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Duty To Protect Public Property
Published Aug 08, 2020 IN Column, LAW & SOCIETY,
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It is not uncommon to see people misusing public property. To avoid the expense of hiring a hall, many prefer to organise their parties on public roads, blocking off streets and denying vehicle owners and pedestrians alike of their rights of way. We often see house owners going to dig their soakaways on roadsides, or using public drainages as refuse dumps. People who abuse public property are so flagrant about it, because such amenities owned by everyone are considered to be owned by nobody in particular, since ‘ev­erybody’s business is nobody’s business’. But that is wrong.


Under the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) was promulgated the National Environmental (Sanitation and Wastes Control) Regulations, 2009, Section 1, No. 28 of which provides as follows: “The purpose of this Regulation is to provide the legal framework for the adoption of sustainable and environment friendly practices in environmental sanitation and waste management to minimize pollution.”


To that end, it is the collective business of everyone in the society to keep the environment clean. Everyone has to do all within his or her power to protect State properties, for the good of the general public. If we repeatedly neglect to live up to our civil responsibilities in this regard, then we do not have any moral right to complain about erosion; or that the roads are not in motorable condition; or that refuse dumps have taken up conspicuous positions around our streets, and so on and so forth. The principle of ‘volenti non fit injuria’ warns that in a situation where we condone wrong, we cannot be heard at the end of the day to complain that our rights have been breached.


Having said that, it is good to note that in the midst of seeming general lack of concern with regards to public facilities, there are indeed some persons who are alive to their rights and recognize their civic duties; and who have the courage to hold others down to perform their own civic obligations as well.


One fateful Friday afternoon in Fortune Town, Mr. Bee, dressed in immaculate white brocade ‘agbada’, was on his way to attend the traditional marriage of his favourite cousin. He had to thread gently on a particular portion of the sidewalk because that place happened to be covered with dark smelly muck flowing out of a low pipe in the wall of a storey-building nearby. As the gentleman was wading gingerly through the flowing sewage, lo and behold, a car sped past and splashed the muck on his well starched and ironed white agbada!


The driver of the car did not stop for even a second, but Mr. Bee seemed not to have any problem with that at all. He marched straight to the gate of the storey-building from which the mucky water emanated and started banging on it.


When the landlord, Mr. Zee, came out, he demanded what on earth gave Mr. Bee the audacity to bang on his gate so. Mr. Bee simply spread out his arms, showing Mr. Zee his ruined white agbada. A few stragglers who had noticed what happened loitered nearby, expressing sympathy with Mr. Bee over his hard luck.


‘A car just splashed the soakaway water from your compound all over my white agbada,’ Mr. Bee complained to Mr. Zee.


‘And how is that my business, mister?’ raged Mr. Zee, drawing shocked exclama­tions from the witnesses. ‘Was that why you were banging on my gate like that? Was it me you saw behind the wheel of the car that splashed water on you?’


‘Look, Mr. Landlord! It’s not “water” that we’re talking about here. If it were rain puddle that was splashed on me, I wouldn’t be complaining to you. But it was muck which was supposed to be trapped in a soakaway within your compound, which you preferred to channel out to the public road – that’s what was splashed on me, and that’s why I’m holding you responsible.’


‘You are holding me responsible? Are you okay? What rubbish! Is the road yours? Or is it your father’s road? How is it your business that I channelled water to it from my compound? I beg, get out of my sight, and go and look for the driver who messed up your clothes.’


Enraged, Mr. Bee created a mighty scene which caused inhabitants of that street as well as more passers-by to gather round him and the landlord, Mr. Zee. Everyone agreed with Mr. Bee that it was not law­ful for the landlord to have channelled wastewater from his compound onto a public road, causing health hazards for the populace. Up till then, no one on that street had dared to challenge Mr. Zee, because it was thought that his action was nobody’s business since the road belonged to that amorphous being called ‘Government’. It only took Mr. Bee’s frontal attack of the landlord’s misdeed to open the eyes of resi­dents of that street to the knowledge that Government property actually belonged to each and every one of them, and that ev­eryone’s business was someone’s business.


Mr. Bee did more than challenge that irresponsible landlord, Mr. Zee. He walked away from that scene to lay a report straightaway against Mr. Zee at the office of the Local Government Council Waste Management Board in Fortune Town. Whereupon, the Mobile Court which en­tertained cases of breach of environmental sanitation regulations swooped on Mr. Zee. He was arraigned before the Mobile Court on a charge of breaching the National Envi­ronmental (Sanitation and Wastes Control) Regulations, 2009; he was summarily tried and found guilty as charged. The Envi­ronmental Sanitation Mobile Court, apart from imposing an exemplary fine on the Accused, also ordered him, within seventy-two hours, to block the pipe through which the wastewater from his compound was pouring out to the public road and to dig a standard soakaway within his compound forthwith to contain the mess. The court also ordered the Accused to pay N30,000 Damages to Mr. Bee for the embarrassment he had put him through and for his ruined agbada.


Of course, Mr. Zee needed no one to educate him on the fact that not obeying the court order to the letter within the period specified would land him in jail for Contempt of Court. Again, it would be unnecessary to ask whether the man had learnt any lesson from his encounter with Mr. Bee, because within the seventy-two-hour ultimatum that the court had given him to obey its orders or face imprison­ment, the man’s pocket could testify that its owner had indeed been hit by something. The inhabitants of that street also counted their blessings from that encounter, because thenceforth they were able to breathe fresh air.


The general lesson from the above is that some persons will never allow their neighbours to enjoy their rights if they do not fight for those rights; the same set of people will also evade their civic duties till they are forced to perform them. Such deviants should never be handled with kid gloves because it is for such that the laws are particularly made. (E-mail: umebeio­zowa@gmail.com).

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