At the entrance of Ngwa Road Market in the heart of Aba in Abia State, an unperturbed Chika Mba sat gently in the midst of broken bottles, used plastic, dirty nylons, and rags. As the stench of waste and rubbish engulfed the atmosphere, Chika, a 34-year-old trader, moved around to call on passers-by for patronage. Beside him stood other traders and customers, all haggling prices among themselves. If they found the offensive smell oozing out of their surrounding unpalatable, they did not show it in their countenances. As seconds turned into minutes and hours, rather slowly, Chika and other customers and traders alike laughed, ate, drank and haggled prices of different clothing materials amidst the offensive odour. He would soon dance around the dirt with reckless abandon, to the delight of passers-by and fellow traders.
“There is nothing we can do when there is no proper waste disposal system in place,” Mr Mba told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview, his words spoken with a tinge of deliberate nonchalance.
“The point is that if government fails to carry out its responsibility, there is little ordinary people can do,” he said. “We tried using private waste disposal people but the thing didn’t work out.”
Aba is one of the most commercially vibrant cities in Eastern Nigeria. Residents of the city are renowned for their enterprising spirit and commercial endeavors, making the city one of Nigeria’s foremost commercial hubs. Due to the influx of traders and buyers into the city, Aba is surrounded by numerous markets, among which Ngwa Road Market is prominent. Located in Aba South Local Government Area of Abia State, the market is popular among residents as the go-to point for buyers of clothing materials, shoes, and other accessories.
With significant commercial activities come heavy waste in markets across the city, including Ngwa Market. However, due to poor disposal system, waste and rubbish used by traders and commuters in the market are dumped indiscriminately around. Over the years, the waste has become a permanent feature of the market and the larger Aba metropolis, exposing traders and passers-by to probable epidemic and other environmental hazards.
“People have stayed in this environment for so long that we do not care about any health hazard any longer,” Mr Mba said, his hands widely spread out in helpless resignation. “We really care less about those things now. Survival is first and most important.”
The filth surrounding Mr Mba and other market users is, however, not perculiar to Ngwa Market Road.
PREMIUM TIMES investigations across major parts of Aba revealed that too many strategic roads, markets and streets in the commercial city are littered with rubbish, dirt, and fecal materials. This reporter moved through dirty spots in strategic places including Asa Road, Obohia Road, Ohanku Road, Portharcourt Road, as well as the popular Ariaria Market.
Aba’s Records of Filth, Decay
The commercial city of Aba has always been in the news for its filthy environment. Over a decade ago, a former Nigerian Minister of Urban Development, Halima Alao, described Aba as the dirtiest city in Nigeria. The city earned the unenviable record alongside Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Speaking at a workshop in Ibadan in 2008, the minister expressed displeasure over the environmental sanitation status of Aba and Ibadan, believed to be the biggest city in West Africa. The minister said that in spite of government’s efforts, Ibadan and Aba still remained the dirtiest cities in the country.
More than a decade after the minister lamented the condition, very little has changed in terms of filth and waste management in the commercial city.
In 2013, an environmental right organization based in Aba, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD) also described the commercial nerve city of Abia State as the dirtiest city across the country. The organization decried the level of refuse dump littered in the major street in Aba after assessing strategic points like Ngwa Road, Asa road by St. Micheals, Ogbor hill, Jubilee and Hospital Roads, among others. It noted that in most areas, the drainage system has been blocked by waste, with the environment oozing with odour from the gutters.
In 2016, data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that four of the worst cities in the world for air pollution were in Nigeria. The cities named and shamed in the WHO report for high PM10 levels include Onitsha, Kaduna, Umuahia and of course Aba.
Although the Abia State Government has always claimed to be doing its best to address the environmental menace via the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency, the waste armada continues to be a recurring feature of city life in Aba.
As part of measures to tackle the menace, there have been numerous calls on the government to address the waste epidemic in order to avert serious environmental and health disaster in the state. Concerned stakeholders have also called on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for intervention.
Abia, alongside Ondo, Edo, Delta, Cross River, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Imo and Bayelsa, are the states in which the NDDC is set up to intervene in various developmental aspects of the peoples’ socio-economic life.
The Abia State Government, perhaps overwhelmed by its inability to handle the waste epidemic, has also consistently called on the NDDC for intervention.
For instance, in a press statement posted on the website of the state government in February 2013, the immediate past governor of the state, Theodore Orji, once appealed to the NDDC to help address the waste management crisis in the state. When the Senate committee on the Niger Delta visited Abia state to inspect NDDC projects as part of its oversight function, the former governor asked the committee to site more projects in the state.
He specifically noted that one of such projects very dear to the people of the state was, according to the statement, “an incinerator in Aba the commercial nerve centre of the state to cater for the huge volume of waste produced daily in the city.”
The statement said Mr Orji lamented that the project kept reappearing in the NDDC budget and regretted that nothing concrete had been done in that respect. The former governor has since vacated his position after ruling the state for eight years, moving on to occupy one of the senatorial seats on the state.
But more than six years after his lamentation, little or nothing has changed about the waste epidemic and filthy condition of the commercial city despite NDDC’s continued presence and huge allocation.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established in 2000 by the NDDC Establishment Act. This Act repealed the oil mineral producing areas Commission decree 1998. It also established the Niger Delta Development Commission with a re-organised administrative structure for increased effectiveness. The Act sets out the mandate of the Commission which is to deploy allocations from the Federation Account for tackling problems which arise from exploration of oil minerals in the Niger-Delta area.
The commission was created largely as a response to the demands of the population of the Niger Delta, a populous area inhabited by a diversity of minority ethnic groups. The vision of the NDDC is to provide a “…lasting solution to the socio-economic challenges of the Niger Delta Region” while its Mission Statement is “to facilitate the rapid, even, and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful”.
According to the law establishing it, one person who shall be an indigene of an oil producing area would represent each of the member states including Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo, and Rivers State.
Since its inception in 2001, the NDDC has received about N1.534 trillion for developmental interventions across all the states.
In Abia, according to a report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on revenues, deductions, disbursement, and application of funds by NDDC, the agency allocated huge sums for several intervention projects in the state between 2007 and 2011. The intervention areas included construction of roads & bridges (N7, 979, 578,000); town halls/housing (N247,150,000); Jetty and erosion reclamation (N70,000,000); hospital and medical (N73,432,000), as well as water projects (N737,190,00).
Allocation for waste disposal intervention may have received no special attention within the period under review. The concern, ostensibly categorized alongside other projects under the line item tagged “other”, got N506, 222,000 with a poor completion record of 7 percent.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES across the state showed that there is no significant intervention in waste management as strategic parts of the state are littered with broken bottles, fecal materials, dirty water and related rubbish, exposing residents to health hazards.
Ariaria Market of Flood
The Ariaria International Market is a market located in Aba. The market is one of the largest markets in West Africa. Aba itself is colloquially referred to as the “China of Africa” because of the peoples’ versatility in the making of wears and leather works, chief among whom are traders in Ariaria.
But due to poor waste disposal system, the market is barely different from a pigsty whenever it rains. When PREMIUM TIMES visited in October 2019, traders were thrown into chaos as blocked drainages vomited fecal material, broken bottles and used plastic onto the major pathways leading into the market.
“Ariaria is a mess whenever we have a little downpour,” Emeka, a young trader who sells clothing material, told this reporter. “As big and commercially vibrant as this market is, this waste problem is one major issue we face every year. You can see how flooded our shops and other parts have become.”
Another petty trader who identified herself simply as Mary also complained that they record poor sales whenever it rains as traders and customers are often in a hurry to move out of the mess. She said: “Many of us that sell edible food for traders run into loss anytime there is rain. The entire place becomes a mess. Government ought to have done something here to intervene.”
As it is in Ariaria, Aba’s dirty outlook spread to other markets and strategic places across the city, as PREMIUM TIMES’ investigations revealed. For instance, on Asa Road area of Aba South Local Government, there are waste materials dumped on the major road with abandon when this newspaper checked.
The sight at Asa Road was quite palatable when compared to what obtained at the dilapidated portion of the notorious Obohia Road, also in Aba. Since the road is broken and already abandoned, it had literally been turned into a dumpsite by residents and passers-by. When PREMIUM TIMES toured the long stretch of road in October, it was littered with feaces, used nylon, and other dirty materials. Other parts of the road have been overgrown by weed. A passer-by who declined to have his name in print attributed the development to poor waste disposal system and residents’ negligence.
“All of us in this area are guilty,” he said, half-jokingly, half-seriously. “But, my brother, we don’t have government in the state too. Just look at this area, should human beings be living here? Is there any sign that there is a government here at all?”
The same was the situation at Ohanku Road, School Road Market and Ngwa Market, including the premises of the Nigerian Army 144 Division in the area.
Learning, Undergoing Treatment amidst stench
On Port Harcourt Road, by far the most despicable mountain of waste is located at the purported entrance of National High School. The spot, popularly known as Crystal Park Dustbin Junction, is notorious among residents of the state for its heavy stench and fecal waste materials that have blocking the dilapidated and now abandoned Port Harcourt Road.
“Many students have had to withdraw from the school for fear of epidemic,” a student, Eze, told PREMIUM TIMES. According to him, residents too have had to relocate due to the heavy stench coming out of the site.
Midway into the dirty Obohia Road, there is Amaufuru Health Centre serving the residents and others around the environment. But PREMIUM TIMES observed that the stench from the larger Obohia road was palpable even around the premises of the health centre, raising concerns among residents.
“We really don’t have any option but it worries our people,” said Nkechi Daniel, a resident. “What we try to do is keep the health centre premises clean as you can see but then, the larger environment too matters. There is little individuals can do when government does not care.”
PREMIUM TIMES’ efforts to speak to the NDDC failed as the spokesperson, Charles Odili, declined comments.
But earlier in October 2019, the commission pledged to distribute 32 waste disposal trucks to the nine states covered by the commission.
A statement issued Mr Odili, the Commission’s Director of Corporate Affairs, quoted Akwagaga Enyia, the Acting Managing Director, as saying this while inspecting three NDDC warehouses in Port Harcourt at the time. Mr Enyia also said the commission was also planning to distribute 64 waste bins as well as 16 modular cold chains to the various ministries of environment in the area.
“The 16 modular cold chains would be used to store vaccines while the 32 trucks and 64 waste bins would help in the campaign for a clean and healthy environment,” she said. “We will take the necessary steps to facilitate the distribution of equipment and tools to the relevant government agencies and institutions in the region.”