In a northern part of Nigeria, Minna in Niger State, lived two sisters Amira and Aisha. They lived with their parents in one of the middle-class areas of the city, called Maitumbi. Their father was the manager of one of the big textile companies in the city, while their mother was a teacher in one of the government owned schools. The girls’ father also had an interest in farming, and it was therefore did not come as a surprise when he acquired a piece of land at Gidan Mangoro, several kilometers south of Minna to start raising growing crops. He loved to take along his daughters each time he was going to work on the farm for the purpose of showing them around and educating them about the different crops and different methods of farming. Amira and Aisha soon developed interest in working on the farm with their dad.
One day, while Amira was on the farm with her sister and father, she sighted somebody some distance away. He squatted and it was obvious that he was defecating, Amira ran to her father with an expression of confusion written all over her face.
“Daddy, why is the man over there squatting, what is he doing?”, Amira asked. Her father smiled and replied, “Amira, in life there are things that you have, that you might take for granted but for some other people it is luxury because they cannot afford it. Take for instance, I have a car, but how many families in our neighborhood can afford a car? In the house we live, we have three toilets, and we are only a family of five. But in our neighbourhood, Mama Audu’s compound, which is six houses away from ours, there are 15 families sharing just one toilet.”
Amira was shocked and the shock was written all over her face, as her father went further to explain the number of people that make up the family of 15 in mama Audu’s compound. There is a total of about 28 people in that compound. Amira still in a confused state, asked “Daddy, how do they manage”, her father replied “there are even families who do not have one toilet in their houses, such people go to the streams, some go to an open area. An example of such family, is that man over there. He has to trek some distance to come to the bush to defecate, any time he is pressed. The fact that you live in a flat that has a toilet does not mean everybody can afford to have a toilet in their houses”.
Amira then asked “how can a person bear such an urge for a long time”, her father replied “some people carve out a portion of their house to defecate in a container or nylon bag, and then go to the bush to throw away the waste. He continued, “this does not excuse the fact that it is wrong. Open defecation could cause increased waterborne diseases like intestinal worms, cholera and typhoid, because when rain falls, it washes the waste into streams and rivers. There are nearby communities whose source of drinking water and cooking water is directly from the streams where these wastes flow into.”
On their way home, Amira and her sister Aisha were already talking about the game of ten-ten and hide and seek, which they were going to play with their friends once they got home. But first of all, they had to carry out the house chores already spelt out to them by their mother. One of the chores, is assisting their mother to clean the house which include sweeping the rooms and the big compound. While Amira sweeps inside the house, Aisha her sister cleans the compound.
While cleaning, the sisters would always throw dirt like pieces of papers, used nylon bags and the leaves dropping from the mango tree in front of their house across the fence, rather than trash the dirt in the big trash can in front of the house. This had become a habit for the girls and they saw nothing wrong in what they were doing. While they kept the inside of their house and compound clean, the outside of the house was constantly dirty because of their refusal to properly dispose wastes.
Amira and her sister, like many other children prefer playing to doing house chores. They would always want to play before they do their house chores, especially Amira. Amira, will always complain about the fact that her mother made her do more house chores than her sister, Aisha. She complained of always been the one told to sweep the rooms, wash the bathrooms and lay the beds. She thought it wasn’t fair that her sister only had to sweep the compound, while she did the most work.
Their mother, made them understand that keeping the house and surroundings clean should be a way of life which should not be neglected. She told them that keeping the house and compound clean would help the family by reducing constant visitation to the hospital due to illnesses caused by dirty environment. She also told them not to see it as a form of punishment, rather it is to help them grow to become clean and healthy people in the society.
While the mother was admonishing the girls, her friend and their neighbour Mrs. Jaka came in and met her talking about cleanliness and reasons why it is good to maintain clean environment. Mrs Jaka, told the girls of an experience she had some months ago while at work. Her only son, was rushed to the hospital by his teacher. When she was called, she quickly rushed to the hospital to be with her son, and it was discovered that he had a bacterial infection, caused by food poisoning.
“Who wants him dead, haa! Who put poison inside his food?” Aisha, Amira’s sister asked Mrs Jaka? “No, my daughter”, Mrs Jaka said, “nobody poisoned his food deliberately. Some food is poisoned when sufficient numbers of bacteria are present in the food you eat. This kind of condition is obtainable in dirty environments. I gave him some money to buy food at the school canteen, apparently, I did not know that the environment where the food was prepared was dirty. This means the food was prepared in an unclean environment, which caused food poisoning.”
“You can see that I keep my compound clean, it is not a coincidence, it is a deliberate act, just as your mother likes to keep your own compound clean too. So, each time your mother corrects you about cleaning and keeping the compound clean, you have to listen to your mother and learn from her, because she knows what is best for you in order to live a healthy life.”
Mrs Jaka continued “Neatness and cleanliness is a culture as well as a habit. You can see how people throw dirt in front of my house despite the fact that I keep it very clean. I don’t see it as wickedness, but rather their lack of training to be clean at all times. They just do not understand that our environments should be kept clean for ourselves and those around us. I would want you to see your mother’s admonition as a way of making you a better person.
On Saturdays, Amira and Aisha’s mother would ask them to follow her to the market to do the family shopping for the week. The girls were always excited to ride to the market with their mother, as it afforded them the opportunity to have some mother-daughter conversations without interruptions from visiting cousins and friends.
On one of such market days, while Amira’s mother was driving to the market, with Amira, she saw a big truck and asked her mother, “Mummy, why is that man’s car bigger than yours, is it because he has more money than you and Daddy? Why is his car so big, and yours so small?”
Her mother laughed out loud and said, “these are waste management officials”. “Who are waste management officials” Amira asked her mother? They are companies or individuals who are responsible for the management of wastes in our environment. They use their trucks to pack wastes which could litter the environment if not disposed properly. Apart from the fact that the environment is kept clean, it is another way for the government to generate revenue, because we all pay some certain amount of money for our waste to be disposed by the government. The dirt we throw in the dustbin, and the ones other people gather together, is what these waste management officers drive round to pick. They then take these wastes to a place far from where people live and dump the wastes there.
Amira’s parents noticed that their daughter was beginning to pick interest in sanitation, both in
school and at home. She spent the whole week talking to her parents on how she wanted her friends and school mates to learn how to become more conscious of keeping their environment clean. It was almost the beginning of a new school term, and students were asked to pick interest in whatever area they wanted to campaign for prefect ship. Amira who had earlier been hinted by her class teacher that she had been nominated to be one of the school prefects, knew she was in for the best term in school.
Amira went home excited because she knew the area she wanted to venture into. She had earlier spoken to her class teacher about it, and with the kind of encouragement she got from her teacher, she was confident that she would do well.
When she got home, Amira told her parents what her teacher told her about been nominated to be one of the school prefects. Her mother asked her how many prefects they had in their school, and she replied nine. Amira was taken aback when her mother asked her to mention the different positions available to school prefects. “Mummy, why do you want me to mention all the positions available for prefect ship in my school,” Amira asked her mother. “I want to know all the options available to you,” her mother replied.
Amira went ahead and mentioned all the positions available for prefects, she started by mentioning the Head Boy, then the Head Girl, Social Prefect, Games Prefect, Health Prefect, Time Keeper, Library Prefect, Dining Prefect and Sanitation Prefect. Of all of these positions, which would you naturally prefer, her mother asked her? “Mummy, I would like to be my school’s Sanitation Prefect”, Amira said to her mother.
Amira’s father who had been listening quietly, asked her the functions of a sanitation prefect in her school. “I ask this question, my daughter, because I want to be sure that you are well informed about the duties and functions of a sanitation prefect before you embark on this task”, her father said.
With a big smile on her face, Amira told her parents the functions of a sanitation prefect in her school. A sanitation prefect is supposed to always look neat at all times, this would set example to other students to always look neat too, she said.
If I am made the sanitation prefect, I will always make sure the school environment is swept and kept clean at all times, Amira said.
A sanitation prefect is supposed to ensure that students wash their hands with soap and water at all times.
All school toilets for both the boys and girls, should be maintained and kept clean at all times.
I believe these are some of the duties of a sanitation prefect, Amira said. “I am proud of you my daughter,” her father said. “Where did you get all this knowledge about sanitation from,” Amira’s father asked her? “You and mother taught me well, I listened when you spoke, every time you corrected me, I accepted it in good faith, because I know you both want the best for me.” It is time for me to put to use all that you have taught me about sanitation, and environmental cleanliness. I hope I will be picked as my school’s sanitation prefect; I cannot wait to put into use all that you and mother have taught me”. I just want to make you proud, she said.
We are proud of you already, her parents said.
Amira’s reign as the school’s sanitation prefect was successful. She was hardworking, and she displayed exemplary behaviour throughout her reign as the school’s sanitation prefect. She always looked neat and smart, much to the admiration of the school teachers and school students. As a prefect, she introduced an initiative with the support of her class teacher. She discussed with her classmates to contribute a token each to buy a trash can that would be kept inside the classroom. The trash can was to enable the students throw in used papers and other dirt around the classroom. The class teacher noticed that through Amira’s initiative the classroom became neater and it became more conducive to teach and learn and the students had more study time, rather than constantly sweeping the classroom.
Amira’s teacher spoke to the School Head about the initiative from Amira and how it helped her classmates learn in a neater and more conducive environment. She advised the school Head to adapt the initiative for the whole school too, to help other students and the school in general.
At the end of the school session, Amira was given the award of overall best school prefect.
Amira’s joy knew no bounds, knowing that she not only made her parents proud, her teachers proud but above all she was proud of herself for setting out to be the best that she could possibly be as the school’s sanitation prefect, and she came out on top.
It’s been three years and some months since Amira finished primary school. Her experience as a former school sanitation prefect, helped her throughout her Jss1 to Jss3 junior secondary school boarding school life. Mingling with people from different backgrounds, who also have different attitudes towards environmental cleanliness, has given her more determination to advocate for cleaner environment around the school, inside the hostels and amongst her friends.
Amira was glad to be back in school after a long vacation, but she figured she needed the rest after writing the Junior Secondary School Examination, which qualified her to the Senior Secondary grade. She was excited to see her friends back in school as well. Amira and her friends took time out to walk round the school environment just to reminiscence about their days as junior students, the fun times they shared and even the hardships they had to endure in the hands of senior students. Settling into SS1 has been easier than Amira thought.
10 days after resumption, there was an announcement placed on the notice board in front of the School Administrative office. The school had thrown open a challenge for interested students to write a poem. Anyone who had the best poem, would represent the school in an inter-state poem competition. Amira decided to participate, and while at it, she promised herself that she would do her best and pour out her heart in the poem she would write.
On a beautiful Tuesday morning, three weeks after, interested students were asked to write a poem on any topic of their choice, Amira was summoned to the Principal’s office, with so much fear and agitation, Amira wondered why the Principal of her school would call for her. “Why do you think the Principal wants to see you,” Basu, her friend asked her? “I don’t know, I hope it’s not bad news from home,” Amira replied her friend.
Quickly, Amira ran to the Principal’s office.
“Good morning sir,” Amira greeted the school Principal, “Good morning Amira, how are you today?” “I am very well sir”, said Amira. “I have good news for you, as you know, our school has been selected amongst four other schools in an inter-state poem competition, the competition is organized by the State Government through the Ministry of Education. After much consideration, the school authority is happy to announce to you that you had the best poem. You wrote better than some of the senior students, and we would like you to represent this school in the competition. We believe in your abilities and we are sure you will make this school and you family proud.” “I am very excited and honoured sir,”. Good, said the Principal. “One more thing, the organizers of the poem competition want all participants to get a topic on their own, to write about”. I know just the right topic I would like to base my poem on, Amira said.
Amira ran back to her class to tell the good news to her friends. According to the Principal, she had just one week to come up with a topic of her choice and also prepare for the poem competition, so there was no time to play around.
SANITATION! JUST A BIT
I am no longer that little girl
I am growing gloriously well
Yet; mama’s teachings still ring jingling bells
By God’s goodness
He gave us the earth to dwell and make clean
Cleanliness is carrying God’s smell
It is sanitation!
Sanitation is clean air, clean water, clean land
But how bad all has turned!
How far this planet has turned!
How far this planet has drowned
How much we are killing earth!
Dirt, odour, bad smell and filth
All we see are mountains of garbage
Reaching the kilth
But only few care
This planet we say is ours
No looks no odour
And…tastes so sour
It is all our collective faults
You are dirty here, I litter there
Now we have messy nation
Stench has become our caption
It makes the blood boil
Breathing now a tiring toil
Heaps on heaps of garbage
All around and about
Spare no part of our mothering soil
The Earth is the Lord’s
But the owners but tend it
We are the owners but all we do is torment it
This world ought to be pure
Beautiful and speckles
With big sparkles and very much untroubled
Come, let us have conversations
Uncleanliness begins from unmannered spitting
We need to make prohibitions, draft instructions
Instructions to make cleanliness our inspiration
This world ought to be pure
All we need is bit of all
We must all come together
Be light, the lead and the guide
Dear Lord! We need reorientation
Let us train our minds to constantly think sanitation
We need to rearrange our thoughts
For harming the Earth is harming us
Think right, think wise, think planet Earth!
Your walk to the left is against the earth
Walk back to the right
Just a bit of your might
And the earth will breathe right
Amira; make the earth your subject matter
It is the teaching of my loving mama
The Earth is the Lord’s
Every meter cleaned, every corner cleared, every gutter parked is a sword lift of the earth
‘Clean the webs, dust the tables, cover the bin’
Those were constant teachings
Now I live for only one reason
To save this planet Earth that is terribly choking
To save the choking earth
Sanitation is our only herb
Lend your strength to the world
Stray a thought for all
Clean that gutter that is butter to the mosquitoes
Anopheles come dancing
Biting and ‘dashing ‘unwanted malaria
Do you know you are breeding bacteria?
Let us teach the right things
Strive to learn things right
Proper hygiene and sanitation must be our bling bling
They must be the in thing; our banner raised
None should be left to laze
Tell your friends to keep the sachets and wraps in their pockets or wallets
Throw nothing through the car windows or buses
Save earth of these dark blushes
Tell that man with a gentle smile, a friendly pat
“There are better places to do YOUR easing”
It is dirty to reveal yourself to every eye that is fleeting
That is what makes a man whole
And please excretes are meant for little holes…in privacy
Preach the gospel in your area
Save yourself and all from bacteria
Father taught me well
All wastes can be made into wealth
The plastic in ocean
The tyres, METALS and other wastes
The PAPER, magazines …
Everything in your trash
All is taken, collected and mashed
Don’t just throw things
Anything can be used
Oh, no! it is not a ruse
It can be turns into something new
Some DAYS, in certain…
This is one knowledge all must have
It is full of wisdom that is true
Indeed, old things can become new
This knowledge must not slip away
Make it a song for the heart every single day
It is what we need to save our earth from fading away
My teachers taught me well!
No one person is a house of knowledge
Proper sanitation must be everyone’s toil
From which none should recoil
This is one knowledge all must share
Keep everywhere clean
The land, the air, water and all
It must be one topic that must anger us enough to flare
You, me, her and him; we are all a team
Are the conglomerates mean?
Stop the air pollution!
Stop the spillages
The rains flush the poisons into the oceans and our rivers
Dear me! We need the lives in the waters to live
They eat poison, we eat poison
It’s a big damage to our lives
Our roof is being blown
Now we see holes in the sky
The blackened clouds bring no beauty to the eye
Our ozone layer is being depleted
It is flood on flood
Properties are being lost so is blood
Stop the burning, be a friend to the environment
Sanitation must be a fight
A clean environment is our right
Teach me what you know
I will teach you mine
We must keep shining the light
This is the right time
Soon everything must turn right
Just a bit of you, a bit of me …a bit of all
Will clear the earth and clear the skies and we can see more stars
Just a bit!
There was so much dancing and jubilation in the school Assembly, as students and teachers danced at the Assembly Hall, after the school Principal read out the letter from the Ministry of Education, announcing Amira’s school as the overall winner of the State Poem Competition, that was held two weeks earlier. Amira came first out of all the participants. This was a major achievement for Amira, and a victory for the school. One of the teachers was heard saying “the last time this school came first in any external competition was eight years ago, the jinx has finally been broken”.
“Amira, thank you for bringing back honour to this school, the topic you chose to write your poem on, which is SANITATION, is not only beneficial to you as an individual but the society at large. The State Commissioner for Education, has asked to speak to you tomorrow morning at the Government House, you will be accompanied by me, the Principal of this school and the Head teacher”, the Principal announced.
Amira could not sleep all through the night, the excitement was just too much to contain. she had lots of thoughts running through her mind and to crown it all, she was going to meet with the State Commissioner for Education. By 10 a.m., Amira, the school Principal and Head Teacher where at the Ministry of Education, to meet with the Commissioner.
They were ushered into a conference room, where some staff of the Ministry were already waiting to receive them. Then, walked in a tall and friendly looking man, and by the reception of the people around, it was evident that this man was the Commissioner for Education. “Good morning sir,” the people said, “good morning to you all”, replied the tall man. “You must be Amira, the girl who won the poem competition”? Yes, I am sir, said Amira. Congratulations, on coming first in the competition, the State is proud of you, we as the State’s Education Ministry are proud of you, your school is proud of you, I am sure your parents are proud of you and above all we hope you are proud of yourself”. Yes sir, it is an honour to finally meet you, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to write a poem on a topic I am passionate about”.
“I read your poem”, the Commissioner said. I was even more impressed when I finished reading the poem, I had to forward it to my counterpart, the Commissioner in the Ministry of Health. The Commissioner of Health has assured me that they hope to get more done about the state’s environmental sanitation, the Commissioner of Education said. And if I may ask, what would you like to become when you decide to choose a career path? Amira still in happy shock, whispered, “thank you for the kind words sir, I look up to you as my role model, and would like to be a Sanitary Inspector. This is a passion I want to take to the next level, and build a career in. I always remember that a society that disposes its waste well, is a society with a healthy mindset”.
There were whispers, chatters, cheers and claps as a sign of support for what Amira said.
I am happy to hear that Amira, and on behalf of the State Government and the Ministry of Education, I present to you Amira, the sum of 500,000 naira, for coming first in the State poem competition, and another 500,000 naira goes to the school you represented.
Amira was elevated for the prize received and the recognition. Indeed, she knew deep within, that there was no going back on this chosen career path. “So, help me God” Amira whispered to herself, as she continued smiling.