In Minna, the Niger State capital, lived two sisters, Amina and Aisha. They lived with their parents in one of the middle-class areas of the city, called Gwada. 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 secondary schools.
The girls’ father also loved to farm, so it was no surprise when he decided to buy land around the Southern part of Niger State, Maitumbi Gwadai, to start farming crops. He loved to take his daughters to the farm and show them around, educating them about the different crops and different methods of farming. This was a place Amina and Aisha loved to go with their dad.
On one of the days, while Amina was on the farm with her sister and father, she spotted a young man some distance away. He was squatting down in the bush, and it was obvious that he was defecating. Amina ran to her father with an expression of confusion written all over her face.
She asked her father “Father, why is the man over there squatting? What is he doing?”
Her father replied, “Amina, 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 neighbourhood have a car? In our house, we have three toilets, and we are 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.”
Amina’s shock was written all over her face.
Her father continued, “Do you know the number of people that make up the 15 families in Mama Audu’s compound? There are a total of about 28 people in that compound.”
Amina was still confused. She asked, “Father, how do they manage?”
Her father replied, “There are even families who do not have any toilets in their houses. They go to the streams, or to an open area. An example of one 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 stay in a house with a toilet does not mean that everybody can afford to have a toilet in their house.”
Amina then asked, “How can a person hold themself for such a long time?”
Her father replied, “Some people use a portion of their house to defecate in a container or nylon bag, and then go to the bush to throw away the waste. 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 drinking water and cooking water comes directly from the streams that this waste flows into.”
On their way home, Amina and her sister Aisha were already talking about the games of ten-ten and hide and seek that they were going to play with their friends once they got home. But first, they had to carry out the house chores already assigned to them by their mother. One of the chores is assisting their mother to clean the house, which includes sweeping the rooms and the big compound. While Amina sweeps inside the house, Aisha cleans the compound.
While cleaning, the sisters would always throw garbage like pieces of paper, dropped mango leaves from the tree in front of their house, and used nylon bags across the fence, rather than put it in the big waste bin 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 was constantly dirty because of their inability to properly dispose of waste.
Amina and her sister, like any other child, prefer to play rather than do house chores. They always wanted to play before doing their house chores, especially Amina. She would always complain about her mother making her do more house chores than Aisha. She complained of always being the one told to sweep the rooms, wash the bathrooms, and make the beds. She thought it wasn’t fair that her sister only had to sweep the compound, while she did most of the work.
Their mother made them understand that keeping the house and surroundings clean is a way of life that should not be neglected. She told them that keeping the house and compound clean helped the family by reducing constant visitation to the hospital due to sicknesses generated from a dirty environment. She also told them not to see it as a class of punishment, but rather it is to help them grow to become clean and healthy people in society.
While the mother was admonishing the girls, her friend and neighbour, Mrs. Garba, came in and found her talking about cleanliness and the reasons why it is good to maintain a clean environment. Mrs Garba told the girls of an experience she had some months ago. Her only son was rushed to the hospital by his teacher. When they called Mrs. Garba, 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 asked.
“No, my daughter”, Mrs Garba 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 had given him some money to buy food at the school canteen, but instead, he bought from the roadside. Apparently, he 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 and learn from her, because she knows what is best for you in order to live a healthy life.”
Mrs Garba 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 encourage you to see your mother’s admonition as a way of making you a better person.”
On Saturdays, Amina and Aisha’s mother usually ask them to follow her to the market to do the family shopping for the week. The girls were always excited for the drive 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 these market days, while Amina was on the way to the market with her mother, she saw a big truck and asked, “Mother, what is that horrible smell? Why is that truck emitting such offensive odour? Why can’t the owner wash it more often?
Her mother laughed out loud and said, “Those are waste management officials.”
“Who are waste management officials?” Amina 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 waste that could litter the environment if not disposed of properly. Apart from keeping the environment clean, this is another way for the government to generate revenue, because we all pay an amount of money for our waste to be disposed of by the government. The trash we throw in the waste bin, and the garbage that other people gather, is what these waste management officers drive round to pick up. They then take the waste to a place far from where people live and dump it there.”
Amina’s parents noticed that their daughter was beginning to have an interest in sanitation, both in school and at home. She spent the whole week talking to her parents about how she wanted her friends and schoolmates 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 choose a subject in an area of their interest to campaign for prefectship. Amina, who had earlier been informed by her class teacher that she had been nominated to be one of the school prefects, knew she was in for her best school term.
Amina 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 encouragement she had received, she was confident that she would do well.
When she got home, Amina told her parents that she had been nominated to be one of the school prefects. Her mother asked her how many prefects they had in their school, and Amina was taken aback when her mother asked her to mention the nine different positions available to school prefects.
“Mother, why do you want me to tell you about all the different prefect positions in my school?” Amina asked her mother.
“I want to know all the options available to you,” her mother replied.
Amina went ahead and listed all the positions available for prefects. She started by mentioning the Head Boy, then the Head Girl, Social Prefect, Games Prefect, Health Prefect, Timekeeper, Library Prefect, Dining Prefect, and Sanitation Prefect.
“Of all of these positions, which would you naturally prefer?” her mother asked her.
“I would like to be my school’s Sanitation Prefect”, Amina answered her mother.
Amina’s father, who had been listening quietly, asked about the responsibilities of a Sanitation Prefect.
“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, Amina replied, “A sanitation prefect is supposed to always look neat at all times, because this sets an 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.”
A sanitation prefect is supposed to ensure that students always wash their hands with soap and water. 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” Amina said.
“I am proud of you, my daughter,” her father said. “Where did you get all this knowledge about sanitation?” Amina’s father asked her.
“You and mother taught me well. I listened when you spoke, and 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 just want to make you proud” she said.
“We are proud of you already” her parents replied.
Amina’s reign as the school’s Sanitation Prefect was successful. She was hardworking, and she displayed exemplary behaviour. She always looked neat and smart, much to the admiration of her teachers and follow 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 waste bin that would be kept inside the classroom. The waste bin was to enable the students to throw in used papers and other trash around the classroom. The teacher noticed that through Amina’s initiative, the classroom became neater, and it was more conducive to teaching and learning. The students also had more study time, since they didn’t have to be constantly cleaning the classroom.
Amina’s teacher spoke to the Head Master about Amina’s initiative and how it helped her classmates learn in a neater and more conducive environment. She advised the Head Master to adapt the initiative for the whole school, too.
At the end of the term, Amina was given an award of overall best school prefect.
Amina’s joy knew no bounds. She knew that she not only made her parents and her class teacher 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 has been almost four years since Amina finished primary school. Her experience as a former school Sanitation Prefect helped her throughout her JSS1 to JSS3 boarding school life. Mingling with people from different backgrounds, who also had different attitudes towards environmental cleanliness, gave her more determination to advocate for a more sanitary environment around the school, inside the hostels, and amongst her friends.
Amina was glad to be back in school after a long vacation, but she figured she needed the rest after writing the Junior WAEC, which qualified her to attend Senior Secondary School. She was excited to see her friends back in school as well.
Amina and her friends took time to walk around the school just to reminisce about their days as junior students, the fun times they shared, and even the hardships they had to endure at the hands of senior students. Settling into SS1 was easier than Amina thought.
Ten days after school resumed, there was an announcement placed on the notice board in front of the School Administrative office. The school was setting a challenge for interested students to write a poem. This student with the best poem would represent the school in an interstate poetry competition. Amina decided to participate, and while at it, she promised herself that she would do her best and pour her heart into the poem she would write.
On a beautiful Tuesday morning, three weeks after the challenge was set, Amina was summoned to the Principal’s office. With much fear and agitation, Amina wondered why the Principal of her school would call for her.
“Why do you think the Principal wants to see you?” her friend Mariam asked her.
“I don’t know, but I hope it’s not bad news from home,” Amina replied her friend.
Quickly, Amina ran to the Principal’s office.
“Good morning sir,” Amina greeted the school Principal.
“Good morning, Amina. How are you today?”
“I am very well, sir”, said Amina.
“I have good news for you. As you know, our school has been selected, along with other schools, to participate in an interstate poetry competition. It 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 from our school. We would like you to represent this school in the competition. We believe in your abilities and are sure you will make this school and your family proud.”
“I am very excited and honoured, sir” Amina curtsied.
“Good,” said the Principal. “One more thing—the organizers of the poem competition want all participants to choose a topic on their own to write about.”
“I know just the topic that I would like to write about!” Amina said.
Amina 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 her poem, 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 far this planet has turned!
How little we have learned!
How much we are killing Earth!
Dirt, odour, garbage, and filth
It is all our collective faults
You are dirty here, I litter there
Now we have a messy nation
Stench has become our ration
It makes the blood boil
Breathing now a tiring toil
Heaps of garbage all about
Spare no part of our mothering soil.
The Earth is the Lord’s
but we ought to tend it
We all dwell here
but we only torment it.
Come, let us have a conversation
Let us make prohibitions, draft instructions
Instructions to make cleanliness our inspiration.
This world ought to be pure
All we need is bit of all
Come together, be the light, the lead, and the guide
Dear Lord! We need reorientation
Let us train our minds to think cleanliness
We need to rearrange our thoughts
For harming the Earth is harming us
Think right, think wise, think planet Earth!
Just a bit of your might
And the earth will breathe right
Amina; make the earth your subject matter
It is the teaching of my loving mama.
The Earth is the Lord’s.
Every gutter cleaned, every corner cleared, is a sword strike from the Earth
Clean that gutter that is butter to the mosquitoes
Anopheles come, those small blood suckers
Biting and sharing unwanted malaria
Do you know you are breeding bacteria?
Tell your friends to keep sachets and wraps in their pockets
If a thought tempts you to litter, make sure to block it
Throw nothing through windows of cars and buses
Save the Earth from these unsightly messes
When it comes to activities most displeasing, Say, “There are better places to do your easing”
Preach the gospel in your area
Save yourself and all from bacteria.
Father taught me well
All waste can be turned into wealth
The plastic in the ocean
The old tires, the scrap metals
The old paper and magazines …
Everything in your trash
All is taken, collected, and mashed
Don’t just throw things away
Anything can be used
Oh, no! it is not a ruse
It can all be turned into something new
This is one knowledge that 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!
Proper sanitation must be everyone’s call
This is one passion all must share
To clean the water, land, and air
Stop the air pollution and stop the spillage!
This is not our land to pillage.
The rains flush poisons into the streams and rivers
But we need the lives in the waters to live
They eat poison, we eat poison
Is this the best we have to give?
Our roof is blown off
We see holes in the sky
The blackened clouds bring no beauty to the eye
Our ozone layer is being depleted
A consequence of being mistreated.
Fire on fire and flood on flood
Properties are lost and so is blood
Stop the burning, be a friend to the Earth.
Sanitation must be a fight
A clean environment is our right
Teach me what you know
I will teach you what I know
Keep shining the light
This is the right time
Just a bit of you, a bit of me …a bit of all
Will clear the earth and clear the skies and end our fall.
Just a bit!
There was so much dancing and jubilation at the school assembly after the school Principal read out the letter from the Ministry of Education, announcing Amina’s school as the overall winner of the State Poem Competition. Amina came first out of all the participants. This was a major achievement for Amina, 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!”
“Amina, thank you for bringing back honour to this school. The topic you chose to write your poem on, sanitation, is not only beneficial to you as an individual, but to the society at large. The State Commissioner for Education has asked to speak to you tomorrow morning at the Ministry. You will be accompanied by me and the Head teacher,” the Principal announced.
Amina could not sleep all that night, as the excitement was just too much to contain. By 10 a.m., Amina, the school Principal, and the Head Teacher were 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, in walked a tall and friendly-looking man. By the reception of the people around, it was evident that he was the Commissioner for Education.
“Good morning sir,” the people said.
“Good morning to you all”, replied the tall man.
“You must be Amina, the girl who won the poem competition!”.
“Yes sir, I am” said Amina.
“Congratulations on coming first in the competition. The State is proud of you. We at the State’s Ministry of Education 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,” Amina replied.
“I read your poem,” said the Commissioner. “I was so impressed when I finished reading it that 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 choose a career path?”
Amina, still in happy shock, whispered, “Thank you for your 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 of its waste well is a society with a healthy mindset.”
There were whispers, chatters, cheers, and claps as a sign of support for what Amina had said.
“I am happy to hear that, Amina, and on behalf of the State Government and the Ministry of Education, I present to you the sum of N500,000, for coming first in the State poetry competition. Another N500,000 goes to the school you represented.”
Amina was elated to receive the prize and the recognition. Indeed, she knew deep within her that there was no going back on this chosen career path.
“So help me God,” Amina whispered to herself, as she continued smiling.