Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that waste management and ancillary services in Lagos State may have become an effective political tool that contributed to the denial of a second term ticket to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

There are three battles that every governor of Lagos State must fight and win. He can choose to ignore these obstacles to his own peril. By and large, each chief executive of the Centre of Excellence must confront the traffic situation, stabilize the security and challenge the problem of refuse. On these three accounts, Lagosians will score him a success or failure. If a governor of Lagos does nothing else, but post excellent results in these three areas, he will be loudly applauded as a performing governor.

A lot of views have been canvassed in the public space as reason Governor Akinwunmi Ambode lost his chance to run for a second term on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Ambode has the unfortunate peculiarity of not serving a two-term period. As insignificant as it seemed (and even now many still do not reckon it as a factor), the moment the governor began to tinker with the existing refuse management arrangement in Lagos, it signaled the beginning of his exit from governance.

Former Lagos State governor and National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu who governed the state between 1999 and 2007 created the template with which the state is run, even after he left office. The intervention of the Tinubu administration in the critical areas of waste management, security and traffic management were sustained and improved upon by his successor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. Ambode did his bit with security, changing the vehicles and speed with which the police tackled crime. He also discouraged criminals by lighting up Lagos and establishing a new corps of vigilante called, Lagos Neighbourhood Security Corps. However, it was his attempt to interfere with the waste management policy of the state that pulled the rug off his feet.

Like the Lagos State Traffic Management (LASTMA), Tinubu had rebranded the Lagos Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) as he was leaving office in 2007 to deliver the required social service in those relevant areas, but more than that they were geared towards scoring political goals and to perpetuate the ruling party in power. The thousands of street sweepers and the private sector managers in Lagos along with those who unblocked the drains were a mighty army of loyal voters with unwavering allegiance to the APC. It was a huge political miscalculation for Ambode to even think of disengaging them. However, it must not be forgotten that the first civilian governor of the state, Alhaji Lateef Jakande had already set the goal for modern waste management in the state over 30 years ago.

Perhaps, he had the good intention of bringing about a ‘Greener Lagos’, but the unwholesome manner of truncating the reign of LAWMA and the PSP waste management operators which was gaining wider acceptance and providing jobs for thousands of people, left a sour taste in the mouth. Not a few thought that the arrival of VisionScape on the Lagos waste management landscape brought with it a disaster that Ambode could not manage, and which, in more ways than one led to his not being able to win back the favour of the moulders of political opinion in Lagos.

When it was said that the leaders in the 57 local government areas and local council development areas had signed a document against the governor’s return for a second tenure, it was actually instigated by the PSP waste operators in these places who had impressed it on Tinubu that there was no way they could persuade their foot soldiers to vote if their source of livelihood was taken from them. With a population of 22 million generating an average of 15 frightening tons of waste daily, it is a call for disaster if waste is not evacuated in Lagos for just one day!

Weighed down by a lot of malice arising from the disengagement of LAWMA and the PSP, Visionscape could not start on a smooth note. The plan to generate 27,000 direct employment and lead to improvement in waste management in the state appeared to have failed from the beginning and no one was willing to give the consortium a chance to prove itself. Although it looked like it held a lot of promise with the deployment of new vehicles and outfitting its staff with modern safety gear, the undercurrent of politics subtracted from all these glaring advantage.

Refuse management involves big money. The capital outlay committed to operations by many of the PSPs ran into millions of Naira, which some of them borrowed from the banks. Therefore terminating their working relationship with LAWMA and reducing LAWMA’s involvement to just a supervisory role was too much of a damaging blow they could not deal with. Last year, the state also raised about N27bn in its first green bond with a five-year tenor at 17.5 per cent coupon in its quest to improve on waste management in the state. It intends to raise an additional N23bn subsequently to support the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, CLI, scheme.

Now Ambode has been persuaded to allow LAWMA, the PSP and Visionscape to synchronize their operations. This was a move he rejected when it was earlier suggested to him. Agreeing to it when it has cost him a second term of governance of Lagos, may be coming too late, but it also demonstrates the governor’s willingness to make amends for the greater good of Lagos. According to him, “We must acknowledge the environmental degradation that plagues the State and the urgent need for a world class comprehensive waste management system that addresses this crucial quality of life issue.”

The Lagos Waste Management Authority(LAWMA), formerly known as Lagos State Refuse Disposal Board (LSRDB) at inception was established in 1977 vide Edict No. 9 of 1977 when it was glaring during Nigeria’s preparation for Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac ’77) that the then two Local Government Councils, namely Lagos Island and Lagos Mainland, could not cope with the volume of waste resulting from the oil-boom stimulated economy and its attendant influence on migrants into the new capital city from the rural and less developed areas of Nigeria and neighboring West African countries. In December 1991, the name Lagos State Waste Management Authority was christened vide Edict No 55 which made the agency to be responsible for the collection, transportation and disposal of municipal and industrial waste as well as the provision of commercial waste services to the state and Local Government Councils.

On March 13, 1979 the Board was officially commissioned and renamed Lagos State Waste Disposal Board (LSWDB) with additional responsibilities for cleaning primary and secondary drains within the metropolis. The following responsibilities were similarly added over the years. The Authority was renamed Lagos Waste Management Authority in March 2007 vide LAWMA Law No. 5 cap. 27, Vol. 40 of 2007.

Culled from THISDAY