Cart pushers return to Lagos streets

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They are back on the roads and streets of Lagos. From the wee hours of the day, itinerant cart pushers, whose trade was once banned by the Lagos State government, relentlessly comb the streets to evacuate refuse for a fee. 

Mostly looking unkempt, presumably to fit their preoccupation, they make clanging sounds by banging on the sides of their carts to announce their presence. Many have attributed their comeback to the resurgence of garbage heaps in Lagos.

Initially, when they were chased off the streets, residents were optimistic that the days of having refuse heaps defacing the environment and constituting health hazards were gone. This was more so with the emergence of the private sector participation (PSP) contractors in refuse collection, which was among the various initiatives introduced by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) to address waste disposal challenges in Lagos.

The emergence of PSP in January 2000 was commended by the residents, because, at that point in time in the state, heaps of stinking garbage dotted the streets, even as it appeared that the government had no response to the challenge.

The PSP was launched as a pet project by former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to wage war against filth in the state. The PSP programme was, among other objectives, designed to relieve the state-owned Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) of the assiduous task of clearing the mounting heaps of filth that daily virtually took over the entire city like a living monster.

The initiative then included the incorporation of the PSP operators to collect and dispose refuse on behalf of the residents, as well as the introduction of highway managers and street sweepers to rid the highways of dirt and to ensure proper disposal of refuse in the state.

With PSP in full operation, LAWMA, in 2010, outlawed the operations of the cart pushers in the state, with allegations that the cart pushers were responsible for the indiscriminate dumping of refuse in unauthorised places.

However, years after, the aim of setting up the PSP initiative seems to have been defeated. There are allegations that the PSP operators in some areas, mostly in the suburbs, would not show up for weeks and even months. Yet, residents were forced to pay for services not rendered. Before long, refuse heaps staged a comeback along the roads and highways, clearings and gutters of Lagos.

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Right now, in those areas where LAWMA and PSP operators have shown the inability to evacuate residents’ garbage, cart pushers have stepped in to render the needed service.

Several Lagos residents that spoke with Daily Sun about the re-emergence of cart pushers noted that PSP trucks no longer make their routine weekly visits, with the emphasis that it would be foolhardy to leave waste lying around when it could easily be disposed of by cart pushers with a meagre sum.

Several areas like the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos/Badagry Expressway, particularly the Trade Fair-Okokomaiko stretch, have become a hub for indiscriminate dumping of refuse. Also, areas like Canoe Bus Stop by Ajao Estate, Isolo, Ikotun, Mile 2 and Makoko areas of the metropolis are not spared the nauseating sight.

Cele Bus Stop, another busy spot that once played host to mounds of refuse years back, now wears the same filthy signature. This also goes for Ijesha Bus Stop, where the market women have turned a section of the road to a refuse dump.

One of the traders at Ijesha Bus Stop said her fellow traders had long been waiting for the two PSP operators in charge of the area to collect refuse. She lamented that the operators had not been available. By her account, due to the unbearable stench emanating from the heaps of refuse, the traders decided to engage cart pushers.

Utomi Obiekwe, a resident of Oke-Afa, bemoaned the reappearance of refuse  heaps in Lagos, adding that, for a mega-city, any sight of refuse was an eyesore.

He noted that as the heaps of refuse keep growing in size and number and the PSP contractors not forthcoming to clear them, cart pushers have gradually cashed in on the opportunity to make brisk business.

He said that the proximity of the Oke-Afa dump to areas like Jakande Estate, Isolo, Ire-Akari, Ajao Estate and Iyana-Ejigbo has made it even easier for the cart pushers to make several visits to streets, evacuating refuse. 

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According to him: “When residents wait for PSP operators and they are nowhere to be found, they have no option than to either deposit their refuse on the streets or any available space or, better still, call for the services of cart pushers who are always roaming the streets, especially in the morning hours.

“It is a sad development, really, but what can we do? Which is better, to allow the cart pushers clear our refuse or suffer from a possible outbreak of epidemic?”

Abimbola, a housewife in Isheri, blamed the return of refuse on Lagos streets on the attitude of some residents who, she said, usually refuse to pay the bill for the services of PSP operators. She equally blamed the refusal to pay on the fact that the PSP operators have failed to keep to the rules of engagement by not always coming to evacuate waste when due.

“Sometimes for two weeks, no PSP truck would be seen in this area. Yet, they will bring their bills. So, for those times we don’t see them, we patronise cart pushers, while those who feel it’s a waste of money usually wait till when it is dark to dispose of their refuse. I think that is why refuse is seen along the roads in the morning hours,” she said.

The proprietor of Havilla Crescent School, Isheri, Mrs. Bolanle Oshodi, acknowledged that the cart pushers were more efficient and faster in discharging their duties because they were paid pro rata for picking the refuse. She also lamented the inefficiency of PSP operators in the area, noting that, for a while, the school was left with the choice of patronising cart pushers.

Her words: “I can’t remember the last time we saw any PSP operator in this area. They are simply inefficient. Not only that they don’t come regularly, they end up doing a shoddy job of evacuating the refuse by littering the ground and streets with refuse from their badly maintained trucks. This is one thing the cart pushers don’t do.

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“They are also very rude. Once they enter a street, they will occupy the road and, until they leave, no vehicle can pass. On the other hand, because PSP enjoys government support, they can tell you anything to avoid coming to pack the refuse for weeks.”

She noted that the PSP operator’s perceived ineptitude was probably the reason behind the state government’s decision to replace them with a foreign investor.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode had said recently that the PSPs had not shown the capacity to deal with the enormous waste generated in the state. The state government had last year signed a $135 million (N85 billion) agreement with a foreign firm as part of its new waste management policy, an arrangement under a public-private partnership (PPP) initiative expected to last four years.

According to Ambode: “We are embarking on massive reform in the waste and sanitation management system. I don’t like the way the city is and the PSP collectors (do) not have enough capacity to do it. But again, should I tax people to death? The answer is no.”

Some Lagos residents are, however, suggesting that the cart pushers should be integrated into the LAWMA scheme, noting that such a complimentary role would produce prompt and efficient refuse disposal.

They maintained that, if the cart pushers were made waste managers and adequately regulated, they would help to ensure that the heaps of refuse all over the metropolis were always cleared.

Source – The Sun

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