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Waste merchants make fortune, recycle refuse in Lagos, Ogun dump-sites


Oke-Afa dumpsite on the border between Isolo and Ejigbo, Lagos State, to passersby, may just be another raised ground dedicated to warehousing human waste and refuse, but this is not the case for the hundreds of Lagosians, who have found solace, succour and shelter at the site.

Located beside the canal that swallowed up the Ikeja bomb blast victims in January 27, 2002, the dumpsite is an enclave of ghetto dwellers and street urchins, though mostly populated by northerners. Besides, the merchandise of recycling waste is the major attraction of many to the hill. The site is an open dump, meaning any individual is free to enter and scavenge for any reusable item and the dump is a source of employment for close to 2,000 scavengers. The scavengers sort metal and plastics into huge piles ready for resale. The dump is also home to many of these scavengers who build shanties among the rubbish. This may be a very harsh existence but it is a clear example of how waste can be turned to wealth.

There are several chains of businesses. A section of the site is devoted to sorting out bits and pieces of refuse. And very often, goldmine and money-spinning objects are dug up from the dung. No piece of metal and plastic is wasted. The useful plastics are thoroughly washed up and packed in bags to be sold to the highest bidder, while the damaged ones are also neatly folded to be grinded into small bits. The crushed plastics are also packaged into bags, ready to be sold off to would-be buyers.


Some of the slum dwellers have decried constant harassment by policemen who demand money to extort them. This is despite paying rent of over N1,500 monthly for their cubicle. A plastic trader, Adewale Ademola, said: “We are victims of government neglect but still we contribute immensely to the development of the community. Police constantly come to ask us for money. If we refuse to give them money, they demolish our tents and business centers.”

Following the increase in rent and the increase in population, a lot more residents have been displaced to the slum. Many have found themselves there after demolition of their homes by the state government for road construction, while many of the street hawkers and cart pushers, whose activities have been outlawed, have found refuge in the slum.

Oke-afa slum community is made up of over 50 families and 2,080 young people with no electricity, water, and shelter. They live and work on the heap of refuse. They survive by selling out condemned materials to recyclers or companies. One of the residents, Ahmed Shaibu, said he is thinking of migrating to Libya in search of better opportunities dspite the tales of horror told by returnees.

“We go out everyday in search of plastics and condemned irons from where they are dumped in the gutters, instead of getting into crime. We are also helping the government do their jobs because we take these waste from the streets and help keep the gutters clean,” he said. To some northern youths in a nameless street, sometimes called Oloko Street, off Obasanjo Estate, Ota Local Government Area, Ogun State, waste is wealth. They have turned the art of recycling and reselling waste products into money-spinning venture.

Different waste products are gathered – from used tin cans of beverage drinks, broken down car doors, metal materials among many others – sorted and resold to individuals and industries, through their representative. Waste, which cannot be reused, are dumped at a drop site and burnt. Although most of the youths in this community of recyclers refused to speak to The Guardian, two identified as Murtala Ilyah and TK Powerline, who did in Pidgin English, said, “the gongoni (used cans) are sold to people who use them to make agolo (usable empty tin cans) to package goods”.

It was observed that as some members of this recycling community took their constructed wheelbarrows to hunt for waste materials, others stayed back to sort the wastes and guard their shanty settlement from marauders. A resident of Oloko Street, who identified himself as Mr. Olukunle Hunge, said: “Tippers come at least twice every month to purchase and evacuate the used cans. The tipper drivers weigh the cans and other used metals before buying them. It is assumed that the buyers of these waste use chemicals to wash off rust and other stains on the tin cans, refurbish and use them to package goods.”

Speaking on the action of the recyclers, Hunge said: “What they do is somehow a good thing. They help to keep the environment safe by taking out harmful metallic objects.”He added that the recyclers constitute nuisance to the community as well because “they go about scattering dirt in garbage cans and refuse to hunt for their materials. The community of recyclers also invade people’s houses in their absence to take any metallic material they can find.”

For Ferry Ferry community in Oworoshonki area of Lagos, the onset of rainy season is a nightmare not only because of its proximity to the Lagos lagoon, but because heaps of wastes are washed down the area after any downpour. Residents of the area though are aware of the health, environmental and security risks of residing on the bank of filth, they, however, said there are left with little or no choice due to their poor status and cheap rents available there. 


“I know this environment is not healthy but I have no option than to stay here. I use to be a bus driver but since I lost my leg in an accident, I couldn’t afford to pay my rent in town, which is why I moved here. My house rent here is N32,000 per year compared to the amount I was paying in town,” Hakeem Mustapha said.Founded many years ago, Ferry Ferry became popular early this year when a fire ripped through many of its wooden houses built on the edge of the lagoon. Many were injured, but the residents have since moved on with their lives. 

Many of the houses are covered with cutout sacks and polyethene sheets that barely protect occupants against the weather. And to wade off the threat of flood and protect the houses from sinking, the ground of the community had been filled with refuse.“The Abokis collect refuse from Gbagada, Bariga, and Oworo to help us fill our community,” an elderly woman who refused to give her name said. “This place you are standing on used to be part of the lagoon before it was filled with refuse. We don’t pay them to fill it, they (refuse pushers) are helping us. They do this everyday.”

The community barely has any physical toilet. The Guardian learnt that residents make use of the lagoon to ease themselves whenever nature calls. The only source of water in the community is a house that has a borehole at the entrance of the community because the lagoon water is salty and unclean for use.

In this article:
Adewale Ademola
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