If there is one job few people will like to handle right now in Anambra State, that job is managing and disposing waste. Whether it is paucity of funds or inadequate number of vehicles and working tools to implement the job, the enormity of the task is daunting. The major streets of the state are littered with refuse which the man in the thick of it all, Mr Amaechi Akora, Managing Director of Anambra State Waste Management Agency, ASWAMA, has been battling to eliminate. But like a stubborn pest that defies attempts to subdue, the refuse doesn't want to go down without a fight; largely no thanks to the attitude of the populace.
I was privileged to interact with Mr Akora for the first time last August on the issue of waste management and disposal in Anambra State. That was the time he was just settling down in office. It was a rather enthusiastic Akora that assured me and the people of the state that by the first week of the following month, being September, he would have at least rid the capital city of Awka and environs of waste. He was bubbling with energy and zeal then and rearing to go. But a month after the promise when I met him again, Mr Akora was sounding more frustrated than optimistic; even though he refused to acknowledge it, the reason being that he had seen firsthand, how people could frustrate others by their uncooperative attitude.
In fact, one of the major problems of Akora isn't the waste itself, but the people. According to him, it takes two to make the environment look better. For example if a receptacle is put in place for the dumping of refuse, it is expected that those dumping their refuse will do it right inside the receptacle and not beside it. This makes the work of those collecting the refuse for disposal a lot easier. But experience has shown that many people, probably impatient to come close enough to deposit their refuse inside the bin, rather try to aim at it like a Ronaldo taking a free kick. The result is almost always a failure as the refuse lands just short of the target.
Enlightenment campaigns by AWSAMA bosses, past and present, have not cut much ice with the populace who are steeped in their old ways, thus frustrating the best intentions of the waste managers.
In Akora, I see a man eagerly, willingly and honestly trying to combat the monster called waste but constantly meeting a brick wall erected by uncooperative citizens.
To him, the residents of Awka and other cities have simply refused to understand that they are living in a city and not in their villages, hence their attitude to waste disposal. This attitude though, appears not in a hurry to be discarded and that means the ASWAMA boss will have to live with it for some time to come.
Between when I first met him in August and this ebbing period of September, as I wrote this piece, he has tried his best to prosecute the war against filth, as well as to live up to his promise of dealing with it before September. He has only marginally succeeded, no thanks to inadequacy of vehicles, paucity of funds and the horrible attitude of the people.
The rains have also not been friendly to the work of ASWAMA. This is because of the difficulty in accessing the dump sites by operational vehicles owing to flooding of the dump site areas.
But Akora is undaunted and determined to push on till he wins. To underscore his determination and optimism of succeeding, he has set a new target of mid November to halt the advance of dirt and refuse in Awka at least.
For now, he believes there has been a steady improvement, especially with the clearing of ground dumps. Areas hitherto having waste products unattended for long periods are now receiving regular attention so that even if one sees refuse in the bins, one will know that regular wok is ongoing.
He is still optimistic of attaining his objective and to do that, he has mapped out some strategies one of which is what he calls ''Operation Half Bin''. Under this, he plans to ensure that no bin is allowed to be overfilled for 24 hours. This is particularly important as failure to empty bins regularly leads to overfilling and once it becomes filled up, the tendency is for people to begin to throw their refuse from a distance.
He hopes that after this operation, they will move to ''Operation Empty Bin'' which will commence when sunny weather fully returns. For now, flooding and erosion are hampering their operations.
There are also plans to bring in new bins and they are currently being manufactured at INNOSON, Enugu, on the orders of the Anambra State Government.
Also the management of ASWAMA has resuscitated three compactors and three chain-up vehicles, while the state government is about to give them more vehicles to add to the ones they already have.
Awka has also been divided into ten zones for ease of operations, while light trucks are being got from well meaning individuals to access difficult terrains that bigger vehicles may not ordinarily access. The trucks are being branded and built up before going into action. This is under what he calls ''Operation Clean Close Initiative'' whereby compactors are placed in strategic locations so that while traders or others close for the day, they deposit their refuse there rather than go all the way to the bins.
Is he overwhelmed by what he has come up against so far? He says he is not. Although he accepts more can be done, he at least gives himself 50% success so far, while hoping that by mid November, something much more tangible will be recorded.
There is no doubt that the ASWAMA is doing its best to rid the state of filth but it can never be achieved if people refuse to depart from their old ways. We live in a society where people delight in throwing whatever they have with them, through their car windows or from their houses/offices. It has become a habit that is refusing to die.
Even when the defaulters are arrested, lessons are not learned. Akosa tells the story of how those who use barrows to dump refuse beside bins have their barrows seized in the hope that they pay some fine when they come to collect their barrows. But rather than do so, they simply abandon their wheel barrows at the headquarters of ASWAMA. This is something that is bound to add to the frustration of the refuse managers.
The issue is that while the people are the first to cover their noses when they pass overfilled, smelly bins, they are actually the ones causing it to some extent by their callous attitudes to waste disposal. This is not how to fight and eliminate the scourge of refuse.
For sure, ASWAMA needs the help of the populace to succeed. We go to foreign lands and regale our local audience with stories of how clean those places are. But we forget that those are places where personal hygiene is not toyed with. People there do not wait to do the right thing until they are told. But here, even when we are told, we do worse.
But the major help should be coming from the government. Without adequate funding, the war against filth is not likely to be won. Equipment need to be repaired or bought. The workforce has to be kept happy and adequate punishment should be meted out to environmental defaulters.
But above all, I think the problem of ASWAMA will remain if it does not have total autonomy. If this is not done, who knows? There may be interferences from close quarters which will only succeed in frustrating the work of ASWAMA.
Ridding Anambra of filth ought to be a cardinal policy of Government. If it becomes that, then enough funds should be pumped into it so that the soldiers out there in the field can become better equipped to prosecute the war.
When the waste managers, the government and the people close ranks, there is no telling what results can be got. But when some people defecate in gutters and public places like animals, then something is wrong. I usually spot people squatting inside the gutter separating the two lanes of the Onitsha/Awka Express to relive themselves. That attitude is bestial. It is also a familiar sight in other cities in the state. But perhaps, it can be minimized if government builds public toilets at strategic locations, especially in markets and parks. Anyone caught defecating inappropriately after this will have no excuse.
As we zero into mid-November, it should be everyone's prayer that ASWAMA succeeds.