Lagos: Nigeria’s stinking mega city – Part one

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Despite sizable annual budgets for waste disposal, Lagos, acclaimed Centre of Excellence, is now a muddle of garbage. The second part of this story is about the ‘failure’ of the Cleaner Lagos initiative and the way forward.

By Anthony AKAEZE  

FROM there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.

Theodore Seuss Geisel or simply Dr Seuss, an American author who died in 1991, was well known for his creativity which made him one of the leading authors of his generation. His above quote, though written a long time ago, applies, in every sense, to Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city.

In Lagos today, from Surulere to Mushin, Ikeja to Iyana Ipaja, Lagos Island to Ikoyi and Victoria Island,  Lekki to Ajah, Oshodi to Festac, Okota to Ajegunle, Ketu to Ikorodu,  Yaba to Somolu, Ogba to Agege, you are confronted by the sight of stinking drainages or heaps of filth.

No space is spared. In many places, drainages and roads are choked or littered with rubbish, such that leaves one in a state of shock; shock at the level of filth and at how Lagosians seem to be at peace with a mass of dirt around them.

Dirt, dirt everywhere 

The New Alade Market Canal. Photo by Anthony Akaeze.

An Internet search of Lagos Island, one of the municipalities in the state of over 18 million people, reveals that: “Long-standing Idumota Market offers clothing and fabrics, while street-food stalls sell suya, bole, and fried yam and plantains. The landmark Tafawa Balewa Square is dotted with war memorials and monuments.”

What is not revealed here is the poor sanitary condition of the area. For instance, just behind the Tafawa Balewa Square, at the Lagos High Court, part of the fence has become, for some, a  dumpsite.

Walking from there to the other section of the court at Igbosere Road on December 6, one noticed the poor sanitary condition.  Piles of bagged rubbish littered the entrance to MRS Filling Station close to Igbosere Magistrate Court. The drainage at Okesuna Street, which links the magistrate court to Tafawa Balewa Square, was heavy with waste despite being covered with a slab. Proceeding towards Tafawa Balewa Square, the drainage was no longer visible. Canteens, mechanics, a shop and parked tricycles and vehicles have taken over the space for drainage. On Hawley Road, off Igbosere Road, the drainage was full of stagnant water and thrash. There was no sign of the water subsiding. On Lawson Street, off Moloney Street, it was the same situation: stagnant water, in what was supposed to be free-flowing drainage.

Moloney Street itself was no different: a part of the road that is supposed to be a water channel linking Mobil Filling Station and the building housing Word of Life Bible Church was blocked.  But nothing within this area of Lagos Island compares to what the reporter saw when he took a tricycle ride from Broad Street area through Massey Street, Freeman Street and Adeniji Adele Road. Alighting at Adeniji Adele Road, and walking around, anyone not used to the place may be shocked at the state of the environment.

Okepopo Street, Glover Street, Omididun Street, Mojeed Johnson Street, Amuto Street, are just a few of the streets with trash burdened drainages. The canal by Mojeed Johnson Street, close to Jakande estate, is an eyesore, same as the one behind Olorunisola mosque and at Obalande. At Idumota Market area and all the way to Simpson Street, where a waste container belonging to Visionscape, the waste management agency in the state, was full and awaiting evacuation, to Lagos Island East Local Council Community Skill Acquisition Centre situated close to a refuse dump, to Campos Memorial Mini-stadium where refuse litter a part of its fence, it’s an environmental nuisance.

Residents lament

Ibukun-Olu Street, Akoka, Lagos. Photo by Anthony Akaeze.

Sikiru Lamidi Abimbola, who works close to the canal by Mojeed Johnson, told The ICIR that during rainy season, “you can’t even cross the road as water will be everywhere,” and that it takes nearly two hours for the water to subside. He said that part of the reason for the flooding problem in the area, apart from the indiscriminate dumping of refuse, is that people built houses close to the canal with no one calling them to order. He pointed out that some people came and evacuated debris from the canal in May last year but that the job wasn’t well done.


“At night, you will see big, big rats running around, but that’s not our problem,” he said, indicating that the flooding, stench and mosquitoes from the canal pose greater danger.

Kazeem Davis, chairman of the Community Development Association, CDA, Jakande Estate, said the waste in the canal negatively affects the people living around it, of which the Jakande Estate is one.

“We are not disputing that our people are very dirty. Drainage is meant to contain water and take it away but where some people will just take refuse from their house (and empty into a drainage, it’s a problem).”

He noted that the government shares part of the blame as it had failed to provide them with effective refuse disposal system. “For almost two months now, refuse vehicles have not been operating, so how do they want people to dispose their refuse? If I take you round now, you will see about three or four places where we burn refuse. We burn refuse because majority of our people don’t know how (to go about it in the absence of refuse collectors). Burning of refuse is hazardous to our health but we are left with no option,” Davis said.

From Obalande, a drive through Keffi Street, Ikoyi, to Awolowo Road, on December 11 revealed dirty gutters.  Arriving Awolowo Road, garbage piled up opposite UBA and Zenith banks. At Rumens Street, overfilled refuse bins and rubbish littered the frontage of one of the buildings. Getting to Olawale Dawodu Road, the reporter found the drainage choked with plastic waste, weed and all sorts of rubbish. On Victoria Island, from Adeola Odeku to Akin Adesola streets, even where the gutters are covered with slab, one could see they were not waste free. In Karimu Kotun Street, off Akin Adesola Street, weeds all but cover the water channel.

Open defecation, indiscriminate dumpsites 

Canal by Cemetery Street, Ajagunle

In Surulere, a canal close to Akintan Junior Grammar School serves as a waste dump for some residents of the area.  Kayode Awoye, a signwriter and chief security officer in Ajoke Dosunmu Street, told The ICIR that “most wastes within the area go into the canal” and that people defecate there as well.

True to Awoye’s words, the reporter found someone defecating in the canal that afternoon. Near the canal, on Allen Road was a heap of garbage – evidence that, for some residents, it is simply about how and where they choose to dump their refuse and not about appropriateness or decency of the act. Everywhere you turn to in this part of Surulere, like many other places, it’s about debris-laden water channels; the dirt-ridden environment or both, whether it be Akintan Street, Makinde Street, Abimbola Shodipe Street, Kadiri Street, Clegg Street or Clegg Lane.

Proceeding towards Lawanson, and walking through Aina Street to Aborishade Street, the reporter suddenly stopped in his track upon beholding a dumpsite that runs through Mushin. But it was not really designated a dumpsite. It was turned into one by residents of the area who felt it is the ideal place to dump refuse.

The dump site, according to a resident, is an uncompleted road project by the past Lagos State administration headed by Babatunde Fashola. The project, another resident said, stretches from Idi-Araba area beyond Cele. The uncompleted project, nay dumpsite, has since become a danger to residents of the area who have had to put up with the stench from both the refuse and human waste as some people defecate and urinate there.

The place is now also a habitat for rats, reptiles, mosquitoes and others emanating from them daily. Some people also burn refuse there while the area has become, according to a source, a haven for drug dealers and street urchins. A young boy of about 18 told The ICIR that he once had a swollen face after being bitten by an insect.

In Oshodi, Adeyemi Street, Owoseni and Orona streets, Mabayoje Street,  Eniyanlonbinu Street, Oredeyin Street, Igbeyinadun Street also have their water channels competing with all manner of waste. Within some of the streets, many garbage bins were full, waiting to be evacuated.

Along Festac – Ago Palace Way, wastes were stuffed in polythene bags and left on the median, awaiting disposal. A side of the bridge, by the water body linking Festac and Okota, close to Divine Estate, Amuwo Odofin, has become, for some people, a dumping ground. Durbar Road axis where the Physical Planning office and Amuwo Odofin Housing Estate, are situated, was also littered with rubbish.

From Mile 2 to Ajegunle, the bad state of some parts of the road and filthy drainages is such that would make one wonder how the area looks like in the rainy season. In most of the places, from Cardoso Street to Awodi-Ora Market area to Ago Hausa Street to Bale Street to Cemetery Street overlooking a canal, to Alaba Suru, where another canal runs through, waste stares one in the face.

Ajah, by Jubilee Bridge

Ayomide Ajagun, a resident of Cemetery Street told The ICIR that some people dispose of their refuse in the canal, which explains why it is choked with rubbish. On the other hand, some others, he said, pay money to cart pushers, who were last year outlawed by the Lagos State government as part of measures to actualize what the authorities call Cleaner Lagos Initiative, to dispose of their refuse. He added that the money paid to cart pushers depends on the quantity of the garbage. Another resident confirmed that money is paid to individual refuse collectors to dispose of waste in the absence of Visionscape operators whom they say don’t come to the area. The cart pushers are said to charge between N100 and N200, and sometimes more.

In Ketu, Ikeja, Ogba, Agege, Iyana Ipaja, Somolu, Ajah and Lekki and other locations, even when the volume of filth differ from place to place,  it’s generally an eyesore of dirty surroundings and drainages.

Generally, the filth across Lagos is the kind that takes one’s breath away. Regarding waste in Lagos, it is not a case of the more you look, the less you see. It is more of the more you look, the uglier and alarming it gets. And the situation is worsened by the poor or inadequate action in evacuating them by the waste management agency, Visionscape, the private sector operator, which has the mandate to evacuate waste in the state.

In virtually all the places visited, residents told The ICIR that Visionscape either does not get to their neighbourhood or is no longer active.

Joy Kingsley, a resident of Ikorodu, said that Visionscape does not get to her street – Alhaji Alagaga. This was corroborated by another resident, who said he has only seen the company’s vehicles along major roads in the municipality, never in his neighbourhood.

Davis, on his part, said Visionscape was initially active in Lagos Island until the primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state that saw Akinwunmi Ambode, the governor, defeated. Rationalising the situation, Davis said: “We learnt that they (Visionscape) were ordered by the Lagos State House of Assembly to go and repaint all their vehicles from Visionscape to LAWMA (Lagos State Waste Management Authority, which was in charge of managing waste in the state before Visionscape took over).”

Davis was talking about the current faceoff between the Lagos State House of Assembly and Visionscape over the latter’s work in Lagos, particularly since Ambode, whose government contracted Visionscape, a foreign company, failed in his effort to win his party’s (APC) ticket to contest this year’s governorship election.


This report was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).


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