columnBy Tunbosun Ogundare
INITIALLY when many of them ventured into the job, they did it with all enthusiasm believing they had gotten a means of livelihood.
Somehow midway, they became agents for armed robbers. And for many years, their actions have ruined families.
The story is simple.
As cart pushers, local name for refuse collectors, moved from house to house collecting disused items, they became familiar with their customers, their movements and their surroundings.
With these, they sold information to underworld, whose members in turn targeted homes, attacked the residents and stole anything they could.
Anybody who refused to cooperate was either maimed or killed.
They also ferried guns and knives around for robbers and atimes participated at the scenes of crimes. All for fabulous fees over what was obtainable in refuse collection.
Also because the various dump sites were in about 15 kilometres apart and they couldn't make the journey, they oftentimes dumped refuse they had collected from their customers' homes in empty land, by the road sides and drainages within the neighbourhoods, thereby polluting the environment the more.
They were equally known for obstructing vehicles on the roads with their wooden or metal fabricated trucks.
Members of the public too on their part were sometimes emptied their refuse inside drainages either when it was raining or at night or on the fallow land or burnt them right in the middle of the road.
But these situations changed in 2008 with the organised private investors fully incorporated into solid waste collection through PSP by the Lagos State Government.
With this, 'cart pushing' business becomes illegal and patronising pushers is at patrons' risk across the state.
Two years on, that single policy designs to complement the efforts of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), an agency in charge of solid waste management in the state, is today having a positive impact on peoples' daily lives.
Now, 400 private firms are so far licensed by the government with about 15, 000 people gainfully engaged under the scheme. Nine thousands (9,000) of these were until recently unemployed. The rest used to be cart pushers.
They include truck drivers and their assistants, supervisors, office/account clerks, waste loaders and highway sweepers.
Each worker is paid a monthly salary ranging from N10, 000 to N40, 000 depending on the company and the type of duties.
Mr. Adelakun Joel, 28, is one of those enjoying his new work.
A supervisor with one of the firms, which he prefers not to be named, Adelakun says he lived at the mercy of good spirited people before joining his current place of work.
Though Adelakun's income just as his colleagues is meagre, he is keeping part of it aside to enable him sponsor his part time studies in the university in the near future.
Similarly, Mama Rukayat as she prefers to be addressed is among the sweepers along Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway at Abule-Egba area of Lagos.
She gets to work as early as 6.00am and sweeps alongside her colleagues an allocated portion in an interval of three hours and then closes for the day latest by 3.00pm.
The mother of two says the little income she earns enables her contributes to family's welfare.
And as far as I know, she says in Yoruba, every other colleague does likewise.
From another angle, scavengers, who comb landfill sites to pick such items as metal, plastics, bottles, nylon, and papers, are now making more money.
The scheme, has enabled them to get large volume of needed items at one location, which they sell to middlemen, who in turn sell to traders and recycling factories.
This reporter observes at both Abule-Egba and Olusosun-Ojota landfill sites in Alimosho and Ikeja local government areas, respectively, the presence of many scavengers in possession of bags where they stored these items according to their kinds.
Kabiru as he simply identified himself at Abule-Egba's site, however, notes that himself and some colleagues make up to N1,000(about US$7) profit daily, adding that items like metal, plastics and bottles attract higher prices, which are determined by types and volume.
LAWMA's Managing Director, Dr. Ola Oresanya says job creation is second priority objective of the scheme, adding that: "As we improve on cleanliness, we get to generate jobs for additional 35, 000 people directly by 2015.
On the effect of the scheme on crime reduction in the state, the Lagos Police spokesman, Mr. Frank Mba, a superintendent of police, says beyond cart pushers' other nuisance values, they were also known to be security treat.
"Many cart pushers in the past were caught with incriminating weapons among other crimes and prosecuted," confirms Mba, noting that banning them has contributed to reduction in overall crime rate in the state.
Odour control firms are also cashing in from the scheme. Some are consultants to LAWMA, handling odour control at the landfill sites.
Executive officer, HLS Ecolo Nigeria Limited, an odour control firm, Mr. Tayo Bamigbade, tells this reporter at the recent Lagos Sewage Summit.
LAWMA itself is not left out. The agency is now intensified recycling some rubbish to produce fertilisers and the use of expensive fossil fuels as energy source.
"Some of our members are also looking towards exploiting similar opportunity in the near future," Mr. Adegboyega Adepitan, President, Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria (AWMN) notes.
From the public, majority are impressed, claiming that the city is becoming conducive, healthier and safer to work and to live in.
Mrs. Funmilayo Olubanjo, a secondary school teacher remarks that unlike in the past, people can now walk in the streets and market places or wait at bus stops without need to cover their noses as those places are no longer filled with repulsive odour.
Capturing the minds of car owners on the development, former chairman, National Institute of Town Planners (NITP), Lagos State branch, Mr. Bunmi Adeyeye says whenever he is driving in the city particularly in the mornings what he sees is a clean environment.
"And this always gives me joy," he declares.
Adeyeye, who is also a community leader, says people at the grassroots are also becoming more conscious of living in a clean environment.
Agreeing to this, Mr. Debo Akande, Manager, Green Africa Portfolio, British Council, Lagos, adds that as residents get more used to this centralised system of waste collection and disposal, the new order would equally help in the reduction of carbon dioxide (Co2) emission into the atmosphere, which is associated with refuse burning.
Solid waste collection in Lagos is categorised into domestic, industrial, and public.
The first two, generated in different homes and offices, are handled directly by private investors.
LAWMA takes charge of the public waste on major roads and highways and also oversees the trio for effective result.
"But we haven't gotten there-the ultimate," Oresanya declares.
The dream according to him is to move Lagos, the country's commercial hub, from its current position as the second African cleanest city to number one on the continent by 2015 and in the world by 2020.
"And we are working relentlessly to achieve that feat," he boasts.
Investigations reveal that about 10,000 metric tons of solid wastes are generated daily in Lagos, which has the population of about 18 million people. The volume is considered to be the largest in a single city across Africa.
Between 60 and 70 per cent of the volume is handled by the private sector, leaving the make-up figure and the management of the five landfill sites for LAWMA.
About 650 trucks ferrying wastes from point of collection to dump sites across the state consume an average of 90,000 litres of diesel daily. AWMN's boss, Adepitan, confirms these.
Nonetheless, there are those, who say the scheme is already not working well as it should.
They accuse operators of not adherence to one week interval by which they ought to have gone round homes of their customers to collect their wastes.
They argue that such a situation gives a few defiant cart pushers opportunity to continue operating.
Mr. Biodun Atere, a resident of Jankara-Ojokoro, Ijaiye local government area, discloses that the company serving his area sometimes doesn't show up for two weeks or more.
And keeping refuse at home for long period like this get us irritated, he declares.
"Because of that, some patronise any cart pusher they see around, even though the act is illegal and they don't care where the refuse are dumped," he notes. "But we ensure the cart pushers are not allowed into the premises.
Despite this, PSP operators still serve us the bill, which means somebody is paying for services not enjoy like the practice in the power sector where customers pay for electricity not consume, Atere laments.
Sometimes they also embarrass customers by refusing to carry their wastes even without owing, but for their own incompetence in accounting.
Atere says himself has been a victim.
"I handle the payment due for my premises and we don't owe, but payments made so far were not reflected on the bank tellers they served us consecutively. Yet the only day they surfaced after about three weeks 'holiday', we begged them before they carried our wastes even though they came with an unapproved truck," he explains.
"Of a truth, there are some lapses in the operations," President, AWMN, Adepitan admits. "And it is ideal for people to complain."
According to him, the major challenge facing our members is the insufficient compactors (government approved trucks) to work with.
One compactor cost about N50 million and this is beyond the reach of many operators.
And for a company that struggles to have one or two, the moment one breaks down, work will suffer particularly in the areas it is designated.
To fix these vehicles in good time is another problem because compactors are relatively new to motor mechanics in Nigeria.
"So once a vehicle cannot cover an area and no alternative is provided, it will show immediately that operators haven't done their work in such an area for that period," Adepitan explains.
Nevertheless, customers too contribute to the problems.
Adepitan, who is the chief executive officer of Jimsif Limited, alleges that many customers enjoy PSP services without paying for it.
Levies pay by customers is determined by the type of buildings and at which locations in the city. While owners of shops/single-room apartments pay between N100 and N200 monthly, occupants of flats and bungalows/duplexes pay between N250 and N500 same period.
The amounts were fixed by LAWMA to prevent free market system.
"Even with that we achieve only between 50 and 60 per cent compliance in payment by our customers," Adepitan claims.
The government subsidises with about 15 per cent to bridge the gap so as to lessen the burden for operators to enable them remain in business.
Investigations have shown that some residents are yet to come to term with payment of levy for waste with the belief that such a service shouldn't attract any fee like the old practice when the scheme was test running.
This reporter authoritatively reveals also that some residents, who live close to major roads such as Lawanson Road in Surulere, and Ago Palace Way in Okota-Isolo, enjoy the service, while operators never served them bill let alone paid a dime.
The consequences of this include the inability of operators to pay their workers' salaries promptly.
It has also discovered that some customers rather than pay their levies at a designated bank branch, they pay elsewhere. This action hampers accurate account reconciliation.
Another serious challenge facing the operators is that their workers particularly those sweeping highways sometimes get killed or seriously injured by moving vehicles.
LAWMA boss recalls different motor accidents that claimed lives of five highway sweepers in the last one and half years and another seven who had fallen victims of robbers' stray bullets.
Also of serious concern is the storage of waste particularly in small cellophane bags and dump outside the premises rather than storing them in covered containers such as drums.
Investigations have shown that rats and goats oftentimes get attracted to these bags, punch them and litter the ground with rubbish.
Residents who fond of throwing items like sachet water nylons, plastics, cans, papers among others from their vehicles' windows indiscriminately on the roads and streets are also complicated issue as most of these items get into the drainages and block the channel.
By and large according to both Oresanya and Adepitan, concrete efforts to overcome these challenges to serve the public better are in the offing.
To be improved upon is the workers' welfare particularly by paying their salaries promptly.
"And before long, every worker will have every cause to rejoice," Adepitan assures.
Now, operators with cases of compactors having major mechanical fault are being provided with back-up vehicles by the government. Government has also ordered for some compactors from abroad to be distributed among operators.
These will come in batches of 100 and to start from last quarter of this year till there would be enough trucks to work with.
Foreign technical experts are also to accompany these trucks to the country so as to broaden training of Nigerians on their repairs and services.
For safety of lives particularly of highway sweepers, LAWMA has a deal with the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and relevant transport unions to regularly create public awareness and educate drivers to be conscious of the presence of this category of workers.
Every highway sweeper is also now covered with accident insurance policy by LAWMA.
PSP staffers are also undergoing regular trainings on the new techniques require to do the job effectively.
On waste storage problem, government has made a law compelling every home to have at least one covered container where they should store their wastes. These containers are to be placed outside the premises and people need not be around when waste collectors come to empty them. This is the world standard.
It has also become a law for every home/office to patronise PSP operators and pay for their services so as to make the scheme a result-oriented.
To forestall further littering of unauthorised public places with rubbish, government is expanding the installation of containers and litter bins to reach all strategic locations like bus stops and market places across the state.
Equally important is to improve on the monthly environmental sanitation by the general public, and resuscitation of community sanitary inspectors to routinely check private homes and offices and sanction those with dirty environment.
Above all, local government councils, corporate organisations, civil society and faith based groups should also lend supports to the scheme for the common good of the public.