Refuse heaps have taken over Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital and residents aren't finding it funny.
Chidi runs one of the shops perched along the Ojuelegba-Tejuosho-Yaba road.
Municipal waste is threatening to submerge Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital. Road medians, street corners, parking lots, drainage channels—nowhere is left out. As you drive round the city, the stench from residential and commercial waste, rises to meet and greet you.
“We don’t know what happened. All of a sudden, the waste collectors stopped coming with the same frequency. They used to come collect waste once daily. Now it is once weekly or not at all. Please beg the Lagos State government on our behalf. We know we will all die one day, but please it shouldn’t be from dustbin stench”, Chidi says.
Herbert Macaulay way in Yaba is also dotted with garbage heaps creeping onto roads and street corners. We counted at least 20 putrefying, mountainous garbage sites from Adekunle to Yabatech junction.
“Eko ti baje pata pata”, says Mama Sikiru who roasts Boli (plantain) and Yam at the Yabatech end of Herbert Macaulay way. “Ambode no dey try. E no dey try at all. Lagos don spoil finish.”
Along the Oshodi Apapa expressway, Patrick stands beside a huge garbage heap at the Ilamoye bus-stop end, wondering why it has to come to this.
“We don’t know what is going on”, Patrick says. “They don’t come for the refuse as frequently as they used to. So, we are forced to live with this stench and the danger it portends to our health. You can see for yourselves what we are going through. No one should be subjected to this kind of suffering by government”.
As Pulse drove through Ikoyi, Victoria Island and Lekki, the refuse heaps were there as well in their decaying glory. On Admiralty way in Lekki, for instance, waste has clogged drainage channels around The Place—a restaurant milling with the upwardly mobile all day long.
On Ajose Adeogun, Victoria Island, a banker who identifies himself as Chris, was holding his nose in his three piece suit when Pulse stopped by. He declined to say a word, only pointing to the refuse heap to portray his agony and scurrying into the safety of his marbled office.
It is a familiar tale around Lagos. The stench and agony is a hot mess in a city where decibel levels from traffic bedlam is already grave cause for concern.
Lagos generates an estimated 14,000 metric tonnes (about 490 trailer loads) of solid wastes daily, according to the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA).
Before now, the job of disposing of this huge ton of waste was the lot of the Public Sector Partnership (PSP) operators.
However, in July of 2017, the Lagos State government announced that it was terminating its contract with PSP and handing the job to a foreign firm called Visionscape.
Visionscape is a Dubai based environmental utility group.
In making the announcement, State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode made it clear he didn’t care how the PSP operators were going to take their sack.
Lagos also outlawed the activities of itinerant truck pushers who were accused of dumping waste indiscriminately. The truck pushers were banned in early January of 2018.
“This occasion is to make sure our city is not dirty. There are about 350 PSP operators and we have 25 million Lagosians. Do we want to satisfy 350 to the detriment of 25 million people?’’ Ambode asked at the time.
Visionscape was described by the Lagos State government in glowing terms. The firm was tasked with bringing the State government’s Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) dream to fruition.
However, as soon as Visionscape nailed the job of disposing of waste in Lagos, road medians around the city turned into eyesores.
A staff of VisionScape told Pulse on the basis of anonymity that his company is still overwhelmed by the volume of waste in Lagos.
“First, the landfill used by PSP is the one in Ojota. We can’t use the same landfill for obvious reasons. So, we are using the one in Epe. We have two big trucks for waste disposal to Epe. But maybe that’s not enough”, the source said.
The source also added that VisionScape is not ruling out sabotage.
“We have been doing this job well, then all of a sudden, the volume of waste in Lagos triples or quadruples? This is just politics. Where is the waste coming from? We haven’t been resting since we were handed this job. But the waste keeps growing. Some people who are unhappy that we got this job, are trying to sabotage us. It’s as simple as that", he said.
Other staff of Visionscape who didn’t want their names on the record for this story, told Pulse that some PSP operators have been arrested dumping waste at garbage sites just to embarrass their company and make them look so bad before Governor Ambode.
Two other employees of VisionScape also told Pulse that they are being sabotaged and that they are fifth columnists working behind the scenes to make them fail.
When Pulse visited the Visionscape office in Alausa, Ikeja, a staff who identified herself as Ijeoma told us that the company will emerge from the mess it has found itself.
“All we ask for is patience from Lagosians. It’s a transition period and we are determined to get this right”, Ijeoma told Pulse.
On its website, Visionscape claims that it has a “workforce of over 29,000 dedicated employees who utilise specialist vehicles and equipment to perform a wide range of services for the efficient management of every phase of the waste stream.”
On February 12, 2018, an embattled Visionscape placed advertorials in at least two national dailies—it was a call for help, basically. The company was visibly overwhelmed.
In the advertorials, Visonscape asked interested PSPs to partner with it to rid Lagos of municipal waste.
PSP operator, Margaret Oshodi, told Premium Times that the advertorial was Visionscape’s way of admitting that it has failed.
“They advertised their incompetence, their inability to fulfill their contractual obligations for which they are celebrated as experts and to which our State Assembly unprecedentedly passed a law exclusive for them inserting the name of their company in Lagos State law to be the only ones that must collect domestic waste from the State.
“By this publication, they appropriated to themselves the role of state agencies of Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) and Ministry of Environment (MOE) amongst other regulating and statutory agencies.
“They also tacitly show that the PSPs are good at what they do. PSPs have been helping them move most of the waste they appropriated to themselves through state laws while their promoters look helplessly as their contractor daily engage the services of these same operators they have disparaged all over their sponsored media.”
However, Visionscape’s expression of interest advertorial was viewed as cunning by PSP operators.
“In the spirit of possible collaboration, we wrote a letter to Visionscape to draw their attention that, presumably, this is in line with us working together but it should be done with a great degree of respect on both sides”, a consultant with the PSP operators also told Premium Times.
“And you can’t just be inviting our members to come individually when we had told you our resolution, that if we are going to consider working with you, let us know what the terms are. Let’s see what the terms are and we can then explore that possibility.
“Two days to come and reapply for a job that was taken away from us and you have not specified what the terms and conditions will be, you have avoided talking about this and we have been on this for over a month.”
For Mrs Oshodi, Visionscape will never come good.
“Visionscape is just a glorified PSP whom our State resources, land, building and money is placed at its beck and call. Somewhere along the line they will run out of money or the State will go broke funding them without private capital.
“If the government is really interested in Cleaner Lagos or even cleanest Lagos, let them give the PSPs the same contract terms as Visionscape and we will deliver in a week.”
For the moment, Visionscape waste bins are overflowing across Lagos even as the company continues to allege sabotage from PSP operators.
“This is definitely not the Lagos Fashola left us. If they don’t want to be collecting the waste, they should come and take away their stupid bins from our street”, a resident, Hajiya Hasan, screamed in anger.
Repeated calls placed to the Lagos State Ministry of Environment were not answered.
Pulse also sent a text message to Lagos State Commissioner of Environment, Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti for a response to this story. The text message hadn’t been responded to before this story was published.