There are residents who are prepared to swear to an oath that Lagos has become the City of Refuse and that every garbage seems to find refuge in the city.
Vivian Onyebukwa and Vera-Wisdom Bassey
In the olden days in the Bible, there used to be a city carved out, allegedly, on the order of God, for anybody who mistakenly kills his or her fellow in the course of altercation or quarrel, what we know today as manslaughter. It was called the City of Refuge.
And, in Nigeria, there is a mega city called Lagos. Some years ago, it used to be the cleanest city in the country so much that you hardly saw heaps of garbage, anywhere within the metropolis because there was in place an effective and efficient waste-disposal system. It was such that if a food item mistakenly fell from your hand to the ground, you could bend and pick it and throw it into your mouth without any fear of contamination.
But today, the story is different under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. There are residents who are prepared to swear to an oath that Lagos has become the City of Refuse and every garbage not only in Lagos but also in Nigeria, seems to find refuge, so to say, in the city.
A resident tells a funny story of how, in the olden days, especially in the early days of the administration of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, you could use heaps of garbage to give direction to a visitor trying to locate his way within the labyrinths of the city: “Just pass the first two big heaps of garbage on your right,” they would tell you, “pass the next three smaller heaps and turn left and you are home to where you are going.” Now many residents insist that, under Ambode, there has been an atavistic throwback to that dark era when you use garbage heaps as direction finder. This reportedly followed his ill-informed decision, they insist, to discard the waste disposal system put in place by his predecessors before he came to power.
Residents express their disappointment
Chigozie, a 200 level student of Lagos State Polytechnic, Epe, laments that nobody cares anymore about the improper way that residents dispose garbage, nowadays, under Ambode. “Some people while driving throw garbage on the road because there’s no available garbage bin to throw them in,” he said. “Government needs to put a law in place to stop people from throwing or dumping wastes on the road. Also, government should put baskets in strategic places and anyone who refuses to use them should be prosecuted. This will make people to be self-disciplined.”
Elizabeth Obinna, an accountant, is not happy with the government’s inability to sustain the monthly sanitation exercise. “Actually, I don’t really like the abolishment of the Saturday Sanitation which normally holds once every month,” she said. “That is one reason Lagos is dirty. They should restart that Saturday environmental cleanup. If the environment is dirty, it causes malaria, typhoid and other sickness. Really, Lagos is dirty but it can be kept clean. And they should allow LAWMA (Lagos State Waste Management Administration) to go back and start doing their work effectively. People should stop throwing wastes inside the gutter, because I know that after cleaning the gutter people still throw things into them; this is not proper. They should clear the gutters on the road and make sure they look for a place to dump the wastes, not after cleaning the gutter they leave the waste on the road. Government should take the wastes to places that are far from human habitation.”
“The streets of Lagos was normally clean, even before the introduction of environmental sanitation, but now everywhere is dirty,” Chiwendu Ugwoezeso recollects. “They should return to the former way when they employed the services of LAWMA to clean the roads and everywhere.” Lagosians, according to her, are paying taxes, so they should use the taxpayers’ money to pay LAWMA and make it free for the people.
A transporter, John Ubani, while blaming the state of things on Ambode government, asked God to intervene in the matter. “When Fashola was in power, he ensured that everywhere was clean including the street where I live, but as soon as Ambode took over the office, waste became the order of the day. The incoming Governor should do something drastic about keeping Lagos clean.”
For Ijeoma Okeke, if the mountain cannot come to Mohammed then Mohammed should go to the mountain. “At Carnal Estate, Lagos where I live, private waste disposal operators come to clean it because they pay them every month to clear the waste, but for other places I don’t know if they are not paying. But from Ago road there is waste everywhere, so I think it is the residents that bring them from their houses and leave them on the road. But it is bad, so we want Lagos State to do something about in order to keep everywhere clean. Government should be helping us by employing the services of LAWMA. At least, let that be one thing we are enjoying from them. With the rate of poverty in the country, if they pack the waste, free of charge, it will be part of our dividends of democracy. It could be done once or twice a month. By this, they will be helping in a big way.”
But James Akan, a civil servant, believes we should not put all the blames on the Ambode government. “The new managers are new to the terrain but as time goes on they will adjust to the abnormalities,” he said. “We are always impatient to judge the government. The waste management, I believe, will do something about it, so I am not embittered about it.
“The stakeholders in the state should look into it, because there is agitation all over the land, it does not augur well for anybody. There are so many things that are not working well in the country; it does not mean that the government is careless about it. With a country of over 180 million people, the government needs the cooperation of all of us. Some people drop wastes on the road. Such is bad; all of us are part of government so we should learn to do things well. What we do in my house is that we put the organic materials in the waste bins while we burn the papers. For a long time now in my house we have not taken our waste to the dumpsite, it takes us about a month before we now take them out. People should be self-disciplined. They should caution themselves instead of coming to dump wastes on the road. These people are not adding any value to the society. Government is trying in their own way, if we add our own quota to the society, things can be better.”
The garbage situation in Lagos was so serious as to make the State House of Assembly to pass a unanimous vote, recently, disowning Visionscape, officially appointed by Ambode government to take over the issue of refuse disposal in the state and to ask Private Sector Operators (PSP) to go back to work. It ordered the 20 Local Governments and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) to call on the PSP operators to take over the job with immediate effect as a result of the alleged inability of Visionscape, an internationally renowned player in the waste management, to handle the refuse dumps in the state.
Places that make Lagos stink
But today, the story is different under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. There are residents who are prepared to swear to an oath that Lagos has become the City of Refuse and every garbage not only in Lagos but also in Nigeria, seems to have found refuge, so to say, in the city. In places like Owoyemi Bus stop by Ojo Road, and Boundary Market, all in Ajegunle, what greets residents are heaps of refuse sometimes scattered over a wide area. Also, from Beggar to Coconut Bus stops, Olodi Apapa, the dilapidated stretch of the Expressway long abandoned because it is no more motorable is begging for urgent government attention after being turned into a refuse dump by ‘fast-thinking’ Lagosians. This road leads to Apapa Tin Can Port but it is in such a bad state of disrepair that it has been rendered impassable for road users.
Although the rate of refuse dumping has been reduced on the Oshodi – Apapa Expressway, especially at Ijesha part of it, some areas along the road is still littered with garbage in a way that gives credence to that popular African proverb: no matter how you claimed to have cured a mad man, you may not cure him the practice of talking to himself. In Lagos, all that you need to push a refuse-dumping Lagosian back to his old act is to behave as if you were not elected into the office to take more than a passing interest in the spanking cleanliness of the city.
In Surulere area, Agunlejika bus stop close to the Expressway is full of garbages dumped there for government agency responsible for clearing up the mess. Along Badagry – Mile 2 Expressway, the gateway into Nigeria for a visitor coming from Benin Republic, there are mega heaps of refuse especially at Iya-Iba market, Iyana Isashi, Okoko and Agbara. Someone mischievously joked that they are meant to welcome visitors, both by their smell and sight, to Lagos megacity.
At Korobo by Powerline Bus stop, Ejigbo, Isolo, Lagos, the space there has been turned to a dumpsite not only by the residents but also by the commercial cart-pushing waste disposal agents known as ‘Kole, Kole’, in local language.
Mushin, one of the heavily populated residential areas that make up the Lagos mainland, is not left out in the race for dirtiness. Right at Total bus stop, there is a huge dump of refuse there. A resident described it as “overwhelming.” It is the same story at Amuwo Odofin, at the end of Ozoro Close, off Casco Street, Agboju. Here, residents struggle to catch a breath of fresh air from the ever-foul smelling mount of refuse abandoned there. At Pako bus stop, Agboju, Amuwo Odofin, where warehouses are located, you find a lot of industrial garbage staring you in the face and daring you to do something about the situation if you care so much.
Also at Agboju, precisely on Barwa Street, off Oremeji Close, there is a heap of refuse left there, probably to ensure that the area looks dirty like any other part of Lagos, for uniformity sake. At Mile 2, right after Maza-Maza Bus Stop, that is, if you are coming from Badagry/Iyana-Iba end of the Badagry – Mile 2 Expressway, there is a heap of refuse spread over a wide area. And, pigs go there to forage for food and possibly, to engage in a show of strength with their human scavenging counterparts coming there to look for valuables. In fact, heaps of decomposing refuses are a common sight in almost every nook and cranny of Lagos.
A resident tells a funny story of how, in the olden days, before the coming of Fashola, you could use heaps of garbage to give direction to a visitor trying to locate his way within the labyrinths of the city: “Just pass the first two big heaps of garbage on your right,” they would tell you, “pass the next three smaller heaps and turn left and you are home to where you are going.” Now many residents insist that, under Ambode, there has been an atavistic throwback to that dark era when you use garbage heaps as direction finder. This reportedly followed his ill-informed decision, they insist, to discard the waste disposal system put in place by his predecessor before he came to power.
Reacting to the Lagos State House of Assembly order to PSP operators, John Irvine, CEO of Visionscape Sanitation Solution, vowed to continue to do their work. “We have been made aware of statements being attributed to the Lagos State House of Assembly concerning cancellation of our service contract with the Lagos State Government,” he remarked in a press statement. “We would like to believe that there is some misinterpretation of the statements being circulated, despite our continued efforts in meeting the performance matrices of our valid and subsisting contract. We will nonetheless continue to fulfill the terms of our service contract in the face of a sustained negative sponsored media campaign, as well as persistent and systematic sabotage of our efforts and our assets. We remain open to dialogue, levelling the competitive playing field and participating in a more inclusive process with all stakeholders in the environment.”
Saturday Sun understands that there was a time Visionscape shut down its operations in Lagos. A statement signed by Simon Reading, Chairman of the Board of Investors, noted that the management took the decision following the heightening of political tension in the state and reported cases of attack on its employees, destruction of its operational vehicles and equipment. “Of utmost concern, are the recent developments surrounding the turbulent political environment wherein it was reported that the opposition in the upcoming gubernatorial race used subversive language about the residential collections contract and called it “a misadventure”, the statement added.
PSP operators speak
Some of the PSP operators who spoke to Saturday Sun said that they are yet to commence work fully because they are still expecting an official letter from the state government empowering them to resume operation, though some of the operators claimed to have started work. One of the operators who simply identified himself as Mr. Sunday, revealed that in addition to waiting for the official permission from the Lagos State government, some PSP operators are battling to repair their vehicles which they abandoned for quite some time after they were asked to stop operation. He pleaded with the state government to relocate their dumpsite from Alapere, Ketu, Lagos to a closer place as the place is far for them. He also complained about the bad state of the road leading to the dumpsite and asked government to help them repair the road if they would continue to use the place.
Mr. Olalekan Owojiari of Wellbeck Consulting Limited, consultant to AWAM, basing his argument on a statement issued during the establishment of Cleaner Lagos Initiative, maintained that the proposed reform was defective in its implementation and could potentially result in the outbreak of epidemic in the environment that could endanger the health of Lagos residents.
While advising government to bring in necessary reforms for the sector around existing Private Sector operators, who he said, had shown seriousness in improving the sanitary condition of the state by delivering on their duties. he said the new initiative which the government said was aimed at ensuring that solid waste management in the state conforms to international best practices and would be managed by a consortium of foreign firms while it is projected to gulp a whopping N86 billion taxpayers’ money. Owojiari described the plan as a fantasy that would only end up destroying the existing waste management system in the state, impoverish the people and send Lagos back to the position it was in about 20 years ago as the dirtiest state in Nigeria.
Trouble started between the PSP operators and the Lagos State Government when the government suspended their operations in the state and engaged the services of Visionscape to manage the refuse collection. This drew condemnation from stakeholders in the state, and prompted PSP operators to go to court to challenge that singular government’s action. But the court ordered the parties involved to explore alternative dispute settlement but sadly, nothing much useful came out of the negotiation.