MAUREEN IHUA-MADUENYI writes on the state of waste management in Lagos.
It is no longer news that household waste has found its way back into the streets of Lagos, almost taking the state back to the 1999/2000 era when the metropolis was regarded as one of the dirtiest cities in the world.
For the past one year, solid waste has found its way back to major highways, street corners, road medians and drainage channels from Alimosho to Ikeja, Mushin to Agege, Ikotun Egbe to Isolo, Ajah to Epe, and Ikorodu to Ketu, spreading across all the 20 local governments and 37 Local Council Development Areas of the state.
According to findings, a simple change in the system, aimed at making the process of waste evacuation, recycling and disposal in the state simpler, has resulted into a near crisis situation that the state government and other stakeholders are currently battling to contain.
As one of the smallest states in the country, Lagos has the highest urban population, said to be about 27.4 per cent of the national estimate, with an average of 22 million people, which keeps growing daily.
With the huge and growing population, the management of waste was a big problem until past democratic administrations began the process of evacuation from source, otherwise known as door-to-door collection, which was already gaining global recognition before the process was reengineered and the Cleaner Lagos Initiative was introduced by the current administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
According to the state government, it created the CLI to improve the environment, make it cleaner, safer and healthier for all Lagosians by promoting a harmonised and holistic approach to the challenges of waste management.
At its introduction, Ambode said the initiative was geared towards addressing, enforcing and regulating the challenges in the solid waste management system in Lagos, while also aiming to protect the environment, human health and social living standards of Lagos State residents.
Two years after its introduction in 2016, however, stakeholders are still struggling to get it right, while residents, with a temporary relief from paying for their waste due to a system breakdown, have returned to disposing their waste anywhere convenient.
In the beginning
According to investigations by The PUNCH, when a former governor of the state, Bola Tinubu, took over from the military in 1999, he reasoned that if Lagos must attain the status of a mega city, a sustainable way must be found of getting rid of the heaps of waste competing with vehicles on the highways.
To achieve this, he introduced a poverty alleviation programme where people were encouraged to evacuate waste from the streets and get paid.
According to findings, the initiative blossomed into Small and Medium-scale Enterprises where the state government started signing contracts with investors, who were using open trucks and tippers to evacuate waste from the streets.
With the increasing popularity of the scheme, the government empowered the Lagos State Waste Management Authority to regulate these people and created a blueprint of short and long-term action plans; the first from 2005 to 2015, and the second plan was for 2015 to 2025.
LAWMA started a 10-year reform programme, which meant that the rickety vehicles and open trucks used by indigenous investors began to give way to compactors, which is the right equipment, and payment by residents was introduced.
But for the communities with a large number of the poor, such as Ajeromi Ifelodun, Ajegunle, Badiya and Makoko, among others, where people could not easily pay for their waste disposal, the government subsidised payment up to 60 per cent.
The government was then spending close to N230m monthly to pay contractors involved in waste evacuation and every attempt to recoup the money was not successful.
At this point, the indigenous investors, who were merely contractors with the government, working and getting paid based on their capacities, were given five-year franchising agreement to manage waste, provide services and collect revenue from residents.
Upon the expiration of the agreement, the franchisees, who had been renamed Private Sector Participants, continued based on the assumption that they were covered by the government’s 10-year action plan.
A source with knowledge of the initiative, but who did not want to be quoted, says the concept was a social investment to allow indigenous investors to collect the waste and foreign investors to do the disposal, which was capital intensive with a lot of technology.
The source adds that the World Bank and some international investors came in to invest in the downstream sector, which was about 30 per cent of the process, while indigenous investors were to collect waste from homes, which make up the balance.
The source says, “At this period, the PSP operators were allowed to bring in at least two compactors each and they were divided in all the political wards in the state and the idea was to have 600 to 650 compactors. LAWMA was empowered to collect public waste, such as those on highways, and take care of collection of waste in poor settlements, because the cost recovery from such areas was difficult.
“LAWMA blossomed too and the government invested in it. As part of the scheme, the government decided to buy new trucks in phases of 100. The first phase of 100 was bought on a tripartite relationship between the government, operators and the commercial banks for the PSP operators, who will later pay back the loan. This was meant to fill the streets of Lagos with new trucks that will in turn rid it of waste. The scheme was so successful.”
The PUNCH gathered that the government provided market guarantee for the loan and even gave loan buyback with a restructuring system, and an ultimate aim to export the skills acquired by those indigenous investors to other states and countries within West Africa.
Within the period, it was learnt that over 35,000 direct jobs with 100,000 indirect jobs were created, while LAWMA annually recorded a turnover of N30bn and attracted Foreign Direct Investment of about $50m, especially in recycling of plastics, paper, tyres and electronic waste.
However, as good as the system was, there were challenges – both the state government and the PSP operators agreed that the dumpsites were in a mess, waste were still being buried and the roads to the sites were constantly in a deplorable condition, a situation that reduced the turnaround time.
The Consultant to the Association of Waste Managers in Nigeria, an umbrella body of most of the PSP operators, Olalekan Owojori, says having mastered the process of collection and transportation, disposing the waste became a challenge.
“The Olusosun dumpsite that was collecting 60 per cent of the waste was in a mess. What we were doing was burying the waste; we were in crisis in disposing the waste. There was the need for a scientific landfill because whenever it rained, there were massive queues of trucks bringing in waste to the dumpsites, making it the weakest link, which we were still trying to fix before the current government took over office,” he explains.
The Cleaner Lagos Initiative
The state government and other stakeholders were still thinking of ways to improve the situation when the current administration came into power and the Cleaner Lagos Initiative was birthed.
According to the Special Adviser to the Governor on the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, Mr Adebola Shabi, the governor considers that waste management is contributing so much to pollution in the state and decided to reduce this.
He says, “Waste contributes to underground water pollution and even air pollution. There is also the land and soil pollution factor. The governor thought of how to mitigate the issue of pollution. Before now, we were contributing to the pollution through the landfills where waste were being buried, and when they decompose, there is leakage into the underground water up to a radius of two to three kilometres from the area where they are sited.
“These chemical compounds released at the stage of decomposition wash into the lagoon and contaminate the fishes, which humans in turn consume. The governor decided to have a holistic approach to reduce pollution load by inviting investors to the state, which is why Visionscape is here.”
According to Owojori, the government through the CLI created a two-tier system, where a foreign contractor, Visionscape, was given residential waste collection, while the PSP operators are restricted to commercial waste collection.
Owojori states, “There were various announcements on the initiative and the compliance level among residents started to drop. Before we knew it, the investor brought bins and distributed across the state to collect waste; discouraging people from paying for the door-to-door collection.
“Some high income areas were still paying because of the relationship we had with them. The government then distributed bins across the state for waste collection. Government removed the bins when it realised that it was a bad idea, but a bad habit had been formed and people had become used to dropping their waste by the roadside. So, where those bins were became black spots.”
Shabi admits that one of the shortcomings in the early stage of the implementation of the initiative was the distribution of waste bins across the state, which people misunderstood.
“We took the bins off the streets because people misunderstood the reason why they were there. The public thought it was for them to bring their waste, but it was for people passing by to drop their small waste such as water sachet or empty cans of drinks,” he explains.
The habit remains in many parts of the state, Owojori says, adding, “Now, the government reverted to us on intervention to clear the waste for N25, 000 per trip. But when we had a meeting, we decided to accept the offer even though it was not enough for our running cost.
“But we did it on the basis that we would go back to the old system but since then, nothing has been done. The intervention, as it is called, is still going on till date.”
According to him, this brought about the current waste crisis where the system is back to the communal waste dumping of 1999.
State of the dumpsites
The dumpsites in the state, which constituted the major challenge in previous administrations, are still in a mess.
Apart from the Epe landfill, which is currently being constructed, and the fairly new one at Ewu Elepe in Ikorodu, Olusosun, which was said to be taking 60 per cent of the estimated 20, 000 tonnes of waste generated daily in the state, has been shut down.
Igando, which is said to have the capacity for just 20 per cent of the waste generated in the state, is overstretched, with waste almost spilling onto the highway, increasing the turnaround time for operators and in dire need of intervention.
The General Manager, LAWMA, Mr Segun Adeniji, however, says recycling of different types of waste has continued despite the lull in the system.
“We still have a relationship with the recycling firms; they renew their licences annually. That process cannot stop because the more we recycle, the better for us. There has been continuity in LAWMA services even with the new system,” he adds.
‘We haven’t deviated from the previous action plan’
Shabi tells our correspondent that the state government is still working with the action plan put in place by the past administrations, but based on international best practices.
He says, “We have not deviated from the former policy. The public has only been misled; we never deviated. When you talk about waste management, it goes beyond collection, it has five chains – generation, storage, collection, processing and disposal.
“What we had in the past were dumpsites, but Visionscape as a contractor is here to build three engineered sanitary landfills for the state in Epe and Badagry, where the contaminants will be controlled through a chamber that will channel the underground secretion to where it will be treated before it is released. The gases that have been escaping will be captured as biogas, which will be turned to energy in the future.
“We are building something from the scratch. A landfill is not something you build in six, nine or 12 months. It will be built in a way that nothing escapes into the environment. There is nowhere in the world where there are still landfills, except, maybe, in Nigeria. The best international practice is not for them to be located in the middle of cities. We are moving towards a mega city and this is the kind of initiative that is needed.
“The Igando landfill, for instance, is sited close to a general hospital and will soon be shut down when the additional two Transfer Loading Stations being built by the state government are ready.”
He explains that the TLS are the immediate measure to contain waste until the landfills are ready for use.
“Alimosho will have about three TLS where waste will be evacuated from and make the turnaround of operators fast, which is the immediate measure. The medium and long-term measure is to build material recovery centres, where equipment will be used to segregate the waste so that what gets to the landfill will be about 0.5 to one per cent,” Shabi notes.
The Chief Executive Officer, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, Mr John Irvine, in an e-mailed response to questions by our correspondent, says the company is aware of the state of waste management in Lagos and will address it.
He says, “We are aware of the recent complaints about the resurgence of waste across the Lagos West axis of the state. Under the new arrangement for waste management reform by the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment, our mandate to accelerate waste infrastructure has made it necessary to temporarily close two transfer loading stations in that axis for upgrades and refurbishment of the facilities. As a result, there is a backlog as waste collection operators are experiencing a higher turnaround time.
“This underscores the importance of infrastructure to the waste management system and our role as Visionscape Sanitation Solutions remains the provision of these facilities. We also remain committed to working with all stakeholders as we carry out our respective roles and responsibilities, and will continue to support the waste collection efforts through our monitoring and intervention team.”
The way forward, according to experts
An Associate Professor of Community Health and Medical Sociology, Crawford University, Ogun State, Oluropo Ayodele, tells The PUNCH that the only way for Lagos and indeed other state governments to tackle waste is to go back to collection from the household level.
According to him, sorting waste into plastic, glass and so on, at the household level is an option that the government should explore.
Ayodele states, “The waste management system in Lagos is a chain. There are components linked to several chains and in that case, if not well done, it can never work. The best way to start is from the household and the family level. But government has neglected that because it does not understand and is therefore, doing things the way it has always done it using general order.
“But you have to think outside the box to be able to solve the problem of garbage, because it will forever occur; it is part of living. To solve it, we need to develop simple sustainable community-based initiatives and not haphazard systems like they are doing in Lagos State. Those will only work after the communities have accepted that these are their own problems to solve.”
An environmentalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says, “It would have been better to upscale the initial plan rather than reengineer it, as the public is more tolerant to total quality management rather than reengineering.
“The stakeholders, who were not carried along, resisted the change and that is why we are where we are now.”
Waste managers posit that the way forward should be the full restoration of door-to-door waste collection and effective enforcement, which means advocacy.
Owojori notes, “We need to sort out the dumpsites, we need material recovery centres, we need to move away from burying our waste to recycling and reusing. There should be functional transfer loading stations. At the moment, what we have, sadly, is that Visionscape has monopolised the three functioning TLSs.
“The compactors are not meant to travel far; we need to sit down and have a proper and genuine system. The government should stop this divide and rule system. All stakeholders need to sit down and enhance the process. Waste was a problem due to lack of management. The system was changed and the potential unlocked. We need to sit down, everyone with their expertise, and let us look for the way forward.”
He states that LAWMA, which also appears weakened by the new system, should be empowered to protect the public as a regulator, while residents should be sensitised to pay for services rendered.
He adds that the government, rather than engage PSP operators in merely evacuating heaps of waste from the streets, should allow them to continue with the collection and transportation of both domestic and commercial waste, while Visionscape should focus on the waste infrastructure such as material recovery facilities and landfill management.
“The PSPs should be appointed as revenue collection agents for the government, under the public utility levy scheme, and provide enforcement of environment sanitation practices and payment of bills. The government should also provide us with financial assistance to mitigate our imminent losses as a result of the debt currently owed us by residents, which will be lost under the Cleaner Lagos Initiative,” Owojori states.
Shabi promises that the state government, in conjunction with the various stakeholders, will soon rid the streets of waste.
“When you talk about waste, it must be related to population growth. We are moving at a pace to have the best international practice, which is why we are not relenting on advocacy. We are working to reduce the quantity of waste on the streets and we will continue,” Shabi says.
He adds that the state will distribute more bags for waste collection at source.
Shabi explains, “We are encouraging people to desist from indiscriminate dumping to bagging their waste, which is why we are providing garbage bags. We are still not where we ought to be but we have embarked on massive advocacy. During the rainy season, people are fond of dropping their waste in water bodies and channels.
“The state government, apart from advocacy, is asking people to bag their waste. Anywhere you see heaps of waste today is due to scavengers who rummage through waste for things they can sell and we have asked local government chairmen to put task forces in place to check the trend. The scavengers are the people littering the environment with waste.
“We are working to ensure that the environment is clean. For the turnaround, we have created two extra Transfer Loading Stations – one at Agulejika and the other in Odaleke; making five in the state. If these five TLSs are working efficiently, there will be no waste on the streets. The first three will be managed by Visionscape but the other two we are creating now will be contracted out.”
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Read Full Story