Ambode’s Cleaner Lagos Initiative: The Issues, The Intrigues + The Visionscape Angle

  • A cleaner Lagos is Lagosians’ expectation, Ambode’s obsession and Visionscape’s obligation
  • Why refuse resurfaced on Lagos streets
  • Visionscape so far and what to expect

By Bamidele Salako

Since Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, assumed office as the Executive Governor of Nigeria’s commercial capital with its estimated population of around 22 million residents, some 2, 000 industrial complexes and 15, 000 commercial ventures, his administration has been bathed in a whirlwind of encomiums by residents and business owners in the state who say he has engaged in state-wide development projects that have impacted on the “common man.”

The governor basically hit the ground running, particularly with the Light Up Lagos initiative essentially heralding the dawn of a new era in the state. His predecessor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, who is now Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing, is generally celebrated as an action governor, famed for setting the state on the path of achieving a true global mega city status with many transformative policies and initiatives, thus laying a solid foundation for his successor. Barely three years into the tenure of Ambode’s administration, many are now saying that the superstructure that the revolutionary governor is erecting on the foundation he was handed makes his immediate predecessor’s accomplishments pale in comparison.

If there ever were doubts that he would match or outperform Fashola who practically possessed a larger-than-life personality and whose accomplishments seemed unassailable, those doubts were quickly dispelled. So visible were the giant strides that Ambode started to take early into his administration that he was named the country’s best performing governor in early 2016 with 35% of the votes in an African Leadership Magazine poll organised to monitor performance and gauge the mood of the electorate in Nigeria.

Feelers on the streets of Lagos and on social media reveal a unanimous verdict that his policies and programmes have being widely perceived as people-oriented even though he has been involved in massive infrastructural development projects in the state. The climate of public opinion around his term of office has typically yielded positive readings with several Lagosians essentially acceding to the belief that the workaholic governor is guaranteed a second term of office.

There is hardly any sector of the state’s economy that does not have the Ambode signature boldly emblazoned – from education and transportation, to healthcare, security, commerce, and arts, culture and entertainment. It was perhaps in tandem with that multi-sectoral all-guns-blazing approach that the Lagos State governor sought to create an enduring, tech-driven solution to the state’s solid waste management challenges – natural by-products of rapid industrialisation and a growing population.

One of the noted hallmarks of Lagos State under Fashola had been the cleanliness and beauty of the environment. Once a state notorious for residents and companies’ indiscriminate disposal of waste and an attendant unstructured and unregulated waste control system, Fashola, through the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), working with Private Sector Participants (PSPs) in the waste disposal sector, rewrote the narrative. The lawyer turned politician received a maelstrom of plaudits for his efforts and no-nonsense approach in creating structures and enforcing protocols to ensure Lagos wore a whole new look across its length and breadth. He was even riled at a point by traducers as forgoing the more important matters of state to plant flowers as uncomplimentary references were made about his beautification programme.

Fast forward to the current administration. Ambode did not consider the measures taken by his forebear as being sufficient as he strongly believed that the existing waste handling model which, amongst other issues, primarily followed a linear approach, was more of a stopgap rather than a lasting, resource efficient solution and could not ultimately serve the Lagos of his or his predecessors’ dreams. To this end, his administration fashioned a new environmental management policy christened the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) which the government hoped would propel the city to becoming flooding-free while shaping Lagos into one of the cleanest cities not just in Nigeria but on the African continent and the globe. Consequently, Ambode signed into law, an enabling legislation titled the Environmental Management Protection Law in early 2017, separating waste management from regulation and smoothening the path to implementation.

Dr. Babatunde Adejare, the state commissioner for environment, disclosed at the time that the state could no longer be the waste manager and at the same time a regulator noting that under the new arrangement, the state would only play as a regulator while also outlining the benefits of the CLI to include over 27,500 street sweeping jobs as well as incentives such as tax relief and healthcare, life, injury and accident insurance benefits to tackle poverty and unemployment.

Also, Governor Ambode said, “The CLI aims to revitalize the entire solid waste management sector to have far-reaching benefits and multiplier effects for the state in particular, and the country at large. The new initiative will usher in new financially-viable and technologically driven subsector to the Lagos economy, creating new business and job opportunities, including over 40,000 direct and indirect jobs with high poverty alleviation emphasis to serve as a model for the entire country.”

A Marriage Made in Waste Management Heaven

To actualise its bold vision, the state government looked outside the country in search of a company that not only possessed the required expertise, but one that also had the proven track record that could match the governor’s lofty expectation. The state government issued an international tender that was responded to by several foreign companies with environmental utility company, Visionscape Sanitation Services limited, eventually reckoned to fit the bill, subsequently entering into a concession arrangement with the Lagos State Government. The company, which is considered a leader in the in the environmental utility sector is reputable for rendering innovative environmental solutions by utilising cutting-edge technologies and tools to address the environmental and infrastructural needs of large cities, commercial, residential, industrial and healthcare clients.

The 10-year concession agreement with the multinational integrated waste services company, which has commercial operations in Dubai, the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe and several other countries, was initially, strictly for residential (domestic) waste collection and processing. The partnership was one that was not only technically sound, given Visioncape’s reputation in the industry, but also one that proved to be relatively cost-effective for the Lagos State government considering that the contract signed between the duo was performance-based – meaning Visionscape does not get paid until it has delivered on the agreed obligations of its contract. The company was to bear the cost of setting up its operation in the city while Lagos simply provides the required on-the ground infrastructural and other essential support. It was a marriage made in waste management heaven and one that built high expectations in Lagos residents.

Hurdles & Intrigues: The Old Order vs The New System

Prior to the ratifying of the Environmental Management Protection Law which inevitably signalled sweeping reforms in the waste management sector, the PSP operators who were the poster boys for the old waste collection management order began to cry blue murder, especially as their contract with the Lagos State Government reached its expiration with no renewal in sight.

The new environmental law meant LAWMA would transition from waste collection operations to a new role as a regulatory body. That also meant a cancellation of the 60-40 arrangement between LAWMA and the PSP operators whereby the state-owned agency collects waste disposal bills from end-users on behalf of the operators while remitting 60% per cent of the payments to them.

Speaking at a 3-day LAWMA retreat themed: “Reformed Waste Management in Lagos State: The Role of LAWMA,” to sensitise its staff on the new role of the agency before the enactment of the law, Olumuyiwa Adejokun, Executive chairman of the agency said, “Government does not have the huge funds required to manage waste in the state, this is why the governor has decided to embark on waste management reform.”

Noting that residents would begin to make their waste payments directly to the PSP operators, Adejokun said, “It is better for LAWMA to step aside in the bill issuance and concentrate on regulation of the PSP operators in the state. By doing this, they will be able to sanction any operator that fails in its duties.”

All of this did not sit well with the PSP Operators who immediately dragged the Lagos State Government to court on January 31, 2017. In a suit filed by Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, on the behalf of the Association of Waste Managers which comprised of over 350 PSP operators, the domestic waste managers, among other reliefs sought, pleaded with the court to direct the state government to continue working and partnering with them as waste operators. They also stated that they had made huge investments in trucks, equipment, maintenance and offices at the behest of the state government with loans obtained from banks at high interest rates in the hope that monies recouped from their services would be used to service the loans.

“In the last 16 years, we have invested millions of naira into waste collection in Lagos state. In fact some of us got the funds through a loan to purchase compactor trucks. And each truck costs N20 million while used-compactor trucks cost N12 million. But due to the increase in exchange rate, a compactor truck now costs N41 million. It is pathetic that after assisting the government to sustain a cleaner Lagos, that they now feel we are not competent to achieve their aim,” said a PSP operator, Michael Olamilekan in an interview with a national daily, The Vanguard.

The PSPs however continued to operate in the state but were informed in court by the counsel to the Lagos State Government, that they were doing so at their own expense. They could only continue to operate for so long without payment for their services. Eventually, an out-of-court settlement was reached by the feuding parties following months of judicial bickering.

Under the new arrangement, existing PSP operators were absorbed into the CLI following a recertification exercise to assess their functionality and performance and renamed Waste Collectors (WCOs). Over 400 approved waste collection operators (including existing PSPs and newly certified operators) would collect commercial waste from schools, churches, industries, hospitals and other businesses, while Visionscape would be the sole concessionaire for residential waste collection in the state.

Why Refuse Resurfaced on Lagos Streets

Visionscape has received lot of flak for the resurgence of refuse mounds all across the Lagos metropolis. Lagosians have been questioning the ability of the foreign waste experts to replicate the successes they recorded in other climes, in the state. What many do not know however, is that the contract signed by Visionscape obligated them to collect and manage residential waste only. The yearlong feud between the erstwhile PSP operators and the state government which lasted from January 31, 2017 when court proceedings were initiated to October 2017 when a settlement was reached, meant that the resources initially mobilised by Visionscape for domestic waste – as stipulated by its contract – had to be deployed for managing market and commercial waste as well – thus stretching its resources.

And so, while the old PSPs scaled down and eventually suspended their operations to participate in the state government’s recertification exercise that would verify them fit and equipped to function within the scope of the CLI, refuse heaps began to build across the state. In response, Visionscape swooped in with highway and street sweeping in addition to its prior incorporation of the development and management of sanitary landfills and Transfer Loading Stations.

According to the company’s CEO, John Irvine, Visionscape determined from the outset that the delivery of its mandate would be in three phases including initial mobilisation involving surveying of lagos State to collate vital data which will be deployed in the running of their operation, stabilisation and augmentation with each phase taking between three and four months before full services are actualised.

A few days back, Irvine told national daily, The Vanguard: “Presently, we are moving into the stabilisation stage. This is because for about five or six months, we have been out there completing the mobilisation exercise. In the next four or five months, we should start bringing in other equipment in stages. The last months gave us the ability to stabilise our contractual requirement to the government, meaning, meeting the terms and conditions of the contract. After that, we are moving into the augmentation stage, which will elapse between five and six months after the expiration of the present stage. It will enhance the contract and we will see more vehicles on the road and more men working within this period.”

It would be recalled that Governor Ambode stated last year that Visionscape would operate with 600 brand new compactors. However, Irvine noted, “I cannot have 600 vehicles here today because I cannot train the personnel that will handle the vehicles simultaneously. This is the reason we have decided to embark on it in stages.”

Irvine also sued for patience on the part of residents in Lagos State who have become exasperated with the current state of affairs and assured: “This is a journey, a very long one, but a journey from what they see on the street at the moment to an environment that they deserve and will get between six and 12 months. This is because of the integration that I spoke about. There will be huge difference in the coming weeks. But the real difference would be experienced within this period.”

Visionscape so far and what to expect

The question on everyone’s lips right now is if Ambode’s choice of Visionscape was a hit or miss. Will they deliver?

It would be recalled that Ambode had stated, in announcing the CLI that the aim was to find “an enduring solution” to the state’s solid waste management challenges – one “that would match the needed technology with the massive investment required for its attainment.” The overarching vision, he said, was to “usher in a new, financially-viable and technologically driven subsector to the Lagos economy” thus creating jobs and alleviating poverty.

Assistant Director, Public Affairs, in the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment, Mukaila Sanusi, referred to the pre-CLI era as one of “haphazard waste collection services, caused by low technology input into route optimization; poor coverage, especially for hard-to-service areas; environmentally degrading and social nuisance-causing dumpsites; poorly managed dumpsites infested with unsightly scavenging and criminal activities; and low cost-recovery for operators due to poor billing solutions.”

It can be argued that Visionscape has undoubtedly laid down a marker on the technological front. Through the technology of Geographic Information System (GIS), the company was able to survey all of Lagos State and identify over 500,000 refuse collection points across Lagos. According to the company’s operations officer, Mr. Thomas Forgacs, Visionscape now understands the population density of the communities and areas that will be serviced, even up to the number of streets and households across the state and the amount of waste that will be generated in any particular location.

Just this year, in January, the company already made a $50 million outlay for a fleet of 100 waste management vehicles fully equipped and embedded with cutting-edge technology including a Global Positioning System (GPS), radio-frequency identification (RFID), and automotive Controller Area Network (CAN bus) system. Using these methods, Visionscape will be able to monitor and track the state’s waste collection process thoroughly, ensuring the trucks are deployed for effective waste collection within Local Council Development Areas, LCDAs and Local Government Areas, LGAs. The company says the fleet will be increased to 500 as it transits to the next phase of its contract. As things stand, Visionscape has 150 vehicles serving Lagos and over 300 personnel, excluding support staff, tackling waste issues in the state.

In terms of its operations, as part of the state’s temporary intervention programme tagged “Operation Deep Clean” pending when the CLI becomes fully operational, Visionscape has already proceeded with the mandate of evacuating solid waste from dark spots and major locations across Lagos. So far, the company has successfully cleared over 80, 000 tons of waste from 1,000 littered black spots and illegal dump sites.

Visionscape has also successfully revamped and delivered three 24-hour waste management depots in Ogudu, Mushin and on Lagos Island which will oversee and provide maintenance services for the company’s multidimensional waste management fleet. The depots also offer on-demand maintenance and servicing bays, truck wash stations, fuelling stations, hostels, canteens, health centres, parking and specialist trainings which each driver in the company’s fleet must undergo.

Also, 24-hour operations have been scheduled during which period each vehicle will run two shifts, even during holiday periods. For adequate maintenance and repair job, the company has a Mobile Maintenance Team, with enough tool boxes for prompt response in case of unforeseen mechanical fault with any operational vehicle.

In the meantime, Visionscape continues to refurbish, build and upgrade waste management facilities located in different parts of the state, including engineered sanitary landfills, transfer loading stations, material recovering facilities and multiple maintenance centres.

The company has begun construction of West Africa’s first engineered landfill in Epe. With this facility, Visioscape can turn the water that comes from the waste into irrigation water that could be channelled to farms. Also in the offing is a diversification plant that will deal with plastics and paper which would help government reduce recurring expenditure on waste management equipment, as the plastic waste will be processed into raw material for making these equipment useable by sanitation workers.

The Visionscape business model will also be a boost for the local manufacturing sector as the company is already in talks with local vehicle manufacturers and the Welders Association of Nigeria about making vehicles for Visionscape locally.

Beyond waste management, the company is also devising ingenious means of educating the public and implementing strategies to reduce waste generation during the duration of their contract. Sensitization and enlightenment visits to schools and communities are ongoing. Also, the company will be issuing information cards detailing garbage collection schedules for different neighbourhoods to residents of those neighbourhoods.

Visionscape has also provided the tool-free number, 08008792783, to enable residents of the state report any pile of waste around their areas. This is in addition to an ongoing distribution drive of improved waste bags to residents across Lagos.

Post Author: Eric Eric

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