Lagos lately has been characterised by piling garbage, putting residents in harms way. Martins Ifijeh writes on how the situation is endangering the health of Lagosians

“Cleaner Lagos Initiative is borne out of my experience as a Lagosian. I have lived in Lagos for over 50 years. When you are coming into Lagos from Ibadan, the first thing you see on the right side is the dump site. Should I sit and continue to watch, the answer is no. All I need is players and team members. The city is very dirty. It is not healthy and so our total well-being and health is defined by our health status and our productivity. Henceforth, Lagos will be one of the cleanest places in Nigeria to live in.” These were the exact words of the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode on March 14th, 2017.

Fast forward 10 months after. Not only that the promise has been fulfilled in reverse, the situation has worsened compared to what the state of dirt was in March last year when he made the statement. The new idea could now comfortably be called ‘Dirty Lagos Initiative’ going by the present situation.

Now, almost every street, junction, major roads, and even market places have replaced dustbin sites in the state, with piles and tonnes of dirt littering every nook and cranny of the city of about 21 million residents in a 21st Century; a situation that is gradually bringing back the old Lagos.

From Egbeda, Surulere, Ejigbo, Ikotun, Ikeja, IyanaIpaja, Victoria Island up to Ikorodu and Ajah, the situation remains the same.

The dirts are not only eye sores even to the blind, they have started competing with motorists for rights of way, with piles of dirts covering major roads, causing both human and vehicular traffic for Lagosians.

For instance, if diagnosis was to be done on the cause of traffic in some parts of Lagos, like between Lawanson in Surulere to Oto-Oba, ‘piles of dirts along the road’ will shamefully be diagnosed as the reason for the huge vehicular traffic. It is the same situation motorists plying Mushin-Oshodi Road, Ikotun-Egbeda Road, and other areas face. Dirts have now been added to the cause of traffic in Lagos State. Just like adding salt to injury.

But that is just a pinch of concern compared to what these debris are doing to the health of millions of people living in Lagos.

Lagosians have now been forced to, on a daily basis, inhale the stench from the piles of debris in market places, junctions and streets. They are now living at the mercy of policies put in place by the government whether good or bad. The people are handicapped, and are forced to live with their dirts, after all, government and policy makers do not live in the environments where these dirts are placed.

It is because of this potential source of disease outbreak, that Lagosians including experts are raising alarm that there might be imminent outbreak of diseases if nothing drastic is done to address the growing public health concern.

No wonder a Lagos resident, Collins Okobi, likened the stench emanating from the heaps of dirts in his area in Ejigbo as part of the reasons why President of the United States of America, Donald Trump described Haiti and African countries (Nigeria inclusive) as shithole countries.

“Once you are stepping into my area in Ejigbo, even from two kilometers away, you will begin to realise that the quality of air has changed. Every resident in my area is breathing in polluted air because of the barrage of debris littered all over the place. Some of those refuse contains faeces and rotten animals, so you can imagine what is going into our body system.

“Yet you will still see Lagosians castigating Trump for calling us shithole countries. If we are not a shithole country, why are we meant to live with such huge debris. Why are we meant to inhale the poison coming out of them. Why has Lagos suddenly become dirty?” He queried.

He said years ago there used to be people sweeping major streets in his area, but that he believed they may have stopped because the streets have now become refuse dump sites, hence there was no point for the sweepers to do their work.

“What will they sweep when the streets are filled with bags and piles of dirt. This could be likened to fetching bucket of water from the well and pouring it into an ocean. There won’t be need for sweeping since the refuse along the road will require more than four Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) trucks for them to be evacuated.”

He also queried why the state government stopped the monthly environmental sanitation, noting that in addition to the environmental policies put in place by the government, which he said doesn’t seem to work, Okobi said stopping environmental sanitation has made people relax in cleaning their own environments.

A secondary school teacher in one of the government schools in Lagos, Mrs. Remi (surname withheld) said since the front of her house in Mushin became a dumping ground for refuse, her children get sick very often.

“We are now permanently inhaling smell from debris since the past seven to eight months now. Almost everyone in the street brings their debris here to keep. So once the LAWMA truck comes they then evacuate them into their trucks, but there are times for a whole three weeks we won’t see the trucks. At that point, you will see heaps of debris every where, just directly in front of my house.

“I just recently treated my children for diarrhea and cholera. And the health condition has been occurring every now and then. If its not diarrhea, it will be flu. Our health is no longer guaranteed because of the debris,” she said.
Remi says this has also caused increase of rodents in her house, adding that even if the rodents were killed through rat poisoning, the ‘peace’ does not last more than two days.

“After two days, you will start seeing them all over again. And I know Lassa fever infects humans through rats. We are no more safe since the dumping of refuse here,” she added.

Medical experts have warned that the situation currently experienced in Lagos State could degenerate into an outbreak of disease, leading ultimately to the loss of lives of its residents.

A public health expert, Dr. Wilfred Ogedengbe said the several dump sites on Lagos streets, junctions, homes and market places could cause both direct and indirect harm to the residents, hence the need for the government, the citizens and relevant stakeholders to come together and fashion out a lasting solution against the public health situation.

According to him, these dumpsites among people could cause rapid breeding of rodents, mosquitoes, flies, among others. Adding that for rats, they could be source of transmission of diseases such as Lassa fever, other fevers, salmonellosis, leptospirosis, among others.

“As we speak, Lassa fever is presently still killing Nigerians even in Lagos State, but they are not being reported as they were months ago. And I can tell you if you trace most of those infected, you will discover they live in and around places that have been converted to dumpsites in the city which unfortunately are within the environments where people live.”

He said these dumpsites were breeding grounds for mosquitoes, hence potentially becoming sources of malaria infection among the people. “These mosquitoes, would perhaps bite people who in turn will then come down with malaria.

“Flies consider these dumpsites as breeding ground, and we know they are implicated in the transmission of diarrheal and cholera,” he added.

He said the indirect impact of these dumpsites in Lagos could cause harm not only to the sewage systems, but contaminate Lagos State water, thereby leading to a more bigger problem of disease outbreaks in a larger scale. He said the situation could lead to contamination of ground water, surface water and the soil, and could potentially lead to death of millions of Lagosians.

While many Lagosians have complained of the stench emanating from these debris, Ogedengbe believes such stench could lead to air poison, thereby leading to respiratory problems. “It not only has the potential to damage the lungs, it could as well lead to death.

“These dirts often on their own, generate methane gas which is highly inflammable and could lead to fire outbreak. So there are so many harm associated with the manner in which Lagos State government, is presently managing wastes in the city.”

He called on the Ministry of Environment and other relevant agencies to as a matter of urgency come up with a lasting solution so that Lagosians will have a sense of safety, especially with regards to their health.

But how did the state come to this, considering that Lagos was relatively cleaner years ago. Did the Lagos State Government make a policy change that is presently playing out in the form of environmental summersault?
A senior staff of the Ministry of Environment provides a guide. He does not want his name in print because he was not authorised to speak.

He said the current dirts seen in Lagos, was because of sabotage from privately outsourced companies formerly involved in evacuation of debris across the state.

He said when the state government introduced the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI), managed by Visions Cape, the aim has been for the firm to take over waste management in the state under a Public/Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, an approach he said would truly make Lagos cleaner.

“But the Incorporated Trustees of the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, also known as Private Sector Participation (PSP) operators felt threatened. They made several efforts to stop the initiative. They even went to court. So what you have been seeing is a case of sabotage.

“But as I speak to you now, everything has been resolved. Cleaner Lagos Initiative has kicked off. In few weeks time no Lagosian will complain of debris anymore on the roads, their houses and market places,” he added.