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Abia state is going to be the envy of Nigeria and the world soon – ASEPA boss

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Abia state is going to be the envy of Nigeria and the world soon - ASEPA boss

The popular view is that Abia State is visibly being transformed. This reinforces that good and creative leadership is key to the development of any state. The executives of Abia government do not think they have done anything yet despite the impressive strides that have captured the attention of Nigerians to the ongoing remarkable developmental change in the State. In an interview with Business Hallmark, General Manager/CE, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA), Mr. Ogbonna Okereke said Abia is working at being the cleanest State in Nigeria.

We have observed that Abia State and its surroundings are cleaner than ever before, What is the magic?

The magic is simply commitment, tenacity of purpose, and just like in every sector, what is happening here is a reflection of the commitment and tenacity that His Excellency Dr. Alex Chioma Otti (CFR) brings to whatever needs to be done. Your waste generation is a by-product of human activities, for as long as Abians are living and engaging in various activities both domestic, business, entrepreneurial, and all sorts of activities will certainly generate waste. So, it is the collection, seriousness, and commitment to ensure a clean environment. You know that cleanliness is next to Godliness. That is what is happening here.

How supportive are the people and to what extent is it affecting their lives?

Our people are beginning to support us gradually. But not as fast as we expect, but Abians are wonderful people. The past government did not give waste management the desired attention and people were constrained to live with waste. Waste was not being disposed of properly as and when due. It made our people adopt unhealthy practices but we have been preaching change and that message of change is being spearheaded by no other person than His Excellency Dr. Alex Otti (OFR).

At many fora, he does not fail to remind Abians that in everything the government is doing, that is, ensuring that there are good roads, schools, and others, what the Abians owe the government is to be good citizens, play their part, and discharge their civic responsibilities as they used to say it when we were in school.

With people’s reactions, it appears that the change that has taken place since you took over has been remarkable. What did you meet on the ground?

What we met on the ground is better imagined than seen. Before the inauguration of the present government, the job of waste management was more or less abandoned. All over Abia State, there were mountainous heaps of waste everywhere. It was so bad that on the inauguration day the government declared an emergency to waste because it was messy. And I will tell you that the messy state of waste resulted in the inauguration of a task force immediately.

It was one of the first appointments he made that was headed by my good self and we quickly went to work. Within a few weeks, you will be surprised that we evacuated more than 6000 truckloads of solid waste from the streets of Aba and Umuahia only.

With this waste Management job, what is your target?

We are not competing with anybody. But we aim to be the first in Nigeria in all measurement indices, (Cleanest State in Nigeria) and we want to take it beyond that. We are also looking at what others are doing, especially Abuja, though we also consider the international best practices and adopt them regarding waste management.

As we were coming in I saw a private partnership vehicle but we were told by the SSG that the partnership arrangement was not on, so, who is bearing the cost of waste management in Abia State?

The PSP has been suspended because of some operational challenges. Right now, the government is bearing the cost 100%. We are trying to enlighten the people on the need to pay appropriate sanitation fees for their waste disposal. What we met on the ground was a far cry from what we have done. In a situation where a big house pays N100 for sanitation, what can you do with that? That cannot even pay the manpower that moves the waste let alone the diesel for the trucks. We are looking at a total revamping of the waste management system and we are strongly doing that. You know we can not shut down but we are working on ensuring that we achieve our target.

Do you have a timeline as to when you will beat your chest and say we have done it?

Not exactly. Some of these things are not what you go and pick from the shelf. For instance, we want to introduce recycling and that requires modern recycling machines and plants.

This takes a lot of time because you have to involve investors who will come and look at the site, do the technical drawing and specifications, get the machines manufactured, bring it down here, install, and test run among other things before you start. We don’t want to rush these processes unnecessarily and end up not getting it right. But I assure you that we are working on it.

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Can you share some of the challenges you have encountered while discharging this challenging duty?

When there is a job to do you have to do it. As you said, in terms of the diesel price, the age, and the weak conditions of the trucks, the past government did not make adequate investments in the required machinery for waste management. In addition to frequent breakdowns of these trucks and lack of good spare parts to repair them, some other things constituted major challenges to us. That aside, our greatest problem has been the bad attitude of our people toward waste disposal. We are doing something to help nurture attitudinal change in them on handling waste.

We want our people to realize that waste should be better handled and that they should dispose of their waste at the right time and in the right form. We also want them to understand that they should get their waste separated and sorted into biodegradable, organic waste and bottles. It is a journey. These things happen in developed societies. That way it becomes easy to pick up and not to pick up and start sorting because all the things we will eventually do with waste will involve sorting. When you want to do waste conversion there are three (Rs), Reduce, Reform and Recycle. From that to four Rs and Five Rs. We are going to leapfrog from three Rs to probably Five Rs because we understand that waste is big business.
That is why we are looking at investors who will come in who understand what it takes not only to handle waste but also the capital implication and the big money involved.

The Last administration flooded the State with street sweepers, I don’t know if you are still retaining their services. Dust bins are lacking in most places, especially in the World Bank area?

On recycling that you promised to go into, the last administration did venture into organic fertilizer and brought in one firm (Funex) but we discovered that instead of going in for organic fertilizer the firm went into farm yard manure and that contract terminated. What is the fate of that place now?

Interestingly, I am just hearing about this and there was no proper handover. I understand what recycling involves as a practitioner in the waste management space even beyond Abia state. Organic fertilizer is one of the by-products of recycling and people even talk about bio-gas, those are all the things we are going to look at. We are going to look at different prospective investors and partners and we look at each person’s bid holistically to find out what you can do.

We are going to start with simple recycling but for people in the space we call it reuse, that is where you get the plastics, separate them from the cover and the body, and compress, compact and melt them. A molder is used to convert them to hangers and still use to make bottles. These are what we are working fast at, then we go into the complex ones where we use them to make bio-gas, bio-fuel organic fertilizer, etc.

So, we will look at all that. But companies need to come and show us their competencies and they need to do a cost-benefit analysis because you must look at the cost.

Street sweepers, we are working with them because the streets need to be kept clean, but eventually and gradually we are going to modernize the process of street sweeping like it is done in advanced climes where sweeper trucks run through the streets at the night. For now, we are still working with street sweepers.

How does it feel to work with a winning team?

I must tell you it feels good. It also feels challenging because the targets or the goalpost keeps moving. You see when you are working with a purposeful leader, he keeps raising the bar.

The work you did last week is gone, another job is ahead. So, it feels good, it feels challenging, and because out of over 5 million Abians you are one of those singled out to be part of the team rewriting the history of Abia.

For that, I am immensely grateful to His Excellency Dr. Alex Otti (OFR) for the opportunity to serve. So many other Abians can even do better than what I am doing but it is a collective responsibility and we encourage everybody to send in good ideas and opinions that we can implement.

What are your parting words of hope for Abians?

During the campaign we told Abians that hope is hear, I want to assure them once again that hope is already with us and they can see it. There is an upward trend in every aspect of life in Abia. You can’t imagine the number of visitors we receive every day in the state ranging from businesses, international investors, and embassies they are all coming here to partner with the new Abia. The opportunities and the goodwill are huge. The dawn of a new Abia is here so my words to Abians is to be happy and support this government in every way because tomorrow will be better than yesterday and today.

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