For some reason, Nehemiah’s Wall — a biblical story where cup bearer to King Artaxerxes embarked on the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls — has been hovering in the recesses of my mind. The story may not readily come to mind, so for those who do not read the Bible, it would be great to read the book of Nehemiah.
In summary, Nehemiah was a Jew who worked as the cup bearer and taster for King Artaxerxes of Persia, the sixth king of the Achaemenid Empire, who is reported to have lived from 465–424 BC. The story writer presents this king as a good person who takes time to notice his cupbearer’s sad outlook when he served him some wine. He then proceeded to ask what the matter was, to which Nehemiah explained that he was hurt because his ancestral homeland was in ruins and beseeched the King to let him do something about it. The king considered it and allowed him return home to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
The interesting part of this story for me is how the wall was rebuilt.
Nehemiah first inspected the wall. He then told the people he had a vision from God to make the repairs and got each family to build the wall closest to them. These families — including chief priests — bought his idea and began working. They continued until at last, each family working on the wall met each other and closed the sections between them.
And the wall was done.
As this thought hovered in my head, I wasn’t exactly thinking about walls in the real sense of the word. The most important thing for me was how the people worked together, in spite of some of the challenges they faced, to build their wall.
Pondering on this some more took me back to when I was a child and we had a government mandated communal/environmental sanitation day every last Saturday of the month. Each family had to clean their own house and the road or gutters in front of them. By doing this, everyone pitched into the hygiene of their family but most importantly, the collective hygiene of their neighbors and the community. With each gutter cleared, drainages were not clogged, and rains found easy passage when they were done falling.
Over time, these practices began to be phased out by the government until it was completely stopped. The immediate result in many communities was an increasing pile of improperly disposed waste that began to clog the gutters and spill into the streets. Those who catered to their environment became tired of their neighbors’ lack of care and people began to just do whatever worked for them.
How has this affected us? Quite frankly, the images from Lagos every year after the rains come in perfectly summarizes the ripple effects of this lack of care.
Communities have become rife with preventable diseases and aesthetically, our environments are an eyesore. But aesthetics is just one problem. The toxicity from our actions is contributing to the degradation of our environment is more ways than this conversation can adequately cover. What can be said without a doubt is that people, animals, plants, the soil, air, our water ways and other aspects of our environment is the worse for our collective apathy.
Going back to Nehemiah’s concept may solve many of the problems associated with ruining our abode. If the government or communal leaders formulate a policy on environmental cleanliness, communicate said policy to the people to get their buy-in, and mandate that we all contribute to this vision, we may curb some of the associated problems with poor sanitation in areas of health, economic improvement and environmental preservation. I will go a step further by saying I want a Nigeria where this kind of environmental sanitation is done weekly.
I emphasize on mandating this policy because unlike the Jews Nehemiah spoke to, we generally do have a unification of purpose. We can be a stubborn people, and in many cases, we have to be forced to do things that may be good for us. Even if doing this becomes a social norm for us, we must continue to enforce adherence so that bad apples are not allowed to corrupt the collective. I have shared in the past that I think contributing to degrading the environment should be penalized and I stand by it.
Nehemiah’s wall was a proof of concept that can be emulated in many areas of life because it promotes something that is key to human existence: working together for the collective good. And all through this existence, we have seen that human being are at their very best when they work together. I mean, even the biblical God was worried about what the collective can achieve as demonstrated in this quote below.
‘The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’ Culled from Genesis 11: 1–9.
I envision a Nigeria where preserving our environment — and by extension, ourselves — is not impossible.