Abuja’s many garbage heaps: Implications for public safety

Gone are the days when residents of the Federal Capital Territory would go about their normal activities without terror related fear and apprehension.

This is especially true for those residing in the Kugbo-Nyanya axis, an area that has experienced severe Boko Haram terror attacks.

The two bomb explosions of April and May 2014, which claimed more than 100 lives in the Nyanya area of Abuja and destroyed property worth millions of Naira, are still very fresh in their minds.

The two incidents left in the minds of residents a deep seated fear that continues to persist, despite the passage of time.

Investigation revealed that while the Federal Capital Territory Administration swung into action after the bomb blasts, removing shanties and attachments along the road corridor and streets in the Kugbo-Nyanya area and other parts of the city that it considered a security threat to motorists, passersby and other residents, the authority however, neglected an all important area, which is waste evacuation.

Apparently, due to the security risk it equally portends in view of the ungoing terrorist attacks across the country, one would expect that the relevant authorities would step up waste evacuation in the Territory, as part of the ongoing proactive measure to prevent further attacks.

The reverse is however the case, as checks revealed heaps of garbage lying unattended at areas of heavy human movement like the Nyanya market street, roadsides, the road pavement or flower bed are now a source of threat to residents.

In Jikwoyi, Karu, Kubwa, Dutse, Bwari among others, the case is not different.

Some parts of highbrow areas of the city like Wuse, Maitama, Utako, Jabi, Gwarimpa to name only a few is also not left out as they appear to be drifting gradually into filth.

Reports have indicated that the Boko Haram insurgents which had for some years, carried out attacks on different parts of the country that have claimed thousands of lives, had in some of their attacks, concealed explosive devices in garbage, from where it was denoted, killing innocent Nigerians.

The security risk, coupled with the health hazard this portends, has raised concern of residents exposed to these dangers.

Agencies and departments in the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) had in the aftermath of the second blast in Nyanya, immediately, embarked on the clean-up of illegally occupied spaces in the axis, in conjunction with the police, military and other law enforcement agencies.

The agencies involved in the clean-up were the Abuja Metropolitan Management Company (AMMC), Department of Development Control, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), and the Parks and Recreation Department of FCTA.

On the essence of the exercise, Coordinator of AMMC, Mr Reuben Okoya, had said it was partly informed by the recent bomb explosion in the area.

“We have been engaged in exercises like this in the past; the difference is that we are being more diligent now because of the recent security challenges in this axis.

“After the recent bomb explosions, the minister came here and ordered that the entire Nyanya corridor should be cleaned up.

“You will agree with me that an open area can be more easily policed than an area which is clustered with slums and shanties,’’ he said.

He had said that the exercise would be sustained and gave assurance that the legal occupants in the area would not be affected.

“These activities will last for three days and will take us from AYA roundabout to Mararaba, and by the time we finish, the entire corridor would have been cleaned up.

“We are not displacing any legal occupant, but anybody who illegally occupies an area should not talk about compensation,’’ he said.

To further buttress this, former Acting Director of AEPB, Mrs Aishat Adebayo had said: “The clean-ups are routine steps to ensure that the sanitation of the city is maintained, and with current the security challenges in Abuja, there is the need for us to be more diligent.

“This will assist the security agencies to easily discharge their responsibilities.

“The exercise will cover the entire territory of Abuja and we have already covered areas in Airport Road and Kubwa.

“Any area that is recovered, the Department of Parks and Recreation will maintain it so that no trespassers would have the opportunity to encroach upon it again.

“We also appeal to residents to cooperate with us because this exercise is for their own good.

“The incidents that occurred in Nyanya are still fresh in our memories and we all need to be our brother’s keepers,’’ she said.

But the cleaning exercise was short lived, contrary to the promise by the FCT authority to sustain the effort.

Recently, the newly appointed Director of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) assured residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) of improved waste management within three months of his assumption of office.

Mr Lawan Shehu, had given this assurance in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Abuja.

Shehu said that the FCT was an important part of the country which should not accommodate environmental nuisances of any kind.

“The FCTA deemed it fit to inject a new team in the system for optimal performance and deliverables worthy of a first class city.

“Emphasis will be on solid waste management, control of street trading as well as destitute management.

“In the next three months, there would be noticeable improvement in those areas.’’

“Contractors have been mandated to improve on their task of adequately clearing waste and regularly maintaining the green areas,’’ said the director.

He had said that AEPB would seek clearance from security authorities to enable the refuse collectors to work at night to achieve better results.

“Our major quick win is to clear the city of the backlog of solid waste and clear the streets of hawkers and destitute people within three months.

“Arrangements have been made to ensure that we work round the clock to cover lost turnaround time in solid waste collection.

“We have also challenged our enforcement team to display high level of commitment and discipline at all times,” Shehu added.

As impressive as these sounded to residents, there is however, still nothing tangible to show for it almost five months after his appointment as the helmsman of the agency on September 5, 2014.

With the heaps of refuse staring at them from all corners, residents are saying it has become a serious cause for concern to them, as they daily embark on their activities.

Their fear is that those garbage heaps could be ready targets for terrorists, who have vowed to continue to unleash terror on the FCT.

From our survey, it showed that virtually all week round, the Roro bins deployed to strategic areas like Nyanya market street, Nyanya primary school- near the Mopol Junction for instance, are always filled to the brim and overflowing with garbage.

Aside this, garbage concealed in big polythene bags are very common along business junctions in virtually all parts of the satellite towns.

A traders along the Nyanya market street, Ugo Emeka said: “We expect that the authorities would be more prompt in eliminating the wastes this time around because this Boko Haram people can hide their bombs inside garbage.

“We are living in fear and always suspicious of everything because we cannot tell where the next bomb will explode. Government should please wake up and make sure they go round all the time to pick the waste.”

Another resident, Felix Adah, blamed the Abuja Municipal Area Council, AMAC, whose responsibility it is to rid the area of waste, for not doing enough in keeping with their responsibility of waste collection and evacuation.

“You know the population of people in Nyanya, Karu, Jikwoyi axis is very much so the waste they are generating is very much. The AMAC officials that are supposed to clear this area are not coming all the time that is why we have all this.

“It is very risky for us in terms of security because anything can happen. With what is happening around the country, these terrorists can plant bombs in those garbage heaps on the roadside. They should not sit down and fold their arms and watch them destroy all of us in this area,” he said.

However, in an interview with The Nigerian Times, the spokesperson of the AMAC, Mrs Patience Olaoye, said the council always carries out its responsibility of evacuating wastes generated in the areas in question.

Asked how frequent the wastes are evacuated, she however, could not be specific.

In the same vein, the spokesman of the AEPB, Samuel Musa said originally, it was the responsibility of the AMAC and the Satellite Town Development Agency to rid the areas of waste.

According to him, the Board has undertaken to assist them with the task because they can not handle it as expected.

He claimed that officials of the Board evacuate wastes from the Roro bins especially, sometimes more than two times per day yet, more wastes are deposited in them before the end of the day, making it appear as if they were not working.

Musa complained that they were having tough times in managing wastes from the axis as he claimed that waste collectors popularly called ‘Mai boila’, pick up wastes from the suburbs in the neigbouring Nasarawa state and deposit in the Roro bins meant for residents.

His words: “We clean the Roro bins especially, sometimes more than two times in a day but you see those truck pushers are always going to bring wastes from the suburb areas to pour here so in a way, we are managing refuse from Nasarawa state. If you observe this, you will see for yourself.”

The AEPB image maker said with the assistance of the Board, the AMAC authority is strategising to procure the required cleaning equipment and put them together for the task.

As observed by residents, the FCT authorities need to wake up to the task of ridding the Territory promptly of garbage for the safety of the public.

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