The new plan of Lagos State Government for solving challenges of waste management in the state is commendable. However, beyond the politically correct statements of “improving efficiency, protecting the environment, enhancing social living conditions and improving human health,” the relevant agency must consider the peculiarities of the society as it endeavours to apply the best available practices in today’s world.
It will be recalled that the state cancelled the monthly environmental exercise, stating that it was inappropriate to lock in residents of a large metropolis such as Lagos for hours once a month. It retained the Thursday sanitation exercise for markets and commercial houses. There is need for a revision of the law setting up Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA). Regular waste collection is presently hampered resulting in poor service delivery and attendant irregular payments. The waste management agency is over-whelmed with demands of coordinating 350 PSP companies while needing to fulfill its statutory functions to “enforce existing regulations and generate revenue.” The billing system is unduly complicated.
To tackle the problems, the Lagos State government intends to acquire 600 new compactor vehicles because “300 out of the existing 350 are old and in a state of disuse.” The new programme includes transforming existing Transfer Loading Stations while introducing Material Revolving Facility (MRF) for sorting waste. It also plans to establish a new power station in each of the five divisions, to generate power from waste and close down Olusosun and Solus dumpsites; giving way to engineered sanitary landfill sites. Olusosun will be developed into a Motor Park for Intercity buses while the government intends to engage 25,000 Community Sanitation Workers as Street sweepers (each resident in his or her ward), to be well-kitted with even phones for communication with Control Centres. The government has projected that the new scheme will generate 46,000 jobs.
In Section 4(1) (d), LAWMA is empowered to “prepare and update master plans for all its functions.” However, there is need to amend the section stipulating specific amounts for contravention. At present, dumping of non-toxic waste attracts a fine of N5,000.00. For toxic waste, the fine is N50,000.00 in addition to jail terms for the Chief Executive Officer and Secretary of the company. These figures are ridiculously low in face of present realities.
On the question of what to do with the waste, there are plans for processing into manure and for generating electricity. This necessitates determining the quantum of waste, acquisition of appropriate equipment, deployment of latest available technology and human capacity development. It is therefore essential that a long-term strategy is instituted for sustainability. We cannot soon forget the policy somersaults of past eras; especially the incinerators facilities built in Oshodi and Ilubinrin but were not used by successive military and civilian administrations until the administrations of Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola put them to use.
Although the new programme mentioned sorting of waste, there is need for further considerations. The refuse consists of assorted materials: plastics, glass, and biodegradable substances. All these get revealed at dumpsites. There must be a concerted effort for sorting at source; whereby residents have separate bins for waste items, in their homes or at designated points.
There has been no statement on the role of the Local Government and their subdivisions called Local Council Development Areas. Just as the Federal Government cannot do the things that ought to be handled by states, this extends to the third tier which has the first role in services including waste management. The new programme by Lagos would seem therefore a further extension of the states’ take-over of Local Governments’ statutory responsibilities. Of particular relevance to waste management is the condition of township streets that are classified as Local Government roads. The Compactor vehicles do not ply streets because most are not motorable; except in highbrow areas and private estates. Better roads mean better living.
The general populace has a major role to play. The entire citizenry must consider what happens to the pure water sachets, plastic food containers and cans of beverages. Sorting these items at dumpsites is a thriving business with its structure for scavenging. Importers and bottlers of bottled beverages need to consider setting up the machinery for recycling bottles just as breweries and bottling companies do.
Recycling of waste is therefore an area of business opportunity for entrepreneurs. A German lady who settled in Kenya started a business of collecting glass waste and converting them into various products. Years ago, the former head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency utilised his experience to venture into the business of recycling waste into electricity. There are many such examples to learn from.
The government must as a necessity include public enlightenment in its new plan. It is shocking that many Nigerians (of all classes) still have no qualms about throwing things out of their cars on to the road; thereby blocking drainages and causing flooding.
Lagos requires a bold approach to meet the needs of its estimated 20 million inhabitants. This seems to be the case with the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, in which Lagos again sets the pace for the rest of the country.