Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

07 Jan

Who is responsible for cleaning our capital city?

Abuja is dirty.  Everything imaginable can be found littering the streets. Small public bins are overflowing and the increasing number of makeshift, refuse heaps are growing higher and smellier by the day. Thousands of black nylon bags and transparent water sachets have taken root in the soil, have implanted themselves on trees and security barbed wires, and those that have not blended into the environment are flying into the windscreens of moving cars, into faces, and into buildings. Not the kind of dirt that half-hearted attempts by the women and men in orange can deal with, but the type which needs a sustainable waste management strategy, some imagination, and a strong will.

Yet Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) reportedly spends N1.3 billion per annum on cleaning Abuja metropolis alone. The responsibility for cleaning the rest of the FCT i.e., Nyanya, Lugbe, Gwagwalada, Kuje etc., lies with the area councils in collaboration with the Satellite Towns Development Agency and they have a separate budget.

There are several reasons why Abuja looks unloved and uncared for. The first is that the framework and process for how the city is cleaned and how waste is managed is not public knowledge. How do you clean a city without the assistance and support of the inhabitants? In London for instance, residents know what days of the week waste is picked up. This means the night before collection day, people put out their trash outside their doors, and bin bags outside on a day not reserved for collections attracts a fine and the city earns a little extra revenue.

In some jurisdictions, where residents park on the street, the routine is so synchronized that people know for example that Thursday is for cleaning the right side of the street (so everyone parks on the left or gets a fine). If Abuja residents know the street-cleaning schedule, we can avoid the overflowing bins that blight our streets and attract dogs and scavengers. In addition, residents acting as partners to the authorities can report the cleaners when they fail to show up with their brooms and Bagco sacks.

The second is that the cleaners lack the right equipment for cleaning. One has to be sympathetic to the effort they put into the shoddy job they do or the way they focus only on the main avenues ignoring the side streets which their supervisors probably don’t care about either. Instead of the backbreaking work of sweeping with our local brooms, the cleaners should be kitted out properly with gloves, rakes, long brooms, brushes etc. In another world, Cosmopolitan Cleaners (one of the cleaners in the city) would have a patent by now for inventing a long-handled broom which incorporates our traditional one.

The third problem is a mix of poor standards and little knowledge. If the AEPB team cared about their role as the keepers of our environment, it would not be easy for them to ignore the wasteland that Abuja has become. They would find it hard to budget over a billion on the purchase of 60,000 plastic waste bins at the same cost of N18, 000 each which they sell to the residents ( Surely, they should be sourcing at much cheaper in order to sell at a small profit and eventually reduce the price tag for residents.

And finally, lack of accountability is a problem. How many contractors clean the city? What are the tender and audit processes to determine who is best qualified to do the job and to verify that the job is executed satisfactorily? What is certain is that some of the AEPB task force know very well who some of the most guilty generators of road trash are. They are the ubiquitous sellers of tea and bread, fruit, suya, and carts that dot every residential and commercial area around the city. And instead of ensuring these traders take responsibility for cleaning their surroundings, AEPB officers allegedly prefer to extort money from them safe in the knowledge that as illegal operators, there is no trail and no complaint.

Abuja is a naturally beautiful place—with green-covered hills and rocks of various formations, including our reclining elephant that guards the army quarters on the bypass between Maitama and Asokoro. Even if residents don’t care for the environment or aesthetics, we should care that our collective wealth is being wasted for little benefit and we should care because it is a shame that the home of our Federal Government is turning into such a trash dump. If we cannot get the small things right, how will we ever accomplish the big things?

Below are some pictures.


07 Jan

Ill-advised transport policies in Abuja punish the people they are supposed to help: commuters.


Can anyone imagine Nigerians too tired and apathetic to muster a reaction to a half-hearted yelp of ‘Ole-thief’ at a busy makeshift bus-stop such as Berger Junction? One evening, according to one commuter’s report, a pickpocket got away with not even a scuff to his ear when he was spotted trying to separate a man from his wallet. Expecting a torrent of vicious blows or at least a chase, the thief dropped the wallet to the ground and sped off. Many barely turn their heads to look at him.

The lack of effective public transportation in Abuja is crippling– in more ways than one. For a city deliberately planned for only a few to live in the city center while the majority commute, the FCT deserves a better public transport system. Instead what we have is obviously too few vehicles to service the number who rely on public transportation and a clear inability of the authorities to manage the transport system, if one can call it that.

Abuja’s FCTA Transportation Secretariat states that its vision is “to provide an effective and efficient transportation system in the FCT through pro-active planning, effective monitoring, safe, accident free and infrastructural development… to meet the expectation of the public”. Yet, each time a new administration comes in, there is a flush of activities to tackle public transport but the real problem is the absence of an FCT-owned policy which every ‘newcomer’ to the FCTA is required to uphold and implement.

Katampe New Extension is home to a graveyard of el-Rufai buses. It is safe to estimate that at least 40% of them are no longer in use-- ill-maintained, broken down and eventually abandoned. Same as the London Cab scheme. Yet despite the lack of adequate public transport, every couple of weeks, without fail, Senator Bala Mohammed’s FCTA unleashes at least one commuter-unfriendly policy on Abuja.

Sometimes, the regulation is aimed at dealing with an enforcement issue, that is to ease the traffic congestion caused by drivers of buses and taxis who park anywhere to pick up and offload passengers. However, all that a ban on buses and taxis from central parts of the city does is penalize the commuters and exacerbate the problem.

Here is what Abuja needs: a coherent policy to liberalise the provision of public transport in the city with the authorities focusing on strict but enabling regulation of the various schemes.  The Transportation Secretariat should act as a regulator setting the standards for roadworthiness of the vehicles, public safety requirements, registration and licensing of vehicles and drivers etc. For example, if all public transport vehicles were registered with identification numbers displayed boldly outside and within the vehicles, drivers who flout the law can be tracked and punished.

Reports from commuters and traffic regulators would contain the necessary information to track offenders and when companies are fined for the acts of their drivers, the companies will soon learn to pass on the pain to the driver and weed out those who constitute a nuisance to the public. This way, service providers take responsibility and the government earns some revenue.  And this information also makes it easier for commuters who suffer one-chance abductions and assault to report such incidents to the police because then commuters will have the registration license number for the vehicle and maybe even the driver’s name on record.

Every now and then, residents of Abuja hear tales of light rail-- we know that this is a pipe dream as long as Nigeria cannot generate enough electricity for homes and offices. But what we can expect is a more coherent and realistic public transport system which we can measure and assess.

Organised cities can tell you how many buses, taxis and trains they have, the number of commuters using different platforms daily (New York City subway has 1.2 million passengers a day), the average wait time on certain routes and how many buses/taxis there are per residents in the city.

None of these information is publicly available – which makes it clear that the authorities have no practical ideas to fix the situation. If they did, then there would be a sense that they know how bad the problem is and what the solutions are-- collecting and sharing data is the first step.

As it is, one can only guess-- from the throng of people waiting at Berger Junction, at AY Junction and other major streets in the city center on a working day-- how long people have to wait to get home after a hard day at work. The running, pushing and shoving it takes to board a vehicle is undignified and forms part of the steady dehumanization of Nigerians.

In this city, where the seat of government is hosted, it must be one of the great mysteries of the universe whether officials cruising by, sometimes with a fleet of five cars feel nothing when they see those they are supposed to care for standing stranded for hours under an unrelenting sun or the unforgiving rain.