I have been working as a project researcher on the health and environment aspect of the Dirtpol project in Lagos, Nigeria. Basically I have been investigating all sides of the word ‘dirt’ as it is being used by Lagosians. My study population consists of users and residents of Waste Management Sites, Public Health providers, Public Health users, and Non-Governmental Organisations.
My Dirtpol journey has been an eventful one. At the start of the project it was quite challenging to get study participants to speak about dirt beyond hygiene and sanitation. I had to do some digging on social media and make a list of behaviours, situations and trends that have been described as dirty. This list seemed to help facilitate conversations. From that point the list grew longer and longer as the project progressed.
In the first few months of the project I established communication with a community known as Dust-bin Estate, located in Ajegunle, Lagos. The community is so-called because it was built on a refuse dump. Interviews conducted with residents of this community have been quite revealing; we talked mostly about human interactions within the community. These kinds of discussions have become relevant considering the rate of urbanisation in Lagos.
After obtaining approval from the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), I visited the main landfill site in Lagos and other waste management facilities operated by LAWMA. I also interviewed private waste collectors; it was interesting to know how they felt about their job and the attitude of Lagosians towards them as they carry out their duties.
Discussions with public health users and providers have been very rich. Issues such as sexuality, polygamy, the activities of traditional birth attendants in certain areas, skin bleaching, and individual beliefs that influence health-seeking behaviours have been covered. I have been able to gather very diverse opinions on these issues.
Leading up to the general elections in Nigeria that held on the 28th of March and 11th of April, 2015, a lot of data was collected in the form of election campaign materials. It was not unusual for one political party to accuse another party of playing dirty politics. Also certain campaign strategies were simply described as “disgusting” and “repulsive”.
I was surprised to find that the labelled recycle bins provided on campus at the University of Lagos in order to encourage segregation of recyclable waste were not being used appropriately. Hence a quick survey was conducted on campus to investigate the situation. I interviewed Environmental Health Officers, as well as students on campus, and the phrase ‘The Nigerian Factor’ kept coming up as the reason for the situation. It would help to know what ‘The Nigerian Factor’ is all about; meanwhile one of the Environmental Health Officers interviewed on campus told me all about the role of sanitary inspectors during the colonial era. We touched on the ‘White man’s plague’ and other issues prevalent during the colonial era.
It has been a pleasure working on the Dirtpol project; I look forward to reading publications produced based on the data that has been collected. I hope the findings will add significantly to already existing knowledge and pave the way for more study opportunities.