Lagos: The Ruins of a Mega City
Chiemelie Ezeobi, Peter Uzoho and Ayodeji Ake, who went round major areas of Lagos recently, report that despite the Cleaner Lagos Initiative of the state government, heaps of refuse have overtaken the mega city, earning it the notorious sobriquet of dirtiest city
To many Lagos residents, one of the most visible changes that came with the current administration in the state is the return of mountains of refuse in major spaces across the city. A common complaint of residents is the difficulty in getting the refuse disposal operators to carry their waste – which has meant ever growing heaps of rubbish is major areas of the state.
So when recently THISDAY published an article on the state’s waste disposal effort, the response from readers was largely expected. Perhaps, it was the email from one Jumai Fayemi, a resident of Ikorodu, which vividly captured the mood of the people in relation to the waste issue.
Fayemi wrote, “I enjoyed your piece on the company Visionscape, but l have a very serious challenge which l believe a lot of people share right now. You cannot get in touch with them. Please visit their website and see what l mean.
“My waste has not been picked up for almost three months now, which never happened with LAWMA. I have tried to reach them and even dropped a note on their website to no avail.
“They lack local customer support team and it is not about treating waste but the epidemic we live daily with, waste not being picked is worse. I live not too far from the Ikorodu dumpsite, (Matex Street, Oloja Igbe). The governor recently visited but l was in the office and could not make a complaint to him personally.”
Fayemi’s email was in response to a report by THISDAY on the comprehensive work done by Visionscape, the company saddled with the responsibility of cleaning Lagos, in treating waste.
Earlier Report on Visionscape
In an earlier report published by THISDAY, Visionscape, the company responsible for waste management across the state had disclosed that they were concentrating on spending the investment to fast track the infrastructure. According to the Chief Executive Officer, Visionscape, John Irvine, in 2017, it was decided that on a concessionary agreement, they would take over the existing facilities from the state and invest money in the project and in January 2018, Visionscape launched the transfer loading station systems. The renovated facilities are in Agege, Lagos Island, and Oshodi, with smaller facilities in Mushin and Ogudu.
He said they have upgraded and invested in these facilities in order for them to deliver 21st century services. The new facility located in Lagos Island would serve as one of many hubs strategically located throughout the state, that would enable Visionscape and other WCOs temporarily deposit collected waste from within city limits, to be transported in bulk to the landfills for processing and disposal.
According to Irvine, “Evacuating the waste from the point of generation, there has to be a transferable system which will take it to the Transfer Loading Stations (TLS), and the Epe Eco Park. We are building a multi-purpose Eco Park, with engineered landfill cells, a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), recycling facilities and an Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant for organic waste, tyre recycling, and more. This will allow the converting of large amount of waste to resources. Our ambition is to develop a closed loop system, converting approximately 50 per cent of waste into a product to go back into the CLI.”
But despite the laudable objectives it cited, Lagos still staggers under the burden of dirt. Little wonder WastewatchAfrica, in their research on the dirtiest cities in Nigeria listed Lagos fourth after Onitsha, Aba and Kaduna. The organisation is a community-oriented organisation focused on researching, implementing, and disseminating sustainable waste management solutions in Africa, with a mission to eliminate waste from the streets of Africa by 2025.
According to their assessment, “it will definitely come as a shocker to many seeing Lagos on this list; transiting around Lagos city lately one would see an island of refuse dump all over public places. Lagos is the most populous city in Nigeria with a population of about 18million people, which many people have argued to be population congestion. The overpopulated nature of the State coupled with inadequate infrastructure, the lawlessness of the citizen and the inefficiency of the waste operator is a contributing factor to waste being dump all over public places.”
Barely months ago, Nigerian Infopedia also dubbed Lagos as the dirtiest city in Nigeria. Their report stated that, “Lagos has been dubbed the dirtiest place in Nigeria this year. Aside from the fact that Lagos state is the most populated state in the country and one of the most developed, it has failed to lead in that regard.”
Noteworthy also is another damning report by The Economist about a year ago. The state was ranked second as the world’s least liveable city, behind Damascus. This was contained in an annual report by The Economist, which saw Lagos fall from the third position it had occupied in the 2016 report. However, the report wasn’t premised only on environmental defaults but also on stability, healthcare, culture, education and infrastructure.
The 2017 ‘Global Liveability Report’, which was released on Wednesday by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit, saw the overall rating of Lagos pegged at 36 per cent for stability, 10 per cent for healthcare, 37.5 per cent for culture and environment, 53.5 per cent, while education pegged 33.3 per cent and infrastructure, 46.4 per cent.
Lagos of the past was characterised by dirt, shanties everywhere, and open drainages. That was obtainable until the then Governor Babatunde Fashola assumed office. With the then Commissioner for Environment, Muiz Banire, they went to work in creating a mega green city. The face of Lagos changed drastically, even aesthetic wise, the state changed and for the better. From the greenery that dots the different parts of the state to the roads with street lights and refuse-free drainages and median, the quest for a better Lagos was taken pretty serious by the then Commissioner for Environment, Muiz Banire.
Now, it’s a season of widespread dirt. In virtually every street, bus stop, and along the road medians, residents of the state are greeted with smelly heaps of refuse.
With the several complaints inundating the social media space, THISDAY set off on a fact finding mission. From Ago to Okota, Ijesha, Mile 2/Apapa Expressway, Ikotun, Ikeja, Egbeda, Boundary, Autowharf, Ajegunle, the list goes on, Agege Motorway, Lawanson, Ijesha, Ojuelegba, Costain, Ijora, to Creek Road in Apapa, dirt stinks to the heavens.
Also from Oshodi to Obalende, Mushin to Ojo, Apapa to Alimosho, Ikeja, to Surulere, Ikoyi to Ajah, heaps of refuse adorn Lagos streets and have even become perfect landmarks for people tracing their way to locations in the state.
Suffice to say, it seems the only place safe from heaps of dirt is the seat of power in Alausa and few parts of the state. Other areas like Egbeda, Orile, Abule Egba, Jakande, Balogun Market are riddled with poor waste management.
Pasture for Cows
At Okota road, off Cele Bus stop, the median has been turned to a refuse dumpsite. From the roundabout to expressway, heaps of refuse dumps by residents desecrate the aesthetic beauty of the beautifully tarred road. When left for days, the refuse often spills to the roads and make a mess of it.
Asides being a sight for sore eyes, the refuse dumps have proven to be a pasture for cows. As shocking as it might seem, these cows have so acclimatised to the dirt that they rummage it for feeding instead of grass. They have also gone on to portend danger for motorists and pedestrians. Some nights, they leave the refuse dumps and move to the service lane of the ever busy expressway, thus endangering motorists and even pedestrians who throng the roadside market at the foot of the bridge.
The Ago Palace Way is no different. From that same Okota roundabout to Community road bus stop, massive heaps of refuse often dot the median. This is despite the presence of the pay office of the refuse collecting company at Lord’s bus stop. For residents, it’s also common place to see cattle living amidst the refuse.
Again, Okota and Ago residents are not the only victim of the filthy condition of Lagos, a mega city with an intimidating population. For more than two years, the depreciating environment of state has been a minus for the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, whose laudable works speak for him in other areas.
As much as many might want lay the sole blame of improper waste management on the government, it is a fact that dirt don’t appear on the road on its own. Residents, who do not know the implications of what such a dirty and polluted environment does the health, litter the roads indiscriminately, without recourse to the fact that they are prone to diseases like Malaria, Typhoid and even Cholera.
Aside the health hazards, this dirt pose environmental disasters such as erosion and blockage of drainage systems, which often leads to flooding. Even with efforts of the government by providing waste and recycle bins, the residents shun them in favour of the roads, primarily because they want to avoid paying the collectors.
It was tales of woe during both physical and virtual interviews. There was virtually no one who painted a positive picture of the waste disposal situation in Lagos. One Mrs. Rachel Ebi told THISDAY, “Imagine that one day I asked someone to give me directions and I was told that the address is immediately a refuse dump along that road. This is to tell you how bad Lagos has become now.”
In the present day Lagos, people have learnt to live in peace and harmony with mountains of refuse. Even roadside food sellers and their customers no longer care about the dirt around them. To them, it is money and stomach first. The offensive odour oozing out of the heaps of waste around them matters less.
“They said we should be dropping our trash here so that VisionScape people will be coming to pack them. Look at the heap, since three weeks now we have not seen them,” Tolu Gbamgbose, who sells recharge cards at Mile 2, told THISDAY.
In Lagos, it is also now commonplace to see school children step on refuse heaps as they try to navigate their ways to school. At times, while playing they fall on top of these refuse, which exposes them to infection and other health hazards.
Another resident who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “The Cleaner Lagos model is a total let down because their structure completely ignored the old workable solution to waste management, which is communal waste management, rather, they are more focused on making money than providing service.”
Cleaner Lagos Initiative
But the question begging for answer is, why is Lagos suddenly so dirty?
THISDAY checks revealed that it all began when the Lagos State Government disbanded the previous waste collection and disposal process through the Lagos Waste Disposal Authority (LAWMA), who were working in collaboration with Private Sector Participation (PSP).
In their place, VisionScape was hired to replace PSP but despite their efforts, especially with waste treatment, heaps of refuse seems to have overtaken Lagos streets and roads. When he came on board as the chief executive of the state, the governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, introduced what he called “Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI).” He jettisoned the waste management policy of his predecessor, Fashola and commissioned Visionscape, a waste management company, to see that the city remains neat and clean. This move, however, displaced the PSP operators from their job and trouble set in; the result of which is the dirty and smelly mega city.
A Lagos resident, Chuka Anyanwu, said, “It beats my imagination that Ambode and his team eased out PSP without looking at its impact knowing fully well that VisionScape is not ready yet. Everywhere you turn to, refuse dumps stare at you. This is so shameful for a state like Lagos. Over the last two years, Lagos has become extremely dirty. These contractors hardly collect refuse again. The street cleaners we used to see are rarely seen now.”
Allegations of Sabotage
But in so many quarters also, allegations of subterfuge and sabotage are being peddled. This group of people believe that Visionscape are victims of sabotage from those who want to mess up their track record. According to sources, when they initially begun, wastes were being cleared from the road, only to resurface after the workers might have gone.
In the earlier report by THISDAY, Visionscape boss, Irvine had addressed this. According to him, during their nine months of survey, they discovered over 5,000 litter black spots and illegal dumpsites in Lagos, and within seven months period, they cleaned an excess of 3,500 spots taking away thousands tonnes of wastes in the state.
He explained that they have cleaned up these litter black spots and they are trying to concentrate on the other 1,500, adding that they often receive calls after the exercise that half of the black spots they cleaned are now back again, due to the activities of individuals. To remedy this he said, “we have a team monitoring the indiscriminate dumping of waste. They are known as the Monitoring and Intervention (MNI). When MNI identify black spots, they go clean it.”
However, proffering solutions to the unpleasant waste situation in the state, residents said the government should review its policy and restore the position of PSP operators, stressing that only VIsionScape cannot address situation.
“Visionscape alone cannot cover the entire Lagos state. And if the governor truly wants to achieve his vision of changing the sanitary condition of the state for the better, other companies need to be given license to collect and process waste,” Mr. Isaac Folorunsho said.
For Mrs. Bisi Adepeju, there should be a strong awareness program preaching to Nigerians to cultivate the habit of not littering the environment with trashes. “Let’s start from individual sanitation first and things will change for the better,” Adepeju stated. “Also, the government needs to work more. They need to ensure the sanitation workers take their job as their priority because health is wealth. There is no way people can survive in a dirty environment.”
She added, “The initiation of LAWMA, Visionscape and all, is good, but they need to be monitored. Why should we leave refuse for days before clearing it? It’s not good at all. We need to work on ourselves by being environmentally conscious, desisting from dumping refuse on the road and selling in the midst of refuse and even calling government’s attention when the sanitation workers refuse to do the needful.”
Another resident suggested that even with delayed payment of PSP collectors, and inadequate provision for waste dumping and recycling, the old method was better because the PSP’s were indigenous to their areas and even the local road cleaners had local supervisors.