© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Nigeria’s capital city of dirt: Rising concerns over illegal dumping, poor sanitation in Abuja
MALLAM Muntari Daura, 47, was busy sorting old sacks picked from the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) public refuse container located nearby a new generation bank in the Wuse market when The ICIR reporter passed by. He vigorously stretched the used sacks so that it can be fit for sale, unmindful of the odious smell oozing from the huge AEPB refuse container.
He was doing this as he waited patiently for customers.
“The small sacks sell for N10, medium goes for N30 while the biggest sorted sacks are N50,” Daura advertised in Hausa language.
Next to him was a middle-aged woman whose interest is the used cartons also from the same refuse receptacle. She had no gloves or safety shoes. Both traders carefully tied the cartons; and lay them on the ground for sale. Few meters away, pedestrians could be seen walking into the banks with their hands covering their noses. The expression on their faces apparently showed discomfort as they passed by the stinking AEBP container.
“I am even surprised that the refuse is not much,” she added, despite the huge pile of wastes, aside those littering the floor. “Even if they pack it now, within a minute, it will again fill up.”
Many residential areas within Abuja are also littered with refuse and left uncollected until a small pile becomes a huge heap.
Adeyemi Bademosi, a resident, said a pile of refuse on the streets of Abuja has become a regular feature in the most streets around the city. The reporter observed the same and saw many drainages being blocked by refuse.
In a fact-finding exercise conducted by The ICIR across 17 locations randomly chosen in the territory, residents lamented how the city is gradually being taken over by refuse.
Some of the locations visited include Central Business District (CBD), Wuse Zone 2 and 3, Gwarimpa, Lugbe, Wuse Market, Nyanyan, Karu, Area 3 and Area 1 all in the Abuja Metropolitan Area Council (AMAC). Other locations are Bwari by Usman Dam Water Works, Gwagwalada, Jabi, Dutsen-Garki, Wumba, Dape and Karmo.
Dirt in Koforidua street, Nyanyan
Walking across the stretch of Koforidua Street, Wuse Zone 2, to the Magistrate Court, opposite Zone 3, the reporter observed garbage on both sides of the street.
“There is nothing we can do except the AEPB comes to collect the waste,” says Azeez Ibrahim, a resident.
He said scavengers come sometimes and take some of the scraps away.
In Karu, by St. Mary Catholic Church, there is a heap of waste. According to residents, it often takes special intervention of the community before AEPB officials come to clear the mess. Also, there is a gully nearby LEA primary school mostly filled with wastes. Residents, The ICIR learnt, have turned the gully to a dumping site.
“It is worse in this area. People dump refuse in the middle of the road. I could remember a time the FCT minister came himself to see the place when people were complaining on the smell because the AEPB refused to pack it,” Ms Nnena Okeke told The ICIR.
Now, people rely on waste cart pushers to get rid of their wastes, said Kayode Adebiyi, a resident.
“Along the road to my residence in FHA, Karu, there is one of such which is a constant eyesore and its stench disturbs…If you notice, Abuja is now dirtier than it used to be; almost every corner you turn has a dumpsite.”
The story is the same at the Central Business District (CBD), Garki, Nyanya, Karu, Gwagwalada and Bwari Area Council. Residents everywhere are embattled with waste problems. Gwarimpa, acclaimed largest estate in Africa is inundated with dirt from First Avenue to Third Avenue. To compound the problem, underground sewage systems are left uncovered and have become a passage for rodents that feast on the wastes. However, the investigation by The ICIR revealed that the AEPB is less active at the suburb than at the city centres. A visit to Gwagwalada and Bwari confirmed this fact.
Five years of failed battle with AEPB, dump
Wumba district is one of the communities in Abuja. It is a few metres to the Apo Mechanic village with three major, but dusty roads. For five years, residents have battled fruitlessly to manage their waste seeking supports from the AEPB. At the community’s entrance is a big heap of refuse that has remained a nightmare to the residents and nearby estates. At the mention of Wumba community, what comes to mind is the refuse dump and stench.
“As you dey here, you no dey perceive the smell?” Sunday David asked the reporter.
“It has been here for more than seven years. They have brought trucks to pack the dirt like three times but the waste remains.”
David’s Aluminium workshop was directly opposite the dumpsite, so he was used to the smell, and cared less about the health implications.
The reporter observed residents blocking their noses each time they pass through. And those in cars simply wound up their side glasses.
Mr John, a welder in the area, had to erect a makeshift fence made of bamboo to separate his workshop from the dump heap. “Several attempts have been made to stop people and we have persuaded the AEPB to come around but it’s being wasted efforts, and we are tired.”
The ICIR found that deliberate moves were made by residents to contribute funds to mobilise the AEPB officials to pack the refuse but the effort was futile due to mistrust. All through the period spent observing the community, it is either vehicle owners throw-out wastes in black polythene bags or parents send their teenage wards to dump their waste at the dump site.
Mr Istifanus Danlami, secretary to Prince Daniel Zhiba, the Chief of Wumba Community, narrated how the community initially had problem with location for its dump site. But years later, they secured a space. By that time, it was already late as it became difficult to persuade the AEPB to move the refuse container.
“We invited the AEPB, made an agreement for them to provide waste containers so that at the end of the month, they can pack it but they needed assistance from the community.”
Curious, The ICIR inquired further to know what form of assistance. “Financially, I think they were saying N100 per room but we later found out that those that came were not directly from the AEPB… so we stopped because we don’t want to deceive the community.”
Trading with dirt at Nyanyan, Mopol Junction
Like many other locations visited, Mopol Junction, Nyanyan is an eyesore. It is by the main road connecting the FCT with Nasarawa State. It’s also an access way for those who reside close to the pedestrian bridge.
Daily, residents dispose wastes at the AEPB bin positioned almost directly under the pedestrian bridge. According to passers-by, the waste container is always overfilled with wastes, extending to the drainage. Commercial motorcyclists sometimes defecate on the spot, making the area a health risk for passersby.
Five metres to the refuse dump is a mentally challenged man. He appeared to be in his 60s yet an addict smoker. Apparently, he is in need of help but his situation is made worse as he ignorantly inhaled sordid smells from the collection point – already made his home.
Next to him was Hassan, a northerner. He has a small kiosk, tied to a wheelbarrow under the lower part of the pedestrian bridge – few metres from the waste bin. “I come here 7 am in the morning and leave 10 pm everyday Inshah Allah” Hassan says.
As odours from the filled waste bin ooze northward to his direction, he continued with his small venture, not minding the poor scent. “The motor get problem so they never come to carry it (waste container),” he said when asked why the refuse dump was filled up without attendant.
Residents vulnerable to Lassa fever
Recently, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) placed FCT on the watch list of states vulnerable to Lassa fever outbreak after declaring the disease outbreak on 22nd January.
This implies the need to maintain proper hygiene and good waste management. The World Health Organisation (WHO) risk assessment also described Lassa fever as easily transmittable, when in contact with food or household items contaminated with rodent urine or faeces.
According to the WHO, 37 confirmed cases with 10 deaths have been reported in nine states across the country including the FCT as of February.
Though AEPB has selected days for collection, residents think the days are few.
They request for additional frequent visits so that waste can be collected more promptly.
The people also alleged cases of exploitation by the AEPB officials who purportedly present outrageous bills to residents. But the AEPB authorities insisted payments are made via bank and payment of physical cash is not allowed.
Aside vulnerability to Lassa fever that could arise from dirty environment, experts said residents are prone to cholera, diarrhoea, yellow fever, malaria among other deadly diseases. Also, extreme health challenges could also arise from dumping damaged batteries, and heavy metals into the water body.
Dr Jimlas Ogunsakin, a public health physician, said poor sanitation and hygiene could cause a serious outbreak in the society, stressing that what most people actually need to be healthy is to reside in a healthy environment.
“We are so conscious of healing rather than keeping our environment clean and living healthy,” he said.
“Environmental factors such as lack of good sanitation, hygiene and open defecation are actually the main causes of outbreaks. These could be Lassa fever, cholera, sicknesses like malaria, typhoid fever etc. So they have a direct link to the health of the population.
“Society must own interventions and every effort to ensure good sanitation. If the government says it is setting up a day to clean the environment, the community should take ownership. With this, many of our children will not be dying of common sicknesses.”
An official of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Mr Adebusuyi validated the statement of Dr. Ogunsakin. “Of course, it has a lot of health implications. Illegal dumping is not proper and as such, it should be discouraged.”
Dr Okobia Efegbidiki, National Secretary of the Nigerian Environmental Society (NES), in his reaction blamed the scourge to lack of national policy on municipal waste management. Based on his submission, improper waste dumping could cause respiratory problems and other health hazards.
“If you dump waste close to residential places, it could lead to respiratory or cardiovascular issues because of the emissions of nitrogen oxide and other releases from the wastes.”
“If it is during the wet season and you have a situation of underground water, it could also affect underground water such as boreholes and wells.”
Dr Helen Eze, another Medical Practitioner at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH) stressed how wrong waste disposal and late collection of wastes could affect the digestive system.
“Most times the digestive system is more affected and people could be prone to cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, even the air pollution, the respiratory system may be affected.”
Nigeria is a signatory to the SDGs aimed to achieve universal and equitable access to good sanitation, safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030. But these goals may be defeated except waste mismanagement is well addressed.
Yes we charge for wastes – AEPB reacts
Reacting to the claims, Muktar Ibrahim, AEPB Head of Information and Outreach Unit Programme, admitted the board charges for the waste collected.
But he denied any form of arbitrary rates. “I don’t really entertain spurious claims… those bills are for services rendered, there is no residential apartment that will be charged N100, 000, not even a commercial complex.” Adding that, the AEPB, “has a bill of N35, 000 which we issue out.”
Ibrahim said it was practically impossible to cover the entire FCT, though it operates in 27 districts with plans to extend to 48 and this is the reason the council areas, he said, are also responsible for waste management at the suburbs.
“There are 27 waste contractors paid by the FCTA, who are not consultants and Area Council Chairmen are board members of the AEPB.
“We have a structured pattern of waste disposal and we have a main disposal point in Gosa. If you find anyone dumping waste anyhow, it must be illegal operators. Yes, operationally, we render a supervisory role as the foremost agency but if there are complains, we carry out interventions upon requests.”
Reacting to Wumba crisis, Ibrahim promised to meet with the department of solid wastes, urging residents to write officially to the environment department of AMAC.
In conclusion, residents who spoke to The ICIR advised the relevant authorities to collect wastes on a regular basis– at least weekly– , and provide more waste containers for proper collection. They also suggested that environmental authorities should be more organised in order to be more effective in keeping Abuja clean and safe.