Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was decreed into existence on Feb. 3, 1976 by the then Federal Military Government, headed by Gen. Murtala Mohammed.
Factors cited for its establishment included the need to have a centrally located capital city that would enhance the unity of Nigerians, while exhibiting the aesthetic qualities of a modern capital city.
Environmentalists were particularly happy during Abuja’s conception stage that the new capital would take due cognizance of modern town-planning issues such as waste management which, they noted, had become a major environmental concern in Lagos, the then capital.
Such arguments were quite understandable, as Lagos had been having serious waste management problems, as refuse heaps littered its streets. The relocation of the country’s seat of government to Abuja was, therefore, widely assessed as a welcome development.
In spite of the people’s expectations, observers note that Abuja, like other cities in the country, still grapples with waste management problems; as some areas, particularly the satellite towns, stink because of the refuse heaps by the streets and walkways.
The mounting garbage heaps in the satellite towns, according to Mr Kenneth Duniyan, a specialist in environmental and public health engineering, can cause serious degradation of the environment, resulting in a myriad of health hazards as well.
Water sources near such waste dumps easily become contaminated and a consequence, explains Dr Ibrahim Idris, an expert in community health, is the spread of gastro-intestinal and parasitic diseases.
“This can be serious as the diseases can be epidemic,” he says.
However, this is not to suggest that the FCT Administration (FCTA) has been indifferent. Huge sum of money is annually spent on efforts to keep Abuja clean and the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) oversees waste management operations in the city.
The Director of AEPB, Dr Abubakar Yabo, says that the agency is responsible for the evacuation and disposal of solid and liquid wastes in the city.
In the area of solid waste management, Yabo says that AEPB has entered into a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement with some contractors.
“Abuja is divided into 20 district lots, each district lot being manned by a cleaning contractor on concession agreement for three years,” he says.
Yabo says that the AEPB, the Abuja Investment Company and an Ukrainian firm have entered into a joint-venture agreement for waste management activities in Abuja.
Under the agreement, he says, the AEPB contributed 20 per cent of the funds used in procuring 50 compacting trucks and 12 street sweepers, while the Ukrainian technical partners contributed the remaining 80 per cent.
“That is why you can see a lot of brand new equipment around,” Yabo says, adding: “The vehicles had been shared out to the cleaning contractors in charge of the 20 lots and the size of each district determines the number of vehicles allocated to each cleaner.
“For Maitama District, it may require up to eight compacting trucks; for Wuse, it may require up to eight trucks, while Wuye will get less than three compacting trucks as the district has not been fully developed,” he adds.
The AEPB chief says that the compacting trucks are given out to the cleaning contractors on a lease agreement, adding that they pay hiring fees for the equipment, expected to be in use for the next six years.
Yabo says that the Ukrainian company undertakes the maintenance of the compacting vehicles, stressing: “Whenever a contractor is having problems with the compacting truck in his custody, he just has to return it to the company which will give him a new one, while the faulty one is fixed.
“The good thing about the whole arrangement is that after six years, the AEPB will take full possession of the trucks,” he adds.
On liquid waste collection, Yabo says that water from kitchens, toilets and bathrooms of houses in Abuja passes through the sewage system and gets to the Wupa waste treatment plant, about 35km from the city centre. He explains that the liquid waste is usually filtered in its course via the gravitational process.
“By the time the water gets to Wupa, it is already fully treated to acceptable standards before being discharged into the stream body,” Yabo says.
In spite of Yabo’s explanations about Abuja’s waste management procedures, observers bemoan the apparent lack of a pragmatic waste management system in Abuja, in spite of its status as a new, emerging cosmopolitan city.
They argue that an up-to-date waste management system ought to have been integrated into the Abuja Master Plan.
Yabo disagrees with such viewpoints, saying that the FCT has a very good waste management system in place.
He recalls that in 2004, for instance, the city’s waste-collection system was somewhat perfect, conceding that the system became defective because of the declining quality of the waste managers’ service delivery.
“Now, things have started picking up; the situation has changed. The city is getting cleaner day-by-day,” he says.
“If we don’t have a good waste management system in place, there is no way that Abuja can remain clean with the daily influx of people into the city,” he adds.
The AEPB plans to enhance the service delivery of its contractors by making them more accountable to the people.
Yabo says that a spot will be designated in every district, where information on the cleaning contractors, their supervisors, the monitoring team and AEPB’s service number will be displayed.
“Residents of a district can just look at the signboard and get information about the district’s cleaning contractor; his name, his phone number, his supervisor and the AEPB’s service number, in case of any complaints,” he says.
As regards waste disposal in the FCT, the AEPB currently has two landfill sites — one in Ghosa, along the Airport road, and the other in Ajata on the Nyanya-Karu road.
Yabo says that the landfill site at Mpape and another at Karu had been closed because they were filled up.
However, he says that there are plans to build about six waste transfer stations to shorten distances and ease waste-collection activities, adding that the stations will be built within Abuja and on the city’s outskirts.
Yabo says that whenever the waste transfer stations are completed, the task of evacuating waste will be less cumbersome, as the cleaning contractors will be able to dump the waste at the stations in the lead-up to their movement to the Gosa and Ajata landfill sites at night.
But analysts insist that the current FCT’s waste disposal system can never be a profitable venture unless the waste is converted or recycled into useful and usable products.
Mr Abimbola Oladeinde, Project Director of ENVIPLAN Associates, an environment technology firm, says that it is never a good strategy to remove waste from one part of the city, only to dump it in another part for landfilling without harnessing the potential of the waste.
“This is because waste can be converted into resources that even generate substantial revenue for the FCT,” he says, adding: “In some oversea countries such as the U.S., waste treatment and conversion plants are good money spinners.”
Oladeinde says that waste can be used in thermal waste conversion plants to generate electricity, urging the Federal Government, the FCTA and the state governments to consider establishing thermal waste conversion plants.
Such action, he expatiates, will provide additional sources of energy for the country, while ridding the society of the waste problem.
Oladeinde urges the FCTA to place more emphasis on waste processing and conversion.
According to him, the best approach in that regard entails the adoption of three strategies.
The first is a reorganisation of the waste collection system, incorporating separation of garbage at source, according to types, for easy processing.
The second strategy entails the processing of the collected garbage to derive usable materials and energy, while the last involves the reorganisation of the people’s living environment along more rational lines in harmony with nature.
“That way, we will be able to have a symbiotic system in which we can state that in nature, nothing is a waste,” Oladeinde says.
However, the AEPB appears to be thinking along those lines, as its Director says that the Board has just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a foreign firm, Kaukara Technology Company, on the implementation of a “waste-to-energy” programme in the FCT.
Yabo says that the programme, which will cost about N68 billion, will covert waste to energy.
“From this programme, we are going to generate about 120 megawatts of electricity from waste and we are also going to produce NPK standard fertiliser from the waste,” he says.
“The project, which will also produce aviation fuel for our Aviation industry, will create over 1,000 jobs for residents of the FCT,” he says.
Yabo says that the project, expected to commence probably in July, will be completed in 12 months.
According to the AEPB director, the project is a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, where the FCTA’s contribution is just to provide land, while Kaukara will provide all the financial resources for the project in concert with some firms in Asia and the U.S.
In spite of all these efforts, analysts still insist that the whole venture will be counterproductive unless tangible attention is directed at solving the waste management problems of satellite towns and other areas that are not within the Abuja city centre.
Alhaji Haruna Ahmed, the Head of the Sanitation Unit of Bwari Area Council, concedes that the satellite towns and neighbourhoods in the areas are having serious waste management problems due to paucity of funds.
He recalls that in the past, there were monthly waste-evacuation exercises, adding, however, that the lack of funds has adversely affected the sanitation programme.
Ahmed, nonetheless, says that the new council authorities intend to resume the refuse disposal activity every fortnight.
He says that Bwari Area Council, in partnership with NICO Clean, had been taking care of waste management activities in Kubwa, although the joint venture was terminated because the company flouted the terms of agreement.
“We realised that NICO was collecting money from the people without informing us; that was why the agreement was suspended,” he says.
In the area of waste disposal, Ahmed says that the council has three dumpsites in Dei-Dei, Bwari and Dutse Baupma but concedes that waste disposal in the area is fraught with some difficulties, as it currently has no landfill site.
“During the administration of the former FCT Minister, Malam Nasir El-Rufai, there was a proposal to construct one landfill site in every area council in the FCT.
“We got a place for the landfill and negotiated with the owners of the piece of land but the proposal just died like that,” he says.
However, the AEPB has been intervening in the waste management activities of the area councils but the intervention, according to Yabo, is not enough.
He says that the AEPB has drawn up a comprehensive plan for the area councils, which had been forwarded to their chairmen for adoption.
Yabo says that whenever the plan is adopted and implemented, the whole FCT will become clean, as the plan contains pragmatic waste collection and disposal strategies.
Observers believe that all things being equal, the waste management problems of the FCT will be a thing of the past if the schemes of the AEPB are faithfully implemented.
Komolafe resides in Lagos