Mountains of refuse dotting major streets in Calabar, Cross River State, has denied the state of its status as the cleanest city in Nigeria, writes Bassey Inyang
Recently, the Governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade, was stunned by the suffocating stench that oozed out from refuse heap from over 30 trucks awaiting disposal of their cargo at the Lemna dump site in Calabar municipality recently.
Dazed by what he saw, and the fouled air he perceived at the dump site Ayade declared: “It is unacceptable and totally unhealthy for both wastes and human beings to coexist side by side as we have witnessed here today. I am sure that when this place was designated as dump site, nobody was living here. But now that it is sharing the same environment with human beings, we have to consider an alternative place for a new dump site.”
Ironically, what Ayade encountered at the dump site is a stack reflection of the squalid state of the entire state capital, Calabar, where its inhabitant now live amidst mountains of refuse that have virtually taken over roads and the streets and making a mockery of the town that once prided itself and was acclaimed the cleanest city in Nigeria during the Donald Duke’s golden years.
At the moment, with Egyptian pyramids kind of garbage heaps standing at akimbo in the most of the street sides, and their repulsive toxic stench capable of deforming a developing foetus, Calabar can effortlessly win an award as the dirtiest city in Nigeria.
In fact, the dirty state of the town has become a huge embarrassment to the people, residents and visitors to the state as they wonder what had suddenly gone wrong with the once environmentally clean Calabar.
The pictures and video clips of a mentally retarded man captured last Sunday by a blog,calabarreporters.com, sweeping around a refuse dump at a street side at Edim Ekong Oqua (Etta-Agbor by Ujimco Filling Station),which has gone viral tells a lot about the filthy state of Calabar.
A recent medical report stating the treatment of at least 300 persons for diarrhea at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, might well be an indication that an outbreak of epidemic is very imminent.
When Ayade assumed office one year ago, the evidently increasing pyramids of refuse were some of the myriads of challenges his administration inherited even though he claimed his predecessor bequeathed him a state full of resources without giving clarifications.
But, it is generally argued that, his administration should have addressed the issue in one year.
The general feeling in Calabar and its environs is that government is currently not doing enough to address the situation, which could metamorphose into a major threat to the health and wellbeing of the people.
Since then, the administration has continued to experiment with policies that would assist in returning Calabar to its former pride of place as the cleanest city in Nigeria.
In 2015, at a special Sunday church service to mark the 55th independence anniversary of Nigeria at Saint Bernard Catholic Church, Calabar, Ayade had explained why refuse heaps littered the streets of the state capital.
“Today, we are confronted with the challenges of refuse all over the town. But, the problem is real and we must confront it. The problem arose from the difficulty of (the) state to continue to support contractive philosophy; contracting system  where contractors operate at specific areas where they imagine government will pass through and, therefore leave the core areas where the majority of Cross Riverians live; leaving it unattended to. In the course of time, it became obvious that we no longer can sustain political ways of awarding contracts where contractors feel it is a political benefit. And, therefore, I had to terminate that contract and take full responsibility and take charge of refuse. Be patient with us, we shall overcome. By his grace the Archbishop Joseph Ekuwem mentioned it very clearly. The only place he has concern now is the refuse. I wish he had also given me a credit for my effort on salary,” Ayade stated during the church service which took place about five months into his administration.
As part of measures to address the situation, Ayade had deployed the services of the Calabar Urban Development Authority (CUDA) to handle the task of clearing the mountains of waste that littered everywhere.
But, despite the efforts, the problem of refuse collection seemed insurmountable as the heaps kept growing in sizes and multiplying and jostling for space with motorists along major roads and strategic areas across the state capital and constituting serious health hazard to the people.
So, one year on, the most formidable challenge confronting the administration still remains the growing heaps of refuse in the once acclaimed cleanest city in Nigeria.
Diverse explanations have been made as reasons for the proliferation of waste in Calabar in the last one year.
The State Commissioner for Environment, Engineer Mike Eraye while commenting on the issue said one of the challenges militating against effective waste evacuation and disposal was the dwindling economic fortunes of the state and the poor attitude of the people towards waste disposal and management.
“Waste equipment is currently off the shelves of the government because of the current economic situation of the country. The economy had really slowed down the time and period we intended to offload the platform that can deal with waste evacuation situation in more civilised and more efficient manner.
“This is supposed to be a simple job by two people; the driver and his assistant, when the bins are in good condition. But our equipments have collapsed. But, government is doing all it can to out breach the weakness in the platform that is available for waste evacuation,” Eraye said.
Continuing he said: “In organised cities, waste is programmed to be conveyed to the central collection point at a predetermine time. But here, few minutes after this evacuation, you will see people filling the place again. The people must also play their part by maintaining clean environment and conveying waste to the central collection point at night.
“We have plan in place where the public would be educated and sensitised on their role to return Calabar to the cleanest and greenest city in Nigeria.”
However, the Speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly, Mr. John-Gaul Lebo, surprisingly, attributes the problem to what he described as improved economic status of the people due to regular payment of salaries to workers in the state.
Speaking during the May 29, thanksgiving service at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Calabar, to mark the Democracy Day Anniversary and Ayade’s one year in office, the Speakers said: “Calabar is now dirty because the governor is paying salaries regularly and promptly so people are eating more than they used to eat and generating more waste.”
Another problem has been that of mobilising the necessary manpower, street cleaners and refuse disposers to clear the rubbish of the streets. In recent weeks ad-hoc staff of the Calabar Urban Development Authority (CUDA) saddled with the direct responsibility of clearing the refuse dumps have down tools and staged street protests against the alleged sack of 250 of their members, despite owing them seven months salaries. Observers have stated that it is this category of workers that the state government would definitely have to depend on to keep Calabar clean, no matter the technology government would deploy in an attempt to address the worrying refuse situation.
Conscious of the fact that Calabar could no longer be categorised as a clean city, given its stupendous refuse heaps, Ayade, at the dump site pleaded with the people for understanding and promised that before long the city would be free of garbage.
“Once more, I want to plead with you for your understanding as my team and I aggressively seek to address the challenge of waste disposal. We are concerned about your interest, health, welfare, safety and security. They are important to me. Have a little patience; this waste will soon be a thing of the past,” Ayade said.
The governor also spoke on what he thought were the immediate solutions to the problems which seem to have defied every formula applied to resolve it.
“What we have as a critical solution is to ensure that we still do what we can to manage the dump site; and that is why we have brought in a lot of bulldozers trying to see how we can push the waste further into the ravine and surpassing it with a lot of compaction.
“The Lemna Road where we have our traditional refuse dump is completely filled. We are trying to see how we can push back the refuse further down, but it appears that the dump site has reached its maximum carrying capacity. When we have a situation where all wastes are dumped in one bin and one truck come and pick all the waste and dump in one place, it becomes challenging,” Ayade said.
Ayade suggested that a new dump site be procured at Idundu, in Akpabuyo Local Government Area, near Calabar, in order to free the Lemna dump site.
At the proposed dump site at Idundu, the governor said: “Where we are now is a desperate and a proactive attempt to look for an alternative dump site to address the issue of waste disposal. The challenge we have currently is not one of waste evacuation, but that of disposal.
“The only alternative we had before this was a little out of town, besides what we were to pay for the land, was not what we could afford as an administration in the face of current realities. So, the distance made it impossible for all the refuse trucks to go that far. So we are looking for how to make a calibration that is within reasonable distance from the city centre and the price reasonable, which is the reason for this new location here in Idundu.”
Appealing to the people to be patient despite the situation, Ayade said:”I beg of you, recognise that I have you at heart, the challenge is temporary. I am already working out the solution, we will soon overcome’
“It is very certain that now that I have gotten a new location, in two or three weeks, I would have made this location available for waste disposal to commence properly.”
The governor also promised that additional measures, including the purchase of additional trucks and other tools for refuse evacuation and disposal would soon be procured by the state government.
“We need to get this option as soon as possible,” the governor stated.
Barely one week after, Ayade announcement, 20 waste evacuation trucks and 200 dumpsters have been delivered to the state government by a Nigerian car manufacturing company, Innoson Motors, for efficient waste control and management.
At the Government House where some of the trucks and dumpsters were handed over to the state government, Eraye said: “This is part of the plan on dealing with some of the challenges relating to waste evacuation and restoring the clean and green nature of Calabar. It has been on for a long while. The governor’s visit to the dumpsite was not an afterthought; it was a follow-up to a well planned strategy on how to keep Calabar the way it ought to be; the cleanest city in Nigeria.
“After that visit, the governor gained more insight into what the problem is, took some decisions, went to the State Executive Council and obtained approval for 20 pieces of this equipment and over 200 collection bins. From today, we will start deploying some of these bins to Calabar South where the challenge is very severe.”
Aside from his comments on the evacuation trucks and the dumpsters, Eraye spoke on the proposed dumpsite in Idundu and what government intends to do about waste management.
“The land is being processed and when that is ready, the high end of waste management, which is the waste to wealth, waste to energy, recycling and conversion will now begin. We are taking that seriously and we are expecting some partners to participate in that scheme.
“Go and check the rate of the naira to the dollar and see if you can buy anything. It was on the basis of that that we arrived at a decision to promote our own made in Nigeria trucks. The parts are available, the trucks are easier to maintain. The factory is here at Nnewi, Anambra State. We have taken a decision that we will be able to sustain the waste management issue,” Eraye said.
Perhaps, with the delivery of the trucks and dumpsters, the state Ministry of Environment would effectively apply its plans to ensure that Calabar regains its once graceful position as the cleanest city in Nigeria.
Recently, Eraye had announced that to ensure effective and efficient waste evacuation, Calabar has been divided into nine different zones that would be outsourced to private individuals and companies.
“We have divided Calabar into nine different zones. We have concluded plans to outsource some zones to private companies which will work under the direct supervision of the waste management agency,” the commissioner said.
But, the procurement of trucks and dumpsters and compartmentalisation of Calabar for ease of evacuation might not constitute long term and permanent solution to the problems because waste regenerates on constant basis.
Ayade, who prides himself as an environmental expert has demonstrated that he was reasoning in the direction of effective waste management.
During his working tour to the dump sites, Ayade disclosed that his administration would partner with experts from Israel and Dublin to do the proper waste management; comprising segregation and optimal utilisation of waste generated, not just in Calabar alone, but in other parts of the state.