Visionscape: Entrapped in messy Lagos politics of survival
The controversy over who should be in charge of waste collection and disposal in Lagos State reared its ugly head again recently, when the state’s House of Assembly penultimate week directed local councils and Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) to ensure that Private Sector Partnership (PSP) operators resume collection and disposal of waste.
According to the assembly, the directive was handed down because it does not recognise Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, the organisation authorised by the executive arm to collect and dispose of residential waste in the state. However, those who have followed the controversy surrounding refuse collection and disposal in the state were quick to conclude that the state Assembly was being economical with the truth, given the dictate of the statement signed by its speaker, Mudasiru Obasa and others.
The journey to what has now become a full-blown controversy started when the state government launched the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI), with Visionscape Sanitations Solutions as its key driver. Back then, the government claimed that the CLI was to deliver an innovative and sustainable waste management system that was world-class. Part of this objective was captured in the service charter.
It goes thus: “The mandate for the state is to have a cleaner megacity built to drive environmental and economic prosperity to all. With this, CLI has designed and developed an infrastructure and process built to meet the demands and objectives of waste management and sanitation in Lagos State, covering waste collection, processing and disposal. In addition, CLI will create over 27, 000 direct jobs and a further 400, 000 indirect jobs, contributing to improving socio-economic status and bettering the lives of our people.”
Specifically, the CLI is focused on improving the environment and making it cleaner, safer and healthier for all residents, by promoting a harmonised and holistic approach to waste challenges; and as a result, improve operational efficiency. It is equally geared towards addressing, enforcing and regulating challenges in the solid waste management systems within the state, while also aiming to protect the environment, human health and social living standards of residents.
So, at the instance of the state government, the Assembly went ahead to give legal backing to the initiative after all state laws that had to do with environmental issues were consolidated into a new bill.The new bill, a very voluminous one was quickly passed into law on March 1, 2017, after the lawmakers cut short their recess. The passage of the bill was even done amidst protests by some stakeholders in the sector, especially PSP operators.
It was the same law made by the Assembly that made provision for, and paved the way for the engagement of Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, which is now being denied by the lawmakers. The new law was expected to control waste collection operations within the state. This, in effect meant that Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) had been reformed into a regulatory body to oversee activities within the waste management sector. Consequently, over 400 approved waste collection operators were assigned to collect commercial waste from schools, churches, industries, hospitals and other businesses, while Visionscape Sanitation Solutions became the sole concessionaire for residential waste collection in the state.
Expectedly, the passage of the bill did not go down well with the PSP operators, who, before the bill was passed, had on several occasions protested that there was a grand plan to take away domestic waste collection and disposal from them, and restrict them to the collection and disposing of just commercial waste. Commercial waste is said to constitute just 20 per cent of waste generated in the state.
They operators took several steps to stop the passage of the bill. In fact, on the day of public hearing, they were fully represented both within and out of the Assembly chamber.Despite even staging a protest to the House, where they expressed their fears, the lawmakers turned deaf hears to their pleas and the bill was passed.
Not bent on accepting defeat, the PSP operators went to court to challenge government’s decision to restricted them to the collection of commercial waste only. Matters were also not resolved at that level, as a Lagos High Court, Igbosere, gave a two-week ultimatum to the state government and the incorporated trustees of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, otherwise known as Private Sector Participation (PSP) operators, to settle out-of-court.
Justice Taofiquat Oyekan-Abdullahi directed the parties to meet on March 10, March 14, and March 16, 2018 to resolve all pending issues.She asked the parties to file all terms reached on March 20, 2018, while the court would adopt the resolution on March 22. But the court had to rule that the case should proceed for trial after both parties failed to reach an out-of-court settlement as directed by it.
It is in the light of the foregoing scenario that many expressed shock when Obasa, during a sitting penultimate week said, “We insist that we don’t know anything about Visionscape because we were not consulted before they started work. We once wrote to the Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Akinyemi Ashade, mandating him not to pay Visionscape again, and that he would return to the coffers of the state government, any money he pays to the outfit after our instruction. We will go to that when the time comes, but we have to do the needful now.
“We are calling on the 20 local governments and 37 LCDAs in the state to have meetings with the PSP operators to go back to work and they should start paying them and make residents to start paying the operators. We have to avoid epidemics and be proactive,” the Speaker said.
When The Guardian contacted the lawyer to PSP operators, Mr. Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa on what the current position was after Justice Oyekan-Abdullahi ruled that the case should proceed for trial following failure to settle out-of-court, he said the case has not been assigned to any judge for trial.
“We are waiting assignment for trial. We filed a suit to challenge the government, to preserve the clean environment of Lagos and the livelihood of so many people. The Assembly is part of the government, so if the government on its own has realised its error, which led us to court, we cannot but commend them for that bold initiative. And we are ready to go back to helping clean Lagos. We have always maintained that Visionscape cannot do the job of cleaning Lagos State. Since the government has spoken, we have no choice than to abide by its directive.”
On if the case would be withdrawn following the directive of the Assembly, Olu-Adegboruwa said: “Once we resume our work, we would meet with all stakeholders to see if we have to withdraw or to file terms of settlement, but whatever would serve Lagos better is what we would do.”
When the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Ministry of Environment was contacted, he said he was not sure if the Assembly has officially communicated its position to the ministry. He promised to revert once the commissioner appears before the Assembly.
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