Olakunle Olafioye, Bolatito Adebayo; Henry Okonkwo
Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, is winning so many battles, but losing in a major one at the same time. In less than three years, the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration has successfully made government’s presence felt with developmental projects in several parts of the state, particularly in areas not reached by previous administrations.
Yet, signs of impending epidemic in the state have continued to multiply for several months. Growing heaps of refuse across major roads, communities and streets, as well as unmanageable dump sites in the nation’s former capital city signal that Lagosians are in for a serious trouble in the days ahead. Beyond the health threat, which the situation portends, residents of the state have more reasons to lament the degeneration, which the state that prides itself as the Centre of Excellence has undergone in recent times.
Gone to waste
Abraham Ololade is the proprietor of Rosella Amusement Park at Igando, Lagos. He started out 12 years ago. But the dumpsite adjacent his venture has hampered his investment from growing. He has lost, and is still losing so much money. He seems to have given up hope in the government coming to his rescue. Hence he is about to close shop, and lay off dozens of his members of staff.
His ordeal started 10 years ago – barely two years of starting the park when the state government started a landfill adjacent his amusement park. The prospect of his venture began to look gloomy as the fortune of his business started to nosedive. The putrid stench oozing out, filthy eyesore of decomposing wastes plus other hazards of the dumpsite destroyed his venture.
“We’ve started the process of closing down completely. Business has been bad because of the menace of the dumpsite.
“Nobody comes to the park anymore because of the terrible smell oozing from the dumpsite. The whole area is terribly flooded. When you open a bottle of coke, hundreds of flies besiege your drink. The flood has destroyed all my equipment in the park. We’ve been battling the flood for years. So imagine what we would be going through when the rain intensifies,” Ololade said sadly.
The Igando refuse site is located along the LASU-Isheri Road in the bustling Igando in Ikotun Local Council Development Area of Lagos. Last year January, because of the population increase, and the continued complaints of health challenges by residents around the waste dump, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) assured that the site would be closed down by the second quarter of 2017. But more than one year after that promise was made, nothing has been done to that effect.
“They said they would vacate last year, but what we have now are more refuse trucks coming here to dump refuse. And aside the eyesore and the carcinogenic stench, the site attracts so much flies, frogs, rats, scorpions and snake into our abode.
“I have tried my best to call the attention of the government to our sufferings, but they have all ignored my appeals. My business has collapsed. I have done my best, and there is nothing else I can do,” he told Sunday Sun.
Like Ololade, residents of Odubanjo Street and other streets in Igando are also apprehensive with the onset of the rains. Their community adjoins the dumpsite, and with each rainy season comes an incursion of smelly filthy water from the overflowed refuse site into the street.
So each year, residents of the area resort to confronting the problem with prayers, making supplications to God that there will be no rainfall heavy enough to flood the dumpsite and consequently spill into the community.
“The dumpsite has been here for about a decade and we have been experiencing the problem since then. Whenever it rains, filthy water and wastes overrun the community. Before the rainy season, we always pray against heavy rainfall that can flood our community with foul water.
“When it happens, the street and the drainages are filled with the foul water. Some residents avoid going out so they will not have to step into the water. The polluted water could also affect our little children,” Ambrose Ayodeji, a resident of the street, told Sunday Sun.
Different strokes for different folks
Curiously, however, the mountain of refuse which oozes out offensive smells is a source of income for many who eat, sleep and live on dumpsites.
Haruna Ibrahim and his cousin, Buba Chidawa, are just two of them. Both are scavengers. For years, the two have spent much of their time at various landfills and refuse dumps rummaging through filth, picking, sorting and selling junk without using gloves, boots or masks.
“Often we get injured by bits of discarded glass or metal,” said Haruna. But despite that the duo shows no animosity towards the refuse site that helps them earn a living.
Aside scavengers, traders, including food vendors, are other set of individuals that seem to be at peace with being around dumpsites.
The dumpsites at Ile epo in Abule Egba, Orile, Ewe Eleda in Ikorodu, and other areas across the state share similar attributes both in activities that take place and the sets of people seen around them.
Dumpsites as haven for criminals
Filthiness and crime seem to have a link considering the turnout of hoodlums at most of the dumpsites. An undercover investigation by a Sunday Sun reporter revealed much of this at the dumpsite along 2nd Avenue road by 202 Junction in Festac recently.
A staggering figure flagged down our reporter; he was dressed in an off-white wrinkled guinea brocade. His hair looked unkempt, but his smile which revealed stained teeth brought in some sort of warmth and assurance to the reporter in an environment surrounded by a mountain of filthiness and mean looking young men. He came closer and asked in Pidgin English, “Madam you come for business?”
Our reporter answered in the affirmative, and then the business of the day began, “O ya park well make I take you to the right place”, the man volunteered.
As our reporter walked in, horrid smell of stale refuse laced with weed caught her nostrils and, according to the man, who later identified himself as Mohammed, this is home for hundreds of waste pickers seen around the area. Although, there are some mechanics that also share the place with them, but the dominant set of people at the place are scavengers, re-cyclists and street urchins.
A keen look at them revealed that they all shared one thing in common: they all had suspicion written boldly on their faces. Not far away from the entrance on the right-hand side, some young teenage boys were seen gambling. Also, close by the right in the heart of the dumpsite is a canteen with people relishing their food and drinks inside the makeshift structure, even as flies hovered and perched endlessly on their food.
Children are not left out in this party of filth as a good number of them were seen running around the dumpsite. The dump is their playground and perhaps, the only world they know.
Asking Mohammed why he chose to live there, he said: “I no get another place to stay now and my brothers’ dey here”.
To many Mohammeds living on this dumpsite, hell seems like the best choice they have. As we walked further into the heart of the site, we ran into some young men who were in their early 20s. They all looked scruffy and dirty.
Immediately they sighted us, they began to hurl angry words at Mohammed in the Hausa Language. According to Mohammed, he said they were afraid that the reporter might be a police officer or someone from the drug law enforcement agency.
But do you people do illegal things here, our reporter asked. Mohammed smiled and hesitated before giving an answer. “No madam, we be good people here”.
A few minutes later a scruffy looking resident of the place launched a verbal attack on Mohammed and with both of them speaking in the Hausa Language, our reporter had no clue of what was amiss. But from the tempo of the emotions, the reporter could deduce that all wasn’t well. Mohammed later revealed that the man he spoke with earlier was infuriated because he was conducting a stranger around the dumpsite.
After the encounter, Mohammed had a change of heart and decided to take our reporter to the chairman of the dumpsite. On getting there, our reporter pretended she was there for business. The chairman of the dumpsite is an elderly man in his 60s identified as Baba who had some boys around him. He wasn’t friendly either and after courtesies were exchanged he went straight to business. Our reporter pretended she wanted to purchase a ton of used plastic cans and after haggling for a while an agreement of N40,000 was reached for a ton.
However, after discussing business for a while, our reporter decided to ask how they acquired the land. “Baba na government give you the land?” But Baba flared up instead of giving an answer. “Don’t ask me that kind of question, just face wetin you come do here,” he retorted and the conversation came to an abrupt end.
A serious cause for concern
The fear of the residents living around dumpsites is not unfounded. According to Frank Ugwu, a biochemist, “dumpsites pose huge health hazards to residents and impact negatively on the environment.”
He noted that the indiscriminate dumping of domestic, industrial, hospital and agricultural waste around residential areas is a cause for concern.
“Landfills produce significant amount of methane gas, along with leachate, a toxic liquid that comes out of all that compressed trash. Leachate is full of organic and inorganic pollutants, including toluene, phenols, benzene, ammonia, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated pesticides, heavy metals and endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” Ugwu noted.
Medical experts that spoke to Sunday Sun said living around dumpsites connotes a situation of total disregard for a healthy living, saying that landfills should be sited away from residential areas.
According to Dr Ogungbemi Olalekan, a public health physician, dumpsites should be situated at a distance of about 50 to 200 meters away from residential areas to minimise infestation and attraction of rodents and micro-organisms.
Dr Olalekan disclosed that dumpsites could easily be washed away during the rainy season thereby putting the residents at risk of contracting water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea and typhoid. “Dumpsites situated close to residential areas posed a major health hazard such as water and airborne diseases to people living in such areas.
“During rainy seasons if a dump site is not properly made or situated far away from the residential areas, water can take some of the micro-organism from the site and spread them to the house, thereby causing people who use the natural source of water to cook, bathe and for drinking purposes to easily develop water-borne diseases,” he noted.
The expert said rodents are easily attracted by the foul odour emanating from the dumpsite thereby forcing them to leave their natural environment to feed from the dumpsite.
Another medical practitioner, Dr Ben Odionye, a family health expert, warned that pregnant women staying around dumpsites stand a high chance of having deformed babies.
“If you have a choice, it’s probably best to locate your home at least two miles from a landfill. This is because studies have shown possible increased risks of certain types of cancer, including bladder, brain and leukemia, among people who live near landfills.
“Further, a study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, also found that babies born to mothers who live near landfills have a greater risk of birth defects.
“There was a significantly overall increased risk of neural-tube defects, malformations of the cardiac septa (hole-in-the-heart), and malformations of the great arteries and veins in residents near landfill sites in our study.”
Citing another study, Dr Odionye revealed that living near a landfill could expose residents to chemicals that can reduce immune system function and lead to an increased risk of infections.
“As opposed to children living in clean areas, a study found that children living close to waste sites, whether landfills or contaminated bodies of water, are hospitalized more frequently with acute respiratory infections like asthma.”
According to him, the extent to which toxic landfill contaminants suppress the immune system has been grossly underestimated.
“Ideally, it could be far better to avoid living near landfills, if you have a choice. But if you don’t, try to stay more than two miles away,” he warned.
Apprehension grips Lagos residents as filth stakeholders, managers bicker
The report of recent resolution of the face-off between Visionscape Sanitation Solutions and Private Sector Participant (PSP) operator came as a huge respite to residents of Lagos who were already steeling themselves against possible outbreak of epidemic in the state with the onset of the rain.
Lagos State has come under an excruciating environmental challenge as heaps of refuse continue to mount in every nook and cranny while the waste war between the old waste management operators and the new operator raged on.
From major roads in the state to bus-stops and isolated areas, massive heaps of refuse continued to mount as desperate residents searched for places to dump their waste.
The disturbing trend was a shocking departure from the refuse management culture preceding the waste war in the state. Before the crisis, residents of the state only needed to gather their waste at the front of their buildings where waste collectors would pick them provided they subscribed to their services and paid their dues as and when due.
“Waste disposal has never been this problematic for us. Since the state government came with the idea of replacing the former refuse collectors with a new one it has been very difficult for our people to get rid of their waste. If you go round the community you will notice how filthy our community is with illegal dumping grounds springing up here and there. If the new operator knows it does not have the capacity to manage the situation, the government should revert to the previous arrangement,” Mr. Adebowole Emmanuel, a community leader in Alagbado area of the state, noted.
The waste collection controversy in the state began following the decision by the state government to sack the PSP operators from collecting residential waste and replaced them with Visionscape. But Visionscape failed to live up to expectations as indicated by the mountains of refuse which dot the major roads and bus-stops in the state.
Piqued by the manner they were kicked out of the scheme, the PSP operators sued the state government and Visionscape.
But while the legal fireworks between PSP operators and Visionscape were ongoing, a major crisis broke out among the PSP stakeholders. The crisis was ignited by the decision of a faction of the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWMN) over the decision by some stakeholders to key into the Cleaner Lagos Initiative.
Sunday Sun learnt that a faction of the association had reportedly met with the state government and reached an agreement to work with Visionscape in evacuating the growing heaps of refuse across the state.
But another group, the Concerned Stakeholders of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, faulted the agreement and distanced their members from reports of a dispute resolution with the government and Visionscape Sanitation Solutions.
The chairman of the aggrieved group, Oladipo Egbeyemi, accused the government of employing divide-and-rule tactics by inviting some of their members to a meeting on a day scheduled for their court hearing.
The development has seen the evacuation of refuse in many parts of the state stalled as Sunday Sun gathered that only a few, about 400 accredited PSP operators, have so far keyed into the agreement reached with the state government to work with Visionscape.
The division among the operators, according to a source, is borne out of the failure of the PSP operators to speak with one voice.
Sunday Sun further gathered that while a faction is of the opinion that it has a good case against the government’s decision to discontinue with pre-Ambode arrangement of waste management in the state, the other group fears the association may come out a loser at the end, hence the decision to embrace government’s olive branch.
Meanwhile, most Lagosians have remained apprehensive as the rainy season sets in with many calling on the state government and concerned stakeholders to consider reaching further compromise in order to save the state from major epidemic.