Oye-agu is a rural market located in Abagana town, in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. It is arguably one of the busiest socio-economic centres of the state, sitting on the intersecting junction that veers off to Ukpo, the hometown of the popular philanthropist, Arthur Ezeh. The market is ensconced in a linear settlement that caters to those entrepreneurs who find themselves on the fringes of sub-national mercantilism, straddling the corridor between Awka, the state capital, and Onitsha, the globally acclaimed commercial hub.
Once upon a time, this market played host to revolting environmental squalor. Because it was a beehive of commercial activities, it also had its fair share of assorted waste generated on an hourly basis, but not efficiently managed by the state authorities. From abandoned rotting vegetables (biodegradable waste) to discarded plastic bottles (non-biodegradable waste), the adjoining roads, streets, footpaths, gutters, and culverts were decked with parades of mixed garbage. And when it rained, the entire ecosystem became flooded and clogged. In fact, the village stream had already been lost a long time ago. It disappeared under silt, together with its profitable riverine vegetation – like Raffia Palm (Ngwo).
But today, the environment wears a new look. A visit to Oye-agu tells a different story from what was obtainable in the past. The roads are dirt-free, so also the gutters. The grounds inside the market are now cleared of the random rancid dumps. Depending on the time of the day, one would notice the activities of waste managers, who now strut the town in their boots and gloves, with their evacuating vehicles in tow.
If you ask them why they take the waste directly from generation points – instead of dumpsters/receptacles – they will proudly tell you that theirs is the “Njikoka model (of waste collection).”
There is a reason the Njikoka story must be told. Despite its ubiquitous erosion sites and gaping gullies, there is a silent environmental revolution going on in Anambra State right now. Unlike other state governors, Prof. Charles Soludo, on assumption of office, decentralised waste collection by announcing his policy thrust of partnering with local government areas’ transition committee chairmen across the state. He set up a system whereby waste management contracts were now between the local governments and waste management contractors. Interestingly, this is now trickling down to the wards as the LG chairmen take the initiative to reticulate the programme.
What is more, the Njikoka model has a promise of helping Nigeria jump-start rural environmental consciousness as it is now done in other countries of the world. Nigeria has been slow in this regard. In other eco-friendlier climes, thousands of dumpsites have been cleaned up. Polluting incinerators have been closed. Recycling waste is now the norm. Both grassroots leaders and workers are demanding the industries follow practices that do not threaten public health or the surrounding environment.
But what exactly is the Njikoka model? The Managing Director of Njikoka Waste Management, Austyn Nwoye, said the Njikoka model simply is “composting of the biodegradable waste and recycling of the non-biodegradable ones.” This makes it different from the other “models,” because those ones are essentially waste collection-based. In other words, while those ones naturally encourage waste dumps, the Njikoka model takes everything down to the sorting and recycling site straight from the generation points.
“The model does not encourage waste dump because we do not carry waste from collection points to the dumpsites; we take them for sorting, then composting and recycling. There is no dump in Njikoka. That is our model,” Nwoye explained.
To me, the most instructive part of the story is the interesting trajectory of Nwoye’s career. It is a story that leans more towards activism than business. A son of Abagana, he came back to his village after national service but became disenchanted by the dastardly ecological situation he met on the ground threatening the future of his ancestral home.
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After witnessing heavy rain one fateful day, Nwoye came out to review the impact. Just like every other person, he knew the usual outcome of rainfall in his village. But that particular day was so shocking that he picked up his phone and began to record the damage. The gutters were filled to the brim with plastic bottles and sachets. It now dawned on him why their village stream, Ngene, had been totally silted. In the audio accompanying the video, he told his fellow villagers that they had to do something about the situation; that the local government authority and state agents should decide what to do with the enormous waste generated in the local government area.
But as he was saying this, he heard a voice whisper in his mind, “Who do you want to do it? Who do you want to take care of your environment for you? Are you not a human being? Do it! Get the job done. It is your environment.”
“So I went back to my home and told my wife that the next day I would gather my people to go and clear the gutter. That was how we embarked on the first desilting of our community gutter. But then a new issue arose. Where do you take the waste to? The question of where to take the waste to, became very pertinent. You pack waste from point A, and move it to point B, which means you have not solved any problem in the real sense of it. That is not waste management, because you have not terminated the waste.
“I then decided that we should not do what many people had been doing over and over again. We must have a new way of dealing with this problem. That was how I came up with the idea of sorting the waste. We separated the biodegradables from the non-biodegradables. And then creation of compost and recycling of plastics came up. Through this, we succeeded in terminating our waste.
“After that first experience, the thought kept developing. So later I wrote the idea down as a proposal to the state Ministry of Environment, and went and submitted it to them. Later when I went to follow up, they said they had minuted it to my local government area, Njikoka, and that they would call me,” Nwoye narrated.
It was at this point that this Nigerian thought he had come to the end of the road. Considering how things worked in the country’s sociopolitical terrain, you needed to know somebody in the corridors of power to push the right buttons for you if the person’s idea would see the light of day. But he was shocked how everything turned out.
He described the Transitional Chairman of Njikoka Local Government, Clem Aguiyi, as a rare breed of politician. A man so driven that he always wanted the job done, pragmatically without any fear or favour. The chairman reached out to him and told him he wanted a clean environment, and sought his idea on how to achieve this. The rest is now history.
Concerning progress made, and plans for the future, Nwoye says, “It’s a new trend. People are used to tying their waste and throwing them into the gutter, on the street, or any open space. For you to change it, it is a paradigm shift. That is why at this primary stage, we are doing more of sensitisation, training, telling people the impact of their old ways of waste disposal, telling them the value they will get if they do things the right way. We are looking forward to a time in the near future when people, even at home, will sort their waste and bring it out for us.” ,
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