By Victor Edozie, Port Harcourt
Port Harcourt/Aba express road junction, Oyigbo, Rivers State
Garden City of Port Harcourt is the popular name given to Port Harcourt in Rivers State years back because of its clean, tidy and serene environment.
Between 1980 and 1990 Port Harcourt was rated the cleanest city in the country as a result of its beautiful landscape, good road layout and the environmental consciousness of residents.
‘Pitakwal’ as, the capital and largest city of the state has been fondly nicknamed, was the dream city of many Nigerians but as urban explosion began to take a heavy toll in the once beautiful ‘Garden City’. People now fear that the city is gradually assuming the status of “garbage centre of Nigeria.”
Port Harcourt residents are not happy about the poor state of the environment. At Creek Road in old Port Harcourt township, the road which leads to the market is an eyesore. Heaps of refuse dot adjoining streets emitting offensive odour.
A resident, Tamuno Ibisiki, said “Creek road is turning to be the dirtiest part of the state. The traders in the market are not helping matters as they dump the rubbish generated from their businesses on the road. The stench is terrible and constitutes a very serious health challenges to residents,” he said.
At Ikwerre road, near the popular Mile One market, the heaps of refuse dumped close to a new generation bank have been a source of worry to residents. The area is designated as a collection centre for refuse by the State Waste Management Agency. However, the heaps of refuse take some time before evacuation and the stench from the eyesore are worrisome.
A resident whose office is located in the area expressed worry over the health implication of the refuse dumps, saying, “It’s very embarrassing that a popular area such as Mile One should be used as a collection centre for refuse by the Waste Management Agency. The stench from the refuse is very offensive and could be very hazardous to human health.
“Refuse collection centres should be located in isolated areas and not in highly populated areas. I have complained to the agency responsible but they seem not to be bothered about the nuisance the site constitutes to residents,” stated the man who pleaded anonymity.
Other areas such as Mile 3, Mile 4, Echue Street, Sangana Street, Education Bus Stop, Abali Park, Sangana Street and some parts of Oyigbo are not left out of the refuse problem.
Traders at the popular Sangana Street litter the area with heaps of refuse comprising of rotten fruits and vegetables, waiting for evacuators.
The popular Oyigbo Express Junction which hosts the Garden City’s statues of Port Harcourt, is also home to heaps of refuse which have not been evacuated for a very long time suffusing the area with offensive odour.
Peter Dozie, a resident of the area said “the mountain of refuse deposited at the Express Junction was terrible because it is a gateway to Port Harcourt and links the city to other states such as Abia and Imo.
“Meanwhile, the state government spends millions of naira every month to pay service providers but much is left to be desired. The stench coming from the uncollected refuse is terrible and can be a health hazard. Government should do something about this without delay,” Dozie said.
A school teacher in Oyigbo, who pleaded anonymity said “this place is designated as refuse collection centre and almost all the residents bring their refuse here for onward evacuation. In advanced countries refuse dumps are located in isolated areas and receptacles are provided to deposit them.”
“We have complained to the authorities but nothing has been done about it. The lives of pupils in this school are under serious threat,” he said.
Meanwhile, successive administrations in the state have tried to restore the beauty and serenity of Port Harcourt through policy actions but which are yet to yield positive result.
The previous administration, conscious of restoring the Garden City status of Port Harcourt in 2008 engaged a private firm to carry out landscaping of some designated areas of the state and plant grasses and flowers. Over N400 million was expanded on the project.
The contractor based in Calabar, immediately swung into action. Buildings and structures that fell within the areas designated for landscaping and grassing were demolished.
The areas were landscaped and flowers and grasses planted but less than six months after, the areas were again completely defaced with refuse dumps resurfacing and the green areas converted to foot paths and driveways.
Also, a monthly environmental sanitation exercise was begun to engage residents in the cleaning of their environment and refuse contractors were also engaged from all the nooks and crannies of the state.
It was gathered that over 25 contractors were engaged and that the state government spent about N500 million monthly in paying them. It was learnt that at a point the contractors were mandated to use Compactor machines and those who were unable to procure them were sacked by the state government.
But despite the huge sums of money spent monthly to keep the state clean, Port Harcourt remains very dirty, with an untidy environment.
Governor Nyesom Wike, on assumption of office in 2015, inherited huge tonnage of uncleared refuse littering the streets of Port Harcourt. The contractors had stopped work because of being owned several months’ payment. Governor Wike cleared the debt and they resumed work but still no significant improvement in the general sanitation of the state.
However to improve the state’s environmental status, government recently declared a state of emergency on environmental sanitation in the state.
The Commissioner of Information and Communications, Barrister Emma Okah, who stated this recently, said the decision was aimed at improving on the state of sanitation in the state.
“Government frowns seriously at the deteriorating urban sanitation and environment in the state, particularly in Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor metropolis.
“Consequently, government has decided to declare a state of emergency on the set of people who are in the habit of trading on the roads, the medians and all of that,” he said.
The State Executive Council has also set up a Special Task Force chaired by Governor Nyesom Wike himself to clear illegal traders from major roads and streets in Port Harcourt and its environs.