•Govt alleges sabotage of clean initiative
By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos State government is battling to restore sanity into wastes management in the state.
13,000 metric tons of wastes were generated daily in Lagos but the volume has, of recent, increased.
Consequently, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, in 2017, signed the Environmental Management Protection Law to sanitise the environment.
The law limits government’s role to wastes regulation. The wastes management aspect has been left for an environmental utility company, Visionscape Sanitation Services Limited, VSS, to handle under a 10-year franchise.
The VSS, a multinational company with the reputation for rendering innovative environmental solutions, is to manage wastes in line with global best practices and commenced full commercial operation on March 1, 2018.
The contract was to initially handle wastes in residential areas. But this did not go down well with Private Sector Participants, PSP, operators who had been in charge of wastes management in Lagos. They dragged the state government to court. The matter lasted one year and ended only when the parties in the suit reached an out-of-court-settlement. While the matter went on in court, the resources of Visionscape, which were initially meant for collecting domestic wastes, had to be stretched because they were also deployed for managing commercial wastes in public areas that had been abandoned by the PSPs.
The PSPs, now called Wastes Collectors, WCOs, have over 400 approved wastes collection operators. They concentrate on collecting commercial wastes from schools, churches, industries, hospitals and other businesses, while Visionscape focuses on residential wastes collection.
To underscore the readiness of Visionscape to fulfil its mandate, its CEO, John Irvine, in an interview with Vanguard, articulated a roadmap at the end of which he said Lagos residents would be able to appreciate the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, CLI, fully.
Irvine further stated, “In line with the CLI framework, wastes gathered by the community sanitation workers will be segregated, recycled and sent away and will be made into brushes, shovels and bins to come back into the state to be used in the environment”.
In January 2018, the state government announced a total ban on cart pushers and wheel barrow operators in the state, saying their activities were inimical to environmental cleanliness.
The Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Mr. Tunji Bello, announcing the ban, said that with the flag off of the CLI, the continuous activities of cart pushers would pose a threat to the success of the initiative.
Bello said that investigations had also revealed that the cart pushers were responsible for most of the dumping of wastes in canals and road medians at night which causes flooding, adding that, aside constituting environmental nuisance, they were also sources of security threats.
He explained that government had discovered that those set of people used the night to perpetrate all sorts of dastardly acts. They dump refuse indiscriminately on the median of major roads and highways. They also pose serious security threats because they use those carts to hide arms and ammunitions and hide under the guise of carrying refuse to rob unsuspecting residents.
The state government, therefore, declared zero tolerance for the activities of cart pushers and wheel barrow operators and directed security agencies to ensure that those found still operating are arrested and prosecuted according to the State Environmental Laws.
As part of the steps to tackle the menace, the state government arrested some suspects allegedly caught in the act. The state government, on Tuesday, said it had concluded plans to arraign four officials of some PSP operators arrested for dumping wastes on the streets in the middle of the night along the Central Business District, CBD, of Lagos Island.
Also, four cart pushers, Yusuf Saheed, Abubakar Lawal, Bashiru Umar and Amira Abdul, who were arrested in Moshalasi Alhaja in Agege area of the state, for dumping refuse in unauthorised spots, were to be arraigned in court.
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, said the PSP operators were arrested by security operatives in the early hours of Tuesday, in the process of using their compactor to dump refuse on the street.
Bamigbetan said the latest arrest brought the number of PSP operators arrested for similar offence in the last one week to five, while hundreds of cart pushers and wheel barrow operators had equally been arrested for dumping wastes in public places and canals in various parts of the state.
The commissioner maintained that the arrest was a clear confirmation of the suspicion of government that the new environmental waste management policy encapsulated in CLI was being sabotaged by vested interests.
He said: “A PSP operator was caught along Lagos Island Central Business District discharging refuse on the street. He was arrested by security operatives in the middle of the night which shows the institutional corruption that has been lingering in the sector which the state government intends to fight with the reforms put in place.
“The arrest of the PSP operator is a clear example of the deliberate efforts to sabotage what the State Government is doing. The PSP operators are not being driven out of their businesses with the reforms as they are making the public to believe.
“Under CLI, the government has made provision for the PSP operators to handle collection of commercial waste and there are over 15,000 companies in Lagos that can serve the over 200 PSP operators in the State. So far, the CLI has been able to get over 50,000 new employees out of the labour market.
“The government has also stressed itself by getting N2.5billion loan to enable the PSP operators buy equipment to be more competitive. These are the things they can key into than blackmailing government. The whole idea is to build local capacity in order to employ more of our unemployed youth,” Bamigbetan said.
Meanwhile, a PSP operator arrested in Mushin has been charged to court, while the latest suspect would also be charged to court by the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps, LAGESC.
“The PSP operators are being used by those fighting against the reforms the government is putting in place. The CLI is part of the measures to fight institutional corruption in the system which the government is determined to eradicate”, the Information Commissioner said.
“Government will not be blackmailed into abandoning the right thing for the people. The state government is committed to ensuring that the corruption in the waste management system is stamped out.
“Any PSP operator henceforth caught will be dealt with using the full weight of the law. No government will fold its arms and allow few vested interests whose interests are inimical to the majority of the people and aimed at sabotaging government’s policies and programmes to have a field day”.
He urged residents to exercise a little more patience as the current challenges with waste disposal would soon be over, just as he advised the PSP operators to support government by embracing the new initiative.
Commissioner for Environment, Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti, at media briefing in Alausa, Ikeja, said, “What we are currently experiencing across the state is temporary. It would soon disappear. All we want is for residents to bear with the state government on the refuse found across the state”.
I am not a cart pusher – Suspect
Meantime, one of the suspects, Abubakar Lawal, who claimed to be a bus driver employed by a private school, said that he was on his way to school when he was apprehended by environment officials, even as he alleged that no fewer than 15 persons were arrested but released after negotiations.
He said: “I was on my way to the school where I was employed as a driver when the state government officials arrested me. I do not know the reason for their action. And later they told me that I was found dumping refuse at unauthorized locations”.