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I Disagreed With Anambra Commissioner Over Waste Disposal
 - Odili Ojukwu

Former boss of Anambra State Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Odili Ojukwu, stated that he strongly disagreed with the state's ex-Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, over the choice of proper locations for disposing solid waste collected from major urban centers in the state. This revelation was made during the clarification of  reasons why contractual agreement to engage 10 private companies to clean three cities in the state was unilaterally canceled. "At the onset of our waste management contract with the government, I disagreed with the then Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, on the issue of evacuating solid wastes and dumping them indiscriminately into erosion gullies whenever they were found within Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi and the vicinities", said the US-trained professional engineer.

This clarification was necessitated by the perception, in some quarters, that "the chief environmentalist", meaning Dr. Ojukwu, was given money to clean Onitsha but had failed to deliver the service because of lack of proper understanding of the prevailing circumstances in the commercial metropolis.

 

 

Dr. Odili Ojukwu, Former ANSEPA Boss


"Based on my professional knowledge and experience, I have always held and continue to hold very strongly that solid wastes cannot be indiscriminately moved from place to place in the name of waste management. Proper disposal facilities are at all times critically important and necessary for effective waste management operations worldwide - it cannot be different for Anambra State", affirmed Dr. Ojukwu. The disagreement between the ANSEPA boss and Commissioner Okwenna eventually resulted in the latter's decision to designate the soil mining site opposite Onitsha Metallurgical Training Institute (MTI) as a temporary disposal facility pending the development of a more permanent one. Dr. Ojukwu, who has served many years as environmental engineer for State of California, United States, complained that his professional "recommendations on the appropriate prepping of the MTI location prior to use was completely ignored". The quarry site in Obosi suburbs of Onitsha, located along the Onitsha - Owerri highway, was deployed by Anambra state government as a landfill for handling city waste without first assuring that the location was properly engineered to serve that purpose safely.

Niger Street at southern periphery of Main Market, Onitsha. Solid waste spills into roadway

 

 

 

 

Scene of Onitsha commercial district just before Dr. Ojukwu became ANSEPA boss in 2005. Mounds of solid waste like this featured throughout the city; some were as tall as mountains. Solid waste was collected and taken to abandoned soil/sand quarry in Obosi suburb, along the busy Onitsha - Owerri highway.

 

 

                                                  

Dr. Odili Ojukwu stated that he opted to resume his private business when it was clear that the government has decided to privatize the cleanup responsibility and other tasks formerly performed by the state public agency which he headed. The three major urban centers in the state, Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi, were divided up into 10 zones by the Obi administration and contracts were awarded to 10 companies to take charge of solid waste management and cleanup activities in lieu of ANSEPA. Dr. Ojukwu, as a private citizen, submitted his company's bid for the contract which ended up being shortlisted. Ten companies were engaged, including his, to take over cleanup and solid waste management of the ten zones in 2006. Providing an insight into the nature of understanding reached between the Ministry of Environment and the ten contractors, he stated, "all firms were advised by the Commissioner to source their own operational funds with a promise that contract payments will be made promptly at the end of every month - a promise that was never kept even for one month".

 

 

 

 

 

 

No professionally engineered landfill site exists in the entirety of Anambra state. Solid wastes from major urban centers of Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi are usually dumped in any available open spaces and often set ablaze as only disposal means available.

These refuse dumps burn year-round, even in the rainy season. Toxic smoke is continuously belched from a mixture of burning household and industrial waste and distributed over a wide area. Local residents inhale the polluted air. Rainfall washes the byproducts of these dump site fires downstream to nearby springs, streams, lakes and rivers which serve the populace as the main fresh water sources. Leachate from these dumps, which contain some cancer-causing agents and other toxins, soak into the soil and contaminate the groundwater from where potable water is obtained by many urban dwellers.

 

 

 

 

 

A view of refuse burning in outskirts of Nnewi

On account of his several disagreements with the Environmental Commissioner over the latter's overall approach to waste management program in Anambra state, coupled with Dr. Ojukwu's protest of the prolonged nonpayment of contract fees and arbitrary deductions, his company contract was terminated. Following the termination, the government acknowledged owing his firm the contract fees for a specified number of months. The environmental engineer was "pretty certain that the Governor was not aware of what was going on at the time". In a sharp reaction to the suggestion that he was paid to clean Onitsha but failed to deliver, Dr. Ojukwu declared, "it is of no interest to me whatsoever to be paid for work not done. All I have asked for and continue to ask is to be paid for work that was done and acknowledged in accordance with the contractual terms".

Elucidating further, he added, "I chose not to go public with my case because I believed that there was no reason to antagonize the government since the work I had done for the government was conducted with all due professional diligence. Secondly, several well meaning Anambra citizens offered to intervene with the Governor on my behalf at the time. Unfortunately, all efforts have not yielded the desired result".

 

 

 

 

The crucial natural drainage corridor, Otumoye Creek, has been turned into the most celebrated solid waste dump in Onitsha metropolis. Storm water carries this refuse into the River Niger on continuous basis.

 

 

This tributary of the River Niger (in background) is choked up by illegally dumped solid waste.

 

 

 

In spite of prodding to do otherwise, Dr. Ojukwu had chosen the path of civility by asking the courts of law to adjudicate "if I am making claims from the government other than what I am duly owed". The out-of-court settlement offer from the Obi administration has, thus far, failed to resolve the issue because " what was being offered to his company by the government was far less than what is owed to third-party lenders, including banks, on account of the contract". Dr. Ojukwu regrets his decision not to go public earlier with his complaint, but he is still content to allow the legal proceedings on the outstanding issues to play out first "not too long from now".

 

In reaction to the use of abandoned quarry as landfill, Alex C. Ikefuna, Director of WIEF Operation Green Justice, stated that he is very "concerned that erosion gullies are being used for waste disposal. The depth of these gullies may be potentially too close to underground water levels and could lead to contamination. This is a vicious health hazard in the making, an action that would take huge amount of money to reverse and/or mitigate".

 

"The frustrating thing about this decision to use gullies for waste disposal is that the proponents of this disastrous decision don't understand the implications of their actions, or may be willfully practicing this health-hazard waste management system without regard to public interest", Ikefuna, the US-based and experienced urban planning expert concluded.

Uncollected solid waste is washed downstream by storm-water runoff where it clogs up drainage channels in low-lying areas.

 

Full text of WIEF POSITION & RECOMMENDATIONS ON UN HABITAT CITY STRUCTURE PLANS FOR ANAMBRA

 

 

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