18 February 2018

Nigeria: 'Overwhelmed' By Lagos Waste, Foreign Firm Contracted By Ambode Turns to Local PSP Operators

Photo: The Guardian
Bariga waste.

The foreign firm contracted by the Lagos State government to rid the state of solid wastes has turned to local private waste operators for help in evacuating the wastes from residential areas, PREMIUM TIMES can report.

Visionscape Group, a Dubai-based environmental utility group, contracted by the state government last year is engaged in talks with the local waste operators (also known as public sector partnership, PSP, operators) on collaboration for domestic waste collection.

One of the talks, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, took place between the foreign firm and the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, an umbrella body of over 350 PSP operators, on January 19th at the office of the firm's lawyers in Lagos.

At the meeting, both parties agreed to explore collaboration and concluded that their consultants meet to draft possible terms.

Another meeting between both parties' consultants held on January 22 at Visionscape's office where it was agreed that the firm would send draft terms as a template to engage individual members the next day.

At the PSP operators' general meeting on February 1, the group reportedly agreed to consider collaborating with Visionscape on favourable conditions but that all negotiations would be carried out collectively through the Association of Waste Managers while contracts would be signed by individual companies.

However, on February 12, Visionscape shocked the operators by placing advertorials in national dailies calling for Expressions of Interest for the "short haul transportation of municipal and solid waste" in the state.

The advertorial gave the PSP operators two days to submit their interests.

Foreign firm, local waste

Last year, the Lagos State government passed a new environmental law which terminated its previous partnership with the private waste collectors and empowered Visionscape Group and its Nigerian subsidiary, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, to take their position.

While Visionscape became the sole concessionaire for residential waste collection, the PSP operators were assigned to collect commercial waste from schools, churches, industries, hospitals and other businesses.

An estimated 14,000 metric tonnes (about 490 trailer loads) of solid wastes is generated in Lagos daily, according to the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA).

The new law also saw LAWMA transition from waste collection operations to a new role as a regulatory body.

Last month, Visionscape, which is in a public-private partnership with the Lagos State government, commissioned a Transfer Loading Station in Lagos Island as part of its efforts to rid the state of solid wastes.

The firm claims to manage thousands of tonnes of waste daily, serving over 20 million residents across various communities.

"Our workforce of over 29,000 dedicated employees utilise specialist vehicles and equipment to perform a wide range of services for the efficient management of every phase of the waste stream," Visionscape stated on its website.

But despite its efforts at waste evacuation, heaps of refuse have continued to be a common sight across the state, from Ojuelegba where refuse bins are overflowing to Okokomaiko where refuse heaps adorn the major road.

A refuse heap at Ojuelegba.

Unhappy that their new role will not enable them to recoup their investments, the PSP operators dragged the government and the foreign firm to court.

But in October last year, both parties agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

On February 12, Visionscape placed advertorials in, at least, two national dailies calling for Expressions of Interest for the "short haul transportation of municipal and solid waste" in the state.

According to the advertorial, to qualify for participation, the bidder shall be a licensed and recognised PSP, owning and operating at least two "environmentally friendly" waste trucks.

"They advertised their incompetence, their inability to fulfill their contractual obligations for which they are celebrated as experts and to which our State Assembly unprecedentedly passed a law exclusive for them inserting the name of their company in Lagos State law to be the only ones that must collect domestic waste from the state," said Margaret Oshodi, a PSP operator.

"By this publication, they appropriated to themselves the role of state agencies of Lagos Waste Management Authority LAWMA and Ministry of Environment MOE amongst other regulating and statutory agencies.

"They also tacitly show that the PSPs are good at what they do. PSPs have been helping them move most of the waste they appropriated to themselves through state laws while their promoters look helplessly as their contractor daily engage the services of these same operators they have disparaged all over their sponsored media."

A source privy to the discussion between Visionscape and PSP operators told PREMIUM TIMES that the newspaper advertorial came as a result of a breakdown in negotiations with the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria.

"We were unable to agree on a sharing formula and now they are resorting to a divide-and-rule tactic by targeting our members individually," said the PSP operator who preferred not to be named to avoid victimisation."

'A glorified PSP'

Part of the negotiations, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, was a proposal for the payment of N30,000 per trip to dump the waste at the landfill at Epe.

A local PSP operator evacuating the waste at Tinubu Square.

Olalekan Owojori, a consultant to the PSP operators, described such a proposal as "ridiculous."

"In 2006, the government was paying N25,000 per trip to dump at Olusosun, and there was a possibility to do more than three trips per day," said Mr. Owojori, the director of Wellbeck Consulting Ltd.

"You can now imagine taking your truck all the way to Epe at N30,000 per trip and you are not likely to do more than a trip because of the traffic."

According to Mr. Owojori, the PSP operators went to court because their means of livelihood was threatened.

"The government was proposing to take away 80 per cent of their current activity by taking away the domestic waste collection and leaving them with commercial waste collection," said Mr. Owojori.

"That meant that 80 per cent of what they currently do is being taken away and that can only lead to job losses, business failures and business closure.

"During the course of going to court, we now found out that this 20 per cent has further reduced to 10 per cent. Because the commercial that was supposed to be managed, in the areas of markets, government buildings, public schools have also been conceded to Visionscape.

"Visionscape now has a monopoly of the market by controlling 90 per cent of the market, so we were even worse off from where we started."

Visionscape street sweepers having a rest inside the National Stadium in Surulere.

Mr. Owojori further said Visionscape's advertorial calling for Expression of Interest from the PSP operators "was not done in good faith."

"In the spirit of possible collaboration, we wrote a letter to Visionscape to draw their attention that, presumably, this is in line with us working together but it should be done with a great degree of respect on both sides.

"And you can't just be inviting our members to come individually when we had told you our resolution, that if we are going to consider working with you, let us know what the terms are. Let's see what the terms are and we can then explore that possibility.

"Two days to come and reapply for a job that was taken away from us and you have not specified what the terms and conditions will be, you have avoided talking about this and we have been on this for over a month."

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, the lawyer representing the PSPs in court, said he is only aware of settlement talks between his clients and Visionscape.

"I know that there have been some meetings which we attended but what we agreed was that the consultant and the lawyer should exchange some details of possible contractual agreement and we are waiting on them for that," Mr. Adegboruwa, a human rights activist, told PREMIUM TIMES.

"It would seem that it's always when the case is about to come up (in court) that everybody starts running up and down."

For Ms. Oshodi, the two-day time frame given to operators in Visionscape's advertorial showed the company's "false illusion of self-worth."

"Visionscape assumes that the legislation of operators out of existence through the connivance of the state legislature will send operators scampering to their office," she said in a Facebook post.

"They are dead wrong. It will only send them job seekers. They will soon realize that we are investors too and money talks. We need millions to fuel and fix the trucks on a daily basis and those who worked hard to earn it will not fritter it away just because a company enjoys waste monopoly.

"Visionscape is just a glorified PSP whom our state resources, land, building and money is placed at its beck and call. Somewhere along the line they will run out of money or the state will go broke funding them without private capital.

"If the government is really interested in Cleaner Lagos or even cleanest Lagos, let them give the PSPs the same contract terms as Visionscape and we will deliver in a week."

'We have the capacity'

Olabode Opeseitan, a spokesperson for Visionscape, said the newspaper advertorial was one of the moves by the company to have an out-of-court settlement with the PSP operators.

"There is a contract that says that residential evacuation of waste can only be done by Visionscape and Visionscape has therefore mapped out plans to do that," Mr. Opeseitan told PREMIUM TIMES.

"They looked at the volume of waste generated in the 57 local councils, including the riverine communities, everything is based on that plan."

Mr. Opeseitan blamed the seeming incapability of Visionscape to evacuate the waste generated in Lagos on the company's difficulty to bring in its equipment into the country and added that the issues started late last year.

"We have the capacity, Visionscape is a globally acclaimed company in the area of waste evacuation and what they are doing is the total package - they are not only bothered about taking the waste off the streets but also the landfills where it would end up."

On the company's newspaper advertorial, Mr. Opeseitan said only PSP operators with the "minimum acceptable standard" would be selected.

He justified Visionscape's decision to invite individual PSP operators on the grounds that some of them possibly felt that their union officials were trying to short-change them.

A refuse heap at Festac Town.

When contacted, Kehinde Bamigbetan, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, told PREMIUM TIMES that the advertorial was not placed by the state government.

"They (Visionscape) should be in a position to respond to it," Mr. Bamigbetan, who was appointed to the post last month, said when asked if the advertorial meant the company lacks the capacity to tackle waste in Lagos.

"The company is the one handling it (waste) now."

But during a visit to The Nation newspaper's office last Tuesday, Mr. Bamigbetan said the government's discovery of more than 2,000 illegal dumpsites in the state led to its termination of the partnership with PSP operators.

"When we came on board, we realised there were many problems with the waste management system being championed by PSP operators," The Nation quoted Mr. Bamigbetan, a former journalist, as saying.

"We found out that there are over 2,000 illegal dump sites across the state and these PSP operators illegally dumped refuse on these sites. We discovered the PSP operators still face logistics challenges, despite managing the system for several years."

Mr. Bamigbetan said the government engaged Visionscape in a bid to deliver a modern method of waste management in the state.

"The firm is expected to bring in 600 compactors and waste bins to manage waste in all the 377 wards across the state. The delay in the importation of these compactors is responsible for the challenges we are facing now," he added.

Ms. Oshodi, however, accused the commissioner of being "economical with the truth."

"Everything was working fine and Lagos was clean until the state government decided to contract the waste management of Lagos to their cronies," she said.

"They are paying for their ignorance. When the rains come they will get a different bite that waste is different from any job for the boys."

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