Comrade Nassir Ali Surundi is the general manager and sole administrator of the Borno State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA) and since 2011 when he was appointed as head of the Agency, Maiduguri and environs have dramatically been rid of the notorious dumps of refuse that had, in the past, become an eyesore and a source of embarrassment to the people of the state. He told ORJIME MOSES in this interview that all the successes recorded in the fight against environmental degrading practices were wholly achieved by Kashim Shettima’s proactive and firm policy of zero tolerance to unwholesome sanitation practices as well as a commitment to provision of machinery and manpower in evacuation and disposal.
Prior to the Boko Haram insurgency, Maiduguri Metropolitan area in particular had grappled with pyramid-like refuse dumps that made it dirty. Why was it difficult for governments in the past to deal with the sanitation problems in the city?
It is true that several governments, years before the advent of the Kashim Shettima’s administration have at various times struggled to deal with the menace of heaps and dumps of refuse that had, literally taken over all the nooks and crannies of the Metropolis and even our towns and villages across the state. At a point in time it became a embarrassing eyesore such that Maiduguri was beginning to be associated and identified with dirt and unhygienic conditions. Of course, and in fairness to some of the past governments, some efforts, though feeble and lackadaisical, have apparently been seen to be made, to make the city clean. Soon after, it was back to square one. The problem of refuse dumps had been resurfacing after each large scale clean-up exercise usually launched amidst fanfare and publicity.
What then is responsible for the unabated cleanliness of the city now?
It was down wholly and fully, to the vision of Governor Kashim Shettima. He was born and buttered in Maiduguri and is therefore fully at home with the nature of all problems of the city. On coming to power in 2011, Kashim Shettima initiated several measures in order to decisively deal with the scourge of environmental and sanitation challenges and he soon realized that to solve the problem once and for all, government must take far reaching and fundamental decisions. The concern of government was not only hinged on the dirty environment and the offensive stench arising from dumpsites. The consequences to the health of the people and the eyesore these practices have constituted were enough reasons to warrant a different line of thinking.
I will like to draw your attention to what made the Kashim Shettima-era refuse dumping to be more challenging than during previous administrations. Maiduguri had become home to millions of not just internally displaced persons as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency, but was also home to many others who took advantage of the relative peace to make Maiduguri their home. The fact that the city was overstretched in terms of utilities and services became another source of increase in the volume of waste arising from influx of people. This has burdened the government in such a way that an aggressive strategy and solution were needed, not just to evacuate dirt or clear the drainages but to find a more permanent solution to the reoccurring problem.
What were the measures taken by the Kashim Shettima’s government that addressed the problem?
In 2011 soon after assumption of office, the governor, after perusing the intractable nature of the problem, constituted a high powered committee of committed and professional people and ordered them to work towards drainage evacuation and ridding the city of the filth that had not just become a blot on the landscape, but had defied all efforts by past administrations. Part of the measures to keep Maiduguri clean after a rigorous cleanup campaign, was the recruitment of 1500 Sanitation Vanguards made up of youths and jobless people including widows. It was at this time or about 2012 that the influx of displaced and other vulnerable people of the insurgency began to take horrifying dimensions because as the numbers kept multiplying, sanitary challenges on the environment also kept on ballooning. It was while the committee that was established in 2011 was at work that the government stumbled on an insight on the need to reorganize the state environmental sanitation agency BOSEPA to re-jig it for the task ahead. I was a member of that committee and the governor, in his wisdom appointed me as General Manager and Sole Administrator of the Agency with an executive marching order to quickly clean the city up and keep it permanently clean.
Give us an insight into the measures you took to achieve these successes.
On taking over, we took an inventory of 40 Compactor Trucks out of which only seven were fairly functional while the nine new ones amongst them were surprisingly not deployed to sites. I quickly did an evaluation and repairs after which 26 of the trucks were put to use and deployed to the refuse dump sites across the city. In line with his avowed commitment to ensure success of our mandate, the governor gave us five additional multipurpose open trucks to enhance waste clearing. We were also able to procure one Bobcat mini-loader and one excavator in order to have access to congested places. This was followed up with the provision of 15 Roll-on-Roll-off trucks to aid quick refuse disposal from the city. 10 Gully Emptier Trucks for liquid waste disposal were also provided by the governor to equip us properly and make the city filth-free. Additional 20 tractors were added to make BOSEPA well equipped to discharge its duties effectively.
In realization that indiscriminate dumping of refuse has become widespread and common, 600,000 (240 liter capacity) solid waste bags were also procured and this has encouraged residents to stop those practices that have aided the unfortunate dirty state of affairs for too long. The efforts of the governor did not go unnoticed to other stakeholders as the Federal Ministry of Environment donated one Ford Compactor Truck in recognition of the seriousness with which the state was handling matters of sanitation and environment. We are aware that unwholesome environmental practices have done incalculable damage to the environment and as we have seen, blockade of drainages for example has always precipitated mosquito breeding, water logging and diseases. We have responded appropriately through house-to-house and drainage spraying exercises. Sufficient chemicals have been stocked to replenish our reserve. In the same vein, fumigation exercises have, on many occasions been conducted at almost all the IDP camps and other host community areas and zones in order to eradicate pests and keep both IDP camps and residential areas safe and free from potential outbreaks
It is worthy of note to state here that the intervention of the governor through the setting up of a high powered committee which did an excellent job of evacuating drainages and cleaned up the environment in 2011, the measures taken to recruit Sanitation Vanguards, reorganization of the leadership of BOSEPA, quick intervention with funds and provision of critical machinery as well as staff motivation have been key to the resolution of the endless struggle to deal with the tones of refuse and un-cleared drainages in the Metropolis.
So, the notorious refuse dumps are gone for good?
Take it from me, that as long as Kashim Shettima remains at the helm, Maiduguri and indeed Borno state will never retrogress to the past era of filthy and unhygienic conditions and situations, which almost defined us as a people. Borno and its people are not just hospitable and cultured, we are known throughout our rich history as very clean and neat people