How Lagos struggles to stay afloat ‘ocean of refuse’

Lagos struggles to stay afloat an ocean of refuse

Businesses have almost ground to a halt at a shoe market along the Okokomaiko corridor of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway and the traders blame it on the overpowering stench emanating from a nearby refuse heap.

“The refuse is very disturbing, definitely, because for about two weeks, the LAWMA (Lagos State Waste Management Authority) did not come to pack the dustbin and it is disturbing us honestly,” said Babangida Muhammed, a shoe seller.

“It is affecting our business because most of our customers like to stop by the market but has refuse (sic) to stop because the odour is disturbing them.”

Such tales have become a common feature across Lagos metropolis as the state government’s new partner in the waste disposal sector, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, struggles to evacuate the mountain of refuse that had sprung up in several parts of the state.

Last year, the Lagos State government launched the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, a project established to address, enforce and regulate the challenges in the solid waste management systems within the State in line with global best practices.

The launch came amidst a protracted legal dispute between the state government and the private sector participants (PSP) operators who were initially saddled with evacuating refuse across the state.

But last week, the Lagos State government announced it had reached an out-of-court settlement with the PSP operators, claiming that the lawsuit caused the delay in the implementation of the CLI programme.

“Saheed Quadri, who is the Director of Civil Litigation in the State’s Ministry of Justice, said it was gratifying to report back to the court that settlement had reached an appreciable stage, and asked for a short adjournment for parties to conclude on the amicable resolution,” the state government said in a statement detailing the court’s proceedings.

Olalekan Owojori admitted that though talks are ongoing between the state government and the PSP operators, some of the issues that forced them to go to court are yet to be resolved.

“We are eager to have this matter settled so we can go back to our business,” Mr. Owojori told PREMIUM TIMES.

“We are after the protection of our business interests and service to Lagosians, some of us are at the risk of losing our investments and livelihoods of almost 18 years.”

Akinbode Oluwafemi, an environmental activist, said the speed with which the Lagos House of Assembly signed the bill that opened the door for Visionscape to become a major operator in the Lagos waste management sector is in itself an anomaly.

He added that the poor performance of the company in evacuating solid wastes is capable of throwing the state into a crisis.

“The embarrassing showing of Visionscape despite the publicity blitz about its waste management prowess is a reflection of how PPPs fail to deliver,” Mr. Oluwafemi, a deputy executive director at the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

“At the time (the lawmakers passed the bill), Lagosians were alarmed that the state government put forward a PPP in the waste management sector as the solution to some observed inefficiencies by the local operators. Now it is clear that the PPP thing is a myth just like we had all along warned. 

“Visionscape’s operations has been so embarrassing that at a point the Lagos governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, forced newly elected local council chairmen to take clearing of waste within their communities as a major duty.”

Government efforts

In February last year, the Lagos House of Assembly drew the ire of environmental activists when it passed into law the Lagos State Environmental Management and Protection Bill after having the first and second readings as well as the public hearing in the same week. 

Governor Ambode assented to the bill immediately after. 

The law empowers the state government’s partner, Visonscape Sanitation Solutions, to take over refuse collection in the state’s residential areas while stripping LAWMA of its hitherto role of coordinating the PSP operators as well as collecting bills from residents on their behalf.

Over the past few weeks, refuse heaps assumed mountainous proportions across the state, forcing the state government to announce, on January 13th, a total ban on cart pushers who collect refuse in the state.

A statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Tunji Bello, said their continued operation would pose a threat to the success of the CLI. 

“What the state government has discovered is that these set of people use the night to perpetrate all sorts of dastardly acts,” Mr. Bello said. 

“They dump refuse indiscriminately on the median of major roads and highways. They also pose serious threats because they use those carts to hide arms and ammunitions and hide under the guise of carrying refuse to rob unsuspecting residents.” 

One week later, the government inaugurated the board of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps, the agency replacing the infamous Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, and charged it to police all nooks and crannies of the state against indiscriminate dumping of refuse. 

On Wednesday, the LAGESC said it had arrested 24 persons including cart pushers, street traders and some residents for dumping waste on road medians and canals contrary to the Environmental Sanitation Laws of the State.

Daniel Isiofia, LAGESC Corps Marshal, said the suspects were arrested following an investigation which revealed that cart pushers and some residents were indiscriminately dumping domestic refuse at sites not designated for waste disposal and canals, thereby sabotaging the ongoing efforts to make the State clean and hygienic.  

“We know that there have been massive efforts to clear the backlog of refuse on the road and our men went on surveillance and we eventually discovered where the cart pushers are operating at Ogunlana Street by Ogbomosho in Itire area,” a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police said.

“We raided the area and saw the cart pushers whose job is to collect refuse on payment from some residents who feel that they cannot dispose their refuse according to government directive and dump on road medians and canals.

“Often times, if you go to the canal at Itire-Ijesha area, you will see the cart pushers dumping refuse into the canal thereby blocking the waterways which leads to flooding. So, with the determination to stop this menace, we raided them at about 4am this morning and we succeeded in impounding 150 waste carts used for this purpose and arrested 11 suspects while others fled.”

A business owner in Somolu who declined to say his name for fear of being arrested told PREMIUM TIMES that he dumps his refuse on the road because he does not have an option.

“My environment is stinky and overflowing with dirt but I have no one to take them away for weeks now,” he said. 

“No LAWMA, no truck pushers, what am I supposed to do with the refuse? Eat it? So I decided to help them dump it on their road.”

Lagos residents generate 13,000 metric tonnes of waste daily, according to LAWMA.

Recently, there have been noticeable efforts at clean up by officials of Visionscape but piles of refuse are still visible in major parts of the metropolis.

The traders at Okokomaiko market said the heaps of refuse near their wares have been there for one month with nobody to evacuate them.

Mr. Muhammed said when he arrives every morning to open for the day’s business, he’d notice the refuse had increased from the previous day.

“I use to make more profit until some unknown persons started littering the pathway.”

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