The Nigerian capital and its satellite towns and villages are coming under a plague of garbage. A PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed that the menace is the result of the general inefficiency of the agencies in the sector.
The Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) is charged with waste management in the entire Federal Capital Territory (FCT). But the agency says its mandate is to concentrate on the capital city while the six area councils in the FCT have the responsibility to manage waste in their areas.
But even in parts of the municipality where AEPB used to be efficient, illegal garbage dumps are now ubiquitous by the roadsides and all manners of solid waste end up there. The garbage is not only fouling the air, but it is also infiltrating and polluting water and contributing to disease outbreaks in the territory.
However, the illegal dumps are more prominent in the slums of the FCT where the presence of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) and its numerous agencies is scarcely felt.
Suleja is in the neighbouring Niger State, but many of its residents work or run businesses in Abuja. Its nearness and ease of access to Abuja is a major reason behind the population explosion of the town over the last two decades. Along its roads, putrid odour oozes from refuse dumps.
A particularly offensive dump is located directly behind Government Day Junior Secondary School, Suleja. It is beside a canal where people indiscriminately dump refuse. Drainage water and debris from waste have filled up the canal and grown into the dump by its side.
Pupils and teachers of the school carry on teaching and learning in the classrooms without seeming to notice their hazardous neighbour. Ahmed (surname withheld), a student at the school, said members of the school community have accepted the eyesore and foul smell of the dump as their fate and have learnt to live with it.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, a teacher who requested not to be named, described the refuse heap as a menace.
“Most of the people who dump waste in the canal come to do it very early in the morning or at night. You can see that the drainage is full and not flowing. The stench disturbs us and such is not good in a place where you have children,” she said.
She said the stench is usually thickest in the air between 12 noon and 2 p.m.
“We have to close the windows in this block, which is directly opposite the dump. As you can see, some of the students are crossing the drainage and this can cause infections and sickness for them. We need the government to clear the refuse and clean up the drainage. If possible, they should fence the place off,” she said.
Driving down from Suleja to Abuja via Mandala to Zuba, roadside garbage dumps are a common sight. Thousands of metric tonnes of garbage are produced in these towns every day, but there is no organised waste management or official garbage dumps. So the residents help themselves anyway they can.
Kubwa is a major satellite town in the FCT. Despite being a planned town, the residents mostly rely on cart pushing waste collectors to dispose their waste. The cart pushers then take the rubbish to landfills and illegal roadside dumps around the town.
Ella Kolade has lived on Arab Road in the sprawling town for five years. She said her household has always patronised the “mai tsara” or “bola”, as the cart pushers are called by the locals, for waste disposal.
“I have never seen a waste management truck collect refuse from here since I moved in five years ago. In fact, everybody I know on this street uses ‘bola.’ You will always hear them calling out for patronage as they pass along the street.”
Mrs Kolade said she did not know where the collectors dump the garbage.
Another resident around Phase 2 who introduced himself as Mr Lucky, also said he also patronises ‘bola.’
“I know some of them dump the waste inside the river not far from here and some take it to the landfill. There is a central waste disposal site around the express, but I don’t know who dumps there,” he said.
Mr Lucky said it is convenient and cheap to use the ‘bola.’ He said he pays them between N50 and N100, depending on the size of the waste.
Driving around Kubwa, the reporter noticed hills of waste at many spots.
Entering the Abuja satellite town of Nyanya from the Karu-Jikwoyi axis through the dual carriageway, you cannot miss the sight of cart pushers, scavengers, cattle and herders milling around a massive dumpsite by the dual carriageway that links many communities in that axis, all the way from Karshi.
Located in front of the Karu community cemetery, it is an eyesore for motorists and passers-by.
The dump is on an open space between a church and residential houses. Cart pushers bring waste from all over the area to the site, the waste overflowing into a river on which bank the dump is located.
Every so often, the refuse spills to the road, constricting traffic on the busy highway.
A motorcycle mechanic, whose workshop is around the dump, said the residents were tired of complaining about it.
“Everybody knows this place; there is no how you will be passing and will not be offended by the stench,” said the artisan who refused to give his name.
“We have called the attention of AMAC (Abuja Municipal Area Council) several times to the problem, but they have not been able to do anything about it.”
He said the last time he and others went to AMAC, they were told the area is no longer under AMAC but now under the FCT, which, he said, has handed the dump to a contractor to ensure it does not overflow.
“This place is better now; if you come during the raining season, the smell is very bad. The dirt brings lots of mosquitoes and diseases. The wind blows the nylons into the cemetery,” he said.
Hawa Yusuf lives near the dump. She said aside from the foul smell, people in the area also regularly have malaria. She said many houses in the area do not have soakaways and channel their toilets into the stream beside the dump.
“Children play in the stream. Some children in the area have eye problem. I had to take my daughter to the hospital when I noticed she was crying everytime she wanted to urinate,” Mrs Yusuf said.
Refuse on Abuja city streets
Within the city of Abuja, garbage is now becoming a common sight on the streets.
The AEPB places iron and plastic refuse bins at intervals along the streets. But the bins are often times filled and spilling before the trucks of the waste agency arrive to remove the garbage.
At the Wuse Market, a large iron bin in front of a bank regularly spills its content, spreading stench around the area.
Health implication of unmanaged waste
Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology, said many of the outbreaks of infectious diseases in Nigeria are due to the way the people manage their waste.
Mr Tomori said over the years, Nigeria has become dirtier, allowing rodents, bacteria, and other diseases vectors to find their ways into homes. He cited the ongoing Lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria as an example.
“There has been no pathological change in the strain of the disease or has there been a change in the mode of its transmission. The constant rise in the yearly incidence is as a result of the huge dumps in most areas in the country,” he said.
He said poor waste management is the reason the country keeps experiencing the outbreak of diseases such as cholera, Yellow fever, malaria, and diarrhea.
“Many of these diseases, their hosts feed on the heap on the dumps which are gradually creeping to our doorsteps. Some of the dumps have found their ways into the drainages and waterways thereby blocking up drainages and contaminating sources of water.”
Mr Tomori said rodents no longer live in the bush but have become tenants in homes of many while eating from the dumps around the houses.
“Why should rodents live in the bush when there is food available in the dumps? Our dirty habits and lack of effective sanitation have led to the opportunity for rodents to easily transmit diseases,” he said.
Waste management agency reacts
The head of the Information and Outreach Programme unit of AEPB, Muktar Ibrahim, said it is easy to understand why people dump waste indiscriminately. He explained that the agency regularly embarks on sensitisation campaigns to make residents realise that waste needs to be properly “containerised.”
Mr Ibrahim said domestic wastes are meant to be disposed of in the green plastic waste bins of the agency. He explained the arrangement for waste management in the FCT.
“In Abuja, we have six area councils and they are expected to take charge of areas under their jurisdiction. AEPB concentrates, to a large extent, on the Federal Capital City, which is different from the Federal Capital Territory.
“But we extend our supervisory roles to even these satellites settlements. We also have an agency that provides, amongst other services, waste management in the satellite towns. That is the Satellite Town Development Department (STDD). So together with the Area Council environmental departments, we try to give some services in the area of environmental service to all of these communities,” the AEPB spokesperson said.
Mr Ibrahim said illegal waste dumps within the city are a problem. He said the agency has embarked on waste segregation as a means of waste disposal.
“We are now talking about the 3 Rs, which is reduce, reuse, and recycle. Some recycling outfits are springing up in town and AEPB is also dealing with the issues of recycling. The objective is to teach residents waste separation.
“We have some facilities manned by AEPB. We have a Wooper wastewater treatment plant, which is the biggest in the West African sub-region. Then we have the Gosa dump site; that is where our solid waste goes to, which is strictly for the city. Gosa, which is around Idu, is quite far from most of the suburbs.”
He blamed the lack of collaboration and coordination among the area councils and the AEPB as the reasons why dumpsites are springing up in odd locations.
He said his agency had been advising the area councils to focus on making their areas clean.
“We advised them to concentrate on these satellite towns and collaborate with AEPB. If the area councils collaborate more with the AEPB, I think we can really reduce or even do away with problems regarding waste management in the FCT.
“I don’t know how Bwari area councils manage their waste but I know there is a lot of abandonment of responsibility. However, there should be a means like contractors that can evacuate these wastes. Somewhere like Gwagwalada is not serviced by any contractor and it is likely that this happens in most of the area councils.
“We step in when the waste in the areas get to the stage of becoming an epidemic threat. AEPB is contacted and we go and carry out what we call intervention exercises. We have been preaching that people should be more responsible in the way they manage waste,” he said.
Mr Ibrahim said there are about 27 contractors cleaning the districts in FCT and there are plans to increase the number to 48.