In order to keep the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja clean, some people have been employed to carry out the task of sweeping the streets. In this piece OGECHI OKORONDU writes on the plight of such persons
It is a bright sunny morning in Abuja; Mrs. Lola Yetunde could be spotted along the Aminu Kano Express Way, Wuse 2, sweeping the streets carrying her baby on her back. She does this every day under the scourging heat or drizzling rain. For Mrs. Yetunde, who is a mother of six, her job is her life. It is her only source of livelihood. Being a widow, she has nothing to her name as her husband’s family deprived her of her rights to his properties. She said after his death life has been a rollercoaster of turbulence as she struggles to keep her family alive with the little income she makes from sweeping the streets. Mrs. Yetunde is just one amongst many street sweepers employed by independent contractors through the Abuja Environmental Protection Board , AEPB to help make city look clean and beautiful. Abuja is divided into districts and the cleaning of the districts are handled by different independent contractors so as to reduce the work of AEPB whose sole responsibility is to monitor the activities of these independent contractors. For many street sweepers who spoke to this reporter street- sweeping was a last resort. “If I could find a better job sweeping the streets would have been my last option. I need to cater for my family. Since my husband died five years ago, it has not been easy for me. Getting this job was a miracle for me. At least I have something to give back to my family.” Another Street Sweeper, Mrs. Anna Ebiere who was spotted along the Kubwa Express highway picking and gathering dirt in the gutters explained to Nigerian Pilot that the job seems easy but it is back breaking as you get to do it more often than you expect. She complained that many Nigerians are not environmental conscious and they lack ethics of public responsibility. “It is disheartening when, having cleaned the gutters, picking water sachets, tins and cans, swept the street, a person comes after you and litters right where you had already cleaned. Some throw things from the windows of their cars. This is being so heartless. People need to change their attitude towards waste disposal. More so because when our supervisors come Street sweepers to inspect our work they order us to start afresh no matter how much we explain that the litter was actually disposed after we had cleaned”. “Another major challenge is that after having swept and loaded waste into refuse bags pending collection by refuse trucks some people empty the bags and take them away. Again, this sets us back as our supervisors would come and instruct us to start from scratch, particularly because you often find that the emptied waste has been scattered by wind all over the place”. “The companies which collect recyclable waste in the city centre are a problem. Some of the recyclables such as plastics are scattered all over the place as the trucks manoeuvre around the city. This calls for us, street sweepers, to pick up that waste and it is an unnecessary waste of time and energy. It would be nice for everyone who does business in the city to do so responsibly. The recycling companies should ensure that their trucks are equipped with covers in order to prevent this challenge”. Street sweepers play an important role in maintaining the health and hygiene within the cities. This job exposes the street sweepers to a variety of risk factors such as dust, toxins and diesel exhaust pollution, which make them vulnerable to develop certain occupational diseases. Some workers who manually collect the wastes have little, if any, protection to shield workers from direct contact with toxic waste. Street Sweeping has become an easy means of survival for most Nigerian women as the men are hardly seen doing this job. Aside from the men young people despise the job too. Ifeoma Nwoko, a graduate from University of Abuja said such a job is dehumanising reason why even without a job she cannot dare to be on the street sweeping refuse. She however disclosed that she can do the job if she travels out of Nigeria to Europe stating that street sweepers abroad are treated with some level of professionalism and they are well paid. Her revelation confirmed why some Nigerians prefer sweeping the street abroad.
The ex- minister had revealed that a total sum of N477 million was expended to procure the new equipment to enhance the operational capacity of the Abuja E n v i r o n m e n t a l Protection Board, AEPB. He said the Administration decided to commit this huge resources into providing necessary environmental sanitation equipment and machinery for the purpose of quick clean-up exercises and prompt restoration of neighbourhood outlooks especially when weather condition like storms and winds leave refuse and litters on their trail. He added that the street sweepers and mechanical litter pickers would be deployed to areas of high refuse generation activities like bus stops, event centers and markets among others. Despite efforts been made by authorities to curtail indiscriminate manner in which waste is being disposed in the city centres and satellite towns, inhabitants are yet to have a change of attitude towards maintaining e n v i r o n m e n t a l cleanliness. In order to improve the sanitary standard of Abuja metropolis, the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA has procured and launched 8 brand new mechanical sweepers and 4 mechanical litter pickers. Earlier, the former FCT Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, had unveiled these environmental machines, and launched two new Roll-on Roll-off trucks.