The walls of the ancient Benin Kingdom, located in present-day Benin City, the capital of Edo State, Nigeria, were a combination of ramparts and moats called ‘Iya,’ Covering 6,500 square kilometres, they were the most extensive earthworks in the world, according to English author and journalist Fred Pearce in an article in New Scientistmagazine.
In Benin City today, a majority (83%) of these Iya are being used as dump sites by residents, no thanks to the waste management authorities.
“I know it is wrong to drop it here, but nobody is stopping me, and collecting waste from people to bring here is what I do for a living,” said, Sunny Ogbuede, an unaccredited waste/refuse collector. Mr. Ogbuede is one of several cart boys who had come to dispose of refuse in the moat along Upper Uwa Street.
“You cannot imagine the smell coming out from this dump site,” said Monday Ehigie, an electronics repairer whose shop is close to the moat. “Sometimes I lose appetite for food because of the kind of waste we see here.”
Mr. Ehigie has spent more than six years close to the illegal dump site. “When it is dry season, we cannot stay here to do our businesses because of smoke from the burning heap of refuse in the moat.”
One of the largest illegal dump sites in the city is the one that stretches from the end of Holy Cross Street to Oni Street, off Ewah Road near the New Benin market in Isonoroh. Here, private and unaccredited refuse collectors dispose of all they have collected.
“We leave everything to God, as nobody cares about [those of] us living close to this dump,” said a resident who declined to give her name.
Authorities Struggle to Keep Up
The existence of these dump sites is the result of poor waste management in the city, according to Peter Inegbedion, Director of Environment in Oredo Local Government Area.
“Managing waste in Benin City has been very tough, and it has become a very strong challenge to government. Those engaged as accredited waste managers are not professionals,” he said. “There are legislations that are supposed to make things work, but these legislations are not well enforced. Even the few approved dump sites are not enough, and are not maintained properly.”
There is no area in Benin City, cutting across the three metropolitan local government areas (Oredo, Egor, and Ikpoba-Okha), where one cannot notice the presence of heaps of waste, no matter how small. Even the military barracks at Ikpoba Hill, Ramat Park, and police barracks across the city are not left out.
The Iya are not the only illegal dump sites in Benin City. Street corners, major roads, and drainage systems are also used to dump refuse. Inhabitants of areas such as Agip, Country Home Motel Road Junction, beside Santana Market, and all along Sapele Road, have called on the authorities to put measures in place to check the ugly development.
Endurance Joshua, a fruit seller beside the Agip filling station, lamented the presence of an illegal waste dump close to her stall.
“It is negatively affecting our business,” she said, pointing at a dump heap. “We have accredited waste collectors [yet] we come here to meet this dump.”
A Danger to the Public
Pius Ogbeide, a commercial bus driver waiting to pick passengers by the moat adjacent to St. Saviour Road Junction at upper Sokponmba Road, noted that these sites could be dangerous.
“We spend most of our time here, we even eat here, and imagine the smell and the danger it could cause to our health. People should be put on standby to keep watch to stop people from disposing of refuse in and around this moat,” he said
Most of the open and underground drainage systems in Benin City are channelled to Ikpoba River, which demarcates Oredo and Ikpoba-Okha local government areas. But due to the poor waste disposal habits of residents in such areas, these drainages now serve as dump sites. When it rains, the river becomes filled up with refuse which changes the colour of the water and endangers aquatic wildlife.
“It can further pollute the river and result in health and economic challenges for inhabitants who depend on the river for their livelihood,” one resident said.
Mrs Juliana (not her real name) sells roasted plantainnear a flooded dump site opposite Jehovah Junction on Agbor Road. Her six-year-old son recently contracted a diarrhoea-related ailment from the environment.
“My child had been stooling since yesterday, but I have given him some drugs.”
She was advised to seek further medical attention for the pale looking child, who was there with her and could barely stand on his feet.
Dr Eseigbe Efeomon, a public health physician at the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), said the poor management of waste across Benin City is reducing the quality of its drinking water and contributing to sickness among residents.
Dr. Efeomon explained that a dump site should not be located near homes or water bodies, as it could leak contaminants down through the dirt into those water bodies and return as drinking water, or water that individuals use at home.
“This can lead to diarrhoea. You can [also] have malaria, and the stench in the air around there can lead to air pollution that can expose residents to a lot of respiratory tract infections. We have a lot of cases like that coming into the hospital everyday, but you may not be able to immediately tell if this person or that person is sick because of exposure to where vectors are breeding.”
Mrs Grace Oladele, a canteen operator close to one of the city’s secretariat buildings, said that customers often complained of the dump site nearby, and feared the contamination of their food.
“All my customers are reducing,” Mrs. Oladele said. “The few ones that come here to eat always talk about the heap of refuse.”
Improving Government Efforts
However some residents do not see these dump sites as a menace, largely because the authorities in charge of waste management in the city have not taken a firm stand to stop the trend.
A resident of the Mobile Police Barracks, Ogida, said, “Different quarters here have where they dispose of waste; they maintain it as well.”
Though the state government has run enlightenment adverts in the media to dissuade people from disposing refuse indiscriminately, as well as inform them of the health hazards associated with living close to dumpsites, the city’s environmental laws have not been enforced to serve as a deterrent.
“Waste is supposed to be put in their natural home. Either it’s kept in a waste bag, or in the bin, or in the site where they are managed,” said ESWMB General Manager, Prince Aiyamenkhue Akonofua. “But what do you have? You have waste not placed in their natural homes and abodes, where they are supposed to be. They are now dispatched in our streets and open drains, thereby constituting serious health hazards to man and his environment.”
Mr. Akonofua also disclosed that the ESWMB has created a neighbourhood environmental sanitation committee that will ensure that waste is properly tracked and managed by the government, from the sources of production to the landfill. He added that the ESWMB was also going to involve both educational and traditional institutions to eradicate indiscriminate waste disposal.
“Residents should cease from patronizing cart boys collecting waste and non-accredited waste managers because they relocate the waste to street corners, the moats and the drains, and not to approved dump sites,” he said.
An unaccredited waste collector identified as Mr Stanley JP said that collectors like him preferred these illegal dump sites as they do not have to pay to dispose of their collected waste there, though they collected money from residents to evacuate their refuse.
“Though they stopped us from doing so in times past, but they later allowed us to carry on,” he said smiling.
The ESWMB Director and Board Secretary, Ehon Godfrey, said that the more unaccredited refuse collectors were allowed to operate and use dump sites not approved by the government, the more the number of illegal dump sites will increase.
“It will lead to loss of revenue for [the] government,” he said.
Across the city, one can find a few waste bins, street sweepers, and refuse collection points, provided by the Edo State Waste Management Board (ESWMB) to promote a clean and healthy environment. The state government has also created sites at Amufi, Oluku, and Ikhuenirho where waste can be properly disposed.
However, these dump sites are too few and the city’s accredited waste managers seem not to be doing their jobs. A Code for Nigeria study showed that the number of the city’s dump sites correlated with the number of its waste managers. In addition, the refuse trucks employed for disposal purposes are not up to standard and not fit to dispose of the enormous amount of waste coming out of the city. Sometimes one can see dirt falling from these trucks as they head to one of the approved dump sites.
One resident, a sachet water seller at Oregbeni Market in Ikpoba Hill who simply identified himself as Sam, said that after the day’s sales sellers like him dispose of their waste at the official refuse collection points in the market.
“But they [ESWMB] do not come on time to evacuate them; when they come, they do not do it properly,” he said.
Earlier this year, Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, inspected the approved waste collection site located at Ikhuenirho.
“Ultimately, we have to recycle this waste, which is a sustainable solution,” Governor Obaseki said. “You would notice that since we changed the structure of waste disposal by the waste managers, they have now been encouraged to pick more waste from the city. But unfortunately, the process to dump the waste effectively into the dump site has not been properly managed. And that is why most of the managers have taken the short cut of dumping their wastes on the road.”
The governor has said the state will launch a massive environmental campaign because its goal is to make the state and Benin City the cleanest capital in the country.
“It will involve massive citizen participation,” Governor Obaseki said.
Residents are optimistic that the city’s dumpsites may soon be a thing of the past.
“With this clean up exercise going on across Benin City, many people will stop this habit of disposing refuse anywhere they see because the state government have measures in place to check the ugly trend,” said Mathew Osayi,a resident.
Rita Enoma, a former street trader at Oba Ovoranmwen Square, agreed.
“The way Governor Obaseki is going about the clean up exercise, I do not think anybody will have the guts to dump refuse anywhere anyhow; nobody wants to go to jail and Benin City will be cleaner like Abuja.”