August 17, 2018

Dear Gov. Ambode, Lagos is smelling – thisislagos.ng Editorial

Dear Gov. Ambode, Lagos is smelling – thisislagos.ng Editorial

Your Excellency, we want to respectfully crave your indulgence. Please let us take a peep into the future.

It is January 2031. Three gentlemen are in a lounge in Ikeja. They are having after-work drinks. An election campaign advert is on the screen and the gubernatorial candidate is listing out his programmes.

One of the gentlemen turns to his mates and says: “O boy, you remember that time Lagos was full of refuse, abeg who was the governor then?”

And his friends all chorus, “Ambode.”

Your excellency, it is what it is.

Your handlers may tell you different. They may say, thisislagos is an opposition online newspaper but the truth is, Lagos is filthy, the Cleaner Lagos Initiative is not working and VisionScape is clearly without a clear vision on how to rid Lagos of filth.

Why are we writing an editorial on the filthy state of Lagos? One, the rains are here and a dirty city is a health hazard. We should get ready for rats and, maybe, Cholera.

But there is also another reason. How can an Action Governor like Akinwumi Ambode be stymied by something as simple as refuse collection? How can the man who fixed Lagos traffic by giving us a new word, ‘Lay-bys’ not be able to fix the refuse situation? How can the man who “created space” where there was none and enlarged Lagos roads not be able to keep Lagos clean? How could the man who tamed the traffic crush at Berger be humbled by common refuse?

Something is indeed wrong and as members of the Fourth Estate of the realm it is our duty to call this to your attention. We are not the opposition, we are partners-in-progress in making sure that posterity does not judge you harshly on this count.

To be fair to Your Excellency and VisionScape, the job of clearing refuse from a city as densely populated as Lagos is a tough one. It is the same for every mega city in the world from Mumbai to Rio de Janeiro and even New York to London. The task of managing waste is a serious one.

But then this leads us to the question; why did we ditch LAWMA and the PSPs like Sarobol and Kent and Kelly for VisionScape? Sure, they had rickety trucks but every Saturday morning, Sarobol came around, without fail, to empty the trash on our streets. Last weekend, the management of our estate had to invest in disinfectants to fumigate the mounds of refuse outside our fence because flies are becoming a nuisance.

And the refuse situation is not limited to the less upscale precincts. The situation is the same in Ilupeju, Gbagada, Anthony Village, Toyin Street, Allen Avenue, parts of Ikoyi and even Victoria Island.

VisionScape is working, as the photo below shows, but they are completely overwhelmed thus pointing to the imperative of decentralisation.

Yesterday, Sunday, April 29, 2018 a report in The Punch informed us that the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria aka PSPs have taken their case to the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who according to The Punch “expressed concerns that waste was returning to the streets of Lagos…He promised to speak with Governor Akinwumi Ambode with the aim of restoring the old system.”

He also declared publicly that he does not own VisionScape.

The waste managers told him that their 350 strong members would see job losses of over 25,000 people if the new waste management system is allowed to stand.

This will not be the first time an intervention has been sought. On April 5, 2018, Vanguard reported that VisionScape and PSPs had reached an agreement following a court-ordered negotiation. That agreement seems to have broken down. In fact, last week, John Irvine, CEO of VisionScape was quoted as saying that he does not know when the waste situation will improve.

So, what to do? The answer is a simple one. Lagos should allow a decentralised waste collection system because Lagos is too big and generates too much waste to allow a central authority handle waste collection and disposal. It is a recipe for disaster, as we have seen these past few months.

VisionScape has these brand new refuse trucks and the Cleaner Lagos Initiative has distributed refuse bins all over town, what remains is an organised system of waste collection. Thisislagos suggests that the PSPs be given some of the brand new vehicles to facilitate more efficient and faster collection. They will in turn pay VisionScape a monthly amount based on an agreed sharing formula.

Sarabol and other PSPs already have a payment system in place in concert with LAWMA. Bills are being sent and payments being made but refuse collection is not being done because of the stalemate. So, a centralised payment system, as already exists with LAWMA, can also exist between VisionScape and other PSPs. That way, the job of refuse collection does not suffer, PSP operators do not lose their jobs and VisionScape can actually work and focus more on its 21st century landfill and waste management facility.

Everyone wins.

Thisislagos is not claiming expertise in waste management but quick Google searches have shown that Mumbai and Sao Polo, London and New York all have decentralised collection systems.

In Mumbai, the Mumba Waste Management Limited (MWML) is in charge of waste management but the regional municipal regions (much like our LGAs) are responsible for the collection.

According to an abstract of a paper “Case Study of Mumbai: Decentralised Solid Waste Management” by Hamsa Iyer published in sciencedirect.com “Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), spread over 4,355sq. km is home to seven municipal corporations. All Municipal Corporations in India are mandated to look into solid waste management in their functional domains under the 74th Constitutional Amendment. At present, all the seven municipal corporations depend on centralised means of managing waste which is dumped at assigned landfills post collection. Apart from the corporation, there are multiple players who play a crucial role in managing the waste. Much of this is managed by informal sector and now emerging recyclers who are setting up processes for decentralised waste management.”

In London, “12 boroughs both collect and dispose of waste. Then there are four, statutory, sub-regional partnerships, which are responsible for jointly disposing of the waste collected by their members. These joint waste disposal authorities are East London Waste Authority (ELWA), North London Waste Authority (NLWA), Western Riverside Waste Authority (WRWA) and the West London Waste Authority (WLWA).”

In Brazil, waste management is decentralised with the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Special Waste Companies (ABRELPE) providing oversight.

In a paper “Solid Waste Management in São Paulo: The challenges of sustainability” produced by Pedro Roberto Jacobi and Gina Rizpah Besen and published in http://www.scielo.br they note that “In Brazil, the provision of urban waste management services is a problem far from being solved. However, there have been improvements in some indicators. The provision of household waste collection services to the population in urban areas is close to being universal, having increased from 79 per cent in 2000 to 97.8 per cent in 2008 (IBGE, 2010). Solid waste collection is becoming increasingly privatised, and the number of companies affiliated to ABRELPE increased from 45 in 2000 to 92 in 2009, which collected about 183,000 tonnes of waste daily in 2009.”

These examples have been provided to buttress the fact that waste collection and management are critical to an urban conurbation like Lagos but no one agency can manage the process using a centralised system.

Your Excellency, this is a public spirited intervention. Your administration has achieved so much in less than three years and thisislagos is a partner in telling that story and highlighting milestones and achievements. This refuse crisis must not soil your good deeds.

In conclusion, let us add that not being privy to the issues that inform policy decisions, thisislagos is merely offering an informed opinion.

So, if there is no going back on the choice of VisionScape over the PSPs, we humbly suggest that there should be a well-managed transition period that allows for a seamless take over by VisionScape from the PSPs in a manner that does not lead to an environmental and sanitation crisis like we are witnessing now.

Please accept the assurances of our highest esteem.

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