather too harsh, adding that it destabilised his business.
“We came to our shops only to find the whole plaza filled with officials of AEPB and some security operatives.
“They prevented us from gaining entrance into our shops on the excuse that we owe AEPB arrears of sanitation levy; this is too harsh and I wonder where they derived such powers to seal premises,’’ he added.
Another shop owner, Mr Innocent Joseph, said that he lost a “lucrative’’ business deal due to the AEPB action.
“This is unfair, my customer was on his way to purchase a large quantity of my wares, only for me to be denied access to my shop,’’ he said.
Joseph said that the AEPB ought to have notified the occupants of the plaza of its intention to seal the shopping mall.
“If I had information that this would happen, I would have been prepared for it,’’ he said.
All the same, Mr Joe Ukairo, AEPB’s Head of Information and Outreach Programme, insisted that the board was only striving to protect and preserve the environment.
He stressed that the act of prosecuting offenders with stringent punishment only served remediation and deterrent purposes.
“It is common occurrence to see residents publicly violating established rules and regulations purely for commercial reasons and the AEPB ensures that those lawbreakers are punished accordingly,’’ he said.
*Source: News agency of Nigeria (NAN)