For the otherwise high-flying Ambode governorship, the present refuse crisis in Lagos is a threatening legacy blight.
How can Governor Akinwunmi Ambode brilliantly succeed on so many new fronts, yet fail on the notorious Lagos refuse, which even the most skeptical of Lagosians had thought the continuum of Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola governorships had resolved for good?
That explains the bitterness and anger, among the populace, as they scowl at the rising mountains of refuse in places like Oyingbo, Idumota, Broad Street, Balogun, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tinubu areas of the Lagos Central Business District, and Mushin, to mention a few places.
Besides, now common is the very ugly and smelly sight of bouquets of scattering refuse, lined up on medians city-wide, many of these roads brand new facilities that ought to have boosted city beauty, but now reduced to an urban sprawl of cascading dirt.
The time to dismantle the refuse is now — not before it is worsened by the coming rains; not before refuse, mixed with rain, has ended in a flood disaster; not before it forces a needless epidemic, with a hideous cost, on the health of the citizenry.
Yet, you could hardly blame Governor Ambode for wanting a better refuse management system, which he introduced under the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) programme.
Even with the present crisis, that initiative comes with many laudable thrusts, like charging Visionscape Sanitation Solutions (VSS), the new CLI grand drivers, with refuse infrastructure tasks: construction of more transfer loading stations, waste-to-energy plants, recycling facilities, biomass plants, leachate and waste water treatment schemes, dumpsites and land-filled remediation. These capital chores clearly point to where the Lagos refuse management is going: an integrated effort to process and turn the state’s tumbling refuse into rumbling wealth.
The CLI came with the nitty-gritty: VSS came as the new sheriff in town; and is perceived as elbowing out the old players in the refuse market, the Private Sector Participation (PSP) veterans that drove the market from the Tinubu and Fashola years.
Though the Lagos State government keeps on insisting it had the market pieced out — household for VSS and commercial and industrial for PSPs, now known as Waste Collection Operators (WCOs), these waste market veterans counter VSS is nothing but a virtual monopoly, invented to elbow the older players out of the business.
Whatever the truth of the matter among contending claims, what is indisputable is that both sides were bitterly opposed on the new scheme; a near-war refuse situation thus arose. WCOs not only withdrew their services to bitterly lick their wounds, many of them are accused of deliberate sabotage to make VSS look bad and incompetent. Meanwhile, VSS, even with its avant-garde equipment and superior investment, is clearly overwhelmed, being new in the operating environment. Meanwhile, the citizenry had cashed in on the situation, dumping refuse wherever that caught their fancy.
That is why the Lagos State government must make this new VSS-WCO entente a new beginning. The VSS entry into the Lagos refuse market may have been close to near-disaster. But the people — not VSS or even the government — are the net losers. A degraded environment is everybody’s blight. Now, it’s a lose-lose for everybody, even the WCOs, some of which members are accused of sabotage.
But it is time to turn the situation to win-win. Talking of that, a segment of WCOs has disputed the government announcement that VSS and the old PSPs are now to share the household refuse segment, which the WCOs claim is the real deal. Though some casual observations negate the WCOs’ claim, the protest suggests not all of the WCO segments have been reintegrated.
The Lagos State government should move fast to rectify that. As many of the WCOs as are ready should be drafted into the scheme. Indeed, the government should declare a refuse clearing emergency with a definite deadline, and press into service the newly integrated gang, to rid the state of these mountains of filth.
Lagos cannot enjoy progress on sparkling new infrastructure, in new roads, bridges and ultra-modern bus terminals but endure retrogress in the blight of failing refuse management — and attendant catastrophe.
Such retrogress threatens the emergent immaculate spirit of Lagos, which scoffs at any hint of rot or decay.