(By Egwu Ben Obasi)
“A sensitive, people-oriented government must be proactive and sufficiently empathic as to the effects of its developmental actions. After all, developments that have adverse impact on the populace will hardly be appreciated. Government officials or political office holders must be aware of the fact that the people’s welfare is, first and foremost, the overriding reason for their being in office or power. This is what service compact demands. They cannot continue to inflict hardship and pains on the people who gave them overwhelming mandate at elections.“
Development, as a change process, is the aspiration of every government. This, indeed, is the reason for the existence of governments in the first place. Developments come in different forms, namely industrial, economic, social, political, healthcare, educational, infrastructural, etc. Well-crafted development programmes guarantee comfort and general well-being of the citizenry. Most developments, however, go with social costs, i.e. the unintended benefits, with attendant effects on health, wealth and human lives. The impact of these on the populace is so grave that their debilitating effects must be curtailed to get full value of the benefits designed along with these developments. Anticipated gains from these development programmes, most times, are commensurately lost soon after the commencement of the said projects. A few instances can suffice.
People and corporate organisations have lost their houses and properties to demolitions preceding construction of roads; developments of housing estates, markets; building of schools, hospitals, etc. Industries emit noxious fumes and gases into the air. Their wastes also flow into our rivers and streams. Stench from junk dump sites rents the air. Water pipes laid across dug tarred roads, after initial reticulation, predispose the newly tarred roads to immediate collapsing. De-silted materials from our gutters litter our roads and deface the entire environment. Water rechanneling resulting from bridge and road constructions flood residences and wash away farms and, pitiably, human beings. Floods of 2012, traceable in part to a Camerounian dam, which nearly submerged about 20 states, were unprecedented in Nigeria history. Sand-filling in the process of land reclamation has often resulted to sea insurgency and consequently flood, e.g. Bar Beach and the Outer Marina in Lagos. ‘Pure water’ sachets and bottled water plastics block water channels leading to massive flooding. Climate change resulting from green house effects or global warming, deplete the ozone layers with its heat to our discomfort and ill health. Carbon monoxide is emitted into the air from pollutants such as automobiles, factory heating furnace, power plants and trash incinerators.
Petroleum products from marine engines and industrial spillage coat water surface and inhibit river oxygen intake of aquatic animals. Petroleum products burst and despoil the environment and debase livelihood of host communities.
The stone-age, a period of human technological development characterised by the use of stones as principal raw materials for tools, ended with Neolithic revolution which in turn gave way to modern industrial revolution. The resulting industrialisation, in spite of its benefits in form of material well-being and improved healthcare and new goods and services that flood the market, has not come without some costs to humans. Natural environment has also suffered from the effects of the industrial revolution. With the effects of industrialisation, pollution, deforestation and the destruction of animal and plant habitats continue to increase. Rivers are also overwhelmed with human wastes generated from soak away pits. Coal mining and inhalation of the generated dust sickens us.
Fully maximizing and appreciating the benefits that come with developments entail mitigating the social costs or impact associated with them. It is very common sorry sight and experience when people helplessly watch their houses and properties being pulled down, indeed pulverised, to give way for construction of roads, development of housing estates and other infrastructures without adequate notice or enough time to salvage some of their properties. Most times these projects are abandoned along with their intended benefits. Often, some of these properties, especially landed, have genuine Certificates of Occupancy (C of O) but compensation takes eternity to be paid. Adequate compensation, therefore, must be paid in case of inevitable destruction of properties meant to pave the way for siting of projects that have far-reaching benefits for the generality of the people.
Industries, in their operations to provide products and render services to the people, must ensure that the wastes generated, and gases and fumes emitted are properly managed in ways that impact minimally on the populace. Roads must not be subjected to constant collapsing in an attempt to reticulate water-bearing pipes or lay cables through cutting the roads.
De-silted materials from our gutters must be properly disposed of in a manner that puts sanity of our environment into consideration. Rechanneled water resulting from bridge and road construction must be suitably redirected to avoid flooding residences and washing away farms and human beings too. Dams must be sufficiently re-enforced to avoid same effect as in the foregoing. Sand-filling in the process of land reclamation must be handled in such a way that water courses must spare residences and properties. ‘Pure water’ sachets and bottled water plastics must not be dumped into water channels but properly disposed of, or recycled for re-use.
Developments in all ramifications have led to increasing need for wood for housing and construction; paper and pulp for printing; shipbuilding, electric poles, household furniture and other domestic and human activities. Deforestation, with its attendant felling of trees, has largely been employed to satisfy the above needs. Management of forest lands must necessarily be geared towards optimal usage. Managed removal of trees must be tailored towards ensuring that destructive use of forests is done in a manner that effects on humans are guarded against.
Effects of global warming resulting from depletion of ozone layers, must guide us to reduce carbon monoxide emission from its various sources to halt climate change. Understandably, land is cleaned and water purified, but air is breathed in the way it comes to us. Effects of air pollutants, including coal dust, must consequently be mitigated considerably as most diseases we contract are air-borne. Residential areas must be located far from mining sites and miners provided with nose and mouth guards, among other protective devices.
Agriculture has given way to petroleum which currently is the mainstay of our country’s economy. Petroleum products spillage and its consequent coating of water surface must not be allowed to affect aquatic animals through their denial of oxygen intake. Petroleum pipeline must be guarded against bursting and vandalism to spare host communities the agony of environmental degradation and other negative social effects. Global System of Mobile telecommunication (GSM), in spite of accolades its introduction has received, has resulted in perpetrating hi-tech crimes in addition to receptivity- enhancing tele-masts collapsing on buildings, destroying properties and claiming lives aside effect of radio-active wave’s emission on humans.
Governments, contractors and other service providers must place the interest of the general public above personal or corporate considerations when siting projects. Situations where people are rendered homeless and made to be refugees in their own country for the purpose of establishing projects and infrastructures must no longer be tolerated. Official high handedness that leads to this must be downplayed. Where construction must inevitably affect lives and living negatively, alternative accommodation and other palliatives must be arranged and relocation effected seamlessly before commencing action. A sensitive, people-oriented government must be proactive and sufficiently empathic as to the effects of its developmental actions. After all, developments that have adverse impact on the populace will hardly be appreciated. Government officials or political office holders must be aware of the fact that the people’s welfare is, first and foremost, the overriding reason for their being in office or power. This is what service compact demands. They cannot continue to inflict hardship and pains on the people who gave them overwhelming mandate at elections.
For how long will the citizens continue to groan under the weight of rash actions of government as if these people matter very little? For how long will companies and organisations continue to shirk their corporate social responsibilities by not giving back to the society? For how long will impunity continue to characterise government’s developmental initiatives? For how long …?
Nobody loves slum. Nobody is averse to development. But it smacks of insensitivity to the plight of Nigerian displaced poor where houses that turn slums to cities are priced out of their reach without alternatives to fall back on. Majority of them are forced into worse settlements. Maroko residents in Lagos State; Waterside residents in Rivers State, and other displaced people in nearly all states of the Federation, have varying gory tales to tell on forceful evictions for development purposes.
For every project or infrastructure, no matter how well-intentioned, that will have catastrophic consequences on the people, sensitivity, moderation and empathy must be the watchwords. Enough of this crass disregard for the feelings and comfort of co-stakeholders in the Nigeria project!
Obasi wrote from Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu, Ebonyi State.
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