By Ajayi Dada

The  phrase: “Cleanliness  is next to Godliness’’ has become a household name since time immemorial and also as relevant as the air  that man breathes till date since it was first used by john Wesley in his sermon in 1778. The phrase which means a sign of spiritual purity or goodness is also an ancient idea found in Babylonian and Hebrew religious tracts.

Those making references to the phrase must have taken into consideration the neatness and orderly way that the Creator of the universe had carried out the task with distinct perfection depicting His awesomeness.  They must have concluded that, definitely, God did all the works of creation that included man whom he gave the authorities to take control of; within a clean and a tidy environment, hence, the saying ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’.

Perhaps, a cursory look into the sky and seeing how spick and span it has always appeared will give us an idea of the hygienic environment within which God has been operating from since the creation of Adam and Eve.

Can we say that the phrase is still relevant in our contemporary times among individuals, nations and the global village as it was when people with divine inspiration coined it to exalt our maker? This question is germane within the context of the outbreak of various diseases which have been bedeviling the society in recent years. Or is it just a lip service talk that we have not internalised in our daily activities and relationship with one another?

Before now, there had been various cases of tsunamis, earthquakes, and of recent global warming or climate change. How about the outbreak of the Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Diseases and the latest: Coronavirus or COVID-19. COVID-19 has been adjudged by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the most virulent disease that had claimed thousands of lives within the short span of period that it had been found in Wuhan Province of China in February. It had spread to most of the continents of the world and unfortunately, nobody has been able to establish its probable causes or found a cure to it.

All pieces of advice from medical experts have been that the world should take various precautionary measures such as washing of hands with soap, robbing hands with sanitizers, guiding against contacting droplets from people sweating and keeping our environments very tidy every time.

Africa is a continent of religiousity where we believe that fervent prayers are what we need to solve our challenges.
It has been established that the smallest settlement on the continent will have no less than 10 faith- based centres not minding the ulterior motives of worshippers in several of them. The case of the one in Ikoyi-Ile, Osun is still fresh in the memories of many Nigerians.

However, will God live in a dirty or filthy environment? Your guess is as good as mine to buttress the fact that `cleanliness is next to godliness’.

How then must we that God created in the likeness of His image comport ourselves before we can approach the altar of grace?  We must be sparkling clean and neat in everything beginning from inside us. By so doing, we will be living out in our lives the saying: `Cleanliness is next to Godliness.’
During my primary school days, our teachers taught us a song that goes thus:
“Cleanliness will make us overcome all our sicknesses,
“Cleanliness in our homes,
“Cleanliness in our bodies,
Cleanliness in the foods we prepare,
“Cleanliness will make us overcome all our sicknesses.’’

Our teachers then would demonstrate the wordings of that song every Monday during the morning assembly by checking that the hairs on the heads of the boys were not bushy but were well cut and trimmed.

They would also assess the neatness and how tidy the girls plaited the hairs on their heads. Similarly, our teachers would also check how neat our uniforms were, as well as our teeth; checked to ensure that the nails of our fingers and toes were cut. Nothing like manicure and pedicure in those days. Our fingers or toes’ nails must never be like those of hawks or chicken claws as we experience among our youths nowadays.
Our teachers used to tell us then that dirt would always hide under long and dirty nails, that lice would hide under heads with bushy hairs, that bodies that were not properly washed with water and bar soaps were susceptible to attack by rashes, enzyme and other infectious diseases.  They were good at telling us also that unclean mouths and teeth used to develop into mouth odour and that the smells from such mouths were always irritating to fellow listeners.

Not only that, we were told that our unkempt uniforms and other clothes would serve as living and hiding places for lice, and would make us look uncomfortable.  How about sweats that were dropping from our bodies after various exercises either at school or back home? At school, there were wash-hand basins filled with water allocated to each class where we used to wash our hands and clean them with the class hand towel. We had a roster of which pupil was to take the towel home after school hour for washing  and present it to the class teacher the next morning for the use of the class.
The teachers always insisted that we must take our baths in the morning before coming to school and at night before going to sleep so that we would be hale and hearty. Their words were the law then even during vacations. We always thought then that they were monitoring us to ensure total compliance to their instructions because they were role models as theirs was leadership by example and not by deceit.
How about tidying up our surroundings and environments at school and back home? Boys would come to school with hoes and cutlasses to cut grasses and clear bushes. They also would cover potholes filled with stagnant waters with sands so that such would not become homes for breeding mosquitoes while the girls would sweep the paths, classrooms that had been littered with dirt and  cobwebs and other unwanted visitors.

Pupils then hardly fell sick and we never heard such names as The First Aid Box not to talk of equipping it with drugs or not. The habit that we kept to was prevention is better than cure and it performed the magic.

Then, there was no Ebola Virus Disease, no Lassa Fever and no COVID-19. Rather, there were headaches, running temperature, bout of fever and malaria usually attributed to attack by anopheles mosquitoes due to the presence of the thick forest then. They used to join ethical behaviours and morality with religion. Hence Clealiness is next to Godliness was the guiding principle both at home in the school and within the community at large.

However, in contemporary times, we are enveloped by a myriad of environmentally induced diseases and sicknesses because we had thrown to the winds the basic rules of hygiene in our homes, public places and within the society at large. We manifest this syndrome by throwing all sorts of waste into our drains; they are washed into our rivers and the lagoon as well as into the ocean.

And how are we sure that the fishes and other sea foods we get from the seas, rivers the lagoon and from the ocean have not been infected by the dirt we had inadvertently thrown into any of them before, during and after every rainfall?

We empty industrial waste and effluents into our waterways and such will flow into the mighty rivers, and the ground will sip some.
When we will dig boreholes, part of those industrial effluents will have mixed up with the water we will be priming from our boreholes into our water tanks for domestic use which will include the ones we are going to be drinking. What are the repercussions of such an action over time? We will be exposed to an outbreak of diseases, epidemics and other health hazards. Confused as we may look, we will result to prayers and asking for divine interventions and blaming of imaginary enemies for our woes.

We also litter everywhere with empty cans and used pep bottles which used to block our drainage systems anytime it rained. What of houses where places used for eating always piled up in the kitchen washing compartments and will become a field of play for cockroaches, rats and other insects? How about the unused clothes that we had packed in various bags for years without checking them not to mention those we should have disposed of over time?

Such unhygienic situations are a legion. We have forgotten that the negative action of an individual will definitely have great consequences on the society with time.

Today we are experiencing all sorts of diseases in the world because we had neglected practising the basic rules of hygiene we were taught as children and pupils. We have forgotten that ‘ Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ and that is what will enhance our piety as people of God. Returning to the basics or the old but more result-oriented ways will save us from our care-free or lackadaisical attitudes.
Next time you are about affecting your environment negatively. Remember the phrase: `Cleanliness is next to Godliness’.

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