Quadri Yahya ― Fareedah Ogundairo, 19, has a sensitive sense of smell to irritants in the air. She avoids exposure to air pollution as much as possible. However, one day she didn’t know the trash would be incinerated near her home in Rounder, Abeokuta, Ogun State, and when the pollution started, she felt her airflow was restricted. She had to go to the hospital for treatment.
“On getting to the hospital, the doctor said it (asthma) hadn’t become chronic but I would need an inhaler,” said Fareedah.
The 19-year-old now uses Steroid tablet periodically as recommended for her by a doctor.
“So the smoke was the thing (substance) that affected me.
“As I inhaled the smoke, I was unable to breathe very well,’’ she said, adding that “I was not an asthma patient.
“Although I used to feel lung obstruction sometimes, but not as it was that day,” she told the reporter.
In a contemplating tone, she said: “I don’t know how often they burn. Sometimes, they burn refuse and other times, bamboo trees.”
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund , Nigeria has the highest number of overall air pollution-related pneumonia deaths of children under-five in the world, and the highest number of household air pollution-related pneumonia deaths among children under-five. Ogun state, with resident common open waste burning practice, may have contributed towards this worrisome number.
“Almost 185 children under the age of five die every day from pneumonia due to air pollution in Nigeria – the majority of them from air pollution in the household, including that from cooking over open fires or cook stoves in the home,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.
At the recent COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, United Kingdom, open burning of waste was discussed for the first time and countries called for an end to the practice. More than a million premature deaths are recorded annually due to air pollution, waste and open burning is identified as one of the contributors to increasing levels of pollution especially in urban areas.
Students Areas in Abeokuta Metropolis, Refuse Burning is Rampant
The reporter observed that burning of refuse is rampant in some parts of Abeokuta which are students’ areas such as Abule-Ojere, Oluwo, Quarry, Oloke, Agbena among others.
Residents claimed the major cause of indiscriminate refuse burning in some areas was due to a disagreement between the residents and the officials of the ministry of environment over demand for the payment for waste collection.
While the government officials insist on a token before the waste would be collected in those areas, the residents, majorly students, opposed the request. Thus, they resolve alternative ways of managing their refuse.
A visit to some of the affected areas by this reporter revealed that the agency in charge of waste collection known as the Ogun State Waste Management Agency (OGWAMA) was not regular in the areas.
Some of the residents who spoke with the reporter alleged that the PSP (Private Sector Participants) waste operators had not been regular at their residences to evacuate their waste. Some however, claimed otherwise.
Majority of students burn their refuse behind their homes despite the impact on the environment and on humans. Mutiu Yekeen, a student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta said he burns refuse once in two weeks at his backyard at Abule-Ojere, a densely populated student area in agreement with other students who contribute a small token for the purchase of kerosene.
“There is a place in the backyard we use to dispose of the waste and burn it,” Mutiu said, as he pointed to the now-ashes-stained yard.
“Though anybody did not challenge us when burning the refuse, there is no way we’ll burn the waste without polluting the air. But everybody understands that there is no other means to get rid of the waste.”
In a separate interviews with some students; Gbemisola Tijani, Summaya Omotosho and Ayinde Adebisi, who resides in Alagada, Iyana-Oloke and Agbena respectively said they have adapt to refuse burning as a means to clean up the environment.
Summaya said: “I usually burn refuse to keep my environment clean and, moreover, it gives the soil nutrients, that is how it has been done and we met our mothers doing the same, so we continue the act.”
Smog Chase Residents Away From House
Toyosi Abisoye, a resident and student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, recalls the experience of her 80-year-old grandfather. She said he was only receiving fresh air outside his room when suddenly, thick smoke from a burning refuse site engulfed his residence.
The feeble old man, who was sitting on his armchair, couldn’t run from the unhealthy smoke, while his neighbours around had fled to the next street, avoiding inhaling the health-threatened smoke.
Abisoye said, “My grandpa was sitting outside in the smoke.
“I went to meet him to take him in but he refused. He is too feeble to stand by himself.”
She said although burning of refuse at the abandoned site was irregular, the smoke on this particular day was terrible.
But that fateful day, residents, whose houses were close to the refuse site, vacated their houses for more than five hours, until the smoke subsided .
“I went inside to lock all the windows. When I came out, all our neighbours had run out to the veranda of a house on the next street.
“The smoke disturbed from around 2pm till night time. I also went out and came back at night like the neighbours did”, Toyosi recalled.
According to the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, burning refuse is harmful because it releases greenhouse emissions, toxic compounds, air pollutants and short-lived climate pollutants which include black carbon. Black carbon emissions, a fine particulate air pollution, are a leading cause of illness and premature death and have a climate change impact up to 5,000 times greater than CO².
CCAC states that: “Each year, an estimated 7 million premature deaths are attributed to household and ambient (outdoor) PM2.5 air pollution.”
Health Implications of Indiscriminate Refuse Burning
Abayomi Erinoso, a medical doctor at the Federal Medical Center, Abeokuta said open waste burning can cause air pollution which can result in premature death.
“It can also lead to pregnancy abortion or giving birth prematurely and even premature death,’’ Doctor Erinoso said.
Dr Erinoso stressed that if the people had known the health implications of open waste burning, they’ll not dare to endanger their lives because “the implication of open waste burning in terms of human health and the environment is gross.”
He explained further: “When burning, there are some detrimental gasses released into the atmosphere from where you get the air that we breathe and this will affect the respiratory system and some of these elements contain substances that can cause cancer.”
Exorbitant Waste Bill? Why We Burn Refuse – Students, Residents
Though many of the residents in some parts of the state capital, especially students, said they burn their refuse because they cannot afford to pay waste bills, adding that since there is an unchallenged alternative –burning–; however, findings revealed that the government cannot claim to be unaware of the ‘illegal’ activity.
“As of 2019 that I have been living in the house, I have not seen any agency come to evacuate our waste,” said Mutiu.
A landlady, who identified herself as grandma Agbodo, said students occupying her late husband’s house are reluctant to pay waste bills; thus, as the house owner cannot sponsor the charge incurred, they resort to burning of refuse at the back of the house.
“Why will the waste agency come to our house to evacuate our waste when the students refuse to pay the waste bill?”, the grandma said, in a disgusting tone.
The old woman condemned that it is the irresponsibility of the students that makes them resort to burning the waste. With her contemptuous tone, she seems unconvinced how occupants of 11 rooms – sometimes two in a room – will not be able to pay as little as N60 as a waste bill which is N700 per month. The Agbodo villa even owns a three month bill in arrears in 2021, with a fresh debt in January and February of 2022.
Grandma Agbodo: “The agency often comes to this area. The agency insisted that we pay the bill we are owed. We owned about 3 months last year and this is a new year.
“We pay N700 per month; without considering the size of your waste.”
Asked whether the agency will not sanction the landlady if they find out that refuse is being burnt, adjusting her wrapper, she said: “The agency doesn’t feel concerned whether you burn your refuse.”
A student, Muiz Salaudeen confronted a PSP agent with a firm ‘no’ to waste bill and the agency went away never to return to the Palace of Peace (POP) Villa in an area in Abule-Ojere, near Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta.
When the agent educated the student that the air pollution affects the environment, Muiz out-rightly told the agent: “We are students and we don’t have the money to pay for the waste bill; that is why we burn refuse.”
Tola Adenekan, Chief Executive Officer of the Ogun state based NGO, Tola Adenekan, Centre for Grassroots Education, Healthcare and Empowerment, urged landlords to include waste bills into the house rent, sympathizing that students “sometimes get stranded.”
Adenekan said: “I want to believe that by the time they are paying for their house rent, the house owner normally charges for electricity.
“If this is done, I think it is the responsibility of the house owner to pay for the refuse that is being generated because as far as I know, this is the part of what the students would have paid for.”
Mr Adenekan also appealed to the students to consider how to properly dispose of their waste when renting an apartment.
“I believe students are the one to rent an apartment, thus, they have to engage their landlords. I know some landlords will bring out a code of obligations; I think this should be embedded in the obligations for the landlord to the students so that everybody will know the role they are to play in refuse disposal.”
The conversation between the agent and the student can best be imagined because as the former tried creating awareness on the effect of refuse burning, the latter insisted it is no man’s concern on what the effect is.
Muiz narrated: “As the PSP agency came to meet me to issue the house I live in with a bill, I told them we don’t dispose of our waste; that we often burn it. Then, the agent said that we are causing pollution in the environment.
“The agent disagreed and insisted that it was bad”. He added in a triumphant tone: “Ever since then, the waste management agency has not brought the bill; it is about 8 months now.”
The state government had criminalised refuse burning in 2020, so far and since 2016, only 13 residents had been reportedly sanctioned.
The State passed in 2020, states that: “Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of this law (‘which is meant to promote a safe and clean environment through effective waste management’) commits an offence and on arrest shall pay a penalty of twenty-five thousand Naira N 25,000.00 to the Authority, Failure upon which on conviction by a court, the offender is liable to a fine of N 2,000,000 (two million Naira) or three (3) months imprisonment or both.”
In recent times, indiscriminate dumping was reported in Abeokuta, the state capital and no prosecution was made.
‘You Are Killing Other People’ by Burning and is ‘Illegal’– Special Adviser to Gov., Oresanya
When contacted, the Adviser to Ogun state governor on Environment, Ola Oresanya disclosed that refuse burning is illegal in the state, adding that residents are endangering the lives of others.
The environmentalist, who shared awareness on the danger of refuse burning described anybody that engages in the activity as ‘wicked and self-centered’, stating that the law will deal with such an unrepentant person after a first warning.
“Waste burning is an illegal activity because of the emission that it reduces. So, we try to discourage people from doing it and though if we catch you as a first offender, we would warn you because we believe many people are ignorant but if you become recalcitrant, then we will get you sanctioned through the law.”
He stated: “We don’t support it. It’s illegal.”
Oresanya further said: “Because if you burn your waste, you may have an asthma patient as your neighbor. Apart from the greenhouse effect, you are making people uncomfortable; you are killing other people, and even yourself too. You have children, people that are sick who should not inhale such obnoxious emissions. So, once you are burning, it shows you are wicked and self-centered.”
The State government in its bid to fight against indiscriminate dumping and waste burning in the state discharged the ineffective Ogun Environmental Protection Agency (OGEPA) and established the Ogun state Waste Management Agency (OGWAMA) in October 20th, 2019.
Then, the governor, Dapo Abiodun, said: “The Ogun State Waste Management Agency will more effectively than in our history as a state give our people the ideal environment.”
On the sanction for a person that burns despite the awareness, the Oresanya stated: “Like I said, all we do is we educate you, and we make sure that you patronise the right PSP so that you don’t burn refuse.
“And the other thing to do is to make sure that every household gets their bill. So, if you like to go and burn refuse, you’ll still pay for waste; collected or uncollected. So it will be better for you to wait for the PSP to come and collect your waste rather than burn it.
“So, if you cannot put evidence that you have given out your waste to the PSP, then you are burning and that means you are in contravention of the law.”
While some residents claim PSP is scanty, the governor Special Adviser argued that: “We have over 140 PSPs. We cannot say we have covered everything, it is a work in progress and we have just started.”
Oresanya also explained how the agency charges for waste.
“It varies with the socio-economic status. So, it is not apple for apple. What we collect in a high income area is not what we collect in a medium income area and it is different in what we collect in a low income area.”
“Even if it is a poor community and we find out that your waste is coming from commercial activities, we can charge a higher value. It’s not specific”, said Oresanya.
An environmentalist, Onaeko Oluwawemimo explained that the chemicals released into the atmosphere penetrate the ozone layer, the resultant of which is high intensity of the sun.
Onaeko explained: “So when these gases get into the atmosphere, they attack this layer and create a hole in that layer which makes space for direct exposure of the sun.
The director of environmental health in the state, Onaeko, warned that the intensity of the sun is getting hotter in the Ogun state due to burning of refuse, warning that danger is looming.
“You’ll understand with me that pollution is trans-boundary likewise the impact.
“When burning releases chemicals into the atmosphere, over some time, they will tear the layers apart and you know, the sun revolves around the earth and that layers too, also revolve”.
According to the medical doctor, Dr Erinoso, there is little to no awareness on the effect of open waste burning. He added that there are existing laws to sanction offenders but the people have no other options.
“It is not that there are no regulations or laws, but because there are no alternatives.
“Once you don’t have a control manner to dispose of refuse, what is left is to burn it because once you burnt it, what you’ve just done is that you’ve reduced it”, the doctor said.
“The government needs to come out to create awareness and let people know that it is not about their personal health but for the public and the health of the future generations”.