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By Ozioruva Aliu
BENIN CITY – Osadebamen Charles Imariagbe is the General Manager, Edo State Waste Management Board. In this interview, he shares the innovations and oactions the board is taking to refocus issues of waste management in overall interest of the state.
What is project clean-up Edo and how has it been successful?
Project Clean-Up was set up by Mr. Governor himself in the early part of his government, at a time when there were a lot of challenges surrounding waste management in the state.
We had a couple of heaps of refuse here and there and there was the intention to deliberately focus on sustainable environmental development in Edo state and of course waste management was key in that drive so we came up with the idea of having a team that will drive that process and the team was set up and named Project Clean-Up Edo. It started with a couple of activities, meetings, workshops were held and the Secretary to the State Government himself was the one heading that initiative and we had commissioners and heads of MDAs that were relevant to the course of environmental cleanliness and sanitation and of course the Edo State Waste Management Board was at the forefront of this so the initiative was to keep the city clean and green.
The governor visited a couple of markets and dumpsites and a couple of areas where you have heaps of refuse, challenges in terms of waste management and environmental sanitation. We went to those places, cleared up the dumpsites and pushed the refuse into the sites and erected perimeter fences around and rehabilitated the dumpsites.
We also carried out clean up exercises in market places, bringing down the long standing heaps of refuse in those places. We also carried out raids in areas where people were trading in the streets, Benin then was such that you could hardly drive through without terrible traffic in these bottleneck areas. Many people would have forgotten now because everything seems to be clean now although we still have the pictures. We had a strategy that we had to come out at night to work and I must commend the SSG who led that operation; the foremost operation at night on Lagos street and I can remember how much we mobilized and cleared up those places.
It is important to underscore this because before now it looked like it was impossible to break those strongholds and the people applauded it. That was when Mr. Governor earned the name “Wake and See” because people just woke up and discovered that the place was not what it used to be. These operations were carried out in Lagos Street, Ring Road which is the city centre, Oba Market area, New Benin, 3rd East Circular Road, Santana Market, Oregbeni just to mention a few; we cleared up all these places and we also carried out a lot of sensitization. We were also involved in vegetation control.
How is the Board ensuring this is sustained?
We are trying to sustain the tempo of the operational activities that we started and beyond that we have been carrying on clean drain activities, maintaining lawns, clearing grasses where we have overgrown grasses.
We still have the street sweepers, the Governor massively engaged a good number of them and they are spread across major roads in Benin City where they sweep the roads on daily basis and we also have evacuators who job is to come out in the morning and take the refuse that have been gathered by the sweepers, the intention is to prevent all these things from going into the drainages and clogging them which is not good for environmental sustainability.
We have also licensed some companies that would take plastic away because we want to protect the environment. One thing you must know is that plastics are enemies to the environment and you must take them out. We have licensed a company that is into plastic recycling and in the next few months we are going to expand the scope, we are bringing in more of such a consortium that will be taking the plastics away and we will be churning them into other products.
Our sensitization that the more waste you generate the more you are polluting the environment is still on. There is a campaign to ensure reduction in waste generation and we are also doing advocacy visits to schools, churches, markets, motor parks and others.
Are operations limited to Benin City alone, what about other parts of the state?
The Governor has always emphasized that we are not Benin Waste Management Board but Edo State Waste Management Board so we have spread out to other parts of the state.
The focus is to have regional offices in Edo North and Edo Central and at the moment we have set up zones in some of the other cities in other senatorial districts like Ekpoma, Irrua, Auchi and such areas and thankfully the local government areas are collaborating with us and we are setting up offices there. We have licensed waste collectors who are working in these places and we are working solely with the local governments to get dumpsites and it is working out very well.
How are you monitoring the waste managers to ensure effectiveness and efficiency?
Apart from having log books that waste managers must sign when they go out to work, we are also designing schemes whereby we are able to track waste managers in the field. We will have a technology provider who has a tracking device that is tagged on each house, we have already run the pilot and it was successful so it is such that the bar is tagged to every house and as the waste manager goes to work, he is mandated to scan that bar and by the scanning with his phone which has an app, it will send messages in three different directions so the owner of the company will get a message and he is able to ascertain where his truck is, the resident gets the message as well and we have our own dashboard where we will receive the message too and we can also monitor the waste managers.
With that you are able to determine where he has gone to and where he has not gone to and that guides our directions during enforcement. To enhance digitization of the process, we are also providing payment platforms for the clients to be able to pay because one major complaint is that they don’t want to go to the banks before they can pay.
We use POS though on pilot and we have configured the devices to read the kind of data we want them to read because it specialized, we have to configure it up to the level that we want it to be so we are running that in a couple of zones and the people are happy with it so intention is to spread across the state. We are also coming with a solution where customers can pay with USSD code. Payment is key because if the waste manager is able to get his payment, he is not able to continue the job.
How are your activities improving the economy?
When we came on board, the revenue the state government was making from the board was 40 to 44 million naira in year, that was in 2017 but last year that is 2021, we made 144 million naira and I can tell you that we could have made more than that but COVID-19 affected our operations and we have created a lot of jobs which has taken people off the streets and put food on their table, we have over 1,000 of them. With the plan that we have to go into waste recycling, you can be sure that there will be more job opportunities. We are close to getting the recycling plants; we are talking to a lot of them.
What are some of the challenges confronting the Edo State Waste Management Board?
One of them is the unwillingness of people to pay for waste evacuation, it is not good for business at all, they should understand that waste management is business for the players. Those that have been accredited to carry refuse are private companies and it is business for them, they have invested in it and they have the right to earn from their investment and services have been rendered. I do not see the reason why they do not pay. Sometimes, you meet a client and he will tell you I don’t have refuse which we consider to be untrue as there is no human being that doesn’t generate waste.
Another challenge is indiscriminate dumping of refuse, people just dump refuse anywhere, some even in the main road and anywhere probably because they want to evade payment and most times they come to do this at night.
Is there legislation backing up your activities?
We have our enabling law for waste management in Edo State and it is undergoing review at the moment. Some of the laws from the federal government which are beneficial, we also hope to domesticate like the EPR which is the Extended Producer Responsibility.
The other day we gathered producers of nylon and plastics to have that kind of meeting where we will be able to mop up those plastics from the environment.
Are there care packages or insurance for sweepers?
Overtime, whenever injuries as they relate to hazard of the job happens, the board comes in and take care of their welfare but now the state have an health insurance scheme, we are trying to work it out in such a way that they will be captured in that scheme and we are making progress in that direction in such a way that they will captured.
What penalties do you have for waste disposal defaulters?
We have our enforcement regime, we have security agencies that work with us in that direction so when people refuse to yield we only send them notices of violation, payment reminders and then court summons. But we do a lot of reminders and visits before it gets to courts.
We also have an arbitration system in house like an Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism so that whatever it is, we try to resolve it in house. The committee normally has representatives of the waste manager, the client, representative of the board and civil society representatives and representatives from the ministry of justice and most times, issues are resolved there and you don’t need to go to court.
We have customer care lines that are open 24/7, we have whatsapp lines and hear from the customers you can write to us and we will reply to you within 48 hours .