Environmental sanitation exercise is an important activity and an avenue created by the government to persuade and sometimes force the citizens to embark on cleaning their environment to make the society free from communicable diseases and equally make it conducive for habitation.
For Edo state in the South- South Region of Nigeria, the exercise has been made compulsory once every month by the state government as the exercise has been backed by relevant environmental laws.
Last Saturday of every month has been set aside by the State government to clean the environment. Both economic, business and social activities is put on hold in the state for three hours (7-10am) within which citizens and non citizens residing in the state are expected to clean their houses, market places, business places, Churches, Mosque while government Establishment and Organizations are not left out as they are expected to clean the premises of their work places on Friday before the exercise since Saturdays are their off days from work.
In Edo state, the exercise has been carried out in several months without restriction of movement due to one state functions or the other. In such occasion, the staff of the Ministry of Environment and Public Utility alongside the members of Waste Management Board and the waste managers find it difficult to effectively discharge their duties as normal economic and business activities take place during the exercise thereby obstructing them from performing their duties.
The Ministry of Environment and Public Utility led by the Commissioner for Environment Prince Clem Agba strategize and monitor the environmental exercise in the state while it lasted. The Ministry is ably assisted by Edo State Waste Management Board (EDWWB) led by the General Manager (GM) Sami Ighodan and the waste managers assigned to pick and dispose refuse at the dump site at Ekweniro in the out skirts of the city.
Whenever there is no restriction of movement during the exercise, citizens see it as an opportunity to go about their normal businesses as they ignore the period of the exercise. Traders and business owners in the state open up for normal business activities as early as 6am on environmental sanitation days when there is no restriction, they neglect to even clean their houses before leaving their various homes.
In 2016, the Edo state government has only carried out just one restriction of movement due to various state functions which call for the cancellation or non- restriction of movement during the exercise. But even when there is restriction of movement and it is well publicized using both the print and broadcast media, citizens still claim ignorance of the announcement and embark on their normal day to day activities not minding the consequences and if they are caught, arraign, tried and sentenced to jail terms with an option of fine, they start pleading and begging for forgiveness. Can ignorance be an excuse of the law? The answer is certainly no.
The Oshiomhole led administration has done so much in the area of ensuring a cleaner environment that will be disease free and peaceful for habitation. The last environmental exercise for the administration was held on the 29th day of October 2016 with restriction of movement between the hours of 7 to 10am as the appropriate authorities where on ground to enforce the restriction order.
In the October environmental sanitation exercise in the state, two mobile courts were set up at Ramat Park and Sapele roads within the Benin metropolis to try offenders for violating the state’s Sanitation and Pollution Management Law No 5 of 2010. Two hundred and forty-five persons were convicted by the two separate Mobile Courts.
Mr Samson Erhaze, Senior State Counsel, Edo State Ministry of Justice and Mr. Plus Oiwoh, Head of Legal Services, Edo State Ministry of Environment, gave these statistics to Journalist during the exercise in Benin.
The counsels said while some of the offenders were convicted for violation of sanitation law, others were convicted for wandering and obstructing sanitation officials from discharging their duties.
Erhaze said the mobile court, which sat at Ramat Park, convicted 52 of the 58 persons arraigned while six of them were discharged and set free.
Erhaze said “The accused were either sentenced to three days or two weeks imprisonment or pay a fine of N2, 000 or N5, 000 as option”.
While Plus Oiwoh said that 193 of the 210 alleged offenders arraigned were convicted by the mobile court, stationed at Sapele road in Benin.
Mr Samson Erhaze,said the government stationed mobile court with magistrate on ground to try offenders and prosecute them accordingly.
Before sentencing those who were found to have violated the state’s Sanitation and Pollution Management Law No 5 of 2010, the Chief Magistrate who sat at Ramat Park, J.O Ediale said ignorance is not an excuse of the law.
Samson Erhaze who is the state counsel assigned to prosecute environmental matters said the compliance to the restriction order is about 30 percent which is very low. “Am here as required by law to enforce the exercise. This is a mobile court set up to try offenders. Some persons have been arrested for loitering during the environment exercise and will be prosecuted as the law requires. So far the outcome has not been encouraging because the compliance is about 30 percent”.
According to him those who violated the restriction order should face the penalty.
A Director in the Ministry of Environment and a secretary of Edo Waste Management Board, Mr Ehon Geoffrey, described the sanitation as a huge success. He commended the citizens of the state for their effort in keeping the environment clean and encouraged them to join hands with the government to keep the state clean. He expressed his satisfaction on the exercise.
He said Offenders were prosecuted at mobile courts to serve as deterrent to others.
“We went round different markets and locations to ensure that people complied with the monthly exercise
“We also ensured that the wastes were properly disposed off from dump sites in different markets and other strategic locations in the city,” he concluded
Environmental exercise is an avenue to keep the environment clean and send diseases far away from the people as such, the citizens of the state should always join hands with the government to keep our society clean and save themselves the stress of sourcing for fund to pay for medical bills when they fall sick when struck with diseases while living in a dirty environment.