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Port Harcourt: From garden city to garbage city

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Heaps of refuse at Nkpolu axis of East West Road in Port Harcourt… on Monday


• ‘Yes, City Is Dirty. But It’ll Soon Change’ — Gov Wike

The current state of the environment in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, is disturbing. This is because of the massive heaps of refuse that have overtaken the city. A walk or drive through the city brings you the nauseating sight and smell of refuse. It is everywhere you go. Rumumasi. Elelenwo. Elekahia. Oginigba. Rumuodumanya. Rumokoro. Parts of East West road. Parts of Choba, Uzogba, and Ada George roads. And the oil mill market in Eleme junction. Not left out of the eyesore are the popular Ikwere road, Diobu and Dline axis, and Creek road in old Port Harcourt Township, among others. 

Daily, wastes are piled up in common places like the markets, major roads and motor parks. Sometimes, the piles obstruct free flow of traffic, adding to the perennial gridlocks in the city, occasioned by collapsed roads.

The situation has been worsened by the rainy season, what with the offensive stench that oozes from the heaps when soaked.Observations by The Guardian show that the monthly sanitation exercise held every last Saturday of the month to clean up the city has not been strictly carried out in recent time. Some editions of the exercise were cancelled due state functions and other peculiar reasons by the Sole Administrator of Rivers State Wastes Management Agency (RIWAMA), Mr. Felix Obuah.

The filthy state of the city is simply an eyesore to residents and visitors to the state. And the disturbing development has not only continued to deface the once beautiful city, it has also affected the water, air and contributed to increased flooding across board.
Several drainage systems and canals have been blocked, thereby worsening the flood situation. In recent flood incidences, at least 200 houses were submerged, with residents and shop owners sacked and some lives lost.Only last week, flood swept away a baby who fell into the flood after slipping off her mother’s hand while returning from the hospital.

Environment experts have criticised the method of evacuating waste in the city, where residents dump refuse at the median of the road for evacuation between 7pm and 6am. The system is said to be defective. But no new measure has been adopted to tackle the challenge.The State government spends over N500 million monthly for refuse management with over 20 service providers. But The Guardian gathered that the contractors are sometimes owed, a situation that is said to have contributed to the irregular services being rendered.

Ironically, amid the dotting environmental challenge, the Nigerian Environmental Society recently bestowed an award of outstanding performance, tagged, “Award for Environmental Stewardship,” on the Sole Administrator of RIWAMA, Mr. Obuah. In reacting to the news, residents condemned and criticised the award, describing it as ridiculous, shameful and undeserved.

They argued that it is unwise to play politics with issues of environment and health, following the high level of filth in the State. 
Speaking on the issue, an environmentalist, Mike Karikpo said, “Presently, the state can be called a ‘garbage city’ because every part of the city is assaulted with heaps of refuse, which has serious health hazards.”He said it was so because the objectives of refuse collection and disposal is not clear.

According to him, until wastes are recycled and people learn to pay for waste disposal, it would be difficult to achieve the set objective. A human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, said clean environment guarantees a healthy living but he regretted that some residents were dying due to the effects of dirty environment.
He said, “The flood situation has worsened in the State due to blocked drainages and canals. The drainage systems do not flow again because they have been blocked by refuse.”

Nsirimovu noted that resources provided for refuse management were being siphoned and not accounted for. This, according to him, was part of the reasons for the filth in the environment.On his part, a medical expert, Dr. Appollus Sunday, said that with unhealthy state of Port Harcourt, it does not appear the government was serious with the issue of environment.He said, “Poor refuse disposal is why flooding is high in the state; it has not only blocked the drainages but has exposed residents to all kinds of diseases like diarrhea.

The medical expert advised the state government to change its modus operandi in refuse collection and disposal if the desired results with regards to keeping the city clean would be achieved.For him, dirts should be collected within the residential and business areas and should be paid for. “The method of dumping refuse on the median is difficult to practice. There is no where refuse is well collected without people paying for it.”

Some market men and women, motorists and other residents told The Guardian that they were sick and tired of heaps of refuse dumps sighted daily on the roads and adjoining streets. They expressed sadness that the Garden City had metamorphosed into the Garbage City.While delivering his second term inaugural speech, the State Governor, Nyesome Wike had acknowledged that the State was dirty and promised to do his best to restore the city to its famous “Garden City status,” a name the city attracted due to its cleanliness and green nature. 

In a move to actualise his promise, and apparently unhappy with the current state of the environment, Governor Wike, on Monday, summoned all refuse service providers to an interactive meeting in Government House, Port Harcourt, to discuss the way forward. 

During the meeting, the Governor expressed sadness at the amount of filth littering different parts of the state capital. He vowed that the job of cleaning the town must be done as quickly as possible. Wike said: “At present, Port Harcourt is dirty and we must accept this fact. I stated this during my inauguration address. But we are determined to change the situation.”

The Governor gave all Sanitation Service Providers an ultimatum of seven days to effectively clean up their respective beats. He declared that at the expiration of the ultimatum, Service Providers found wanting would have their contracts revoked. Governor Wike also stated that his administration would improve the sanitary condition of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas through diligent implementation of the environmental sanitation agenda of his administration. Wike charged all environmental service providers to live up to their responsibilities and justify the fees paid by the state government. 

He said, “I was not the person who awarded the contracts. I don’t even know the contractors. I have not restricted contracts to my supporters. Several of you are from the opposition parties. But we must endeavour to ensure that all parts of the state capital remain clean.”


In this article:
Felix ObuahNyesom Wike
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