Pesidents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), are not only miffed over growing refuse dumps on their streets, they have also expressed grave shock at the claims coming from those in authority that the public treasury was always depleted to the tune of N8 billion annually for waste management. The question that curious minds have raised is, where is the money evaporating into, if the streets remain unkept and cleaning contractors are crying foul over unpaid bills? Findings showed that the last time waste managers were paid, was in March 2021, with seven months arrears hanging and dangling in the air of uncertainty. Residents’ worry also stem from the fact that such humongous amount can’t be leaving the public tilt, at the expense of other developmental projects, without a commensurate impact on the city’s sanitation. Clouds of doubts over the mentioned sanitation’s budget would have been thicker, had it not come from a highly placed personality in government, who is expected to, at least feign piety in issues of public probity. In fact, this disclosure was made by the FCT Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Aliyu, two months ago. Aliyu disclosed this when she addressed the cleaning contractors during the maiden edition of the Annual General Meeting/Induction of Waste Management Association of Nigeria (WAMASON), FCT Council. The Minister emphatically noted that the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) spends an average of N6 billion, while the Satellite Towns Development Department (STDD) spends N2 billion annually in cleaning Abuja City centre and satellite towns respectively. That goosebumps eliciting revelation has not only stirred up unabated controversies, but public aghast and more distrust. With the increasing refuse dumps, residents are worried that the 64 waste management contractors reportedly engaged have become grossly ineffective and redundant. While the residents point fingers at the contractors, the waste mangers have accused FCT Administration of unnecessarily delaying payment, thereby obstructing refuse evacuation. Fears of possible epidemic has become palpable as refuse dumps litter both at the City centre and surrounding satellite towns. Residents are even disturbed that the Director of Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), Abubakar Alhassan who has just 3 weeks to his statutory retirement, has abandoned the sanitation of the nation’s capital. The worst hit parts of the city are the highbrow areas of Asokoro and Guzape where refuse dumps have taken over one of the lanes of a major road, just opposite the popular INEC Commissioners’ quarters. The situation is more unbearable at the satellite towns, like Lugbe, Karu, kubwa, Deidei, Mpape Gwagwalada and Nyanya were traders display their goods, including vegetable and fruits close to smelling refuse dumps and in some cases right on those dumps. New Telegraph’s check also showed that in Asokoro, where most of the state governments have their multi-billion naira governors lodges located, there is hardly a street where there are no refuse dumps. The Deputy Director of Information in AEPB, Janet Peni have been very unwilling to speak on the issue, but a close source confirmed that the Director has been very busy with his retirement processes than he had been in the discharge of his official duties. Obviously, it is now double tragedy for residents, who are not just feeling the pains of living with choking and decaying refuse dumps, but have been exposed to the risk of epidemic. Because of the unattended refuse dumps on the streets, residents have alleged that waste Management in Abuja has become an issue, that even with the help of a microscope, one can still be doubtful about what one sees.
Lack of Sustainable Policy in Waste Management
A close source at Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) said the poor sanitation in Abuja may not abate soon, due to the unsustainability of the administration’s policy. It was learnt that during the former FCTA Permanent Secretary, Sir Christian Ohaa, there was a more seamless partnership between the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) and the Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) in cleaning the city center. It was learnt that AMAC had raised the constitutionality or otherwise of FCT Administration collecting waste management levies instead of the Area Councils. As a way of preventing any legal obstacles to the sanitation issues, the then Permanent Secretary swiftly struck a deal with AMAC by concessioning seven lots to it.
The ‘gentle man’s’ agreement was said to have saved the situation, as both parties abided by it and waste management contractors worked according to the lots given to them. Same source also noted that waste contractors were being paid as and when due, but the coming of the present Permanent Secretary, Olusade Adesola has uttered the system. It was alleged that Adesola opposed the idea of exclusively giving AMAC seven lots of cleaning areas in the city center. The present Permanent Secretary allegedly said that concessioning of all the lots should be thrown open to the highest bidders. This policy somersault has angered AMAC, leading to a law suit that has impeded the processes of award of waste management contract in FCT. Another reliable source from AEPB also revealed that there is gross lack of political will by FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Bello to end the imbroglio. The Minister, who appears to have a repugnant mind to anything that smells like corruption, is said to have always demonstrated crass indifference to the matter and allowing the Permanent Secretary have a field day on matters of contract award. Stakeholders have expressed concern that if the present situation, where cosmetic approach is given Waste Management in FCT, the claims that “Abuja is one of the cleanest cities in the world” may soon become a paradox.
Poor Sanitation Evoking Fears of Epidemic
Engr. Peterson Dike, an environmental activist who said he has lived in Nyanya, one of the satellite towns of Abuja for more than 15 years, noted that as long as he can remember poor refuse disposal has remained a very big challenge in the area. He asserted that fears of epidemic have been rife in most parts of the community, since the refuse dumps located in Nyanya market have not been evacuated for too long. He alleged that traders, sometimes even display their vegetables and fruits close to the stinking refuse dumps. Our correspondent’s check also revealed that the refuse dumps were not only growing along the roads and streets at the satellite towns, but the highbrow residential areas within the city center have also been caught by the poor sanitation bug. The worst hit parts of the city, are the highbrow areas of Asokoro and Guzape where refuse dumps were allowed to encroach into one of the lanes of a major road, just opposite the popular INEC Commissioners’ quarters. The situation is even more unbearable at the satellite towns, like Lugbe, Karu, kubwa, Deidei, Mpape, Gwagwalada and Nyanya. It was also observed that in Asokoro, where most of the state governments have their multi-billion naira governors lodges located, there is hardly a street where there is no refuse dumps abandoned.
Why the Menace of Refuse Dumps May Linger in Abuja
Except with a special Ministerial intervention, holistic waste evacuation and thorough sanitation may remain elusive in the nation’s capital. This is due to the fact that many parts of the city center have not been handed over to contractors, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) only send their team there, when public outcry has reached the high heavens. In fact, the little efforts on going in some of Abuja at refuse evacuation, is just an adhoc arrangement instigated by unfavourable media reports that may have pricked their conscience. Cleaning of the satellite towns, said to be the responsibility of Satellite Towns Development Department (STDD) may remain in abeyance for too long. STDD is supposed to be supervised by a Coordinator, a political appointee, appointed by FCT Minister, but unfortunately, less than two years to the end of this present administration, that position is still vacant. Investigation showed that the directors in STDD have been very redundant and ineffective. Investigation also showed that activities have almost been grounded in STDD, as most of the files that will grease the wheels of governance there, are piled up on the Permanent Secretary’s table unattended to. STDD directors were said to have been incapacitated without a political figure Head, as they cannot approve a budget that exceed N200,000 (two hundred thousand naira). With such tight conditions, service delivery, including waste management have been in dilemma. From investigations, it was further established that about 64 waste management contractors were reportedly engaged to clean some parts of the city center. Some of these contractors have been found not only to be ineffective, but grossly redundant, just as many have not been issued with certificate of contract award. While the residents accuse the contractors of abandoning their duties, the waste managers have accused FCT Administration of unnecessarily delaying the processes of issuance of certificate of contract award and also facilitating payment, thereby obstructing refuse evacuation. Many of the contractors refused to talk about this festering challenge for fears of being victimised. However, one of the waste management contractors who pleaded anonymity debunked the allegations that he and his colleagues were unwilling to work. The contractor disagreed that they have abandoned the city sanitation, but said that delayed payment was responsible for the increasing refuse dumps in Abuja. According to the contractor, “it is only few street sweepers who accept a token from their wages, that are still coming to work, while the truck drivers who evacuate dumps from streets had downed tools to protest delays in their payment schedule.”
More Shocking Revelation from AEPB Director
The Director of AEPB, Dr. Hassan Abubakar, who is said to be due for statutory retirement this October, has provided more insight to why waste management in Abuja may never satisfy the yearnings of residents. Abubakar stated that apart from the fact that paucity of funds had challenged his job of cleaning FCT, contractors were also frustrating almost every move that is made towards effective waste management. He explained that most of the areas where waste dumps are on the increase have not been concessioned to contractors. He said that concessioning of waste management in Abuja had remained a multi-Iayered challenge. According to him, areas not assigned to any contractor is cleaned by special intervention team from his office, depending on availability of funds. He disclosed that cleaning the satellite towns where refuse dumps have been sighted, does not fall within the purview of AEPB, but that of STDD. Abubakar further revealed that AEPB can only clean 10 meters away from major roads that traversed the satellite towns, while inside communities outside the city center are handled by STDD.
Abubakar also clarified that paying the contractors have also been a major issue, because out of the 64 contractors, only 25 of them have been successfully given letters and certificates of contract award. He also noted that many of the contractors are having payment issues, because for the past three years, FCT Administration has not been able to complete the contract award processes for waste management, because the contractors were always frustrating and truncating the system with petitions. He explained that, “Guzape extension is not part of the concessioned area, the areas that are concessioned are those areas that have been given out as contract. “There are areas in Abuja, like Jahi district, you will see waste dumps because the area is not concessioned. So we need to have extra fund to remove waste there. “Another place where you will see waste dumps is the car wash bus stop in Lugbe. There is no contractor to clean that place. In Garki village you will also see waste there. So, it is not everywhere in FCT that is concessioned for cleaning. What we do here is to put our extra efforts. We set up intervention team. “The intervention team may not have enough capacity to clean up these places. “If you go to Garki village this weekend, we deployed twenty tippers and they go about 4 or 5 trips evacuating waste in a day and that will cost AEPB nothing less than N1.5 million in a week, just for that single place. “When I entered this office in November 2020, I met a problem of contract award. The contractors will not allow the award of contract to go on. “Any time the award of contract is coming up, in fact, from the point of opening the bid, they will come with about 50 petitions in their pockets, once the bid is opened, they tender their petitions, and that will stop the process. For the past three years now, the contract award has not been completed, something that should be completed within 2 to 3 months is taking 3 years.
“All these contractors you are seeing none of them have award letters. You can challenge them on the road to produce their letter of contract award, they don’t have and you know that it is a serious infraction for payment to be processed for somebody who has no award letter. “From April till date, none of the contractors have any award letter. We were about finishing the process, they now came with about 200 petitions, some of them even went to court, and the court has ordered us to stop the award of the contract award letter, the contractors are the ones causing the problem.
“They should allow us continue with the process which we don’t do at AEPB level, but at the FCTA central procurement system. “For me to process any payment, there must be list from the Department of Procurement, indicating contractors that have been cleared. “My own job is to supervise the cleaning contractors, if they don’t clean well, I give them query. I am very much interested in cleaning the city, but you have to follow due process. “Our system of waste management is good, but the process of awarding the contract taking unnecessarily longer time.”
There is no gainsaying the fact that government need to declare a state of emergency in Environmental sanitation in Abuja. Such action is necessary to preserve the dreams of the founding fathers, who desired a capital city that meet international standards in all ramifications. A call by residents on FCT Administration to devise a better means of managing waste in the nation’s capital, to avoid creating health hazard capable of jeopardising economic development, must also not be ignored. Meanwhile, giving benefits of the doubt to AEPB Director, who assured that with the intervention of FCTA Permanent Secretary, the Procurement Department will hasten the waste management contract award processes, may also not be a bad idea.