AKIN ADEWAKUN, TUNDE DODONDAWA, CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA and SEGUN QUDUS walked the streets to understand the refuse crisis gripping the state.
LAGOS residents are on the edge again. Another epidemic of dirt is staring them in the face. A current outbreak of Lassa fever has recorded two casualties. Over 100 persons are being watched for signs of the disease. The Chief Medical Director of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Professor Chris Bode, has described poor sanitation as one of the factors responsible for the disease, whose virus is mostly transmitted by rats.
As hard as the residents may try to avoid being caught in the outbreak of Lassa fever, circumstances beyond their control may even predispose them to other diseases like cholera. The streets are littered with waste again as government and those responsible for cleaning up the environment continue a standoff. For many Lagosians, it is now a case of two elephants fighting and the grass suffering.
The issue of refuse management is crucial in this season of rains and residents have urged the state government to do more in this regard. In the beginning of the year, waste management posed a challenge as heaps of garbage overtook communities and even major roads. Many of the areas eventually got cleaned up but it appears the respite is not to last. The heaps are reappearing.
We don’t understand the refuse situation
A marketer on Lagos Island, Mr Lekan Mogaji, stated that private waste operators in the state, also known as Private Sector Participants (PSP), who usually collected their refuse, had stopped. This, he said, had made the whole area become dirty. He urged the government to intervene and prevent the situation from degenerating.
Mrs Chidinma Davies, a resident of Folarin Street in Alimosho Local Government Area, expressed fear of cholera outbreak because of the rains. According to her, “because waste collectors have suddenly stopped coming, some residents have begun dumping refuse inside the drainage when it rains. While the state government should live up to its responsibilities, Lagosians must also desist from dumping the refuse inside the drainage. This will block the drainage in the long run and lead to health hazards for everyone.”
Alhaji Kazeem Aruna, a resident of Obanikoro in Bariga Local Government Area, said, “I was informed that there is a court case between the state government and PSP operators. The initial plan whereby the state was divided into clusters and we had a PSP operator managing each cluster has been very effective. Any shortcomings this present administration might have noticed can be improved upon. In a way, this will ensure continuity and promote transparency and efficiency. What do citizens stand to benefit from the government? I asked because water corporation is undergoing privatisation. Waste management is being commercialised. We pay for medicals, energy and other social amenities the government is supposed to subsidise for us. It is unfair”.
When asked how he and his neighbourhood have been coping with uncollected refuse, he said, “the PSP operators in my area come once in a while to clear heaps of refuse, while I have sighted a vehicle with the inscription ‘LAWMA Emergency Services’ clearing Ikorodu Road at the weekend.”
Getting a place to dispose refuse generated by his family of five remains a huge challenge to Gbadebo, who resides on Akinola Street, in Agbado Oke- Odo Local Council Development Area of Lagos. The PSP operators used to visit the area at least twice a week to clear the family’s refuse. “I paid my monthly refuse fees regularly and the PSP operators always came for it even if I was not around. All they needed then was my receipt but things have changed”, Gbadebo lamented.
Since the state government announced its intention to carry out reforms in the waste disposal sector, a lot of residents of the Agbado Oke-Odo area have been living with mountains of refuse despite their willingness to pay for the disposal of their garbage. A visit to parts of the area like Ekoro Road and Iyana Ipaja revealed that lots of Lagosians are in Ghadebo’s shoes and have simply resigned to fate. “We used to be concerned that they were not coming as frequently as they should but now they are not even showing up at all,” lamented one Mrs Suliat, a food seller on Ekoro Road.
According to Suliat, a lot of residents in the area have resorted to discharging their wastes into gutters, especially when it rains, in spite of the serious implications for the environment and general health. “That is what people have resorted to since PSP stopped coming to this area. People no longer care whether the act is injurious to public health or not,” she stated.
Govt adopting fire brigade approach
When contacted, a consultant for the Association of Waste Management of Nigeria, Mr Lekan Owojori, said that members of the association were still on ground and had not deliberately abandoned clearing of refuse in the city but finance had been a problem. “We are still on ground but what we are contending with now is the issue of money. The government owes us up to five months fees which run into over N1billion. Residents too are no longer paying because of the case we have with the government, which is in court,” Owojori explained.
He described what he called the refusal of the government to maintain its dumpsites as also being responsible for the return of refuse in the city. “The dumpsites are badly maintained. You need to be there to understand what I am saying. For example, a journey that should take a truck hours to make sometimes take close to two days, because of the badly-maintained sites. When your truck spends days instead of hours at dumpsites, there is no way it would not affect the rate of turnover as an operator,” he noted.
The PSP operators’ spokesperson also argued that government’s attitude lately was encouraging residents to default in paying their refuse fees. “For instance, since residents know we no longer come for their refuse, what some of them now do is to put their refuse on the highway where they will be cleared by some operators, with whom the state government has made an arrangement. But all this is a fire brigade approach, which is not sustainable. It is a pity that we are back to the pre-1999 era in the state. However, what we are saying is that while we welcome reform in the sector, it should not be done by putting those who have been operating for more than 10 years out of the business,” he stated.
Good deal or no deal!
An operator who did not want his name mentioned attributed the return of dirt in the city to a government’s new law restricting PSP operators to the clearing of commercial wastes. “The fact of the matter is that we have two types of waste: commercial waste and domestic waste. But while domestic waste constitutes about 80 per cent of the total waste generated, commercial waste is just 20 per cent. So, by asking operators to steer clear of domestic wastes, the question we need to ask ourselves is whether government presently has the capability to effectively do this,” the operator added.
A landlord in Fola Agoro in Somolu Local Government Area, Mr Joseph Kabiru, lamented that Lagosians had not seen the best of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA). “On the scale of one to 100, I will say they are performing below 50 percent because there is no street you will pass through where you won’t find wastes, which is not good for the hope of Lagos becoming a mega city. So, we still have a lot to do to get the best out of the scheme,” he said.
“In Fola Agoro, where I live, it has been four months since our refuse was picked up. Prior to this time, they (the PSP operators) collected wastes in my area at least three times in a week. But since we now hardly see them, everywhere is full of dirt and this is dangerous for everyone,” he noted.
Expressing a contrary view, however, a resident of Bajulaiye, also in Somolu Local Government Area, Mr Tosin Ogami, commended LAWMA for discharging its duties effectively. “The agency comes to my area at least twice a week. For me, the agency is contributing greatly to the effective management of wastes in the state. I will give them 70 percent in their scorecard. I want the government to keep supporting them in all areas.
We remain committed –Govt
But the Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Babatunde Adejare, insisted that the state government was committed to giving Lagos residents a healthy environment. The commissioner assured residents that the ongoing reforms in the environment sector through the Cleaner Lagos Initiative would evolve a viable solid waste management system which would make the state cleaner and healthy for residents.
Adejare, who made this known recently, disclosed that the state Ministry of the Environment, in collaboration with Visionscape, had swung into action and cleared over 12,600 metric tonnes of waste from over 80 locations across the state in 10 days, in an exercise tagged “Operation Deep Clean”. He said, “This is a transition period. Most importantly, it is not that the reforms have taken so long but you need to plan very well so that you don’t plan to fail. We are making sure that when we start, we don’t fail. We hope to give our people a world-class service in solid waste management. That is what we are planning for and we need to take our time to do that and give Lagosians good service. It would commence, it would succeed and it would give us a better way of managing our solid waste.”
He, however, urged residents to continue to maintain a high level of cleanliness, especially in disposing of their refuse, while giving the assurance that the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration would not relent in its efforts to achieve a cleaner Lagos. “I want to tell our people this: ‘no pain, no gain’. Embarking on any kind of reform is always very tedious. As a government, our priority is to see these reforms through and to make our people live better. Our refuse should not be a disgrace to us. It should be a resource and that is what we intend to pursue,” Adejare said.
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