Calabar’s burden as Nigeria’s cleanest city

September 19, 2014


Over the years, Calabar, the Cross River State capital, has retained its status as the country’s cleanest city. But, it comes at a huge cost, reports Nicholas Kalu

Calabar, the Cross River State capital, has variously been described as the cleanest city in the country. With the state establishing and fighting to maintain its status as a tourism hub, the tag does not exactly come as a surprise.

At a time when the waste management agency had some issues with their evacuation trucks and refuse started piling up in various parts of the city, it became such a big issue that it was awash in the media.

Sometime later when Governor Liyel Imoke commented on the matter, he said it was even a good sign because it showed the state has set a standard for cleanliness.

Women sweeping the streets, public bins along streets, beautifully arranged trees among others are common sites in the city.


Residents of the city boast that besides government policy, cleanliness  is second nature to the average Calabar man or woman.

“The story of the cleanliness of Calabar starts with the natives of Calabar who are traditionally themselves clean people. They had very early contact with western civilisation and the issue of hygiene is second nature to them.  They know what it is to have a hygienic and clean environment. So, if you are visitor in Calabar and you come and live anywhere near anybody’s compound and you cannot keep the environment of that place clean, you are sure of getting a quit notice sooner or later. That transcends to the public,” Mr Stephen Bette said.

However, the city’s status took a lot more than a psyche of hygiene to achieve. Behind this have been deliberate policies and an effective waste management system.

Bette, who is also the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, said: “But we didn’t leave it this way and the town started getting clean. It started from long time ago, when we had an organised system of refuse collection.

“We have tried several things over time. We collected from road sides where they are dumped. We left that one and experimented with collecting from house to house. We had challenges in that area because most of the streets were not well tarred. So, most of the trucks could not get to destinations they should get to. We moved from there to the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) era in which many environmental sanitation task forces were set up. They were mobile courts that could arrest people. Later on as the civilian government came on board, we saw those were military approaches to enforcing sanitation. We dusted it off and started to bring in new laws. Laws on urban development authorities were enacted. We have five urban development authorities in the state. Ikom, Ogoja, Obudu, Ugep and Calabar, which are the biggest settlements. With that the law was put in perspective.

“We entered a memorandum of understanding with a company to clean the city. It was comprehensive to manage the dumpsite, clean the city, and so on. We started having compacted trucks and so waste collection in Calabar now moved from the era of manual picking to the mechanical picking, where the trucks pick the bins by themselves. And the town kept getting cleaner.

He said they were moving beyond this level to experiment a new strategy in waste management. According to him, the private sector would get more involved in the process.

His words: “We are now moving to the era where the person will have to pay for the waste. Right now we are organising a tariff system, where the individual households in the urban centres will begin to pay a tariff. We will start with pilot schemes in some areas next month were we would take away bins from the streets and distribute bins to households. What we are trying to do now with the Private Public Partnership approach is that we expect to add some value to existing practices by giving the individual household bins for which they would pay a token over time. The waste managers would now move from one house to the other and collect the waste. That way we remove the bins from the roadsides and the streets would be cleaner.

“The PPP partners would be involved in the collection of the tariff also and the management system to ensure the funds gradually begins to sustain the high cost of waste management in the city. That is the direction we are going to now.”

Commenting on women sweeping the roads, which the state first started, he said: “The sweeping of the roads just had to take place because we were not satisfied with the cleanliness of the town despite the fact that we were picking refuse from the sites. In our household, we sweep our compounds traditionally. We sweep to the road or to the next person’s compound. So, we just had to introduce it. Peoples compounds were so clean but the roads were so dirty. It was common sense that we just had to sweep these roads. So, it was organised for the roads to be swept. In fact the roads are being swept in all the urban centres in the state. If the road is not swept on any day, we get callers.

“Visitors to Calabar who feel people don’t drink pure water here because of how neat the streets are, it is not that people don’t litter. The thing is that when they litter, someone picks it up. Like the pure water thing, women who sweep the streets, pick the litters, not that people don’t drink and litter. People litter but some others are conscious. Most cars and buses carry bins inside their buses. And you know another thing with a clean environment is that, if you look around and see how clean the place is, you will be constrained not to throw a thing there. You see people move to where there is a bin and throw in. So, where we have bins you see some litter around. That is one of the reasons we want to take those bins off. Definitely the town has to be clean.

“The sustainability has been entrenched. Even if you win an election as a governor and just fail to keep the town clean for one month, you will hear public reaction. There is nothing anybody can do about it. It has come to stay. Everybody who comes here comments on its cleanliness. The press has been helping because anytime they notice the city is not clean, they make noise about it and it can be very embarrassing to any chief executive of the state.”

He said the Calabar Urban Development Authority and the State Waste Management Agency, which the Ministry oversees, were established to clean the city. The waste management agency is strictly for waste management. They superintend the PPP partners who are managing waste.

But, CUDA’s job is more variegated as they cut grass, desilt drainages, enforce sanitation, carry out house to house inspections, attend to complaints, prune trees, bury corpses and animals that die on the road, do fumigation among others.

, Bette said: “They also have facilities for event management like mobile toilets. So, when there is a big event, the environment is not messed up with faeces and urine.

“As far as we are concerned and everybody knows that Calabar is the greenest city in Nigeria. We have maintained it. We knew that if we planted trees and grasses on the verges, it would protect those verges from erosion and check desilting of our drains. We are now at the era of management and extending the job to other new areas of development wherever a new layout is opened. We have it continually in our budget.

“Even individuals with large estates are also greening and planting trees also. People have keyed into the cleaniness of the state to make money for themselves. People now have grass cutters, and tractor slashers as private businesses now in Calabar who can be hired to cut grass. Even people who sell spare parts for those equipment are doing well. It is highly complementary.

“We thank Cross Riverians for the cooperation they have shown for the efforts of government over time. We are trying to clean the town and the citizenry have keyed in. We have the support of the populace in terms of keeping the town clean. If we say don’t throw things here, the residents of Calabar don’t throw. Sensitisation has gone a long way here.

“All we have to say is that let those building houses should not emphasize concreting and tarring every part of their compound. They should also plant grass, because it helps is to enrich the underground water and also check erosion in most of the places. People should also avoid dumping refuse into the drains because it is causing flood all over town and most importantly all we have to do now is for them to go along with the new tariff system so we can provide better services.”

Mr Elegance Edim is the Manager of the State Waste Management Agency and former Executive Secretary of CUDA.

He said, “The cleanliness of Calabar started so many years ago. It is not just a flash of the pan. When the former governor was here, one of his ideas was to ensure that Calabar as a capital city was clean so that we have that opportunity of inviting investors and others coming in. So, I came on board the system in February 2004. I was the executive secretary for CUDA and had to put in a lot in place to strengthen CUDA, being a special purpose vehicle. The functions that belonged to local governments were excised and put under one umbrella which is sanitation. Sanitation is a function of local governments. To make sure Calabar was maintained CUDA was established. The cleaning of Calabar includes sweeping the streets, cutting the grasses of the verges, cleaning the drainages and so on. So we started off with that. We had to break up Calabar for managerial convenience. We had to break up Calabar into what we call cells. There are three different cells.

“So, we had to break up Calabar from the Ibesikpo from the northern extreme, to Ikot Ekpo the southern extreme and east to west from Atimbo to Marina. Then we put women to be sweeping the streets. We are not saying women were better. The nature of the job from the African perspective, women do it better. So, we had to employ the women on part time basis because full time would be too expensive for us. The part time job entailed that a woman would be employed from her neighbourhood, which would not take her so much time. So, she can finish early in the morning and go back to prepare children for school. Most of those women whatever they earned was supplementary to their households. So, we succeeded in employing over 3, 000 people. So, we assist the families to make income and at the same time keep Calabar clean. So, we kept on till the end of the Donald era.

“Fortunately, when Liyel Imoke came in, he continued in that spirit. He has maintained and even improved the tempo and what was on ground. That is how Calabar came to be judged the cleanest city. If your house is not clean you cannot invite people, can you? So, if we want to invite investors, our house has to be clean.

“We have been able to remove waste collection from the ambit of government and give it to the private sector.

“I know that government spends almost N100 million keeping the state clean. This includes the other urban centres.

“After a while, the government felt that it should separate waste collection because it was so time consuming from other functions of CUDA. When I left CUDA, I was asked to come and head the waste management agency here. So, our agencies are saddled with refuse collection and evacuation. We deployed community bins and we have compacted trucks. We have galvanised bins everywhere. It would not take you more than five minutes from your house to the nearest bin.

“We deploy the bins to residential areas and yardstick is based on walking distance. Residents walk and dump their refuse in the bins, then the compacted trucks go there and lift and in the process clear what is on the ground and keep the surroundings clean and then take it to the dumpsite. At the dumpsite there is a company that maintains it.

“We have a dumpsite along LEMNA road. When it was used as a dumpsite, the area was isolated and a deep ravine. They were no houses in the whole of that area. But access provides value to land. So, when the LEMNA road was constructed, people started buying land around there and building. Suddenly, the dumpsite we had that was completely isolated from town was surrounded by houses and people started screaming. So, now we are in the process of moving that dumpsite to a place about 25km from Calabar what we call an engineered landfill. It is about 100 hectares of land to be used for the segregation of refuse and recycling. So, we are in the process of that now. The government is in the process of acquiring sites for the landfill.

“Also we are trying to introduce waste tariffs. We just started it and people have not been used to it. What we are saying is that you generate the refuse you should pay for it. It is not tax. We charge token to continue towards the sustenance of the programme.”

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