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Port Harcourt: Surely Not The Garbage Capital

By Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
17 May 2015   |   5:17 am
SOME parts of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, like Ada-George, Mgbobga, NTA, Rumuola, and Ikwere, have very good roads. Sadly, heaps of refuse are overtaking these stretches. The way the eyesore grows daily is both disgusting and alarming.

Refuse dumped on the median along Ada-George Road in PortHarcourt PHOTO: ANN GODWIN

SOME parts of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, like Ada-George, Mgbobga, NTA, Rumuola, and Ikwere, have very good roads. Sadly, heaps of refuse are overtaking these stretches. The way the eyesore grows daily is both disgusting and alarming.

It could send wrong signals to first time visitors that oil rich Port Harcourt city is a hub of filth. Residents may have suddenly developed boldness to litter the environment indiscriminately, knowing perhaps that with crisis rocking the state’s strike-hit judiciary, they would not be prosecuted, even if they were arrested.

And with the inability of the State Waste Management Agency to enforce laws after arrests, they may be enjoying an infamous free-to-dump policy.

An environmentalist, Rufus Emeka, described the situation as a blot on the landscape, saying the development is ridiculous and disheartening.

Most worrisome, he noted, is that wastes are dumped on beautiful roads built by the state government. The Guardian found that failure by the state’s waste collectors to promptly evacuate refuse from receptacles has worsened the problem.

For about six weeks, contractors in areas like Obio/Akpor failed to clear refuse, saying for several months they had not received payment for their services. But they are not alone.

The issue of unpaid salaries in the state has posed a huge challenge to the outgoing government. Civil servants and pensioners in the state, last week, picketed the state secretariat protesting unpaid wages.

It was learnt that the Federal Government’s allocation to the state had dropped from N25bn to N12bn. Now at N7bn, it has become very tough for the administration to execute projects it began. Records show that the government spent over N500m monthly to evacuate approximately 60,000 metric tons of waste generated by four local government areas in the state capital.

The cost includes collection, disposal, sorting and fumigation. The local government councils are: Obio-Akpor, Port Harcourt City Eleme, Ikwere, and some parts of Etche.

The state government contracted 70 service providers mandated to go round the local government areas daily to collect refuse at designated waste receptacles. But besides the burden of salaries and the lingering court crisis, the agency is also bogged with the problem of maintaining its trucks, as mechanics could only be flown in from Lagos or overseas.

“I will admit that part of the challenges in some areas you mentioned is due to equipment failure by our service providers and we will accept full responsibility for that,” said spokesman for the Waste Management Agency, Olalekan Ige.

Ige condemned the dumping of refuse in the middle of the road, saying the agency never approved the practice. “It will be irresponsible for us to tell people to dump refuse there. It is a culture that is alien to residents of Port Harcourt.

It started all of a sudden in one area and then others joined,” he said. He added: “We made some arrests but unfortunately, we could not prosecute the persons because of the non-functioning status of the courts. As a result, the aim to stop the practice was not achieved.

Also, the law that set up the agency did not empower us to prosecute or charge offenders. So, since the courts are closed, we cannot be complainant, prosecutor and the judge at the same time.”

Arguing that the major challenge the agency is facing is lack of enforcement, Ige said: “If we make arrest, the law does not permit us to keep people perpetually in a police station. It’s just within 24 hours, the person must be charged to court.

So, we feel terribly pained by the situation, though we are not relenting in effort to address it.” According to the spokesman,

“It is unthinkable that any sane person will take refuse from the house and consider the middle of the road the best place to dump it.

It does not show any sign of responsibility. We have receptacles; designated places where refuse ought to be dumped in a properly bagged manner. When that is done, the service providers will come and evacuate it. But people no longer want to do that.

What we just need in order to stop the menace is enforcement, because arresting people without enforcement makes no meaning. “If people are taken to court and charged a N50,000 fine, they will take caution and others would fear.

An alternative is to approach the state Assembly for an amendment, to give us power to prosecute. But that will be so much power on us. So, for now, we will continue to evacuate refuse and appeal to people to do the right thing.

“The dwindling revenue will naturally keep government from meeting its obligations. But people should note that government would not do this forever. The idea of government taking responsibility for refuse collection will soon come to an end.

Individuals who want to make extra money should come and register with us and we will issue them with licenses as refuse contractors, and they will go ahead to generate revenue.”