By Adewale Phillips
THE spate of increasing global and national concern over the state of the environment has rapidly shifted the responsibility from governments to a more consensus-based approach, where all stakeholders have a role to play in environmental protection. This ever-increasing awareness of the fragility of the biosphere in which we all live, coupled with a growing desire to get involved in its protection has given rise to the state of emergency recently declared, by Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, “on Nigeria’s water supply, sanitation and hygiene”. The president’s declaration is in line with the UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene initiative generally known as WASH.
The UNICEF WASH programme advocates for universal, affordable and sustainable approach to managing health issues whilst contributing to an improvement in the number of people benefitting from improved water and sanitation facilities. The World Health Organization, WHO, in 2015, estimated that “1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are still without sanitation facilities,” while 663 million people still lack access to safe and clean drinking water. Little wonder President Buhari’s declaration is coming on the heels of years of attacks leading to a waste crisis due to the beleaguered service contract Lagos signed with Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, which has been subject to alleged sabotage by ‘vested interests’.
The state of sanitation across the country necessitated the inauguration of the National Action Plan for Revitalisation of Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene during the past week. In his resolution, President Buhari instructed “government at all levels to redouble efforts and work towards meeting the nation’s water supply and sanitation needs”. This development brings to the fore the need for a more sustainable approach in environmental protection.
Eighteen months ago, the Lagos State Government developed a comprehensive ‘Cleaner Lagos Initiative’, CLI, which was underpinned by an Environmental Law for the precise aim of opening up the sector to the desperately needed investment in infrastructure. Lofty aims which have since been truncated by the local political machinery of the State which is controlled by a significant and vocal group within the well-established “Private Sector Participant, PSP- waste management scheme”.
The advent of incumbent Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration recognised a need for a more sustainable system of waste management that transcended the mere collection and disposal services provided by the existing PSP operators. To this end, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions was contracted by the Lagos State Government to develop a world class waste management system under the CLI while also providing waste collection services, as well as the construction of the State’s waste management facilities, including the development of Nigeria’s first engineered landfill.
The scheme was to be scalable with a contract duration of ten years during which mobilisation, augmentation, and stabilisation periods were slated to span over two years while infrastructural upgrades, bin distribution, public awareness, assets and equipment acquisition, and other plans were gradually rolled out. But all that effort seem to be go to waste none of these turned out as expected due to a bitter court battle between PSPs and the new entrant, oft-repeated sabotage claims, and the infamous Olusosun fire in March 2018.
The company which had its fingers burnt has soon discovered that unlike other issues, it found out that tackling waste management requires a significant amount of support in complicated political environments such as ours.
For instance, what they were putting into the landfill was technology to minimise landfill usage. The plan being to introduce anaerobic digestion where organic waste would have been converted to much needed power which was light up as well as power supply in the surrounding area.
Without doubt, environmental solutions must harness local realities and it has become evident that they will often require reverse engineering to suit the realities on ground. In providing solutions, it is necessary to identified the gap between infrastructure provision and population growth within the locality.
The irony of course is that a multi-faceted environmental company that has already established a footprint and has also had a trial by fire in local politics may actually be in a position to work across the country in developing solutions for wastewater treatment in particular, which tends to be nexus of challenges in potable water supply.
One wonders whether the desire to partner with our governments both state and federal is still there after being made a political football by Ambode’s detractors?
Beyond all the politics, it cheering to note that the company was successful in a green bond – the first time a bond is not being tied to the ever-fluctuating oil price. Thus, making it the single biggest investment in the environment ever made in Nigeria. Other States need to realise this is a pioneer move that Lagos State has embarked on, one which they equally need to emulate. It is hoped that they will leverage on the strengths of similar schemes while making allowances for their political realities to enable a solution that will benefit to all.