© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Lagos: Nigeria’s stinking mega city – Part two
This second part of the Lagos waste story analyses the ‘failure’ of the Cleaner Lagos initiative and the way forward.
By Anthony Akaeze
THE waste management contract between Lagos State and Visionscape was signed in 2017 and was designed to span 10 years. The contract made Visionscape the principal waste management agency in the state, a role hitherto played by LAWMA in collaboration with Private Sector Participants (PSPs), made up of small firms.
With the announcement of Visionscape as the primary waste collector, the PSPs were pushed to the periphery of the waste management structure, a situation that left many unhappy because the job was “no longer profitable”.
The PSP operators eventually went to court to have their prime position reinstated. Negotiations soon followed between the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, comprising of the PSPs of over 350 members, and Visionscape. But the money offered the PSPs by Visionscape to assist with evacuating waste in the state was deemed paltry by the small operators. Some of them, however, reportedly took up the offer to work with Visionscape while the rest rejected the offer.
However, the acrimony that trailed Visionscape’s entry into Lagos led to various accusations, with some people alleging that Visionscape is a front for some powerful official(s) in Ambode’s administration. Questions were asked about Visionscape’s track record in waste management and the terms of the contract it secured from the Lagos State government.
Olanrewaju Suraju of the Human & Environmental Development Agenda, told The ICIR that the Visionscape contract was not in the best interest of Lagos “to the extent that the Lagos State government guaranteed some of the loans that were secured and some of the repayments were charged directly on the first line charge of Lagos State resources and even some amount of money was committed to Visionscape prior to their engagement.”
The implication of such a contract, Suraju said, is that “Lagos State will be paying for those loans and the interest anytime that Visionscape defaults with its funders.”
Oladipo Egbeyemi, the chairman, Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, in an April 2018 interview with Punch, claimed that the Lagos State government was paying Visionscape N700 million every month.
LAWMAKERS DISOWN VISIONSCAPE
With Ambode unable to secure re-election, the Lagos State House of Assembly moved against Visionscape, even questioning its legitimacy.
Mudashiru Obasa, Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, in October last year, weeks after Ambode failed to secure the APC ticket, was quoted in the media as saying that Visionscape is not recognised by the Lagos State House of Assembly and ordered PSPs in the state to resume work.
Said Obasa: “We insist that we don’t know anything about Visionscape because we were not consulted before they started work. We once wrote the Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Akinyemi Ashade, not to pay Visionscape again and he would return any money he paid to them after our instruction, to the coffers of the state government. We will go to that, when the time comes, but we have to do the needful now,” he said.
“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 the residents to start paying the operators. We have to avoid epidemics and be proactive.”
Probably based on this directive, some PSPs and LAWMA officials and trucks took to the streets to collect waste as some residents across Lagos told The ICIR that LAWMA officials came to their neighbourhood to not only collect refuse but also inform them that they would be coming around on a weekly basis.
BEFORE VISIONSCAPE, LAWMA WAS
Prior to Visionscape, LAWMA and PSPs’ joint effort in waste disposal/management in the state was anything but excellent though some observers credit them as doing a good job.
Ganiyu Sodamade, a lecturer in the department of civil and environmental engineering, University of Lagos, told The ICIR that before Visionscape, “LAWMA, in the last 10-15 years had been in existence and performing well with the introduction of the PSP and taking waste and managing it properly”.
He said the issues LAWMA had to deal with were not unconnected to the fact that, “no matter how perfect you are, you still have some people that can never listen to your instruction or people you will not be able to carry along.”
Suraju also said that there was no need to contract Visionscape, adding that the company did not have a waste management record prior to its engagement and that the offices advertised on the company’s website was suspect.
“The offices that they claimed, even on their website, does not belong to Visionscape. These are places that don’t even have an inscription of Visionscape in those offices. The addresses are even conflicting except they’ve gone to correct some of the information on their website. They actually advertised offices that are not verifiable on their website and there was nothing about even waste management before they got the contract in Nigeria,” Suraju said.
Asked why he thinks the Lagos State government signed the contract in spite of what he pointed out, Suraju replied: “I think what informed that engagement is part of the unbridled penchant of our public office holders for so-called expatriates. That is one. The second reason is corruption which, many times is about government embarking on mega projects which give an opportunity for heavy percentages from such ventures.”
Efforts to get Visionscape to speak about its work and react to the allegations against it were unsuccessful as Motunrayo Elias, the company’s head of corporate communications and CSR, told The ICIR that Visionscape’s CEO, John Irvine, was unavailable for comment. She, however, said that talks were ongoing between the company and the Lagos State government regarding issues that have arisen in recent times while Visionscape continues to work to keep Lagos clean.
Although Visionscape is the primary refuse collector in the state, there are other government agencies in Lagos, which still have a role to play in keeping Lagos clean. A look at Lagos budget for 2018 shows that various sums of money were budgeted for them.
BILLIONS OF BUDGETARY ALLOCATIONS, YET SO LITTLE RESULT
Apart from LAWMA, which had N1.5 billion approved as subvention in the 2018 budget, N200 million was budgeted for the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps. Others include the Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit which was to receive N122, 996.656, while N250 million was voted for drainage maintenance which a source said is handled by Lagos State Public Works Corporation.
On the other hand, the capital expenditure for the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) in the 2018 budget is N210, 166,147 while N15 million was voted for urban renewal/regeneration.
In the 2017 budget, LASEPA’S budget was N322,335,303; that of Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit was N90 million; LAWMA’s was N5,167,433,601; Lagos State Planning and Environmental Monitoring Authority (LASPEMA) N25,212,713 and Lagos State Waste Water Management Office, N1,728,813,273.
In 2016, LAWMA was earmarked to receive N8,775,842,617, LASEPA N310,925,000; Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit N76,000,000; LASPEMA N25,000,000; Lagos State Waste Water Management Office N2,560,418,951.
In the 2015 budget, presented by Fashola, LAWMA was allocated N6,481,078,497; LASEPA N183,600,000; Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit N76,000,000; Lagos State Waste Water Management Office N1,924,637,971; LASPEMA N24,038,543; Office of drainage services N4,825,363,345 and LAWMA’s PSP Domestic Waste Fund N800,000,000.
The same N800,000,000 was approved for LAWMA’s PSP Waste Fund in the 2014 budget under Fashola. Lagos State Environmental and Special Offences Unit was to get N95,000,000; LAWMA N6,905,679,240; LASEPA N308,500,000; LASPEMA N20,000,000 while Lagos State Waste Water Management office had N1,719,700,000 recorded against its name.
In 2013, still during Fashola’s tenure, the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit subvention was 95 million; LAWMA subvention for the same year was N5,560,806,000; the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASEPA, got N142,500.000 subvention recorded against its name while Lagos State Planning & Environmental Monitoring Authority, LASPEMA was earmarked to receive N19,000.000 subvention.
It is unclear, however, how these funds were spent or whether they were fully released to the relevant agencies but the poor environmental state of Lagos, a state that prides itself as the centre of excellence, hints at regulatory failure by the relevant agencies.
OFFICIALS REFUSE TO COMMENT
Efforts by The ICIR to speak to the management of the Lagos State Public Works Corporation, LAWMA and the Ministry of Environment in Lagos were not successful. Letters, phone calls and text messages sent to the agencies requesting for interview were not responded to as at press time.
When the reporter visited the ministry of environment for an interview, a staff at the commissioner’s office, having read the letter requesting for an interview, directed the reporter to the Lagos State Public Works Corporation, which he said is the agency in charge of drainage.
At the Lagos State Public Works Corporation, at Isheri, Ojodu-Berger, a staff of the agency advised the reporter to write a letter addressed to the special adviser to the Lagos State governor on drainage, stating his request, after which he could be contacted. This was done in December but there was no response from the agency, even after the reporter visited the corporation three times.
Similarly, efforts made to interview the management of LAWMA were unsuccessful. The reporter contacted a staff member of the agency, through the agency’s website, who provided him with an email address to send his request which he said would lead to an appointment with the MD of the agency. Nothing came out of it despite repeated phone calls and text message reminders.
As it is, the waste management situation in Lagos calls for a more proactive and holistic approach by relevant agencies and institutions. And there is also the need for the waste disposal officials to extend their services to inner parts of the state, including slums or informal settlements and not just restrict themselves to major roads in the city.
Temilade Sesan, a university lecturer and one of the authors of Urban Planning Processes in Lagos, a project funded by Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Fabulous Urban, who has worked on environmental issues in low income areas of Ijora Badia in Lagos, told The ICIR that one major concern of residents of the areas was that their waste was not being evacuated by LAWMA.
“The community members were concerned that their waste was not being picked up by LAWMA and agencies like Wecyclers came in (to help). The state government classifies them (Ijora Badia) as informal settlement, so they are not entitled legally to some of those municipal services,” explained Sesan.
Ironically, Sesan says the people pay a lot of tax. “Even the person with a tray of plantains (from the area) pays a minimum of N50 to N100 to people that provide them receipts. The tax they pay is more than what middle-class people, especially people that work for themselves, pay.”
In the absence of Visionscape, LAWMA or PSP, residents who are eager to dispose of their refuse patronize cart pushers. Curiously, few people know or care to find out where the waste eventually end up. The danger in entrusting garbage to uncertified refuse collectors is that they may end up dumping them in unofficial dumpsite or creating one for themselves. A media report quotes Oladimeji Oresanya, LAWMA managing director, in 2014 as saying that Lagos generates a daily average of about 12,000 metric tonnes of refuse. And 1,000 tonnes, he said, will fill 100 trailers. That translates to 1,200 trailers daily.
Until in 2018, Lagos State had five major dumpsites, namely Igando (Solous II and III), Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry and Olusosun. The latter, close to Ojota, was the biggest until a fire outbreak there which caused a lot of distress for residents forced the government to close it.
To be able to better manage waste and ensure a cleaner Lagos, Sodamade identified some problems that residents will need to tackle in order to improve the environmental condition within and beyond their domains.
“We have what I call attitudinal problem. We have the problem of enlightenment of the citizenry, we have corruption of the highest order, and we have government insincerity. When we talk about attitude I can tell you that most Nigerians know what is good but can’t do what is good. You will see somebody with Prado and inside his booth he has garbage. Early in the morning, you will see him putting his garbage on the road. For whom to pick it? He doesn’t have money to pay for the PSP? He has money but no stake in the society,” he said.
On the issue of enlightenment, Sodamade asked rhetorically, “Are people being enlightened on ways of managing waste? Most people are learned but not educated. You may be a professor and you are not educated. So we need to bring in education into the environment, to educate people on how to manage their waste.”
He also added that the government needs to be sincere and not play politics with issues of waste management because it deals with the health of the people. He challenged government and its agencies to not only seek out people that have the wherewithal to manage waste but ensure that only building plans with a network of road and drainage systems are approved for construction.
Sesan said further that for Lagos to turn out better, its residents must be willing to play their part. “I think, first and foremost, everybody has to realise that we all have a part to play. We are all users of the environment and so we are all supposed to be stewards of the environment,” she said.
“We talk about Visionscape and the government, and that’s their part, to organize things centrally. As Nigerians, we need to develop that consciousness of having a stake in society. If you see something on the road, pick it if you can.
“I know, for instance, that we don’t have bins at strategic locations. That’s one feature of developed economies that we don’t have, however that’s not an excuse to say, oh, there are no bins here, let me throw it on the floor. Things people use and dump on the environment come back to haunt us in the form of flooding and all of that. You can’t outsource the environment.”
Like Sesan pointed out, poor waste management has consequences and this manifests in various ways.
According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of World Health Organisation and a former health minister of Ethiopia, at an event last year, “Our health is directly related to the health of the environment we live in. Together, air, water and chemical hazards kill some 12.6 million people a year… most of these deaths occur in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America where environmental pollution takes its biggest health toll.”
With such scary statistics, the need for better waste management in a highly populated state like Lagos, where many residents daily exhibit poor sanitary habit, cannot be overemphasized.
This report was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR).