Waste: an obstacle on a megacity’s way to development

It is only 15minutes since it started raining but the gutters were already spilling out water onto the road. Hammed Abiona regretted ever been born in a city where waste reign supreme.  Just a few days ago, he had stayed for more than 3 hours in a traffic holdup on a street he would normally cross in two minutes.  He believes strongly that if not for the refuse blocking the gutters, he would not be worried every time it starts to rain. Many inhabitants of Nigeria agree with him.

One common factor mentioned by every road user ― pedestrians and drivers alike ― as the cause of heavy traffic after rains in Lagos is the speed at which water rises onto the roads which is in turn caused by refuse clogging the water ways.

Apart from obstructing the gutters and causing holdups, litters in the city deface the environment, weighing down heavily on its aesthetics. For example, in cities like Abeokuta, Ibadan and many parts of Lagos metropolis, where the roads serve as the holding place for refuse before the waste management agents come along to pick it, the litters fly around and inspire grimace from any viewer. 


water spills on the road because the gutters are blocked

Mosquito nest


Sadly, according to a National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS), cases of malaria are estimated at over 100 million annually, and more than 300,000 of these result in death. Yet, the breeding ground for anopheles mosquito, the insect that transmits the deadly disease, is voluntarily prepared by many of its victims day after day.  

When empty plastic bags and bottles are carelessly disposed in the streets, they are washed into the gutters where they clog the drainage and cause the water to remain stagnant, forming the perfect breeding place for the anopheles mosquito to complete its life-cycle and attack its unsuspecting “breeders”.

Registrar of the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON), Augustine Ebisike, recently estimated that Nigerians spend about N1.3trillion on the treatment of malaria annually. Also in 2013, the then health minister of Nigeria said the Federal Government was spending N480 billion annually on the management and treatment of malaria in the country. Meanwhile if simple precautions ─ like making sure water is never retained in the gutters ─ were taken, maybe the funds would have been channelled into other things in the health sector which would translate into real sustainable development for the country.

Apart from mosquitoes and stench, the resultant humus soil formed by the combo of stagnant water, refuse and sand in the drainages provides a viable environment for grass to grow. In the end, these help to carve nice niches not only for insects, but also bigger vermin like cockroaches, rats and mice right in the middle of the city. The city is thus put at the risk of killer diseases ranging from cholera, to dengue and lassa fever, even ebola.  



Haunted by dirt

The numerous campaigns about cleanliness, in Lagos and many other cities in Nigeria seem to have little or no effect.

Starting from Ige street of Ipaja road Lagos, the access route for people living in Aboru and Pipeline areas, the gutters are filled with an aggregates of sand, plastic bottles, polythene materials and lush green grass such that the road becomes the only possible path for rain water.

Coming out of the interior and walking along the gutters back to Super, Pleasure and Ilepo along the old Abeokuta road, it is a similar problem all through.

Another trouble spot is the Ikeja axis of the same stretch of road just under the pedestrian bridge where commercial buses stop to pick and drop passengers.  After a downpour, the road is always so flooded that pedestrians using the foot bridge to cross from the railway side of the road to the other side are forced to either wade through the dirty water, or take a big leap from the last but one rung on the stairs, to the road to avoid stepping ankle deep into it.  These gymnastics could be avoided if the heap of used plastic bottles stuck in the gutter a few paces away was removed.

The same thing happens on the Kudirat Abiola road, very close to the Police Post at the Phillip Junction, Olushosun - Rubbish in the gutter, causing serious flood after the rain.




These gymnastics could be avoided if the heap of used plastic bottles stuck in the gutter a few paces away was removed.



effects of indiscriminate refuse disposal on Lagos city
Carelessness and poverty


Ironically, many inhabitants of Lagos, in particular, agree that they are also guilty in some ways for the problem of litter constituting an eyesore and a hazard on the streets..

Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA), the government agency responsible for effective waste management has received many commendations for doing their utmost in curbing the menace presented by poor waste management. However, one problem militating against Lawma’s work is the fact that some people are either unable or unwilling to pay the fees associated with the services. Hence these ones dispose their wastes at inappropriate places.

“The waste disposal truck demands a payment of N9000 (about 40 USD) per quarter for our compound,” Ajibola a resident of Magodo Phase two estate said. “We divide the bill amongst the residents of the compound, but some people find it hard to pay.”

While Ajibola and his fellow compound residents are always able to cover for some of their neighbors’ inadequacy in paying the bills, elsewhere such neighbors are left to find a way to dispose their refuse, by themselves.

“It is people who don’t want to pay the waste disposal charges that throw dirt in the gutters and water ways,” Kabirat Olofin, a yam trader at Ilepo, on old Lagos-Abeokuta road said.

True, like Olofin asserts, there are people “who do not want to pay” the charges. Nevertheless some whose income fall far below the poverty line really have the desire to support the government’s arrangement, but how can they do it when they hardly can afford to feed and clothe themselves? Poverty too is a factor.


disposing refuse properly in Ijora



Some blames for the government?

Ironically, it is not an uncommon sight to see a very clean street lying next to sidewalks and gutters filled with rubbish.  LAWMA officials in their bright orange uniforms, sweeping the street close to gutters with over grown weeds are not rare sights at all. A probe into that phenomenon reveals that there are several different departments in the waste management office, and the ones sweeping the street are not also the ones clearing the gutters. Obviously then, the department in charge of clearing the gutters are either severely understaffed or simply under-performing. 

Atanda Kabiru, a local official of National Union of Road Transport Worker (NURTW) was quick to blame the government for laxity in that regard.

“In the 1960s to 70s, there were specially dedicated workers throughout the country whose specialty was clearing gutters and canals,” he said. “But now, there is nothing like that, even the people paid to keep the roads clean just sweep the rubbish, pack some of it, then leave the heap of sand and small debris trapped in it to wash into the gutter."


clean street, dirty drainage

No waste bins


At a recent beach clean-up trip to Takwa Bay, Adesola Alamutu, co-founder of Beach Samaritans, a Lagos based not-for-profit organisation with a mission to make beaches in Nigeria litter free noted that one major reason people dump waste indiscriminately is because of the lack of visible waste bins around. She suggested that waste bins should be placed at visible and easily accessible places on the beaches to curb the menace.

A walk on many streets in Lagos will quickly reveal that this is so.  No one is paying attention to the logical fact that people would always generate waste and would naturally want to dispose them as soon as possible.  Therefore, there are no strategically located waste bins.


Let charity come out

Fortunately, the proverbial charity has already started from homes and schools where waste bins are placed at strategic locations throughout the compounds. Nonetheless, the practice should be carried out beyond the home and school walls. Better Practice Guide for Public Place Recycling, a publication of Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation prescribes that waste bins should ideally be placed where the maximum amount of waste and recyclable material can be captured such as near entrances and exits, near tables or picnic grounds, where food is consumed, not necessarily purchased, walkways and high traffic areas, near toilets or other utilities, and car parks.

The strategic placing of waste bins and recycle bins not only helps in freeing up the gutters, but eases the work of public sanitation officials and also facilitates recycling. Though still under-explored in Nigeria, recycling is a multi-million dollar venture which may be explored in countering extreme poverty in the land.

Lawma office entrance Ijora

Recycling pays
Recycling pays


Recycling wastes is first of all a good way of protecting the environment. For example, the benefit accruable from recycling plastics and polythene products, some of the major wastes plaguing Lagos streets and gutters reduces the amount of energy and natural resources such as water, petroleum and natural gas needed to create virgin plastic. Recycling plastic products also keeps them out of landfills and allows the plastics to be reused in manufacturing new products.

In all, if as a first step, clearly marked waste bins can be placed in strategic places on the streets, and individuals could be re-orientated to throw their waste in them instead of on the ground. And if a viable alternative is provided for people who cannot afford waste disposal charges, such that they no longer have any reason to throw their waste in the gutters and other inappropriate places, public health hazards will be kept at bay.

Moreover, the rubbish clogging the gutters and creating a fertile breeding ground for disease vectors will disappear, and that will be one major item checked on a mega-city's to-do list towards achieving sustainable development. 

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