In time past, Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, was adjudged the cleanest city in Nigeria. CHRIS NJOKU writes that the state has become a city of mounting garbage
Ngozi Adaoha sells cooked groundnut in a wheel burrow along Douglas Road in the Municipal Council of Imo State. She has the penchant for leaving the shell of her groundnut on the spot where she sells. Each time her neighbours complain, her response has always been “are you the owner of the road?” Today, other groundnut sellers have also lazily joined Adaoha to litter the environment with groundnut shells.
Unlike Adaoha, Nwaoyi Janet, a trader at the popular Ekeokwu Market has the habit of fly-tipping the solid waste she generates from her shop daily into the gutters. In front of her shop is this heap of garbage which has mounted as a result of her careless dumping of garbage in the gutter.
Typically, people have become too lazy and unwilling to throw away trash appropriately. It is common to see people discard trash out of their kitchen windows or balconies probably because they are too lazy to put it in the rightful places. Carelessness has also made people just throw garbage anywhere without even thinking about it. The result is heaps of garbage littering major streets and roads.
The deleterious practice is on the increase in Imo State. This is projecting the state which was once regarded as the cleanest state in the federation in bad light.
Experts are now worried about the nonchalant manner traders and residents dispose waste products in the once-cleanest state.
An environmentalist, Godson Anukam, who condemned the attitude of most traders in major markets in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe in terms of waste disposal, noted that the people usually stuff the gutters with solid wastes generated from the shops daily.
“The roads are littered with garbage even when there is a constant effort by the government to evacuate the waste on a daily basis,” he said.
He also noted that major roads and streets that ordinarily should be neat and glittering are littered daily with garbage that creates unhealthy environment.
Anukam expressed concern that since this is the season for fresh maize, people selling and roasting maize have equally joined in the act and are blocking the water channels.
He said: “Agreed that it is the duty of government to provide infrastructure, citizens must make efforts to protect and preserve such infrastructure and ensuring the safety of the environment.
“Even practices such as leaving items overflowing beside a dust bin, deliberate throwing of items from vehicles and abandoning items or wrappers by the roadside qualifies as littering.”
According to him, littering is a dangerous activity and should not be taken lightly because it impacts the environment in multiple ways. “It can facilitate the spread of diseases, even as it pollutes the environment.”
Aside from this, millions of naira is spent by the state government monthly in clean-up efforts to reduce littering. This makes littering a huge problem because money that would have been used for progressive development is partly directed to waste management programmes. It was learnt that the government spends close to N25 million monthly in clearing wastes.
Though this estimate is slightly higher than what the man in charge of refuse evacuation in the state revealed his agency spends monthly to discharge its responsibility.
The General Manager, Imo State Environmental Transformation Commission (ENTRACO), Alex Emeziem, told The Nation that “the very first money we received for the monthly sanitation exercise was N13 million. The highest we had received was N20 million.
With this amount, the agency, he said, is expected to take care of its three zonal offices in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe, take care of the police, civil defence; mobile court, hire vehicles and equipment.
It was gathered that the budget now is a far cry of what the agency was receiving during the administration of former Governor Ikedi Ohakim who, incidentally was appointed the Chairman of the agency by the current administration of Ihedioha.
“The budget under Ohakim was much higher than what we receive now. But because of the financial situation of the state, we make do with what we receive from government. ENTRACO doesn’t get dire for daily evacuation of garbage.
“We have a lot of financial challenges. The cost of evacuating garbage is huge; waste is something you don’t keep for 24 hours. If you don’t cart away garbage today, tomorrow, it is doubled because everybody is generating waste, including newborn babies,” he said.
“Moreover, he observed that Owerri, the capital city, “is getting overpopulated; it is getting congested. So, without an effective system of waste evacuation in place, the situation may be worse. That’s why we have decided that people must pay their sanitation fees. We did not make the law; it has been in place since 1978. But we don’t want to go asking people to pay now because we want to ensure the service is effective,” he said.
But there appears to be trouble in the system that may hamper envisaged effective service delivery.
According Emeziem, there are people who are trying to sabotage the agency’s efforts in providing effective service for the public.
“Some people who were managing it before during the time of the immediate past administration allegedly felt they should sabotage us so that ENTRACO would be seen as incapable and would be recalled to take back the job. The saboteurs allegedly went to dump garbage at the Government House Roundabout and some other places just to embarrass the government. But we are on top of the game.”
He said beginning from this month; the agency will constitute taskforces that would go from street to street to evacuate garbage.
“We advise residents not to dump their wastes on the streets. They should rather leave them in their premises. We give them two days a week just as it is done in the civilised world. If we are going to your street on Tuesday and Friday, we tell you the time the truck will come. All you need to do is to neatly pack your garbage in the sanitation bags which attracts a fee of N50 for evacuation.
“All you need to do is to bring out your waste to your gate. As the trucks pass-by, they will pick them up. If we see people carrying garbage on the road after the November 1, the task force will arrest and charge them for illegal dumping. That is the way forward for waste management in the state.
“We are going to have a task force on abatement. Once your gutter is desilted and you are caught throwing waste into it, you will be slammed with abatements,” he said.
As the operation is yet to commence, our investigation reveals that the agency’s waste disposal bins which are over 1,000 in number and bought at the cost of N65,000 each and mostly placed at various bus stops in the city, are small in size to contain the garbage to be dumped in them daily as the wastes, most times, spill to the roads.
The agency’s boss explained that the bins were bought when the agency thought it was a good deal until sabotage crept in.
“We thought it was good deal to take the refuse off the roads with bins, and they were serving perfectly well until sabotage crept in. People came to fly tip in those places leaving items overflowing beside the dust bins. It is not our intention to keep bins on the streets for too long. In the next six months, the bins will disappear from the streets because we won’t expect people to bring out their wastes to the streets anymore,” he said.
As the agency makes frantic efforts to cart away garbage heaps in order to keep the urban areas clean, there appears more serious problem of waste evacuation in the rural areas.
Investigation revealed that some garbage had stayed over five years without evacuated while people have resorted to dumping wastes in undesignated areas. As a result of this, wastes spin into roads thereby making some roads impassable.
The General Manager, who admitted that there are a lot of wastes in the villages, revealed that the current administration formed ENTRACO in all the local government areas to evacuate garbage.
“The local government chairmen were also mandated to give the ENTRACO some amount of money every month. We cannot do daily evacuation in various areas. We lecture the villagers, particularly the marketers, on where to drop the wastes they generated, separate the organic wastes from non-organic ones and put them at a particular spot so that on clean-up day, we hire a truck to cart the garbage away. They are doing the work well,” he said.