Tuesday, September 4, 2018 12:07 pm
By Hope Eghagha
Lagos, that great city which Nigerians love and are awed about, stinks. It stinks from filth. I don’t mean this in any figurative sense. The city of Lagos literally and practically stinks of filth, accumulated and daily droppings. There is a permanent foul odour in most parts of the city. It is the smell of filth, of human wastes and refuse. The smell is stronger in some areas than others. Sometimes when you arrive in certain parts of the city the smell hits you once you open the car door, just like the city so well described by Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah in his novel The Beautiful Ones Are Not yet Born! The reason is clear: we have failed to manage waste or refuse disposal efficiently in Lagos. Yet, we love Lagos. Those who come here to live do not want to leave, even after retirement. There is something that is repellently attractive about the ugly beauty of this city, the Nigerian equivalent of Sin City!
Of late the filth situation has got worse. Small heaps dot different corners of the city. Sadly, the smell is not restricted to the slums. The Marina which is on the island smells of excrement. I once drove from Satellite Town to the Marina and parked at the Fist Bank headquarters. I could not believe the foul smell that hit my nostrils.
Satellite Town through Ojo through Orile also smells badly. Ajegunle is the home of filth. Its opulent squalor can make a movie win an award. The relatively new layouts in the Okokomaiko-Ajamgbadi axis have a permanent stench too. Driving through Bariga or parts of Isolo and Mushin the smell hits you with a blinding force. Festac Town is now a slum where you sometimes run into a heap of refuse. Lagos Island is not left out. Gowon Estate in the Iyana Ipaja area and the government houses on the island also wear the smell. Behind the culture of filth accumulation is the inefficiency of the state, the failure of the system and apathy on the side of the people.
There was a time when Lagos like other towns and cities in Nigeria had ‘night-soil men,’ or ‘agbepo’, or ‘onyeburu,’ men who lifted excrement with buckets from tenement buildings. Some carried their stuff in broad day light, their faces partially or fully hidden behind a mask. Their ‘stuff’ was unloaded at a particular depot for onward processing. Sometimes huge buckets containing human wastes were left unattended to for days.
There was a time when those human waste disposal vehicles used to also empty their cargo into the lagoon. Indeed I am not sure where they drop off their cargo these days. I just know that sometimes when you drive on Third Mainland Bridge and descend at the Lagos Island end, a strong stench of human waste used to offend the nostrils. That seems to have been stopped.
The people! We grew up in a culture that abhors filth. Little boys and girls were routinely taught how to sweep the house and the compound. There are a thousand proverbs and wise-sayings about keeping the house clean. In most towns once we found a food vendor to be dirty, people avoided her shop or canteen. These days alongside an ‘amala joint’ in Lagos there is a heap of filth waiting to be cleared.
I have never had any faith in the so-called monthly sanitation exercise. By this practice in most parts of the federation, we are commanded to remain locked indoors so that we may clean our environment. We would sweep the compounds, clear the gutters and empty the accumulated filth on the road. The bargain is that the government will send its trucks to clear the filth. Often the trucks come very late if they come at all. The waste somehow finds its way back into the gutter and the cycle begins again. On Thursdays shops don’t open early. They remain closed till 10am to enable shop owners clean their environment. The truth is that cleaning should be an everyday habit. The people should play their role. The government on its part should provide the necessary infrastructure to facilitate a clean environment.
All over the world waste disposal is not managed by the state government. It is and ought to be a local issue. In other words, the local governments should manage wastes in their domain. The same challenge which we encounter in managing Nigeria is replicated in the states. Indeed major towns and cities ought to have their own waste management bodies. The PPP approach has worked in some areas. Suffice it to say that a party could lose or win an election in a local government on account of waste management. But it would seem that the state governments have no faith in the local councils managing waste. Any government or people that cannot manage waste cannot do anything significant for the people. Poor waste management is unhealthy. It breeds mosquitoes, other diseases and pollutes the environment. The connection between malaria and mosquitoes has been scientifically proved. As mosquitoes increase, the number of malaria cases also increases. So, we must clear the heaps of filth across Lagos on a regular and daily basis.
Lagos is too big for one body or organisation to manage its wastes. The amount of waste generated everyday could be turned into a gold mine if properly managed. In line with its slogan ‘Centre of Excellence’ and ‘Eko oni baje,’ Lagos should strive to get its act on waste management right. We appreciate and see the government efforts in trying to make Lagos a real megacity. But a megacity that cannot manage waste, that smells of excrement even in the most beautiful areas cannot be said to have achieved much.
There is no excellence in smelly cities! The perception right now is that LAWMA which seems to have been confined to Alimosho axis (not sure about this) did a better job managing waste in Lagos than the current arrangement. The vision of Visionscape, the current managers of waste in Lagos city, is certainly not clear. Those small green miserable trucks which Visionscape parades shows that the vision needs to be treated by social ophthalmologists! Besides, nobody in my view should cede waste management to one or two organisations in a megacity. It is a fundamental contradiction.
We love Lagos, not as a smelly city but as a city that strives towards cleanliness. The people cannot embrace neatness except they are compelled by enforcement. This is one of the weak points in the chain. Nobody gets punished for keeping a dirty environment. The Lagos government should develop a more efficient and robust strategy for clearing filth. A private-public sector venture where citizens pay for their wastes to be cleared is an option they should consider.
Finally, the dump site at Ojota as you enter Lagos should be closed down. It is an antithesis of Eko oni baje! If anything, it ‘bajes’ the image of Lagos
•Courtesy: The Guardian