A Nigerian man living in one of the world’s most polluted cities has been hailed for “leading by example” and cleaning up his community in the face of government inaction.
Chris Junior Anaekwe, 28, drew the applause of the internet for leading a group of local teenagers in tackling rubbish in their neighbourhood in Onitsha, a port city in southern Nigeria.
“It is good to always lead by example, not by talking talking talking,” he wrote on Facebook.
Onitsha has by far the largest urban area in Anambra state, and is a densely populated industrial and commercial hub. Anaekwe, a graduate of the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, told NPR in an interview published on Tuesday he had been “inspired to do something” after seeing the city’s intensely polluted market.
He said he hoped the exercise had shown his neighbours they had some role to play in cleaning up the area. “I wanted the kids to be the ones to clean up. I believe it will go a long way to teach them a lesson: that they are the protectors of their own environment…
“We need to help ourselves. We must not wait for the government.”
The challenge, however, is greater in Onitsha than it is in many places. The city recently gained notoriety for the staggering levels of PM10 particulate matter recorded in its air: an annual mean concentration of 594 micrograms per cubic metre (μg/m). The World Health Organisation’s annual guideline is 20 μg/m.
PM10s are small, coarse dust particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and the cardiovascular system, posing a great risk to human health.
However, reporting on the air quality in Onitsha for Guardian Cities last year,journalist Hadassah Egbedi found that residents were either not aware of the health risks posed by their environment, or did not take them seriously.
Some residents also believed that individuals’ efforts to clean up the environment were negated by local and state governments’ inaction. “It is the government’s responsibility to keep the city clean, not the work of the residents,” Ikechukwu Obizue, a businessman, told Egbedi.
Anaekwe – who described himself to NPR as a self-appointed “ambassador” of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for Nigeria – challenged this attitude in this call to action on Facebook in late January: “Health is wealth. Health is everything.
“Onitsha people, it is [time] for us to say no to dirty environment for it poses great danger to our health. Let us not wait for the government to clean our gullies for us. It is us that is going to suffer [health] damages.
“Cleanup is a must.”
Anaekwe’s former colleague Chimezie Anajama called attention to his good deed on Twitter, where it went viral.
It then caught the attention of Malaka Gharib, the deputy editor of NPR’s global development blog, Goats and Soda, who interviewed Anaekwe as an example of “wonderful things happening if we just open our [eyes emoji]”.
Anaekwe told her it took him two weeks to persuade the group of nearly a dozen boys, aged 14 to 16, to help him tackle the gutter filled with blackened rubbish.
“At first, many people rejected the idea. They were like, ‘No, I can’t do this, hire someone to do it,’” he said. “But I told them: if you want to lead, you need to be the first to do it. So I led by example. As I started to clean up, they saw I was serious and they joined me.”
Source: The Guardian