Lagos: Charting the route to holistic cleanliness

Is a Lagos free of environmental pollution and degradation possible? Governor Akinwunmi Ambode believes strongly that it is possible. This informed the Clean Lagos Initiative recently rolled out by the state government. SULAIMON OLANREWAJU looks at how this new move is different from past efforts.

Environmental degradation is a consequence of development and modernization but it is also an albatross to development because many cities are ill-equipped to manage it. As observed by M. Medina in Scavenger Cooperatives in Asia published in 2010, globalization is increasing the amount of waste generated that later has to be collected and disposed of, adding that the situation puts huge strains on African, Asian and Latin American cities.

The problem of solid waste management keeps compounding in most African cities because those in charge lack both the resolve and the resources to tame it. Consequently, solid waste challenge has become the nightmare of many governments as its poor management results in environmental pollution and degradation which constitute a serious challenge to the quality of life of the citizens and put unimaginable stress on government resources.

Lagos is not spared its share of headache caused by solid waste management. Being a megacity with an admixture of the highbrow and low level neighbourhoods, the state has had to combat very serious environmental challenges over the years.

By the time former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu assumed office in 1999, the waterways and canals had been turned into dumpsites, while the ugly sight of people defecating openly into the canals and drainage was commonplace. Areas designated as public parks and open spaces, were turned to safe havens for criminals. All these aberrations largely turned the state to an eyesore and one of the dirtiest in the country despite being the commercial nerve centre, not only of Nigeria but the West Africa sub-region.

To reverse this trend, the Tinubu administration set up Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) to ensure a neater and cleaner Lagos. With the establishment of KAI, it became an offence to litter the environment and failure to properly dispose waste was no longer tolerated. The culture of indiscriminate throwing of waste out of vehicles abated, as commercial vehicles were mandated to provide wastebaskets.

Equally, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) was repositioned to offer quality and timely services in the area of waste disposal, while dumpsters were provided in major locations for the populace to dispose their waste. The fear of KAI officials and their mobile courts became the beginning of wisdom for Lagosians who realized that failure to observe environmental norms would henceforth have dire consequences.

Former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), while continuing with what Tinubu started, introduced the urban renewal programme by beautifying the Lagos landscape, with a view to creating an aesthetic, serene and idyllic environment so that Lagos could wear the look it deserved.

These efforts, good as they were, did not sufficiently tackle environmental pollution problem. This informed the decision of the current administration to come up with the Clean Lagos Initiative, a move targeted at making the environment safe to ensure the wellbeing of the citizens.

This initiative differs from the previous ones because while those ones tackled environmental issues singly, the initiative of the current government is holistic, in that it brings under one umbrella all environmental issues. The essence of this is to have a well-coordinated approach to tackle the hydra-headed problem.

While speaking at the launch of the Initiative, Lagos State governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, gave credit to former administrations in the state for their efforts to free the state from the shackles of environmental pollution challenges. He, however, noted the limitations of those efforts which necessitated the new intervention.

He added that the Cleaner Lagos Initiative was established as a “holistic approach to address the inefficiencies in our current system and identify, develop and implement concepts and solutions that address the challenges we face with unsafe sources of water, food and energy, climate change, air pollution, improper waste management practices, and our debilitating utilities infrastructure.

“If we are to achieve our goals of becoming the greenest city in Africa by 2020, eliminating pandemics that are cutting short the lives of our children, providing a better quality of life for every Lagosian, it must begin with changing our mindset and our belief systems.”

To leverage the efforts of past administrations in making the state cleaner and guard against a reversal of current efforts, Governor Ambode, in collaboration with the State House of Assembly, came up with an enabling legislation known as the Environmental Management and Protection Bill, the promulgation of which has effectively transformed the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI), into the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps Agency.

This agency will spearhead the enforcement of stringent penalties imposed on defaulters. This bill, which has been accented to by Ambode, would ensure, among others, that structures on sewage systems without approval are demolished, all commercial drivers have litter bins in their vehicles, enforce the ban on street trading as well as ensure that residents obtain permits before sinking boreholes.

Meanwhile, when KAI officers are fully integrated into LASECORPS, the agency will be tasked with monitoring and maintaining surveillance along the highways, streets and public drainages, canals, markets and parks and will have the primary responsibility of ensuring that citizens fulfill their civic duty by paying the Public Utilities Levy -a property-based charge, payable by property occupants for the management of solid and liquid waste, wastewater and environmental intervention for Lagos State.

Speaking at the signing of the new Environmental Law recently, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode said, “Compliance is the key. The burden of the cost of providing these services will remain low if everyone does their part and pays their Public Utility Levy.

“With the newly positioned LASECORPS, we will work within the community to enforce the new laws. The state will have a zero-tolerance policy for offenders because simply put, disregarding payment of your PUL or flouting the new regulations ultimately promotes activities that lead to the loss of lives.”

He stated further: “The Public Utilities Levy which is to replace all service fees previously paid to the waste management authorities is an annual charge that will take effect as the rollout commences.  We have worked closely with the public in determining the rates and have succeeded in keeping this levy relatively low. The PUL will be a major contribution to the State’s ongoing efforts to address severe challenges that are unique to Lagos because of rising urbanization. The money will be held in the Environmental Trust Fund and managed meticulously by a board of independent, SEC regulated trustees.”

To instill the spirit of hard work, the remuneration and performance evaluation of LASECORPS have been tied directly to the number of actionable fines they issue for non-compliance.

In the same vein, LASECORPS will be supported by PUMAU (Public Utilities Monitoring Assurance Unit) a unit that will have oversight responsibility by using innovative monitoring tools to ensure the new standards are effectively enforced. Depending on the nature of the offence, defaulters of the new laws will face stiff penalties ranging from N250,000 to N5,000,000 and/or imprisonment.

The governor explained the rationale behind the move: “The primary driver of the new bill and the initiatives that we have undertaken is not just cosmetic but to save lives. Therefore, we will unapologetically prosecute offender to the full extent of the law. We will make CEOs accountable, from the very top to the bottom, and the law is very specific about the consequences of non-compliance.”

Having realised how precarious environmental sanitation issues have become in Lagos State, the governor noted that “Lagos is at critical levels of pollution. We must change course because our children’s lives and future depend on it.”

Further stressing the importance of the bill, Governor Ambode remarked: “We exist in a world where the protection and preservation of public health and the environment have evolved and are primarily driven by data. We cannot compete if our laws are based on obsolete information.”

He added, “I know that the process of change may seem daunting at first but ultimately this shows that we can achieve a lot on our own and we can join with others for the common good of Lagos State. We have taken everyone along the value chain into consideration from the existing PSPs, to the cart pushers and the scavengers on the landfills. Everyone will be accommodated under this new environmental scheme.”

One of the key highlights of the new law is the prohibition of street trading which states: “It is an offence to engage in street trading along the major highways and streets of Lagos and sell in an unapproved market in Lagos while every owner, tenant and occupier of any shop, kiosks, space or stall in any market within the State shall on a regular basis ensure the cleanliness of his space”.

On the mandatory provision of litterbins in commercial vehicles, the law states: “If the driver fails to provide the litter bin, the driver will also be penalized alongside the passenger or the occupier of the vehicle who commits the offence”.

On illegal structures built on the sewage systems without approval, the law posits that such structures will be demolished. Also in the new law, anyone who wants to a sink borehole or any structure connected with the supply of water must obtain permit from the office of drainage services.

Though, the new environmental bill was meant to ensure a cleaner Lagos, tackle air and water pollution, prevent diseases and halt the deterioration of the environment to avert adverse effects on

socio-economic activities, the attendant benefit of creating about 27,500 new jobs for teeming Lagosians, will indeed be a welcome relief.

Apart from receiving N18,500 monthly, the new policy has also made a very special provision for the thousands of Community Sanitation Workers (CSWs) who will be directly employed to work on the scheme by making their salaries tax free.

Additionally, the new environmental regime will provide numerous insurance benefits including Life, Health, Accident and Injury cover to the 27,500 sanitation workers, who will also enjoy a pension scheme.

In addition, the Lagos State government has agreed with some of the consortium of international experts assembled to assist the state to champion the process that the sanitation workers who will be saddled with the task of keeping Lagos clean, will only work in their immediate communities, thereby eliminating transportation cost.

The consortium includes Wastecare Solutions & Resources Management Limited, Schaeffer, VS Industries – Coesco/Mark Ships, ABC Sanitation – Taylor Bins, Visionscape – CSH Environmental, Bespoke Management & Maintenance Services (Interstate). All the companies in the consortium are strong brands with impressive global pedigrees in waste management.