Confusion, controversy as refuse collectors hike charges in Lagos

•Residents kick, LAWMA backs operators

DAYO AYEYEMI, TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE and AKIN ADEWAKUN in this piece present all sides in the dispute over increase in waste disposal fees, in Lagos.

FRESH controversy is trailing the management of wastes in Lagos State as Private Sector Participants (PSP) operators have jacked up disposal charges by as much as 100 per cent, a hike residents say was without notice.

Following the uproar over the latest hike in refuse collection charges in the metropolis, the chairman of PSP Waste Operators in Lagos State, Mr David Oriyomi, came out to defend the increment, attributing the decision to many factors, including high cost of operations, logistics and inability of operators to meet their loan obligations to banks. According to him, the last time such an increase happened was about 10 years ago.

Speaking to Saturday Tribune, Oriyomi pointed out that PSP waste operators in the state had consistently found it difficult to repay the loans they secured  from banks to buy their trucks. He said most of the PSP operators who took such loans had been defaulting in their repayment plans due to high costs of maintaining the trucks. He stated that banks were already threatening to seize the affected waste trucks.

Oriyomi said high costs of buying new trucks and diesel were other factors, noting that fairly-used trucks now cost between N12 million and N15 million, while new ones cost as much as N50 million. He also identified unfavourable foreign exchange rate as another major factor, explaining that the costs of buying the trucks’ spare parts  from overseas had also skyrocketed due to the volatile forex. He added: “Welfare of our workers is also another factor. We need to pay them and take care of them, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic era. They too need to take care of themselves.” Oriyomi urged the state government to ensure enforcement of the environmental laws in the state so that residents do not default in the monthly payment of their refuse charge.

He explained that not all buildings would be charged 100 per cent rate of the new pricing regime, noting that most of the houses had been categorised to reflect their charges. Rather than complaining about the new refuse collection rates, he urged residents to look out for service delivery of each operator in their locality, while challenging the operators to step up their services to the residents to justify the new rates.

When contacted on the issue, spokesperson for the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), Mr Hakeem Aromire, said the increment in refuse bill did not emanate from the agency as being speculated but from the PSP operators. He said it was the operators that jacked up the fee but confessed that LAWMA was in the know as the regulatory agency. He said the upward review in refuse fees came to be after much deliberation. He stated that some of the reasons adduced by PSP operators bordered on stressful working condition of their workers, logistics and high cost of maintenance of waste trucks.

Aromire explained that most of the spare parts of these trucks were being imported from abroad and the cost of purchasing them had doubled, considering the current exchange rate of about N470 to one dollar. According to the LAWMA image maker, the least price of each of the truck is to the tune of N10 million.

On the issue of dumps near residential areas, Aromire explained that when PSP operators collected waste from the zone allocated to them, they dropped the refuse in nearby designated waste disposal sites. “We cannot say that PSP operators should collect household refuse from Alimosho and drop it in a dumpsite at Epe. No! They have to make use of the designated nearby dumpsites,” he said

 

Not a laughing matter

These are not the best of times for many residents of the state who woke up to new waste collection tariffs penultimate Wednesday, allegedly without prior notice, considering this is coming at a period many of them are still grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, dwindling consuming power, high electricity tariff and the general downturn in the economy. Some of the residents did not find the 100 per cent upward adjustment in their waste fee funny as they accused the state government, LAWMA and the PSP operators of insensitivity to the plight of the people.

They are mounting pressure on the state government to revert to the old rates.

For Mr Benedict Amadi, a resident of Ijaiye-Ojokoro and a security personnel with a private firm in Ikeja, who is on a salary of N20,000 per month, the new refuse collection charge had compounded his challenges.

He told Saturday Tribune that he wouldn’t be able to afford the new charge for his one-room apartment. The father of two said the additional N250 he had been levied for the collection of his refuse was a big sum of money to his family.

“My two children are in secondary school and my wife is a petty trader and by the time I pay house rent, transport fare, electricity bill, buy foods and buy water from a nearby water seller and on a daily basis, all my salary and my wife’s earnings would have gone, leaving us in debt before the end of the month,” he lamented. He noted that the company serving the area comes to evacuate waste once a week, on Wednesday or Thursday, or in some cases, Saturday.

Another resident, Mr Adesina Olanrewaju, who lives in a flat at Jesu Oseun\Abule-Egba area, just like other customers, called on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to wade into the matter, describing the increment in refuse collection fee as “additional heavy financial burden on residents.” He reasoned that the reasons being given by the waste operators for the increment were untenable. To him, his new tariff, which is N1,500 monthly, is on the high side. He stated that it would be difficult for him and many other residents to pay the new charges.

Decrying the epileptic service being rendered by the PSP operators, Olanrewaju claimed that the company serving his own area comes twice monthly, adding that the refuse would have littered everywhere before the truck would show up. “We do complain of these to those who come to evacuate the waste but nothing has really changed,” he said.

He explained that just like others, the company collected two months’ tariffs together with the first month serving as arrear payment and the second month upfront payment for service yet to be rendered. He noted that the company would not wait till the end of the first month before demanding payment receipts for both months.

“You are on your own once you are unable to produce payment evidence displayed conspicuously on the gate or wall of your house, as your waste will not be packed. So, it is not that we are satisfied with their service but we have no option as the state government forced them on us,” he declared.

 

Widespread protests

Residents of Ijaiye, Abule-Egba, Alakuko, Agbado Kollington, Jankara, Lambe, Meiran, Adura, Olaniyi, Puposola, U-Turn, Ahmaddiya, Berkley Estate, Fagba, Iju-Ishaga Powerline axis and many others are also not happy about the increment. They said they had lost sleep since they were served the flyers announcing the price adjustment.

Saturday Tribune investigations revealed that majority of the residents in the axis are low-income earners with many households living on average income of less than N30,000 minimum wage monthly. They said they received the news with shock and condemned the increment in its entirety. They said it wasn’t as if they were satisfied with the services being rendered by the operators but they were forced to patronise them by the state government following the failure of the local government councils to perform their constitutional roles. They described the increment as an act of wickedness on the part of the government for giving approval despite the raging effects of COVID-19 and economic hardship being experienced everywhere.

The residents said it had been very difficult for them to settle their current bills as and when due, particularly in recent times when some have lost their jobs and private business owners are recording dwindling incomes.

A cross section of residents who spoke on the matter argued that while inflation is real in the country with the Naira losing value daily, such development should not warrant the waste collectors passing on their own share of the general problem to customers just because they have the backing of the state government, adding that the companies were making enough profit that could help them adjust.

They further submitted that the operators’ current operational costs should ordinarily find accommodation within their profit margin, pointing out that another way the service providers could get by without loading problems on their customers was to engage in the sale of the waste to end users or recycle them to make more money.

Unlike the operators, residents claimed they had no other means of raising additional income to meet up with the new tariffs, considering they are currently struggling to pay the former charges. They said it was unfortunate the way private companies providing public services in the country were exploiting the people, particularly the downtrodden, just because they enjoy government support. They claimed that it had become a fact that the moment anybody or company was able to secure franchise from government at any level to provide one service or the other for the public, such opportunity had become an avenue to exploit the people. They contended that the above assumption accounted for why PSP operators and other public service providers who sometimes bill people for services not allegedly rendered should be compelled to make their financial records public from inception to date.

One of the residents who craved anonymity said the cost of living in Lagos was soaring by the day and accused government and its agencies of contributing the lion share of the burden. He noted that they had been battling with ‘crazy’ electricity bills, high cost of transportation occasioned by the hike in petroleum pump price, and increment in the prices of food items and house rents without any idea of a way out. To them, adding the 100 per cent increase in refuse fee was an additional burden from the waste collectors.

 

Being clever by half?

In some quarters, especially in Agbado/Oke Odo Local Council Area of the state, residents’ opinions are divided on the issue. While many are crying blue murder over the hike since last year, a negligible few claimed to still be unaware of the development.

For instance, some residents of No. 13, Olorunto Street, in the local council area stated that their refuse bill had been increased since last year. One of them who asked that his name be not mentioned said: “The bill was N4,000 for two months for a 10-room apartment. But what they did in October was to suddenly hike the fee by 100 per cent. It was as if they were charging the building for some imaginary extra rooms we had built. We were levied N8,000 for 20 rooms, instead of the usual N4,000 for 10 rooms. The house never had an extra room, not to talk of ten. So they are just being clever by half.”

The chairman of Olorunto Landlords and Tenants Association, Segun Ajala, an engineer, claimed that he was oblivious of the controversial increase.

According to him, his January bill, the last one so far, still reflected the old rate. “We have told them that it would be inappropriate to increase such fee at this time, when individuals and corporate economies are down, and I think there was an agreement. This is news to me because there was a meeting of various community development associations and the PSP operators in Alausa, and the agreement was to shelve such action for now,” he said.

Another resident of Low Cost Estate, Ipaja, Ade Akomolafe, said residents of the area had not been notified about the upward adjustment in refuse charges. “All I can say is that presently, I am paying N750 monthly for the evacuation of my refuse by the PSP operator in this area. The PSP truck only comes to pack the waste once in two weeks,” he said.

Condemning the new hike, Akomolafe said it was not the right time for such, considering what most residents had been going through since March 2020.

Another resident of Isolo, Hassan, who said he paid N2,000 monthly for waste collection, noted that any attempt to increase the fee at this period would be met with resistance from residents.

Unlike in developed countries where they create circular economy from waste through recycling of iron, pet bottles and plastic waste, Saturday Tribune gathered that aside from a few informal sector waste recyclers in the state, government is yet to come out with a clear policy on waste recycling in the mega city. According to experts, Lagos, as Africa’s most populated city, is managing waste generated by over 20 million residents running into 13,000 metric tons daily with old infrastructure meant for a population of three million.

 

Bad timing –Environmentalist

A Lagos-based environmentalist, Mr Michael Simire, said the latest adjustment in refuse fees was not coming at the right time, citing residents’ low purchasing power as a result of economic downturn, the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.

According to him, people have been stressed already and they will find it difficult to cope with the new adjustment in refuse bill. However, he pointed out that waste management is capital-intensive but the PSP operators should not increase the bill without going through the appropriate government regulatory agency, LAWMA, which will, in turn, raise public awareness about the issue and what the waste collection operators are going through.

Simire said there was the need for the government to intervene because people would like to know reasons behind the new price hike.

“There is the need for the state government to intervene. There is the need for justification. Anytime there is an adjustment on the side of the government like increase in fuel price, the effect goes round. The government should be careful about increasing prices,” he said.

The environmentalist urged the state government, through waste management authority, to monitor the activities of PSP operators, saying that “the announcement should come from LAWMA and not from PSP operators.”

He said “there is the need for PSP operators to relate their challenges to the public. If the price goes high, people will be forced to patronise cart pushers,” adding that a recent report showed that PSP waste managers were forced to lay off some of their workers because they couldn’t cope.

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