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Meet Nigeria’s Spider-Man and Let Him Inspire You to

Make a Positive Difference in Your World

If you peek into the gutters of streets in most urban cities of Nigeria, a filthy sight awaits you: papers, nylon water sachets, empty plastic bottles, and other waste materials dumped by residents, all coming together and clogging up drainage channels.

Pained by the indiscriminate dumping of refuse at almost every corner across every city in Nigeria and the poor management of waste by the authorities, Jonathan Olakunle Olanlokun is on a serious mission to rid the streets of litter — and without any help from the Nigerian government.

Every morning, disguised as a Spider-Man, Jonathan ensures that the streets of the densely-populated city of Osogbo, the capital of Osun State in South West Nigeria, are clean. “I want to see a cleaner society,” he told Truth Nigeria.

Jonathan reports that he started the voluntary clean-up exercise in 2004 “as a novice because it was important for me to do it, and because I wanted to catch the attention of people to let them know that this waste matter…is actually a big deal.” He indicated people have minimized its importance because “it is not Premier league, Italian league, German league or Big Brother Naija (BBNaija).” Yet he knows it’s a big deal anyway, and he is helping his fellow Nigerians understand this as well.

After starting his campaign, Jonathan noticed that people didn’t take him seriously enough; so he decided to start wearing superhero dress in December 2021. “Putting on the Spider-Man costume now catches the attention of people,” he says.

Jonathan Olakunle Olanlokun performs at a Nigerian school.
Jonathan Olakunle Olanlokun performs at a Nigerian school.

A report notes that Nigeria generates 32 million metric tons of solid waste annually (keep in mind that a metric ton is 2,204.6 pounds). The Nigerian National Policy on Solid Waste Management (2020) gives no estimate but states that “with a population of 170 million (2006 national census), Nigeria produces a large volume of solid waste out of which less than 20% is collected through a formal system.” Naturally, waste management is not a problem exclusive to Nigeria, but Jonathan is rightly concerned about how his own country is dealing with, or failing to deal with, this problem.

Proper waste management is essential for building sustainable and livable cities, yet it remains a formidable challenge for many developing countries, including Nigeria. While producing large amounts of solid waste obviously creates pollution, so can efforts to get rid of it, such as dumping trash in unauthorized places or arbitrarily burning it. In other words, certain “solutions” actually don’t adequately address the problem; instead, they increase air, water and land pollutants that, in turn, cause health risks to rise for vulnerable individuals, and in some cases for people who otherwise would be thoroughly healthy.

Nigeria’s National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, is charged with the responsibility of waste management, yet it has not effectively lived up to expectations. Moreover, the Nigerian National Policy on Solid Waste Management (2020), which potentially could significantly improve the nation’s waste management practices, has not been fully implemented. And wait! There’s more! Recycling, recognized as one of the best methods for waste management, has not yet gained mainstream attention, but a few “wastepreneurs” are emerging. 

All of this explains why Jonathan’s sanitation work is so important. A technician by profession, our super hero raises awareness of the need for proper waste management in his country via his Twitter and Facebook accounts (@NigerianSpider1 and Nigerian Spiderman, respectively). He takes his initiative to schools, too, sharing with members of the younger generation his positive message on the importance of properly taking care of the environment.

Jonathan needs support from “the people that get paid to do what I’m doing but who are not doing their job.” Desiring to hold authorities accountable by calling them out, he is referring to the people who run Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment and other relevant government ministries, departments and agencies. 

He hopes that Nigerians will become more intentional about disposing of waste properly. Drinking chilled water from a plastic bottle is a blessing for which Nigerians can be thankful, but Jonathan challenges them not to quench their thirst and then toss the bottle away without thinking: “You joyfully drank your bottled water, only for you to drop your empty plastic water bottle on the road. That attitude is wrong. Please, dispose properly,” he charged via a tweet.

Jonathan’s story inspires us on a multitude of levels. For one thing, it proves that one person can do great deal of good and have a positive, widespread impact. The next time you finish drinking water from a plastic bottle and have an opportunity to toss it into the wind, think of the Nigerian Spider-Man and his challenge to his fellow citizens. Then ask yourself, “To what worthy cause do those who know me see that I am dedicated? How am I endeavoring to win their hearts and minds to encourage them to do the right thing?” Ponder your answers, and resolve, with God’s help, to make a positive difference in your world.

Then, by all means, please dispose of your plastic water bottle properly!

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