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Lagos and the burden of refuse collection

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Waste

If there is any state in Nigeria that has raised public awareness about waste disposal and environmental sanitation, it is Lagos State. Since 2008 when the Fashola administration assumed power in the state, waste disposal was raised as a major challenge of government.

Though, the tempo has varied from one administration to the other, the undying consciousness that solid waste management is a major problem that must be tackled in Lagos remains unshaken. There is no two ways about it if the city must be habitable with the teeming population. That is why no administration should allow Lagos to return to the era of filth and garbage dump.

The trend promoted by the Fashola administration whereby garbage trucks operated by private sector concerns (PSP) were deployed to practically all the nooks and crannies of Lagos to evacuate refuse every other day greatly changed the sanitation condition in city. The trend saw a new Lagos; indeed, something that has never been seen in the city.

This was followed with the deployment of street sweepers on mainly the major roads. Thousands of street sweepers, available records say about 8,500, were employed and deployed to most of the major roads in the city, the first of its kind in the country. Other states are copying the idea.

That was not all. A weekly environmental sanitation by traders and shop owners was instituted along with another general monthly environmental clean-up exercise. Unfortunately, this last one was cancelled following a court verdict that nullified it on the ground that it infringed on resident’s freedom of movement on the sanitation days.

Furthermore, the state government established the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), charged with the responsibility of professional waste management in the state. LAWMA’s job by law is collection and disposal of municipal and industrial waste, as well as for the provision of commercial waste services to the state and local governments. But a new environmental law has seen LAWMA transit from refuse collection and disposal to regulatory body. It is not yet clear how the new law would make thing better if the most important responsibility is removed from LAWMA.

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It is pertinent to ask what LAWMA is going to regulate. Who is in-charge of refuse collection and disposal? What happened to the PSP garbage trucks? Why are they not operating as usual? What other option is there to ensure that Lagos is not returned to a garbage dump site? To a large extent, Lagos has established a commendable functional framework to deal with refuse collection and disposal that should not be allowed to slacken. This is why residents are surprised with the new turn of events whereby garbage heaps have taken over the roads.

The level of environmental consciousness has grown to the extent that even though, old habits die hard, many people no longer dispose garbage indiscriminately into gutters and canals as was the case before. Rapid waste collection and disposal was promoted by the fact that garbage trucks were regularly on duty evacuating refuse and keeping the city clean.

But the sudden turn of events in which heaps of solid waste now liter the nooks and crannies of the once clean Lagos metropolis including major roads shows that the state government has not really got it right. There is problem with the PSP garbage truck operators, which has affected refuse disposal. The contention is over the plan by the Lagos State Government to jettison the operators and have them replaced with a new investor.

News that the matter has been settled out of court is cheery if the authorities would act fast to normalise the awkward situation. A stable and sustainable framework should be worked out for refuse evacuation in the city. Otherwise Lagos is choking with heaps of refuse everywhere. Residents are exposed to disease carrying rodents and vermin. Lassa fever epidemic is a possibility if nothing is done to evacuate the putrefying heaps of garbage.

With over 21 million people swarming the city together with enormous economic activities generating wastes, Lagos cannot run away from the arduous responsibility of refuse collection and disposal. One problem the state faces is the culture of discontinuity that plagues Nigeria. The state cannot make progress on the issue of refuse disposal if it changes framework every now and then. Changing policy is not the same as improving on a working/functional policy.

Ideally, what the Lagos State Government should do is to improve on what is on ground that is known to be working. The PSP private garbage truck operators are working. At the peak of their operation, they were collecting refuse almost on daily basis which was commendable.

Rather than seek to do away with them altogether, they should have been required to improve on the condition of their trucks by acquiring new trucks. Some of them use decrepit trucks that break down on highways thereby causing traffic gridlock. If they could acquire more and newer trucks to increase their runs and reach some places that were not reached, there was nothing wrong with them continuing with the job. Progress is made when there is continuity.

Singapore’s extraordinary leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who transformed his country from Third World to First World, was once asked what the magic was that made him record great strides for his country. He replied that the magic was that whatever they did well they continued to do it.

That is it. Don’t stop an idea that is working for whatever reason. Keep doing it until it attains perfection so to say. But that is something that is not done in Nigeria. Every new administration opts to jettison whatever the predecessor had done no matter how good it is. That is why nothing is moving. The country keeps gerrymandering.

The success recorded in Lagos State since 1999 is as a result of continuity in governance. There has been no significant departure from the policies of Governors Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode. That has set Lagos State apart, among other states.

The Fashola instituted PSP private garbage collection framework started well and ought to be continued and improved. Stopping it and embracing a completely new idea could backfire. There is no guarantee that the new investor would automatically change the face of garbage collection given the complexity of Lagos except the terms of engagement are such that would make it achieve set targets in a short space of time under very challenging condition.


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