Special Report

April 6, 2024

Now that Abia no longer smells 

Now that Abia no longer smells 

Gov Otti

By Steve Oko

Before now, one of the trademarks that indexed Abia was foul smell oozing out from dump sites at various locations in the state, especially in Aba. The garbage that littered the streets of Aba and Umuahia were a common nauseating sight.

Virtually every street was smelling and this gave Abia denigrating appellations.

Anambra-born-billionaire and oil magnet, Chief Arthur Eze, could not hide his feeling about the poor environmental condition of the state that he once described Abia as a smelling state. He made the outburst in an event where the then Governor was in attendance.

Abia recorded its worst environmental cleanliness under the immediate-past administration when staff of the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency, ASEPA, downed tools for weeks over months of unpaid wages. The streets were literally taken over by refuse. Some roads including a spot on Port Harcourt Road opposite National High School Aba, among others were almost impassable.

Vexed with the poor sanitary condition of the State, Gov. Alex Otti, during his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023, declared State of Emergency on waste management in the state. He mandated ASEPA, to, as a matter of urgency, clean up the state.

Seven months down the line, there is a noticable improvement in the sanitary condition of Abia environment. The stench that hitherto greeted commuters at dump sites in parts of the state especially on the Enugu Port Harcourt Expressway, have since disappeared.

Many of the streets around Umuahia the state capital, and the commercial city of Aba, now look clean although there is always room for improvement.

Waste management is one of the sectors the Otti-led administration has made some undeniable and appreciable imprints. Residents as well as visitors to the state, openly admit this, and urge that the feat be sustained.

An Umuahia resident and the state’s immediate-past Chairman of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Lady Chidnma Alozie, gave thumbs up to the State Government over the recorded gains in this direction, and urged that the tempo be sustained.

“To be very frank, the state is cleaner now. Not just that the roads are cleaner, you hardly see any pothole on the roads these days. You don’t see refuse dumps here and there any more especially along Umuwaya Road where you usually see refuse dumped on the roads for weeks.

“I think this idea of not dumping refuse at a particular time has also helped to restrain people from indiscriminate dumping of refuse. I will give thumbs up to ASEPA and to Government, and ask them to do more”.

Similarly, an environmental rights group,  Foundation For Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD), has commended the Otti- led administration over its efforts to improve on the cleanliness of the streets.

The Executive Director of FENRAD,  Comrade Nnanna Nwafor, described the efforts as laudable, and also urged that they be sustained.

“It was a hopeless situation in Aba, and for years until recently this administration acquired waste disposal trucks. It engaged street sweepers sweeping the roads and watering the flowers. We commend the Government for reviving ASEPA and equipping the agency with the necessary facilities.

“There is a massive improvement in the tackling of environmental challenges in the city. Flowers have been planted at junctions with a beautification design and demarcation. Most of the known refuse dump sites in Aba are now empty, with disposal trucks on every street packing waste. Most of the drainage channels have been cleared and now look clean.”

FENRAD advised residents against indiscriminate dumping of refuse particularly on water drainages. It also urged residents to comply with environmental laws.

“The state government’s spirited effort in managing waste in the state now, especially in Aba and Umuahia, is commendable and the residents should complement them by adhering strictly to the rules of the game in disposing their refuse because it is no longer business as usual”.

Even members of the opposition , also openly applaud the Government in power for its commendable efforts towards a cleaner Abia.

The State Publicity Secretary of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwokoro, told Vanguard that the Otti-led administration had so far shown capacity in improving on the sanitary condition of the state.

He said: ”The Government in power is doing a great job in terms of cleanliness of the state. You cannot compare what’s happening now to what happened during the previous administration of Okezie Ikpeazu. 

“The Government in power is very swift in making sure that everywhere is clean. In Umuahia, there is no more indiscriminate dumping of refuse. In fact, anywhere you see refuse, in a twinkling of an eye, it will be cleared.

“So, we commend Government for a job well done in this regard while praying that it will be consistent. In this, they have done fantastically well.”

Former Commissioner for Documentation and a chieftain of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Ugochukwu Emezue, also acknowledged that a significant improvement had been recorded.

He commended the efforts of the Government towards a cleaner environment but suggested that more efforts be made to ensure that wastes dropped at weekends especially at Isi Gate area of Umuahia, are promptly evacuated to avoid over congestion before week days.

Speaking with Vanguard on the magic behind the noticeable improvement in the waste management of the state, the General Manager of ASEPA, Mr Ogbonna Okereke, said the current administration “is intensional” about making Abia a clean state. He said the era of lip services and rhetorics  was over.

“ The magic is that we have just got back to the basics which include clearing the refuse timely and putting some order in management of waste. We are being intentional. We look at flash points and focus on them”.

He also described the engagement of some private firms under Public Private Partnership PPP arrangement in waste management in the state as very rewarding. 

The Statement Government had late last year, engaged six private firms (four for Aba and two for Umuahia) for waste management in the state.

The idea appears to be truly paying off as the state now looks cleaner than what obtained in the years when evacuation of refuse was squarely done by ASEPA.

According to ASEPA GM, involvement of private hands is the way to go. “ All over the world, governments go into private sector partnership. We need to widen the entrepreneurial space for people to bring their expertise.”

He further explained that after the PPI arrangement, some of the 500 ASEPA staff under direct labour, had since been engaged by the private firms.

Although the ASEPA boss was not categorical on how much the State spends monthly on waste management under the new arrangement, he noted that the major focus of the agency for now is to have a cleaner Abia that would be the preferred destination for investors.

The ASEPA GM further noted that although the agency could generate revenue for Government, at least to service its operations, its target for now is to have a clean environment.

He said that with time, Government spending on waste management would begin to reduce when the necessary mechanisms would have been put in place.

“The cost for now is basically the same but it  will begin to come down considerably on the part of Government. But for now, we are more on trying to build efficiency and service delivery. ASEPA now supervises and regulates the operations of the private firms unlike before when we were doing everything.”

Although the ASEPA boss acknowledged that some appreciable progress had been recorded under the current administration, he said some miles still needed to be covered. According to him, the target is to make Abia, a reference state in cleanliness.

“ We are not yet there. We are not even close to where we want to be but we are making some push. We are transiting to a point where every household will have its own refuse bin in front of the house. Then our vehicles will move round and evacuate them. That’s the modern way of refuse evacuation. We will soon phase out the current practice of dropping refuse at a central location.”

On the prospects, he said:” Our vision is to bequeath a legacy of proper waste management and environmental protection to Abia State. We want to revolutionalise waste management. “

He further noted that beyond waste management, ASEPA under the watch of Otti, would play the role of a watchdog in environmental protection, pollution and control to ensure nobody is exploiting or degrading the environment.

It should be noted that a revolutionalised waste management system should be one that will also be generating revenue for the state. Waste should be sorted and recycled for revenue generation. Degradable matters can be of value to the Agricultural sector.

The  state can also  scout for investors in waste recycling.  This will also help to create job opportunities for the youths.

The ASEPA boss agreed that the agency could generate revenue but added that for the moment, what is uppermost is repositioning ASEPA that would regain the confidence of Abians.

“ These are our early days because what we met on ground was a system that is bastardized. Yes, revenue generation is part of our focus. But we are not interested in people paying fines but stoping actions that lead to payment of fines. All the companies should adopt the best practices for a friendly environment, and not to flout the rules to pay fines.

“ We want a time when Government can considerably fund ASEPA with the revenue it generates. If it has to be made up, it will be minimal. But for now, we want to put things in their proper shape first”.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Abia residents will be willing to pay environmental levies without coercion if ASEPA is living up to expectations.

Yes, the people will cooperate when they enjoy good services. Payment of their levies will definitely not be a problem.

Before the rains set in, efforts should be made to desilt all blocked water drainages and evacuate the sand and debris. Measures should also be put in place to ensure they are not blocked again. 

Importantly too, the various firms engaged in waste management in the state should ensure that refuse bins are properly covered while they are being carted away to avoid falling off as witnessed some times. 

Pending the commencement of carting of wastes from homes by ASEPA, Government should, at the moment, provide more refuse bins to avoid the congestion of the existing ones at densely populated areas and markets. 

Whatever needs to be done to avoid reversal of the gains of the past seven months should be done without any hesitations.

Vanguard News