Mr. John Irvine
Recently, Lagos metropolis, in an unprecedented situation, had been inundated with refuse heaps thereby posing serious health hazards to over 23 million residents.
The trend was, however, attributed to the unforeseen challenges in the transition period of the state government in waste management policy, called, Cleaner Lagos initiative, CLI.
To pilot the scheme, a new waste management company, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, was contracted by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode led administration. The company, recently, received a consignment of brand new 100 vehicles into waste management fleet embedded with cutting-edge technology. The shipment consists of a series of waste trucks, from various rear end loaders to operational vehicles. The company has begun operations across the state, rolling out the next phase of contract for CLI.
The Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Visionscape, Mr. John Irvine, spoke with Olasunkanmi Akoni during an interview with Vanguard on the activities of the company and how to tackle heaps of refuse in the state, held at Alausa, Ikeja office. Excerpts:
Mission in Lagos
Visionscape is a global utility company, what we mean by utility is that we do not deal solely in waste, but also waste water.
We are in Lagos because we officially applied for an international tender that was placed by the state government to seek for an agency that would address residential waste collection in the state over a fixed contract term. With our business model, we believe that we can deliver significant benefit to the state. That was why we submitted our bid and after several rounds of negotiation on the terms and conditions, we were awarded the contract by the state government to be the major collector of residential waste in Lagos.
To kick-start the contract, which is indifferent stages, we spent the first 18 months on mobilisation of different segments of the contract. The first segment was initial mobilisation, which entails the surveying; the second stage is stabilisation, while the third is augmentation. Each of the segments takes between three and four months before full services are realised.
Resurgence of refuse in Lagos
The resurgence of refuse in Lagos was due to what we call the “Force-cycle.” It means, when the public service provider, government, and the Private Sector Participants, PSP, hand over to private contractor, which is Visionscape. We are the first private company to commit itself to something that was previously managed by the government. The difference between us and the PSP operators is that Visionscape is larger than the PSP operators. That was why we had the issue of refuse across the state then.
Presently, we are moving into the stabilisation stage. This is because for about five or six months, we have been out there completing the mobilisation exercise. In the next four or five months, we should start bringing in other equipment in stages.
The last months gave us the ability to stabilise our contractual requirement to the government, meaning, meeting the terms and conditions of the contract. After that, we are moving into the augmentation stage, which will elapse between five and six months after the expiration of the present stage. It will enhance the contract and we will see more vehicles on the road and more men working within this period. I cannot have 600 vehicles here today because I cannot train the personnel that will handle the vehicles simultaneously. This is the reason we have decided to embark on it in stages.
We understand that about 86 persons come into the state every hour. We have done our feasibility study to ensure that the challenges are tackled. This is not about managing the waste alone but also educating and implementing strategies to reduce waste generation during the cause of our contract.
We are visiting schools to enlighten and sensitize them on cleaner environment. Over the cause of the contract, waste would be generated but will be handled and managed to reduce the physical tonnage dumped.
Fleet of operational vehicles
At the moment, we have 150 vehicles serving Lagos and we have over 300 personnel, excluding support staff, tackling waste issues in the state. The 150 vehicles comprise collection vehicles, support vehicles and others. The vehicles will also arrive in the country in phases.
Current effort on removal of waste on the streets, highways
Presently, due to the issue between the state government and the PSP operators, the resources that we brought in, which were earlier meant for domestic waste as stipulated by our contract,have been deployed not only for the primary purpose but to also engage in market and commercial waste as well. Considering the technicality in our contract, we cannot sit back and allow waste envelope the state. When government that contracted us was at loggerheads with the existing system, we have to assist the state to become cleaner.
However, through the technology of Geographic Information System, GIS, we were able to identify half a million refuse collection points across the state. We have scheduled operations into 24 hours where each vehicle will run two shifts per day, even during holiday period.
For adequate maintenance and repair job, we have a Mobile Maintenance Team, with enough tool boxes for prompt response in case of unforeseen mechanical fault with any operational vehicle. This will eliminate the menace of broken down vehicle as well as turn-around operation of the gang.
Partnership with the PSP operators
The crisis between the government and PSP has finally been settled with all parties agreeing to settle out of court to ensure proper waste management in Lagos. During the negotiation, we stated that we are ready to work with everybody including the PSP operators. We are not here to get anyone out of business. Each party could exist without hindering the success of the other. Therefore, we are talking on how to work together.
I told the PSP when we met recently, that we should stop arguing and work together. We are ready to work with the PSP. I cannot offer them anything. It is up to them. But the consultant from the government and the PSP, we all need to come together. I cannot sit on my chair comfortably when I know that I have taken food from someone else. This is not ethical and it is not what we do.
Plans for landfill sites in waste mgt
At the moment, we have one defined landsite we are concentrating our efforts on. It is located in Epe. The place was a dump site before we took over. Presently, we have a deep remediation programme that is taking all the waste out into sanitized and engineered landfill site. It is like a rubber box. Everything stays inside it. With the planned facility, we can turn the water that comes from the waste into irrigation water. That could be given to farmers as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility, CSR.
After we have established engineered land filled site, we would build the diversification plant where we will deal with plastics and paper. We have the companies that we send the plastics who would turn them into raw materials which would then be turned into what could be used by the sanitation workers.
Instead of government paying for new equipment every two years, we would bring the plastic and reuse them, that is our business model.
The reason for managing one landfill site at the moment is because that is the most important one presently because to do remediation of a landfill site, it costs millions of dollars.
There are other dump sites that the government wants to close down, so we have to act quickly so that the government could have place where the garbage could be disposed rather than new dump sites opening up within the state.
We have business operations in United Kingdom and Europe, Canada and others. People think that we are a new company but that isn’t true. Our waste management team in Lagos has about 100 years of experience. I have 35 years experience in waste management.
For example, If you visit your designer and asked him to sew a suit for you, he cannot complete it in a day. It will take a week before he could complete it. That is what is called progression.
We have reached the hearts and minds of the residents and they are clamouring for change. It isn’t that there was something wrong with the previous process but the problem was that residents could not categorically say when their waste would be collected.
What we are committing to the residents, specifically when we are fully operational, is that they will be giving a card that would state when the trucks would visit their neighbourhood to collect their garbage. That is the commitment we are giving. Presently, we are reaching out to the council chairmen and the Community Development Areas, CDAs, on what is coming to their doorstep.
Garbage is a fundamental way of life and everyone has the right to have his garbage collected. How we collect it is the most important aspect. What my fellow PSP operators had done in the past was because there had been so much volume of refuse which was overwhelming.
We just want to take waste business in Lagos, a step further to the next global level. Within our business model, we are already talking to vehicle manufacturers, locally, including Cino trucks and wielders Association of Nigerian to make us vehicles.
To kick start our operations, we had to bring the vehicles from overseas immediately because the technology is not here. We were not getting the local markets that we needed and obviously, the task is enormous.
I can go and ask my board for over $200 million to build the waste to energy plant but the simple truth is that the infrastructure to put that power in place is not available. But at the moment to build a plant for the state may not be visible. The reason was that the state will not get the true value it deserves from the facility. This is because of lack of infrastructure.
Refuse collection on waterways
The CLI has a water facility in another element but we don’t have a brief at the moment to collect refuse from waterways, but we will look at it because it is within the CLI project.
The contract sum
There is no stipulated amount for the contract. It is performance based. If I don’t perform, I will not get paid. There is no physical money attached to the contract. We have to deliver before we receive our payment.
However, on what we have invested, one needs to check the cost of one compactor truck. It is between $180, 000 to $200, 000 each. If I tell you that we need 600 vehicles you know what thst amounts to. Besides the cost of each truck, funds would be invested in landfill sites and others. But, we have to make it work for the state and the residents.
Advice for residents
I thank them for their patience so far. This is a journey, a very long one, but a journey from what they see on the street at the moment to an environment that they deserve and will get between six and 12 months. This is because of the integration that I spoke about. There will be huge difference in the coming weeks. But the real difference would be experienced within this period. This is probably the 20th contract I will be working on and the contract span to different continents.
It is same problem in every market and no matter what, the government, the PSP and others do, it often happens. What we are seeking from them is patience.