Residents and pedestrians along the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway and its environs have lamented the continued open defecation and indiscriminate refuse disposal near medians of the roads, particularly the Upper Iweka axis.
Findings by South-East showed that the trend had become rampant as miscreants, traders, and hawkers defaced the road median and other places undergoing construction, with faeces and heaps of refuse, thereby causing pedestrians who cross the expressway to cover their noses.
Our correspondent, who monitored the sanitary situation on the expressways on Monday and Tuesday, observed that the median from Obodoukwu, Upper Iweka, Down-fly and parts of Ochanja in Onitsha South Local Government Area of the state had become regular spots for defecation and refuse dumps.
Similarly, along the Awka-Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, it was also observed that indiscriminate open defecation has become a norm, especially in gutters around the UNIZIK Junction, despite the presence of toilet facilities in the area.
Although, the area has a cluster of motor parks, shops and other beehive of commercial activities with insufficient sanitary system, the gutters and open spaces around the area have been defaced with faeces.
Residents and passers-by were seen managing to walk across the road medians and other lanes and going to their various destinations while avoiding the faeces and refuse dumps.
However, pedestrians and residents in the area who raised the alarm that the strong smells that ooze from them are dangerous for personal hygiene, especially as food vendors surround the area and openly display their food items.
South-East correspondent gathered that, although, employees of the Anambra State Waste Management Authority come regularly to clear the refuse dumps, but the residents said before the refuse collectors come, the refuse dumps would have increased and thereby causing an eyesore and also hindering free flow of both vehicular and non-vehicular traffics.
While there were concerns about the insufficient number of public toilets along these expressways, South-East correspondent on Tuesday sighted some public toilets near the corridors, but they were not being utilised due to the money charged by the operators.
One of the attendants of one of the public toilets along the Onitsha-Owerri road, near Ochanja, who identified herself simply as Ijeoma, said, “The toilet has always been in operation and we charge just N100 for bathing and N200 for the use of the toilet. But while some of them make use of this facility, others choose to go in-between the median to defecate because they don’t want to pay.
“We always tried to prevent that because we understand that a toilet has been provided, but they won’t listen. Sometimes, we go as far as trying to arrest them through the security agencies, but they still continue. You know Onitsha is surrounded by markets and mostly traders, who are by the roadside are the worst offenders of this.”
However, speaking to South-East PUNCH on Tuesday, a resident of Onitsha, Chibuike Ifeanyi, said, “Aside from the embarrassing outlook of the median, the faeces pose a serious health risk to us the residents and the government needs to act now, especially as food vendors openly display their wares right in front of the faeces and the refuse, this is creating room for epidemic.
“This has been going on for a long time and we have made series of complaints, but nothing has been done while these people keep on messing up the place. We are risking diseases such as cholera and dysentery. We cannot pretend as if we do not know the dangers of allowing these unwholesome practices to continue unchallenged.”
Another resident of Awka, identified as Chike, said, “It has always been an eyesore while passing through the UNIZIK junction going to work in the morning. The gutters are always filled with faeces and it constitutes a health hazard. Some of these food hawkers go there to defecate and come back to start selling without washing their hands, it is not a good development.
“The refuse is also another challenge, although, the refuse collectors are trying, but most of the time, they allow the refuse to become an eyesore, causing traffic snarl before they come to evacuate them. I think the best way to manage this refuse is to create a centre for it and not for the people to be dumping it on the road. The relevant authorities should look into the situation.”
A public health expert, who gave her name as Ifeoma Chikere, said, “Until the government starts to arrest those engaging in open defecation, it may continue to occur. We have preached against it several times, but they are not taking us serious because they don’t know that their action is negatively impacting on other people’s lives and well-being.
“I understand there are laws against open defecation, but implementation is the challenge here. Once these offenders are arrested and made to pay a fine, they will begin to have a change of attitude.”
The state Commissioner for Environment, Felix Odimegwu, did not respond to enquiries, when contacted on the development.
However, a top staff in the ministry said the state government would step up enforcement to ensure the perpetrators were apprehended and refuse collectors promptly attend to refuse.
He said, “We are not happy with what we always saw there. We are going to step up enforcement in the next few days. We need to station people there permanently and we are going to pay them. People need to see effective enforcement before they desist from there.”
Expressing dismay over the development, the Managing Director of Awka Capital Territory Development Authority, Osy Onuko, said strict enforcement will apply to offenders of open defection, especially around the UNIZIK Junction, which is regarded as a gateway to Awka, the state capital.
Onuko recounted ACTDA’s persistent efforts in cleaning the areas, and revealed the agency’s latest decision to station some officers of the Operation Clean and Healthy Anambra Brigade in the area for strict enforcement against such acts henceforth.
It was gathered that the decision was sequel to a petition by a senior citizen in the state, who condemned the act.
Onuko said, “Beyond the sanitisation efforts, ACTDA is set to open up new roads and advise the governor on strategic road development within the capital city. Building upon the success of last year’s palliative initiatives, the commitment to addressing dilapidated roads, eliminating potholes, and sustaining a green and clean campaign underscore the comprehensive approach taken by ACTDA to transform Awka into a model city.”