‘Filth’ in motion •How waste disposal trucks turn health menace on Lagos roads

 For ages, Lagos has been battling with waste disposal, as the state government is combating the menace with a measure of success recorded. But years after the state adopted the Private Sector Participation (PSP) in dealing with its mountains of refuse, residents still feel the state has a long way to go. AKIN ADEWAKUN, CHUKWUMA OKPARAOCHA and TUNDE DODONDAWA report.


Lagos and its environs were daily becoming submerged in its own wastes, and it was ‘glaringly’ obvious that this once beautiful city, which prides itself as the nation’s Centre of Excellence, was fast losing aesthetics.

Managing the waste generated by residents was becoming increasingly difficult, constituting an embarrassment and a major disincentive to whoever is saddled with the responsibility of marketing the city.

But the hope and plans of those saddled with the task of presiding over the affairs of the state are not only to exude excellence, but for the city to be able to stand tall in the comity of mega cities around the world and become a prototype of what a decent city should look like. And, for them, that could not be achieved in a filthy environment, which the city was fast turning into then; hence the advent of the Lagos Waste Management Agency (LAWMA).

LAWMA, an agency saddled with the responsibility of cleaning up the city and ensuring its hygiene created  by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration in the state, was seen by many as something urgently needed if the city was to regain its lost glory.

Interestingly, as a way of ensuring that those mandates were fully delivered, one of the first steps taken by the agency was to introduce the Private Sector Participation (PSP) initiative, which allows individuals or operators outside government to collaborate with the agency, in its task of ensuring a cleaner Lagos.

Not a few believe the agency actually started well, in the task of ensuring a cleaner Lagos, as evidenced in the enhanced aesthetics of the city today.

The usual spectacle of wastes on every nook and cranny of the city, including its highways, are suddenly disappearing.

For instance, major highways such as Agege Motor Road and Awolowo Road in Ikeja, where heaps of refuse and human faeces, used to be a common sight, today wear a new look.

But in spite of these positives, not a few, however, are still of the opinion that the quality bar is being gradually lowered by some of the PSP operators.

It is a common sight to see the waste disposal trucks, which, ordinarily should have served as a tool for cleaning up refuse in the state becoming a refuse themselves.

For instance, in spite of having close to 500 PSP operators involved in that cleaning business in Lagos, it’s obvious that a sizeable number of these operational vehicles are ill-maintained.

While expressing his views about the operations of PSP operators in his area, a resident who lives on Omotola Street in Ikosi Ketu area of the city who gave his name as Bolaji  believes a lot still needs to be done in the area of ensuring that PSP operators keep to the terms of the agreement.

“In this area, you hardly see any of these trucks in good condition. They break down easily, even while on duty. And once that happens, you can be sure that the area that ‘hosts’ such broken down truck is in trouble. What oozes out of the truck is always unpalatable,” he stated.

Bolaji, however, added that since the PSP operators’ birds had learnt to fly without perching, the residents’ hunters too are fast learning to shoot without ceasing.

‘Interestingly for the past one and a half years now, they no longer come to this area, because the people are not really paying since they are not satisfied with their service,” Bolaji stated.

While Mr. Gbadebo Ezekiel would still readily pardon the operators over their inability to maintain their vehicles, one thing he finds unsavoury in the activities of these waste disposal agents is the way the heaps of refuse are moved from one point to the other.

“It is totally unhygienic, otherwise, how do you explain a situation where those wastes are exposed, with some flying around as the vehicles move from one place to the other within the city? Ideally, those wastes are not supposed to be seen, they should be in the enclosure at the back of the trucks. But, what we witness in most cases is the exact opposite. The trucks themselves have become filth in motion,” he stated.

Other communities have not fared better too. Some residents of such communities in Lagos have continued to decry how heaps of refuse generated in their communities have continued to pose serious health hazards to the people there, with no PSP operators in sight.

Some have even attributed the increase in the number of rats in such communities to the ineffectiveness of these operators.

For instance, Saturday Tribune’s investigation in some communities such as Adura, Salolo and Meiran, in Agbado Ijaye area of the city, Orile Agege, Ijora Badia, parts of Apapa-Ajegunle and Makoko, revealed that the people are gradually devising other means of getting rid of their wastes. While some simply leave the heaps of refuse along the roads, in front of their houses and in other unwholesome places, others prefer to wait for the rains, to enable them to empty the contents into nearby drainage systems, open gutters and other waterways.

Quite recently, in a community called Salolo in Agbado-Ijaiye (widely regarded as one of Lagos’ most densely populated communities), piles of refuse were seen close to an open drainage, awaiting the Lagos Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) and their private service providers (PSP) to come and pick them up. Investigations showed that the refuse had been in that state for about five days.

When briefly interviewed by Saturday Tribune, a middle-aged man in that community, said that residents had adopted this method of getting rid of their wastes because of the slow response of the agency entrusted with the responsibility of evacuating and managing waste in the state, LAWMA-PSP.

“For close to a month, nobody saw LAWMA people here. My refuse kept piling up and had begun to stink and had also started producing maggots. We cannot burn our refuse because there is no space for that, so we had to opt for this idea. Nobody should vilify us, because we do not have any other choice,” he stated.

The man’s statement may not be far from the truth as physical observations made during similar visits to a few other suburbs and even some communities in the main parts of Lagos suggested that a lot of residents were also having a hard time disposing off their wastes.

For instance at a section of Agege, just metres away from the popular Pen Cinema, an entire drainage was observed to have been virtually taken over by refuse.

Similarly, once in a while, a mountain of refuse can be spotted at a market and car park at Mosalasi Alhaja area of Agege en route the popular Oba Akran Road.

According to information gathered, the failure of LAWMA trucks to regularly pick up the refuse generated by traders in the market often leaves the traders with little or no choice but to dump their refuse in that section of the market, hoping that the refuse so discarded would be eventually picked up by the authorised trucks.

One of the traders in the market, a certain Mallam Audu, argued that being a market, it should be expected that traders would generate huge amount of refuse on a daily basis. He, however, wondered why the refuse collectors sometimes disappear for days, thus leaving traders with little or no option but to find a solution by themselves.

“We pay our LAWMA fees regularly, so I don’t see any reason we should spend days without having our refuse picked. Those in charge ought to know that whatever attention they give residential apartments for the disposal of waste should be doubled in the case of markets,” said Mallam Audu, who sells grocery at the market which is just a few metres away from residential apartments.

But in its bid to sanitise the state, the Lagos State government, through its relevant bodies, especially the Ministry of the Environment, is known for its massive clampdowns on those who wrongly dispose off their wastes. This has given rise to a massive clampdown on some individuals who for a token always help people dispose off their wastes with the aid of carts.

Such refuse cart pushers, often referred to as ‘abokis’, have been accused of discarding the refuse collected from various houses into unauthorised locations such as drainage systems and waterways.

A visit to Alimosho Local Government Area revealed several broken down LAWMA trucks, awaiting repairs, parked around the local government secretariat, with residents having a hard time coping with pungent odour emanating from the trucks.

Residents of buildings situated at Raji Oba and other adjoining streets in Alimosho complained of not seeing any of those trucks for days. Residents of Apatira Street in the same local government area  also had such sad tale to tell when Saturday Tribune visited.

Curiously, a LAWMA-certified PSP operator in the area, Mr. Jamiu Owolabi, would not want the community to see PSP as the root cause of the present situation the community had found itself.

He would rather blame the whole thing on the refusal by the residents of the area to settle their waste collection bills.

According to him, “several houses you see here have defaulted in paying their bills. Some houses owe as much as N200,000 while most houses owe N50,000. The bills we collect are supposed to be used to pay salaries of workers that are faced with potential health hazards.

“We have observed that Lagosians are not used to settling their bills promptly, that is why we’ve decided that any of those buildings that refuses to settle their debt won’t be serviced,” he argued.

On the issues of rickety trucks belonging to LAWMA, Owolabi insists that the trucks do not belong to LAWMA but its agents who are solely responsible for its repairs.

“I don’t work directly with LAWMA but I am an agent. We are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of our trucks. Poor revenue generation may also be responsible for rickety trucks you see and until Lagosians settle their bills promptly, the scenario may continue,’ he stated.


LAWMA responds

But when contacted, the Executive Chairman of LAWMA, Mr Olumuyiwa Adejokun, who spoke through the public relations officer of the agency, attributed the problem largely to the inability of residents to pay their bills promptly.

“Actually, the PSP operators are trying their best in getting rid of waste in every nook and cranny of the state, even under very difficult situation. But residents are also not helping matters, because when they don’t pay their bills they make life very difficult for the operators,” he said.

“There have been instances where PSP operators are owed money for up to three months and even more. If they are not paid, how do you expect the operators to maintain their trucks let alone break even?” Adejokun said.

But the LAWMA boss noted that despite all these, LAWMA always comes in with various interventions, including the formation of various monitoring and advocacy groups, to help PSP operators do their job, so that residents will not be at the receiving end.

“For example, we have provided a toll-free line (5577) which residents can call at anytime they are faced with any form of difficulty,” he added.

“We also have our own trucks that are sent out to work anytime a PSP operator cannot carry out their duties. We do all these because we don’t take waste issues lightly,” the LAWMA boss said.

Speaking in an interview, the chairman, House Committee on the Environment, Hon. Saka Fafunmi, pointed out that the attitude of some PSP operators in the state had given rise to the suggestion that a state of emergency on the environment should be declared if Lagos truly hoped to realise its megacity status dream.

Fafunmi, who represents Ifako/Ijaiye Constituency 1 in the Assembly, however pointed out that the problem could also be attributed to residents’ unwillingness to pay their PSP fees, which he said often made PSP operators to do their duties half-heartedly.


“What is happening now is the human factor. What we are experiencing now is because people are not willing to pay for their refuse disposal fees,” he said.


“We have seen a very sharp decline in the activities of the PSP and that informed the decision of the Environment Committee of the House to want to hold a summit on the environment as a whole family,” he added, saying there’s the need for the Assembly to find a way of bringing stakeholders on PSP together.

“We need to set standard for the PSP operators. Most of them complain that since we (the government) stopped paying them directly, they’ve been finding it difficult to collect money from members of the public and as a result, domestic operators are seriously suffering, but truly, some operators are not just competent,” Fafunmi added.

“Most of the PSP operators have one truck, some of them don’t even have any, while some of them don’t even have business being PSP operators at all and they all claim to be PSP operators.

“What I have found out is that some of them even collect refuse once in a month and they would go and knock on the doors of the people for money for service that was not rendered and the people would not want to pay.

“So, what we need to do is to declare an emergency on waste collection in Lagos State if we want the state to be the state of our dream. We need to do something to forestall the spread of diseases. If wastes are not properly managed, it could be so disastrous and we would start spending a lot of money to cure rather than to prevent the spread of diseases,” Fafunmi added.

The lawmaker’s views seem to buttress the Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Babatunde Adejare’s recent remarks, where he restated the state government’s resolve to ensure a refuse-free environment in Lagos.

Therefore, as part of ways to protect the environment, the commissioner appealed to the residents not to patronise cart pushers who improperly dispose waste illegally collected in unauthorised places.

Interestingly, as the blame game continues, one thing that is crystal clear is the fact that it is not yet uhuru in the area of refuse management in a city that generates more than 10,000 metric tonnes of waste on a daily basis in the state. And it is obvious that Lagosians would not mind declaring a state of emergency to ensure that some of these identified lapses are rectified.