Battling Refuse Heaps In A Mega City

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In the last few months, the Lagos mega city has been taken over by refuse. Heaps of refuse dorn every nooks and crannies of the state, with a looming epidemic staring residents in the face. It is common to see heaps of refuse in places like Agege, Abule Egba, Lagos Island, Okokomaiko, Alimosho, Mushin, Ajegunle, Orile and several parts of the metropolis. It appears that the more the waste were being evacuated, the more they pile.

All over the Lagos metropolis, a common sight is the overflowing waste bins placed in strategic locations by Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, the foreign partner the Lagos State Government contracted the waste management system to. It appears that refuse has overwhelmed the contractor because the waste being generated far outweighed the number of vehicles deployed to cart away the waste.

Lagos residents have been complaining bitterly over the massive resurgence of waste in the metropolis that was previously clean when the Private Sector Participation, PSP operators were handling the waste management in the state, in conjunction with the Lagos Waste Management Agency, LAWMA.

How it all began

In March 2017, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State signed a new Environmental bill into law. The law established the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, CLI. The CLI is focused on improving the environment to make it cleaner, safer and healthier for all Lagosians by promoting a harmonised and holistic approach to the challenges; and as a result, improving operational efficiency. The initiative is geared towards addressing, enforcing and regulating the challenges in the solid waste management systems within Lagos State, while also aiming to protect the environment, human health and social living standards of Lagos State residents.

CLI aims to deliver an innovative and sustainable waste management system that is comparable to other world-class mega cities. The solid waste management system has been overhauled with the creation of new landfills, transfer loading stations, and material recovery facilities.

The mandate for the State is to have a cleaner mega city built to drive environmental and economic prosperity to all. With this, CLI has designed and developed an infrastructure and process built to meet the demands and objectives of waste management and sanitation in Lagos State, covering waste collection, processing and disposal. In addition, CLI will create over 27,000 direct jobs and a further 400,000 indirect jobs, contributing to improving socio-economic status and bettering the lives of the people.

Under the new law and CLI, the management of domestic waste in Lagos was contracted to Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, a foreign consortium in waste management. Under the CLI, the PSP operators and LAWMA that used to cart away domestic waste are barred. PSP operators are restricted to commercial waste alone while LAWMA will now serve as regulator. Visionscape was expected to deploy technology, better funding, and germane solutions to execute the initiative. The government believed that its previous scheme on waste management was not producing the maximum effect and as such, decided to deploy more scientific means to recover and recycle waste into raw materials for use in producing other products. Under the CLI, Visionscape was supposed to deploy about 500 high capacity trucks to cart and manage domestic waste in the metropolis, with daily waste generation hitting 13,000 tons.

Under the CLI, the former PSPs are now referred to as WCOs (Waste Collection Operators); they will be assigned to commercial customers in Lagos state for regular collection of waste, such as healthcare, building, recyclable, general waste, hazardous, industrial  and special industrial waste.

According to Governor Ambode, “we must acknowledge the environmental degradation that plagues the State and the urgent need for a world class comprehensive waste management system that addresses this crucial quality of life issue.”

He said under the scheme, over 500, 000 new e-waste bins and compactors had been brought in by Visionscape, while the company was also transforming the transfer loading stations at Simpson, Oshodi and Agege, adding that a modern engineered sanitary landfill was being constructed in Epe by Visionscape.

The governor justified the rationale behind the new waste management initiative, saying that “in the last two years, we have found out that Lagos generates one of the highest volumes of waste in the world. At the last count, documented waste in Lagos was estimated at 13,000 tonnes per day. Considering undocumented statistics, we can add an additional 4,000 tonnes per day to that figure.”

He explained that for the government to be revolutionary in her approach to achieving a clean environment, and to be globally competitive, there was the need to accomplish a clean, safe, and prosperous Lagos, which the old environmental template could not guarantee.

“Cleaning Lagos and keeping the environment clean has nothing to do with environmental sanitation and putting your economic productivity at a standstill for three hours every month. That will not clean Lagos. Cleaning Lagos means we should give Lagosians scientifically treated land fill sites, transfer loading stations, functional dyno-bins, functional compactors, brand new materials and also be able to employ more people,” the governor explained.

Ambode said the new model was a win-win for all stakeholders in the waste management sector, adding that his administration had offered the private sector participants (PSP) operators a 100 per cent income from the commercial enterprise of the waste management initiative, as this would ensure that the PSPs could gain capacity and also get more capital to do more work.

The crisis

With the soft launch of the CLI in August 2017, the Lagos State Government terminated the contract of the PSP operators from engaging in domestic waste evacuation since it had been handed over to Visionscape Sanitation Solutions. That was when the crisis started. PSP operators took the government to court to challenge the power of government to bar them from domestic waste evacuation, which constituted about 80 percent of waste generation in the state. The PSP operators withdrew their services from the waste management in protest.

The PSP operators, under the aegis of the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, (AWAM) had protested the environmental bill, which they said was aimed at killing their businesses. According to Olalekan Owojori, spokesperson of the protesters, the new investment the state government needed was in the area of dumpsites and landfills and not collection and transportation of waste.

Refuse heap in Agege

“Lagos is dirty now because the dumpsites and landfills are not enough while those available are in terrible state. The state government is owing PSP operators over N1 billion and the 60 per cent they are entitled to from what is charged a client has been reduced arbitrarily. Operating under such unfriendly atmosphere is killing motivation and business besides affecting the ability to operate with good trucks,” he said.

With the soft launch of the CLI, Visionscape began evacuation of refuse in the metropolis, but the body was overwhelmed by the refuse generation in the state and with the PSP withdrawing their services, the situation was aggravated as refuse took over major places in the metropolis. It appeared that the new environmental body was not fully ready before the state government eased out the PSP operators, with Lagosians left to bear the brunt of refuse brouhaha.

Visionscape and manpower challenge

With the refuse mounting, drawing sharp criticism from the public, Visionscape engaged in deep cleaning across Lagos, but the effort was not enough as the rate of refuse generation overwhelmed them. The scenario showed that the body was not fully ready when the PSP operators were stopped by the government. Out of the 600 high capacity trucks expected by Visionscape to evacuate waste in the state, only about 100 are on ground. This is grossly inadequate, as environmental experts put it. Observation revealed that the more they cart away refuse, the more refuse was being generated.

Commissioner for the Environment, Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti said the heap of refuse being witnessed in the state was as a result of the transition period. According to him, the new solid waste management system was well thought out and positioned to offer an enduring solution to the waste management challenge thrown up by population increase and facility deficit that the State has had to encounter over time. “I wish to reiterate that every transition period has its challenge. What we are witnessing presently is temporary and would soon disappear when the domestic waste operators commence full operations,” he said.

Residents React

Residents of the state have continued to express worry and disappointment over rising refuse in the metropolis, fearing that epidemic might break out if urgent move was not made to remedy the situation.

A trader, simply identified as Alhaja Monsurat decried the heaps of refuse around markets in the state. According to her, “we have been experiencing untold hardship as a result of the offensive smell from the refuse that have suddenly resurfaced because of the absence of PSP operators, who have stopped coming to evacuate the waste.”

Rasaki Tiamiyu, a resident of Agege said that of late, the volume of refuse had increased in their locality, blaming the situation on absence of PSP operators serving the area. According to him, the PSP operators servicing the locality have stopped coming to evacuate the refuse, adding that the shortcoming has caused a lot of discomfort to residents.

Kehinde Olawale, a resident of Okokomaiko lamented the heaps of refuse in their area, saying that Visionscape was yet to get it right in the waste management system. “Visionscape is yet to arrive, you still see refuse everywhere. What they are doing is not more than what PSP had been doing. It is better they get the PSP operators back to operate until Visionscape is fully ready and get their trucks ready,” he said.

Olawale said what he observed was that since Visionscape had not penetrated the inner streets in Lagos, residents took their refuse and dump them anywhere they found Visionscape’s bins and on the streets.

Lagos alleges Sabotage

With refuse heaps mounting on daily basis, Environment Commissioner, Durosinmi-Etti said the good gesture of the state government was being sabotaged by some PSP operators and truck pushers, saying that they deliberately dump heaps of refuse on roads and streets in order to discredit the new waste management system.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

Durosinmi-Etti said four cart pushers had been arrested for dumping refuse on streets, warning that government would tolerate such act and vowed that violators of the Lagos State Environmental laws would be prosecuted.

The state government claimed it arrested four officials of a PSP operator in waste management, Ayomide Olayinka Ventures, for dumping waste on the street along the Central Business District (CBD) of Lagos Island in the middle of the night. The suspects were said to have been arrested by security operatives while using their compactor with registration number FST 908 XG to dump refuse on the street. The government said the  arrest brought the number of PSP operators arrested for similar offence to five, while hundreds of cart pushers and wheel barrow operators had equally been arrested for dumping waste in public places and canals in various parts of the State.

According to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, the arrest was a clear confirmation of the suspicion of government that the new environmental waste management policy encapsulated in the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) was being sabotaged by vested interests.

“A PSP operator was caught along Lagos Island Central Business District discharging refuse on the street. He was arrested by security operatives in the middle of the night which shows the institutional corruption that has been lingering in the sector which the State Government intends to fight with the reforms put in place. The arrest of the PSP operator is a clear example of the deliberate efforts to sabotage what the State Government is doing. The PSP operators are not being driven out of their businesses with the reforms as they are making the public to believe.

“Under CLI, the government has made provision for the PSP operators to handle collection of commercial waste and there are over 15,000 companies in Lagos that can serve the over 200 PSP operators in the State. So far, the CLI has been able to get over 50,000 new employees out of the labour market. The government has also stressed itself by getting N2.5billion loan to enable the PSP operators buy equipment to be more competitive. These are the things they can key into than blackmailing government. The whole idea is to build local capacity in order to employ more of our unemployed youth,” Bamigbetan said.

PSP operators split

In a bid to ameliorate the plights of Lagosians, a section of the PSP operators, now known as Waste Collection Operators (WCOs), Concerned Stakeholders of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWAN) agreed to work with Visionscape to get rid of the embarrassing heaps of refuse in Lagos. The PSP operators who had withdrawn their services from the metropolis suddenly made a u-turn.

At the meeting, Durosinmi-Etti said that government was interested in easing challenges being experienced in Waste Management at present by creating synergy between Visionscape Sanitation Solution and the WCOs in their spheres of operation, stressing that resolving the challenge in a mutually beneficial manner was the best approach.

“Government more than ever believes in this partnership and that is why it has not only provided a facility of up to N2.5 billion with State Government guarantee, which PSP operators could access to upscale their operations, but has also opened another channel through the Employment Trust Fund for loan facilities at reasonable interest of not more than 12% per annum,” he said.

Spokesperson, Concerned Stakeholders of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWAN), Kasumu Olasehinde reiterated their commitment to the success of the CLI and pledged to roll out more trucks to rid Lagos of Wastes’ black spots.

“To show our total commitment to a cleaner, healthier and safer Lagos, we have not only resolved to work with the Government of Lagos State and the domestic waste operators as partners, we have also resolved to commence free Operations every Thursdays to mop up black spots in our respective areas,” he emphasised.

But the main umbrella of the PSP operators, Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, AWAM, kicked against the move by some members to work with Visionscape when their grievances had not been fully addressed by the government. AWAM said the entire commercial waste in Lagos was just 20 per cent of domestic waste which was not enough for its members who were over 400,

AVAM’s Interim Chairman, Oladipo Egbeyemi, said “domestic waste collection forms about 80 per cent of our total operations. The reason for clamouring for domestic waste collection is because commercial is just 20 per cent of our operation. Commercial waste collection will not be enough for the over 400 of our members”.

He said they had distanced themselves from the other group which agreed to work with government, saying that government was merely using divide and rule system split the association.

Mrs Bamidele Hussain, Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Olive Store Waste Collectors, countered Egbeyemi’s position, saying that the Concerned Stakeholders decided to work with the government out of concern for the environment, as refuse had littered the entire Lagos metropolis as well as prevent likely epidemic outbreak in the state.

The court solution

However, the Lagos High Court, Igbosere ordered the state government and the PSP operators to settle the matter out of court within two weeks. Lawyer to the PSP operators, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa said the parties had been meeting to settle the case, but there were still issues that needed to be resolved, saying that the PSP operators were interested in keeping the state clean, but on certain conditions and terms that were acceptable to its members and the state government.

Adegboruwa said the operators did not want a situation where foreigners would displace them and render them jobless; but at the same time, they would ensure that Lagos was kept clean, stressing that the parties had opportunities to exchange terms of settlement but that the major issue was that of domestic waste.

“The waste of people in the residential areas because of the volume and the number of the members is critical to our settlement. We have been in discussion with the Attorney-General. We believe that some fifth columnists are responsible for the delay of this settlement. We believe that government will be sincere in addressing the fundamental issues that relate to domestic waste,” he stated.

In the light of this, the court issued two weeks ultimatum for the parties involved in the dispute to resolve the crisis once and for all for the betterment of the state.

Visionscape hopeful of solution

Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Visionscape, John Irvine defended his organisation’s position, saying the resurgence of refuse in Lagos was due to what he called “Force-cycle.” “It means, when the public service provider, government, and the Private Sector Participants, PSP, handover to private contractor, which is Visionscape. We are the first private company to commit itself to something that was previously managed by the government. The difference between us and the PSP operators is that Visionscape is larger than the PSP operators. That was why we had the issue of refuse across the state then.

John Irvine, Visionscape boss

“Presently, we are moving into the stabilisation stage. This is because for about five or six months, we have been out there completing the mobilisation exercise. In the next four or five months, we should start bringing in other equipment in stages. The last months gave us the ability to stabilise our contractual requirement to the government, meaning, meeting the terms and conditions of the contract. After that, we are moving into the augmentation stage, which will elapse between five and six months after the expiration of the present stage.”

Irvine said “It will enhance the contract and we will see more vehicles on the road and more men working within this period. I cannot have 600 vehicles here today because I cannot train the personnel that will handle the vehicles simultaneously. This is the reason we have decided to embark on it in stages.

“We understand that about 86 persons come into the state every hour. We have done our feasibility study to ensure that the challenges are tackled. This is not about managing the waste alone but also educating and implementing strategies to reduce waste generation during the cause of our contract.”

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