Environment

Reward for diligence: The story of Okafor

By Terese Tse

Mr Hyacinth Chukwudi Okafor, a wholesaler and retailer of provisions is the owner of Chuks provision store located at no.1 Vandeikya Street, High Level Makurdi. He is a good example of the saying that, diligence in whatever you do has a reward, no matter how long it takes. His commitment to a healthy and clean environment earned him a job with the Benue State Environmental Sanitation Authority (BENSESA) on ad-hoc basis. He recently narrated his story in a chat with The Voice. He believes that having positive attitude is paramount to realizing total sanity in maintaining a clean, healthy and safe environment.

“All began about two years ago when BENSESA stationed one of their refuse collection containers opposite my provision store. You know, people cultivate the habit of indiscriminately disposing waste against the specification of the sanitation authority. Many people would come and instead of throwing the garbage in the waste bin, they will litter the surrounding with it. These attitude was gradually leading to environmental pollution that was liable to cause infections to human health. So being a person with strong inclination for clean and hygienic environment, I voluntarily took up the responsibility to ensure the garbage dumps are  disposed in the right manner.

“I started doing this job as far back as the container was kept here because I know that air pollution reduces quality of health and lowers life expectancy. I never knew that members of the public were observing my commitment to this cause including the staff of BENSESA. Some will pass and see me actively on this job. That was how they decided to hire my services on ad hoc basis after a long time”.

Narrating his experience with residents who dispose waste into the container, the businessman said, “It has not been a good experience at all. I’m often confronted with both physical and verbal attacks here on a daily basis. Somebody will come with a bucket or wheelbarrow full of waste when the container is already filled up and would want to litter the surrounding with it and when you want the proper thing to be done; they take it personal with you. In fact, it is within the last two years of monitoring this container that I realize that many people have basic character flaw. I have noticed men and women with little or no conscience. Some will creep in with their refuse at the dead of the night when they know that everybody might have gone to sleep to dispose anyhow.

“I am dutiful on the job, always being the last person to go to sleep and the first to be here. I don’t know what would have become of this place if I were not keeping late nights here. There are instances that people would come and the container will be filled up but they will still insist and I would be left with no option than to go into a lot of trouble to help them in ensuring that the garbage is squeezed enough to be contained in the container. There is another container at Kenville Park which is just some metres away from here but when you direct people to go there whenever this one is filled up, they become upset. There is nothing that I have not seen here. They label me all manner of names: wicked man, madman, jobless man and a host of other names but I made up my mind that there is no amount of insults and humiliation that would deter me from doing what I know is right and just.

Okafor on sanitation duty

“You cannot please everybody. Whatever you do, people will criticize you. Just do what you believe is right and don’t be distracted by criticisms. I will continue to do all I can to ensure the safety of this area. I see this more of as a service to the community and a way of complementing government’s efforts. I’m passionate about anything that is geared towards achieving a healthy environment and I don’t care about whatever name or title they give me. The health of our environment depends on each of us doing our part to keep it clean. It is a joint effort, government alone cannot do it.

“A Wiseman once said, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”. An environment that is clean is bound to be aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and this is what I preached here on a daily basis. If a place has flies, filth and foul stinks, can diseases be far behind? Any area with lack of proper waste disposal is going to harbour germs, bacteria and microorganisms that cause harm to the environment.

“To protect our environment, the people and government must contribute to keep the environment clean. I always advise residents and I’m still using this medium to advise that before you take your waste to any of the recycling facilities around you, go and inspect the facility to ensure that it has enough space to accommodate your refuse before you take it for evacuation. We ought to imbibe the culture of keeping a healthy environment as a personal habit and adopt better attitude towards sanitation”.

When asked what BENSESA should do to maintain a sustainable and litter-free environment in the area, Okafor said, “They should ensure consistent and regular evacuation of the refuse filled containers to give room for fresh waste for at least two times in a week, preferably Mondays and Saturdays. I made the suggestion to them earlier and they have been doing their best to keep to these days. This container is serving as a disposal point to many households within the High level. You have residents of Vandeikya, Badagry, Konshisha, Calabar, Katsina Ala streets and the main Abdullahi Shelleng way and across the road. You also have others who reside from distant places but often come with their waste to empty into this container. So you can see that the container is serving a number of residents and there is every need to ensure that the dumps are emptied timely”, he advised.

The 53-year-old Anambra born businessman acknowledged BENSESA for finding him worthy as their ad-hoc staff. He also expressed satisfaction with the cordial working relationship he enjoys with the agency even as he appealed for an increment of his stipends. “I’m sincerely grateful to the Benue State government through BENSESA for rewarding my services. I started this sanitary work voluntarily as my little way of rendering service to the society without having a slightest imagination of a reward of any kind. However, I feel they should step up my stipends because the job is so involving and stressful than anyone could imagine. I do report here between 5:30 and 6:00 am and go to sleep not earlier than 1 am every day, so it has not been easy with me. I lose many of my customers because of the maximum attention I give to this environmental work. Many people are disillusioned with me because of what I do including some members of my family. They keep giving me reasons to withdraw from this task. Many people thought I’m not on my right senses anymore because my concern and advocacy for a litter-free environment goes beyond here. I occasionally visit other places within High level where these containers are stationed and tidy up its surroundings with the best of my ability. People say a lot of humiliating things on my person but I don’t care about what others think of me and I’m determined to continue with the job as long as God will give me strength but I’m humbly appealing for a substantial increase in my monthly allowance that would correspond with my efforts”, he appealed.

In their reactions to the ordeal of Mr. Okafor, a resident of the area who identified himself as Manasseh Tyônum said, Mr. Okafor is a man whose like I have never seen again. If I had not known him earlier, I would have equally toe the path of those who are in the thinking that he is not on his right senses. His drive and determination to ensuring that refuse are disposed in the right manner as if his whole life has depended on that is amazing”.

In his words, Mr. Nanen Iorbee said, “The man never goes to sleep. There was a night I went to dumped refuse and the container was already filled up, so I was trying to off-load on the floor then he appeared suddenly and stopped me. I took the refuse back home with anger and made up my mind to take it back the following morning and on my arrival at the scene, the man was already there sweeping the surroundings of the container. That was the day I gave him the appellation, ‘the extra ordinary man’.

In her reaction, Mrs Patience Onyebuchi said the businessman is a workaholic who never takes time off. I was surprised upon realization that he is not a staff of BENSESA. If there ever live a man that shows diligence in his work, he is the one. There is no way you are going to talk about keeping a healthy environment as far as High level is concerned that Mr. Hyacinth Okafor’s name will not come up. His dedication to duty deserves commendation”, she said.

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