The stench from a mountain of refuse welcomes visitors to Gengere, a community situated behind the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos. Rotten food and crop items from the market, bottles, plastics, domestic wastes, and assorted refuse are gathered in the heap, and cart pushers dart to and fro the location as they make brisk business.

A smaller community is situated around the refuse heap, several people erecting their homes near it and others building their businesses there where they make different delicacies they sell to people.

‘A sensitive issue’

Gengere is contiguous to the Mile 12 market and as a result, the activities in the market spill into the community.

Some residents lamented the impact of indiscriminate waste disposal in the community by the cart pushers. Others, however, said they are used to the “terrible air pollution” in the area.

Adeshina Showande, the immediate past chairperson of the Mile 12 central community development association, said the issue is a sensitive one and they had been calling the attention of the state government to it with no response.

“The community has its peculiarity because of the market we have here. It is a big market and they generate a lot of waste. I don’t know the way they discard their waste, but we, the host community, suffer.

“We see those cart pushers coming from far and near, from Ketu and many other places. When they come, the boys collect tokens from them and allow them to discard the waste there.

“The community has no control over the dumpsite because there are some youth who take the area as their hold and collect money from cart pushers and for other illegal waste disposal activities,” Mr Showande said in a tone that suggests they do not want any problem with the thugs that benefit from the indiscriminate waste disposal.

Mr Showande said the area is overpopulated and polluted and they have written to the state government for help but have received no response yet.

Residents’ outcry

A shop owner in the area, Yetunde Balogun, told PREMIUM TIMES that the situation is often unbearable with the entire atmosphere filled with a putrid smell, coupled with leakages from waste carts that pollute the air.

“Many of them (cart pushers) have taken it as their job, they don’t care that they make living or doing business in the area difficult. If you see them in the morning and evening moving en masse with waste they have collected from different areas, you will be surprised,” she said.

The business owner said whenever the smell oozing from the cart pushers’ waste becomes harsh, people in the vicinity stuff their noses with cloth, hoping that the smell would only last a few minutes.

Another resident, Sola George, who said he has been residing in the area for several years, said many of the people in the community are used to the situation.

“There is nothing most people can do about it, especially people who have properties here or cheaper accommodation. When outsiders visit us here, the first thing they complain of is the polluted atmosphere,” he said.

Mr George added that raising kids in the area is becoming increasingly difficult because children cannot be allowed to play around the way they would have loved to, due to contamination.

Meanwhile, Mr Showande, the community leader, explained that the location of the dumpsite was a swamp as it is very close to a canal, but some individuals started throwing wastes there and it grew to become a large refuse heap over the years.

“The community was in existence before the market came and that place (dumpsite), they call it Gengere. Gengere was a swamp, a very big one, a considerable large swampy area but close to the canal.

“We have tried our best, we wrote a lot of letters to environment (ministry), to lands (ministry) and even the government itself. A lot of petitions have gone because we are the immediate neighbours to the market.

“Apart from the dirt pollution, we have mono pollution from their vehicles and other activities. They are so much and they generate a lot of waste, the population in this area is so much and we cannot control it,” he said.

The illegal waste economy

PREMIUM TIMES observed how scores of men, both young and old move around residential areas in Ketu, Alapere, Kosofe, and Mile 12 axis calling on people to bring their waste in the usual parlance, ‘barrow, barrow’ – meaning wheelbarrows with which the waste are moved.

At the sound of the parlance, the patrons of the cart pushers call on them from different angles, handing out their waste. The majority of the cart pushers are from northern Nigeria and have also built shanties around the dumpsite, in which they reside with their families.

A cart pusher, who identified himself as Musa, said he makes a minimum of N1,000 daily depending on how much refuse he can collect.

“I go out in the morning and evening, if I see people well well, some go give me N200, N150 and more than that,” he said, explaining that the volume of the waste determines the price. They also dispose of the waste for as low as N50/N100.

Despite the huge numbers of cart pushers, all of them get their customers, as it is hard not to find waste to collect from people, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.

The cart pushers also collect waste from the market, including perishable food items which they dump at the site.

According to the Lagos State Waste Management Management Agency (LAWMA), the state generates an estimated 14,000 metric tonnes (about 490 trailer loads) of waste per day.

While the cart pushers make money from the illegal waste disposal activities, groups of youth in the Gengere community also collect some money from the cart pushers before allowing them to dump the waste.

The Lagos environmental law

While Lagos State has laws that prohibit the activities of cart pushers and people who patronise them, some residents said they prefer the outlawed cart pushers for “easy and cheaper waste disposal.”

“It is more convenient for me, I don’t have to wait two weeks before LAWMA comes to carry my waste. They (cart pushers) pass every day and I decide when to dispose of my waste at a small price,” a resident at Akinwale Street in Ketu said.

Meanwhile, the state government through the Lagos State Environmental (Sanitation and Waste Control) Regulations 2014 stipulated guidelines for waste collection and disposal in the state.

The waste management agency, LAWMA, has the statutory responsibility to collect wastes and dispose of them at designated landfills. This, the agency does through its numerous Private Sector Participation (PSP) operators working across the state.

In 2017, the government enacted the Environmental Management and Protection Law of Lagos State (2017) to consolidate all laws and regulations in the state applicable to the management and protection of the environment.

Section 63 (1) of the law says; “No person shall operate any waste collection, transportation, recycling and disposal business without a license issued by the commissioner or the Authority.”

Section 81 of the law also prohibits the collection and disposal of waste in a way that has an adverse effect on the environment.

“A person shall not treat, keep or dispose of controlled waste in a manner likely to cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health,” item d of the section says.

It also stipulates a N50,000 fine with two years imprisonment for persons who contravene this provision of the law .

Despite the provisions of the law, cart pushers have continued to operate unabated in different parts of the state, causing environmental hazards.

Experts speak

Speaking on the issue, Mike Karikpo, Programme Director at Environment Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria, said it is a dangerous affair and should not be seen happening in a metropolitan city like Lagos.

“It is very dangerous, especially when waste is not sorted. You could have very dangerous waste from hospitals, labs, industries that could be dumped in that area.

“Apart from the air pollution and methane that it releases into the atmosphere, it could also impact the groundwater. All of these things can sink into the groundwater, those who have boreholes around there could be drinking contaminated water and this could be serious contamination,” he said.

The environmental advocate said that in an ideal situation, landfills are covered with materials that would not allow the decomposing items to contaminate the groundwater, even before the site is put to use.

Mr Karikpo said with the provisions of the environmental impact assessment law, the community ought mount pressure on the Lagos State Government, especially the ministry of environment and the waste management agency, to look at the abnormality.

Another environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey, said the issue of dumpsites in residential areas is very sensitive because it affects people directly.

“It is not right to have a landfill in a residential neighbourhood and there are many reasons why this is so,” he said, referring to the pollution it causes.

Mr Bassey said since the location is an informal waste dump, it is an illegal activity and hazardous.

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“Before a waste dump can be designated somewhere, there has to be an environmental impact assessment to which the community will contribute to examining whether they have objections or whether they accept.

“If that is not being done and people are just dumping waste, that is a haphazard activity. The local government and the state government ought to step in and stop it and clear that place for the safety of the people,” he said.

He added that the community stands the risk of groundwater contamination and the boreholes and water pumps in the area should be assessed and the water tested for contamination.

The environmental activist further said most of the landfills in Nigeria are not actual landfills, but mere dumpsites.

“A proper landfill should be designed and constructed, it is not just a hole in the ground that people go to dump things. You can’t dump all kinds of wastes mixed up, whether they are medical, chemical and domestic waste. There should be a separation in terms of what goes into what landfill,” he said.

He added that properly designed and constructed landfills have membranes to ensure there is no contamination of the groundwater from the waste that is dumped there.
Exposure to methane

Mr Karikpo further said the illegal dumpsite, if not checked, can cause havoc not just to the host community but to the state as a whole due to the emission of methane gas.

The expert said methane will be one of the biggest issues to deal with and it is very dangerous if not properly harnessed into energy.

“Methane gas contributes to global warming and can cause the dumpsite to catch fire, there is also air contamination.

“Methane is one of the most dangerous gases you find anywhere and it usually comes from rotten foods and crops. It is one of the most dangerous gases when you want to talk about climate change. It is even more dangerous than carbon emission into the atmosphere,” Mr Karikpo said.

According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO), the global warming potential of methane is 84 times higher than CO2. Methane is a gas produced by the decomposition of sewage, organic and solid waste.

Research also shows that high levels of methane can reduce the amount of oxygen breathed from the air, and can result in mood changes, slurred speech, vision problems, memory loss, changes in breathing and heart rate, unconsciousness and other conditions depending on its severity.

Mr Karikpo said the community needs to take action if they cannot get the state government or the waste agency to do something.

“Their lives are at risk, the community needs to do something on its own, they need not wait for anyone to take action for them,” he said.

Waste Management Agency Reacts

The official in charge of landfills for LAWMA, Felix Solus, said plans are underway to end unapproved dumpsites in the state.

“The plan we have for those places is to level and carve the place, just like what we are doing at Olusosun right now. The plan is to get them off the dumpsites because we know that what they are doing is not correct,” he said.

He said some of the landfills were previously used by LAWMA and were closed, but people around are taking advantage and dumping refuse on them.

The official said after levelling the sites, the state will look for private partners that can transform the places into parks or recreational centres.

Another official of LAWMA, who is in charge of operations at the identified district, said the agency, in partnership with PSP operators, is working to ensure that all areas are covered.

“The problem is that we don’t have 100 per cent compliance yet, there are still cart pushers everywhere but things are improving gradually.

“Every nook and cranny has PSP operators assigned to them, so it is not about the lack of equipment or people to carry their waste. That is why we continue to orient the people of the dangers of using cart pushers,” he said.

Ibrahim Odumboni, the Managing Director of LAWMA, said the agency is in touch with different local government areas on the cleanup of illegal dumpsites.

He listed some of the identified areas with illegal dumpsites as Ikeja, Abule Egba, Oyingbo, Kantangua market, Badore-Ajah, Mile 2, Iyana Iba, and a few others.

The LAWMA boss said despite that cart pushers and illegal dumping of refuse are outlawed by the 2017 environmental law, the agency has seen the influx of cart pushers in different areas over the years, creating illegal dumpsites all around.

“There is a big menace around Mile 2 to Iyana-Iba and with the support of the governor and all the new trucks we have now, we can tackle all the pockets of illegal dumpsites. There are over 40 illegal dumpsites in the area, with five of them closed recently,” he said.

Mr Odumboni said residents need to go back to patronising their PSPs for the disposal of their waste, as the agency is ready to arrest households and residents who patronise the outlawed cart pushers.

“Cart pushers are perpetrating illegal activities when they go down to each household. They cannot travel to the dumpsite, so all they do is take waste from point A to point B, thereby creating environmental hazards.

“The major way to stop this cart pusher menace is for tenements to stop patronising them. Cart pushers charge in excess of N250 to N500 and the PSPs charge almost the same and pack waste four times in a month,” he said.

The official added that in the wake of Lassa fever, cholera and other diseases that indiscriminate dumping of refuse can bring to the environment, it is best residents stop the act.

“LAWMA will continue to arrest and prosecute as many of the cart pushers as possible and also go to where the carts are made to tackle the problem from the source. Any household that is caught patronising cart pushers will also face the law.

“Recently, we agreed with the Ministry of Justice, Lagos and they have given us more magistrate courts that can hear environmental cases. Now we have over 25 magistrate and mobile courts that can hear these cases. So, there will be quick justice and fairness to them when they face the law,” he said.

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