Between Friday and yesterday, officials of Lagos State government sent me four emails, all of which were on the refuse heaps that dot the landscape. Sure, the same set of emails were sent to other journalists, but it seems to me that if the state would apply the same energy in fashioning out a better and workable system of refuse disposal, it might not need the press releases.
The Akinwumi Ambode government has been loud in telling residents its efforts in clearing the growing refuse heaps, a clear environmental hazard as we are all at the risk of an epidemic. But how did we get to such a sorry state where refuse removal has seemingly defied solution and a government that is hardworking in other aspects of governance is being defeated in the simple issue of packing refuse generated by the nearly 21 million residents of the state? Clearly, it is no longer a simple matter as our state government has turned it to rocket science.
From the mails, the government has admitted, in a way, that the Cleaner Lagos Initiative is not working and that’s one of the reasons why it is so keen in pushing the narrative that the company behind the initiative is working hard to pack the refuse generated by the residents. And with the way the Ambode government is eager to make the city, a 24-hour metropolis with features of a 21st century city, it is inconceivable that refuse evacuation will be a hard nut to crack.
By the way, I plead guilty as a journalist, who, along with others, waited till pictures and social media post forced us to take the issue serious. Last year, it was shocking when reports of cholera outbreak in some parts of Lagos State went largely unreported even when there were confirmed cases recorded at some general hospitals in the state. One hopes that our case as journalists is not a situation where abnormality is now the new normal where nobody sees anything wrong in the growing heaps of refuse around us.
This point may now seem obvious and trite, but is worthy asking again, how did we get here? I mean how did we get to a situation where our medians are now adorn with refuse and residents are once more at the mercy of cart pushers who have become the saviours in refuse disposal? A person residing in the Isheri Oshun area told me over the weekend that she could not understand why the cart pushers are being hounded and arrested, as they are the last resort in her area. When told of the security issues surrounding their operations, she retorted, “But how do we dispose of our waste then”? That’s the conundrum most of us residing in the state find ourselves even as the private sector participants in the waste disposal sector have agreed to settle their dispute with the state government out of court.
From my investigations, what we are witnessing is a result of a good idea gone awry at a level, as the state government decided to jettison an old model for a new one but probably without thinking through the dimensions of the new initiative. I remember we were told that the company that would be managing refuse disposal in Lagos is the same one behind such in Dubai, all in a bid to make Lagos look like Dubai city. I remember also seeing street sweeping machines while driving on Akilo road, Ogba in October last year and after the initial excitement, questions flooded my mind on where such will be used. An acquaintance of mine who was employed by Waste Care Solution and Resources Management, a division of Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, the company behind the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, told me how the company had to fix the sweeping machines before they could be deployed. One is not sure how many roads are smooth enough in Lagos to allow them work well. The young man resigned from Visionscape after being owed three months salaries.
Meanwhile, some of the PSP operators working with LAWMA have been disengaged and the resultant effect is the ubiquitous refuse dotting Lagos. One can only hope too that the quest to obliterate the achievements of the Babatunde Fashola government is not the reason for the disengagement of PSP operators. Mr. Akinwumi appears to be in a hurry to develop the state and that is a good proposition, but why changing a winning formula? We also need to ask why refuse management, ordinarily an assignment for local councils, has been taken over by the state government? The state government ought to take a second look at Visionscape’s engagement as the company appears not to possess the skills required to manage refuse in Lagos.