Arinze Chijioke

In this report, Arinze Chijioke takes a look at how skyrocketing prices of cooking Gas is increasing the dependence on firewood, leading to deforestation.

This January, Chinasa Sunday wheeled logs of wood into her family compound in Isiagu, one of the communities in Enugu State. As soon as she got home and unpacked the wood, she called a young man who would always help her break them into smaller sizes to make it easier for her to prepare meals.

Weeks earlier, she had gone to farmland, just behind her family house, where she cut down tree branches, brought them home and packed them on a spot close to the kitchen.

On days when she cannot go in search of firewood, she buys from those who sell.

“I don’t want to run out of firewood,” she said. “When it begins to go down, I quickly find where to fetch more”.

Logs of wood at Helen Onu’s compound

Sunday and her family are just one out of millions of Nigerians who have returned to the use of fuelwood for domestic cooking following the consistent increase in cooking gas prices, a development which is increasing the deforestation rate linked to erosion, drought, flooding and desertification.

What NBS data says

Available data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that the average retail price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Cooking Gas increased by 4.25% on a month-on-month basis from N4,218.38 recorded in June 2022 to N4,397.68 in July 2022. On a year-on-year basis, the price rose by 105.35% from N2,141.59 in July 2021.

On state profile analysis, Adamawa recorded the highest average price for refilling a 5kg Cylinder of Cooking Gas with N4,966.67, followed by Plateau with N4,650.00, followed by Kwara and Gombe with N4,625.00 each. On the other hand, Kano recorded the lowest price with N3,981.25, followed by Yobe and Bauchi with N4,000.00 and N4,071.03 respectively.

The NBC data also shows that the average retail price for refilling a 12.5kg Cylinder of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (Cooking Gas) increased by 3.56% on a month-on-month basis from N9,485.91 in June 2022 to N9,824.07 in July 2022. On a year-on-year basis, this rose by 122.15% from N4,422.32 in July 2021.

On state profile analysis, Ebonyi recorded the highest average retail price for the refilling of a 12.5kg Cylinder of Cooking Gas with N11,212.50, followed by Delta with N10,926.92 and Ekiti with N10,883.67.  Conversely, the lowest average price was recorded in Katsina at N8,355.71, followed by Yobe and Kano with N8,383.31 and N8,614.29 respectively.

Before the increases, Sunday was alternating between gas and fuelwood. But now, she only brings out her gas cylinder when she feels a need to clean up, after which she takes it back into her room where it has been for the past year.

“I was not buying much when the price was low,” she said. “Now that it has gone up, I don’t know why I should buy it when I can easily get firewood and cook whatever meal I want”.

Gas cylinder

She knows too well about the health implications of cooking with firewood. But she cannot stop depending on it.

Firewood and increasing deforestation 

The use of open fires and solid fuels for cooking remains one of the world’s most pressing health and environmental problems, directly impacting close to half the world’s population and causing nearly four million premature deaths each year, according to data from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership that seeks to promote clean and efficient household cooking solutions.

A 2014 study on domestic energy usage patterns of households in selected urban and rural communities of Enugu State also estimates that Nigeria consumes over 50 million metric tons of firewood annually, a rate which exceeds afforestation efforts.

Logs of wood loaded into a truck in Enugu

This is even as Revised deforestation figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show that Nigeria had the world’s highest deforestation rate of primary forests in 2005.

Between 2000 and 2005, Nigeria lost as much as 55.7 per cent of its primary forests — defined as forests with no visible signs of past or present human activities, with the collection of fuelwoods cited as one of the leading causes of a forest clearing in the West African country.

In Isiagu, Sunday’s community, fuelwood has become a serious business for many families. While some of them convert tree trunks into charcoal, others break them into smaller sizes which are arranged and sold for N500 and 1,000, depending on the size. A paint bucket of charcoal goes for at least N200.

Health implications

Data from the United Nations on climate change shows that the smoke from cooking fires accounts for eight deaths every minute globally, impacting mostly women and children.

In Nigeria- and other developing countries- health problems arising from smoke inhalation, including respiratory infections, eye damage, heart and lung disease, and lung cancer, have been discovered to be responsible for many premature and preventable deaths annually.

Reports by the World Health Organization and the International Centre for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED), estimate that as many as  95,000 Nigerians die annually as a result of smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood.

Smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood has also been proven to be the fourth leading cause of death in the world after heart and lung disease, and respiratory infection, with women and children under five worst hit. The WHO report shows that if a woman inhales smoke while cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner, it is equivalent to smoking between three and 20 packets of cigarettes a day.

Dr Nnaji Chibueze of the Centre for Energy Research and Development at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka says that biomass fuel use has been found to be associated with cataracts, low birth weight in babies of exposed expectant mothers and women who trek up to 7-9 kilometres to source for plenty of firewood, thereby increasing their stress levels in doing other house chores.

Dependence on imported gas reason for steady rise

Despite sitting on a huge resource base of gas, currently hovering around 206 trillion standard cubic feet, Nigeria depends on the US and other African countries such as Algeria and Equatorial Guinea for the importation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).

The rate keeps soaring because it is determined by the fluctuations in the dollar to naira rate. This means that the more the naira is devalued, the higher the prices will be.

A tipper conveys logs of wood in a community in Enugu

In September 2021, Executive Secretary, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Abdulkadir Saidu, disclosed in a report that 85, 264.803 metric tonnes of cooking gas were supplied across the country in August 2021.

Of this volume, as much as 47,224.346 MT was imported while about 38,040.457 MT was sourced locally. This means that 55.39 per cent of the LPG consumed in the country was imported, leaving 44.61 per cent for local producers.

The report further showed that 21,606.301 MT was imported from the USA, while 13,044.266 was imported from Algeria and 12,573.779 MT was brought into the country from Equatorial Guinea.

While deficits in terms of infrastructure have kept production at a low level, economic indexes, especially high inflation, naira devaluation and unsteady exchange rate continue to send the prices of cooking above the reach of the poor who live on less than one dollar a day.

Like the PPPRA, the Nigerian Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers (NALPGAM), in October 2021, attributed the rise in the price of LPG to inadequate supply of the product into the domestic market and the Federal Government’s re-imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) on imported LPG.

NALPGAM’s Executive Secretary, Bassey Essien, in an interview in Lagos, said that the supply of LPG had fallen below the demand, adding that the current consumption level is over 1,000,000 metric tons, but that the quantity available locally is in the range of 450,000M

“The first issue to address is how we can ensure there is constant availability of cooking gas in the country,” Essien said.  “The cumulative domestic supply accounted for 40 per cent while the balance 60 per cent was imported”.

He also noted that the proposed reintroduction of VAT at 7.5 per cent and customs duties applicable, which are to be applied retrospectively, would worsen the price.

Nigeria’s increasing gas reserves: Where’s the impact?

At the Nigeria International Petroleum Summit which was held In June 2021 in Abuja, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) said that the Proven gas deposits in Nigeria have moved up 206.53 trillion cubic feet.

Director of DPR, Auwalu Sarki disclosed that indigenous oil and gas companies are now contributing as much as 33 per cent to the nation’s crude oil reserves and about 30 per cent of gas reserves.

In Isiagu, a log of wood goes for between N500 and N1000

While the company’s contribution to the reserves was less than 10 million barrels in 2005, it has grown significantly to about 62 million barrels in 2020.

Speaking on the gas reserves, Auwalu attributed the growth to recent efforts being made on gas exploration in the country, especially the “Decade of Gas Initiative’.

The Nigerian government had in 2020, put Nigeria’s total gas reserves at 203.16 trillion cubic feet (TCF), representing a marginal increase of 1.16tcf or 0.57 per cent from the 202tcf recorded in 2019. The recent increase implies growth of over 3 trillion.

“Nigeria attained the target of 200tcf of natural gas reserves by the Reserve Declaration as of Jan.1, 2019, before the 2020 target,”. “Thereafter, the government set a target to attain a Reserve Position of 2020tcf by 2030,” Auwalu said.

He noted that independent companies are driving value addition to gas, adding that the acquisition of divested assets, as well as accelerated appraisal and development efforts, are other driving factors.

To him, the country is already gaining from the deliberate national efforts to boost indigenous participation in the sector.

The question, however, remains what the impact on the average consumer is. As many Nigerians have argued, the reserves must translate to more availability at affordable prices.

Like Sunday, Others do not care about health implications

Before the price of cooking gas went up, Helen Onu was using fuelwood to prepare meals. Although the heat coming out from her three-stoned open cooking fire usually leaves her wheezing badly from firewood smoke, Onu does not care.

She has a gas cylinder she fills from time to time. But after she heard that the price of gas had increased, she decided to completely depend on fuelwood for her daily cooking.

She knows too well about the many health implications inherent in cooking with fuelwood. But she cannot stop using it for her cooking.

Logs of wood arranged for sell in Enugu

To deal with the stress of having to trek long distances in search of fuelwood, however, she gets in touch with motorcycle owners and commercial bus drivers who help her buy in large quantities and bring them to her house.

Now she has a location close to her kitchen where she packs her logs of wood covered with sacks to prevent rain from beating them.

“When I buy it in large quantity, it takes months before it finishes”, she said, pointing in the direction where she arranges her fuelwood. “I hardly run out of it”.

Increasing global warming and the UN warning

Beyond its health implications, when fossil fuels are burned for energy, they release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the air, thereby intensifying the greenhouse effect.   According to 2013 figures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deforestation contributes up to 10% of the carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity.

The United Nations on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, warned that more than 100 million “extremely poor” people across Africa were threatened by accelerating climate change that could also melt away the continent’s few glaciers within two decades.

In the report, it was estimated that “by 2030, up to 118 million extremely poor people will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat in Africa, if adequate response measures are not put in place”

Commissioner for rural economy and agriculture at the African Union Commission, Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, said that in sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to 3 per cent by 2050.

“Not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing,” she said in the report’s foreword.

Nigerian government pledges reduction of LPG price

In January 2022, the Nigerian government announced that it was ramping up measures to ensure a drastic reduction in the cost of cooking gas.

General Manager, external relations and sustainable development for the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), Andy Odeh, in a statement said the company would supply 100 per cent of its liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to the Nigerian market.

Logs of woods in a community in Enugu

Odeh was quoted as saying that the NLNG had developed a scheme to sustainably supply propane for usage in cooking gas blending as well as in Agro Allied, Autogas, power and petrochemical sectors of the Nigerian economy.

Chibueze says that the government must improve access to cheaper alternative energy sources for cooking if the challenge of over-dependence on fuelwood must be addressed.

“Availability of woodlots and access to alternative, affordable, renewable energy systems would reduce the pressure on the forests and the amount of time and efforts women devote to obtaining fuel wood,” he said.

Countries commit to reversing deforestation

At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, more than 100 countries pledged to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by the end of 2030. A joint statement backed by the leaders of countries including Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which collectively account for 85 per cent of the world’s forests, shows that the pledge is underpinned by $19bn in public and private funds to invest in protecting and restoring forests.

According to a statement from the British prime minister’s office on behalf of the leaders, the Declaration on Forest and Land Use are expected to cover forests totalling more than 33 million square kilometres (13 million square miles).

While calling it an unprecedented agreement, Boris Johnson, who was the PM at the time said “We will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian”.

As rousing and assuring as this may be, for many Nigerians, however, far-reaching concrete action will be needed to get them on board.



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In this report, Arinze Chijioke tells the story of how communities in Rivers and Bayelsa States are benefitting from the federal government’s solar power projects under the Nigerian electrification programme.

Prior to 2020, residents of Oloibiri, one of the communities in Ogbia local government area of Bayelsa State – where oil was first discovered- depended on a generator that was donated by an illustrious son of the community for power.

While the donation brought relief to them after they had spent over 15 years without any form of power, their joy was incomplete, because the men paid N2000 and the women N500 monthly for diesel and they hardly had enough supply. It only lasted for 12 hours, from 6 pm to 6 am.

Renewvia energy solar system in Oloibiri
Renewvia energy solar system in Oloibiri

“We felt It was a burden to us because even after donating, we only enjoy power at night to conserve diesel,” Asa Asa a member of the community said.

The only time the generator works all day and night is whenever there is a wedding or burial ceremony which often lasted for one week. Those celebrating had to provide enough diesel.

Soon, community members stopped contributing diesel and the generator was abandoned. The community was engulfed in perpetual darkness, except for families who had their personal generators.

In 2020 however, the narrative changed after a solar hybrid mini-grids with a capacity of 67.32KW was installed in the community by Renewvia  Energy Corporation under the Nigerian electrification project, (NEP).

The goal was to provide clean, safe, and affordable electricity to residents of the community who had been unconnected to the national electricity grid as well as Increase business productivity by replacing generators, lanterns and candles with reliable electricity.

Renewvia energy’ Country Manager for West Africa, Chris Ebiware said that the company did a feasibility study of 25 communities in 4 states, including Bayelsa in 2016.

He noted that it was during the site identification that the company came across Oloibiri and discovered that the community had been without reliable power since its inception.

“So, with cooperation from the community we built our first mini-grid here,” he said. “Construction started in 2019 and the system was turned on in February of 2020,” he said, adding that the company also did the test run in the same year”.

The Nigerian electrification project (NEP)

In 2018, the federal government designed a scheme known as the Nigerian electrification project- to increase access to electricity, through renewable power sources, for households, public educational institutions and businesses that are not connected to the national electricity grid.

To support the implementation of the NEP, the Nigerian government, through the Rural Electrification Agency, REA- the implementing agency, secured financing from both the World Bank ($350m) and the African Development Bank ($200m).

Among the programmes implemented under the NEP is the Solar Hybrid Mini Grids Component which aims to support the development of private sector mini-grids in unserved areas across Nigeria with a target to electrify 300,000 households and 30,000 local enterprises.

Under the Solar Hybrid Mini Grids Component,  there was the Performance-Based Grant (PBG) sub-component which had a total available fund of US$48 million disbursed to qualified mini-grid developers/firms on a first come first served basis, up until the available funds are exhausted.

Oloibiri was one of the communities that benefitted from the PBG which was expected to connect an estimated 364 households while developing the infrastructure, creating jobs in both the construction phase and permanent jobs.

According to REA, Renewvia Energy Corporation, like other companies handling the various components went through the four-phase of the application and approval processes of the PBG programme, including the qualification stage, site-specific technical application stage, grant agreement signing and the verification and disbursement. 

Two years down the line, residents of Oloibiri cannot have enough of the solar system. The supply is 24 hours. The company had provided metres for households who have to always recharge to get power.

From welding to dry cleaning and other businesses, the project has made Oloibiri a beehive of activities. Nobody talks about the community generator anymore. Asa had to sell his personal generator because he did not have a need for it anymore. Every month, he spends between N2000 and N3000 on recharging his metre.

“I have been enjoying the light ever since it came,” Asa said. “I wish the government can extend the same project to other communities in order to tackle the challenge of poor electricity supply”.

The solar system particularly excites Anthonia Deezua who owns a provision store in the community where she sells cold beverages. Now, she makes more profits than when she used her generator.

“Every day, workers and students come to ask me to help them look for accommodation and that means more people patronising my business,” said Deezua. “Formally, I was using a generator for business. But the noise was unbearable, and I did not always have it on because fuel was expensive”.

While business owners such as Deezua spend as much as N4000 monthly, others recharge their metres with as little as N300 and N500 which often lasts between three days and one week.

The Oloibiri site manager for Renewvia Energy, Azibasamari Amadi said that the number of days each subscription lasts depends on the consumption levels of the households.

He explained that after the project was commissioned, the company organised sensitisation workshops for community members on how to conserve energy such as switching off their electrical appliances, including fridges, fans, air conditioners and bulbs when they don’t have a need for them.

On how users pay, he said that the company entered a partnership with Paga, a mobile payment company which enables people to digitally send and receive money.

“Paga has an application that allows users to pay for power by selecting the company name and inputting their metre number and the amount they want to subscribe after which they send and have light “he explained.

Challenges within…

Although the solar system in Oloibiri has been effective, Amadi said that electricity theft and low rate of subscription by some community members disrupt their services. He explained that on several occasions, community members who do not want to pay have tried to bypass the system.

“Our system is smart enough that whenever it notices such moves, it shut down,”Amadi said. “Also, when there is a line bridge or a burnt metre, the system shuts down instead of allowing things to develop a fault,”

He explained that whenever such situations arise, he quickly informs other members of his team and together, they try to find out what the problem is, adding that they also inform members of the community, via WhatsApp whenever they want to embark on maintenance.

Whenever the sun does not produce much energy to power the systems, he switches over to their generator which serves as a backup system.  He however noted that recently, they had a delay in the delivery of diesel, because of the poor returns and hike in the price of diesel and because of that, there were disruptions at night.

“Sometimes, our expenditure is higher than what comes in because there are those who cannot afford to always subscribe and even when they do, it’s poor,” he explained. “Sometimes, when we have the money, diesel is not readily available for us to buy,”

Renewvia energy solar system in Akipelai
A mini-grid solar system in Akipelai

In Akipelai, breach of agreement scuttle solar system

With the PBG, Renewvia Energy Corporation also installed a solar system in Akipelai, another community in Ogbia LG.  Like the project in Olobiri, that of Akipelai which also had a capacity of 67.32KW provided sustainable power to the people.

But it did not last long after Renewvia shut down its operation in December 2021, following the decision by members of the community to renege on an agreement they had with the company at the inception of the project.

Chairman of Akipelai Community Development Committee, Davidson Omonkori said that the company had an agreement with the community to provide it with 24 hours power supply for 20 years. The said agreement was okayed by the National Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC.

Omonkori explained that households subscribed to the system after it was installed but stopped after the Nigerian Agip Oil Company started supplying diesel to enable the community to power its generator.

Agip had in 2014, donated a generator to Akipelai which is one of its host communities. However, its supply of diesel was inconsistent. Sometimes, community members had to wait for three months before the 500KVA generator comes on and that led to the wide acceptance of the solar system.

“But recently, they started supplying diesel frequently and our people stopped subscribing to the solar system,” Omonkori said.

Omokori noted that leaders of the community had suggested to Renewvia energy that they should have the generator at night-since they cannot reject the free diesel- while the solar system runs during the day, but the company said it was not part of their agreement.

“When they came, we offered to pay 400,000 because we felt it was going to be a post-paid system where we will pay at the end of the month, but they said it is prepaid and you pay as you use”.

He explained that they had also met with Agip and suggested that rather than provide diesel to power the generator which only lasts for 12 hours daily, they should pay directly to Renewvia Energy so they can provide 24 hours power supply to the community. But the company was yet to respond.

Akipelai site manager for Renewvia Energy, Kingsley Nestor, said that the company was beginning to run at a loss, hence the decision to shut down the operation. He said that the company needs funds to pay staff salaries and maintain the system for it to be sustainable.

While Omokori said that leaders of the community had agreed to allow Agip to pay for the system, Nestor alleged that some of them have severally refused to accept the suggestion because they sell some litres out of the over 14,000 litres they get monthly and keep the money.

Nigeria and commitment to energy transition

At the Climate Change Conference (COP 26) in Glasgow, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari pledged that the country will cut its carbon emissions and reach net zero by 2060.

While the target lags 10 years behind the recommended deadline which the UN along with many climate scientists would like to achieve to stop global warming, Nigeria’s commitment to energy transition is clearly visible within the government’s project, which aims to electrify 5 million households and 25 million people with solar energy.

Chief Executive Officer, Renewvia, Trey Jarrad, said that the impact of the solar projects extends beyond providing access to cleaner, reliable, and affordable energy, to helping Nigeria actualise her global energy transition mandate.

Like Nigeria, other countries are looking to invest in renewable energy which could supply four-fifths of the world’s electricity by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change.

In Egbeke, residents can finally heave a sigh of relief

After Green Village Electricity implemented a 6.8kw PV solar-based pilot project which according to the company was aimed at field testing the technical and commercial viability of adopting renewable energy for off-grid rural electrification in Egbeke, one of the communities in Rivers State in 2012, it was not serving the entire five villages that together make up the community, the people stated.

Community members could not use it to pump water, power their fridges or use electric iron. It only worked during the day and powered streetlights. At night, it always went off.

Among the villages that were completely cut off from power was Umuode which owned the land where the solar power was installed. Umuagwu, the village whose people were said to have had first contact with the company decided who to give light and who not to give. There were no metres.

“Because of that, many of us did not have access to power, except those who wanted to do the illegal connection,” Chucks Nkwo, a leader in Umuode told The ICIR, “Irked by the perceived marginalisation, our people protested and shut down the site”.

Six years later, in 2018, the company came back, after it received the PBG under the FG’s NEP and upgraded the project, moving it from the site where it was before to the community’s market square where there is enough land to accommodate the upgrading. It provided Egbeke with a 55KW minigrid.

Now, residents in the five villages, including UmuagwuUmuode, Umuayim, Umuokwu and Umuoko have a power supply that they use for all kinds of businesses. Households were provided with metres which they always recharged.

Egbeke solar system
Egbeke solar system

Allegations of corruption

Years after the solar project was upgraded, residents of Egbeke have not had any challenge with the usage apart from allegations that Egbeke site manager for Green Village Electricity, Amadi Evans has not been transparent in his duties.

According to Nkwo, Evans who handles the subscription for customers always gives different megawatts for the same amount. He alleged that one of the times he recharged N3000, he got 330 megawatts instead of the usual 440.

“After it finished, I complained to him and the next time, he made it 440 megawatts,” Nkwo said, adding that sometimes, it appears the power they get is not commensurate with the amount we pay.

He regretted that while other communities who have benefitted from solar systems pay as little as N200, Umuode and other communities in Egbeke pay a minimum of N1000.

“We have complained to the site manager who said he has told the company, but nothing has been done, “We bear it because we get constant supply”.

When confronted with the allegations, Evans confirmed that the tariff stopped at N1000, adding that community members have complained about the rate which they described as outrageous.

While denying that he had anything to do with the rate, he said complained to the company management who said they will have to discuss with the NERC and other stakeholders involved before taking any decision on cost reduction.

“They promised that they will look into the complaints with time, “he said, adding that the company also felt it was best to keep the money at N1000 so that people don’t always complain that their power ends quickly”.

While community members complain about the cost of power in Egbeke, they say it is better than any other power source.  Ikechi Jim who owns a provision store said that although he spends N6000 every week, he prefers the solar system because it is always available except when the money finishes and you must recharge again.

“If you are using a generator, and It gets spoilt, you have to go and repair and that affects your business, “he said. “Sometimes, those who are connected to the power grid go for weeks and months without supply,”.

Where the problem often lies, an expert’s point of view

While the solar projects are providing sustainable energy in benefitting communities, Chief Operating Officer at Manamuz Electric limited, a Nigerian Electrical and Renewable energy company, Chigozie Enemoh, said that some mini-grid projects do not last beyond 1 year after commissioning because companies often fail to do a load and energy analysis of communities and other areas before they deploy solar systems.

He explained that the company must try to understand the load pattern and do an extensive load analysis as well as a futuristic master plan to know what is expected in terms of load demand in the next two or more years.

“The problem we always have is that sometimes when you deploy, you find out that the energy demands outweigh the system that was deployed, “he said. “Once people see light, they tend to buy more appliances, which increases the energy demand and creates problems for the system”.

Additionally, he said that there is usually the challenge of lack of maintenance of solar panels which have the tendency of attracting dust- because they are open-air which reduces their efficiency and output over time.

He explained that some mini-grid developers are only concerned about deploying and commissioning of solar power projects in benefitting communities without embarking on operation and maintenance which is very key to the sustenance of any project.

“After deploying and commissioning, the next stage is the O and M which should last for as long as the project lasts, “he said. “Depending on the capacity of the project, you could schedule maintenance every four or six months”.

He said that mini-grid contracts have operation and maintenance costs and that is where companies are expected to train community members who will maintain the project while they are away and always report back when issues they cannot handle arise.

Story was originally published by the ICIR.

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In this report, Arinze Chijioke looks at how delays in the evacuation of waste in Enugu State encourage indiscriminate waste disposal, its health implications, and how the practice impacts the environment.

As Benjamin Eze walked towards a waste dumping site in the Asata Area in Enugu State, South-eastern Nigeria one afternoon in early January 2022, he discovered that the five waste dumpsters were filled and overflowing and that residents were beginning to drop their waste on the ground.

Quickly, he threw the two nylon bags he had used to pack his waste close to the dumpsters and left, covering his mouth and his nose. The stench emanating from the dumpsite was unbearable.

“I had intended to use the bin but when I got here and discovered that they were all filled up, I decided to drop it like every other person, “he said. “I could not have taken it back home”.

It had been four days since the dumpsters were filled up with heaps of littering wastes around. But the workers who would always come with trucks to clear them had not come. The situation makes work difficult for Okafor Chiemelie who offers graphics design services close to the dumpsite. He says it’s difficult to work inside his office whenever the wastes are left unpacked.

“Whenever it rains, it is hard to pass through the area, “he said. “Most of the time, rain pushes the wastes into water channels, making it hard for water to freely flow to its destination”.

Overflowing dumpsters at Ebelane

Heaps of waste at Enugu’s main market

Like Chiemelie, residents living close to the dumpsite and business owners, particularly food sellers who shared their experience with this reporter said they have had to endure days and weeks of unbearable stench. They say it affects their business because those coming to eat would always complain about the smell and find alternatives.

But the situation is not peculiar to the Asata area of the state. Today, It is common to walk around Enugu State and find wastes generated from households, eateries and offices strewn everywhere, on both sides of some roads, some of them making their way into water channels.

From streets to motor parks and from markets to schools and hospitals, the indiscriminate dumping of refuse- occasioned by delays in evacuation has increased to a devastating and uncontrollable rate, contaminating the environment and exposing residents to serious diseases.

Heaps of waste at Obeagu

An overflowing dumpster at Okpara Avenue

Health and environmental concerns

Improper disposal of waste particularly plastic waste, typified by overflowing dumpsters, and mountains of open refuse dumps, remains a major environmental and public health concern prevalent in most developing countries.

Apart from causing damage to the eco-systems and accelerating the destruction of the environment, the situation exposes humans to widespread diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and typhoid fever.

Waste inside the University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Waste inside Parklane, Enugu

Gboyega Olorunfemi, Principal Consultant, EnviromaxGlobal Resources Limited, Ibadan, said that improper waste disposal also causes malnutrition and stunting in children as well as respiratory illness, risk and exposure to contaminated water and food.

“Waste dumped indiscriminately clogs the drainage channels and leads to flooding during the wet season and could also lead to fire outbreak,” he said.

Apart from institutional weaknesses on the part of the government, as is the case in Enugu, uncontrolled population growth and lack of awareness increase the rate of Improper waste disposal.

Marine species under threat

About 300 million metric tons of plastic waste are produced each year globally. But out of the more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic estimated to have been produced since the early 1950s, about 60% has ended up in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled.  About 12% has been incinerated, according to a report by Science Daily.

Much of the world’s plastic- an estimated 8 million metric tons every year- has ended up in the world’s ocean. Of major concern is the fact that these plastic items do not fully disappear.

Although they have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, they often contain additives that make them stronger, more flexible and durable, persisting in the environment for at least 400 years, a national geographic report shows.

As they get smaller and smaller, they are swallowed by farm animals or fishes in the river who mistake them for food.  Millions of these animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms.

The report shows that nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. It is feared that If the current trend of waste mismanagement continues, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

A more worrying concern

Apart from delays in waste evacuation in Enugu State, there is a more worrying concern about the open burning of wastes. It is common to walk across streets and find dumpsters burning, posing serious risks to the environment and public health of residents. Those being burnt close to buildings are beginning to affect them and there are fears that some of them might begin to fall.

According to Olorunfemi, the open burning of wastes releases substances into the air that are toxic, many that are carcinogenic and are also called short-lived Climate pollutants e.g.: black carbon, dioxins, Mercury, Furans and PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls).

He said that these substances lead to cancer, asthma, heart diseases, skin and eye diseases, causing damage to nervous and reproductive systems, although it is difficult to determine the true level of impact of open burning of waste on public health because not much data is available in Africa.

“The black carbon contributes to climate change by warming the earth through direct and indirect interactions with clouds and rainfall patterns “he added.

Overflowing dumpsters at Asata

One of the rickety trucks used to evacuate waste

When contacted, the former Commissioner for Environment in the state, Chijioke Edeoga said that the government was aware of what was happening, describing it as an act of mischief.

“It is usually done at night and we are not happy about it,” he said. “But we cannot police all dustbins in the state and even when people see the bins burning, they don’t care to put it out”.

Edeoga who resigned following his interest in contesting for the governorship position said that the government had tried severally to end the burning, yet it continues. But while the former commissioner claims the government is not aware of those setting the wastebins on fire, many residents claim they have seen those in charge of evacuating the wastes burning them.

Where the Enugu problem lies

The reason for the recent wave of delays in waste evacuation is said to be linked to the decision by the state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to create a committee on waste evacuation out of an already existing waste management body, Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) according to a source who would not want his name mentioned.

While the government stopped ESWAMA from carrying out its primary responsibility of evacuating wastes, it handed it over to the committee which went ahead to hire trucks-which break down regularly- and workers who take weeks to clear wastes.

He explained that while ESWAMA- which is under the ministry of environment collects levies from households, it asks the committee- which is now directly under the governor’s office- to evacuate wastes, which they often fail to do.

One of the rickety trucks used to evacuate waste does not have a fuel tank

“After the levies are collected from households and given to the government, the government, in turn, hands the money to the committee and they are still not working,” the source said. “And there is no form of collaboration between ESWAMA and the new committee”.

He told Econai+ that the State House of Assembly had invited the two bodies after it received several complaints of delays in waste evacuation. But the chairman of the committee refused to say what the problem was and insisted that he was only answerable to the governor.

A former senior staff of ESWAMA, who prefers not to be mentioned confirmed that the delay in waste evacuation began after the state government decided to strip the agency of its responsibility for waste disposal and handed it over to a committee.

“I cannot exactly say why the governor asked us to stop doing our work,” the former staff said. “ He is aware of what is happening to waste management in the state and what ESWAMA does not is to basically supervise and generate revenue for the state”.

Now, households who are paying levies at the GRA, New Haven and Independence Layout areas of the state are complaining that even after paying N10,000 to 15,000, there is a delay in waste evacuation.

Impact on climate change

Several reports have shown that unmanaged dumpsites are major sources of Green House Gas emissions (GHGs) and emission of water/atmospheric pollutants as well as odours in developing countries.

About 80% of solid waste in African countries, for instance, is dumped indiscriminately in open spaces, streets, stormwater drains, rivers, and streams thereby, contributing to an estimated 29% of the global GHG emissions which is expected to increase to 64% by 2030.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had warned that if actions are not taken to prevent the continual increase of GHG emissions, the Earth’s temperature will increase by 6.4 °C in the 21st century. Without improvements in the sector, solid waste-related emissions will most likely increase to 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050, according to a world bank report.

What happened to Enugu’s waste compactors?

When the administration of former governor Sullivan Chime came on board in 2007, it introduced a modern scientific approach to refuse collection, disposal and solid waste management by procuring more than 15 waste disposal compactors and over one hundred dumpsters which were deployed in all parts of the state capital and Nsukka Urban.

In collaboration with other departments and agencies, the Environment Ministry, which had the responsibility, introduced programmes and projects for the promotion of regular environmental sanitation and pollution control in Enugu state.

The Ministry had been established in Enugu State in 2004 to improve the beauty and aesthetics of the physical environment and adequate protection of the ecosystem and effectively manage solid wastes in the state.

A building affected by open burning of waste

The Enugu State Waste Management Authority (ESWAMA) an establishment under the ministry also introduced monthly sanitation exercises and street by a street collection of refuse on daily basis.

In 2011, the administration took a delivery of 285 refuse bin holding pads, built 283 conventional refuse bin slabs and fire motorized bin slabs on major urban roads in the state capital and Nsukka.

The governor also approved the purchase of earthmoving equipment for ESWAMA, including three tippers, two bulldozers and pail loaders each, reportedly worth three hundred and twenty-two million naira (N322 million).

According to Chuks Ugwoke, who was the State Commissioner for Information at the time, the decision to purchase the equipment was in keeping with the resolve of the Chime administration to ensure and maintain a very clean and healthy environment in the state.

Sadly, seven years after the Chime administration left power, the current administration has failed to effectively manage waste in the state, depending on rickety trucks which take days to clear waste.  The administration has also failed to maintain the waste disposal compactors which had been provided for waste management.

Burnt dumpsters at Independence Layout

Beyond Enugu, there is no commitment to tackle plastic waste in Nigeria

A 2018 report by the World Economic Forum estimates that Nigeria for instance, generates some 32 million tonnes of waste per year, out of which a staggering 2.5 million tonnes are plastic. While the country’s annual plastics production is projected to grow to 523,000 tonnes by 2022, it is estimated that the country discharges 200,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste into the Atlantic Ocean each year.

But In 2018, the minister of State for Environment, Alhaji Ibrahim Jibril, said the federal government was working on a national policy on plastic waste management to regulate the use and disposal of plastic waste in the country.

At an event to mark the 2018 World Environment Day, Jibril said the ministry had collaborated with stakeholders and developed a national strategy for the phase-out of non-bio gradable plastics as well as developed a national plastic waste recycling programme, to establish plastic waste recycling plants across the country.

The facilities were expected to complement the efforts of various state governments at facilitating a clean environment and preventing environmental pollution from solid waste disposal in Nigeria.  Jibril announced that a total of eight plants had already been completed and handed over to the states while 18 others were at various stages of completion.

However, investigations have shown how some of these plants reported having been completed in Osun, Ekiti, Lagos and Kaduna or ongoing were wasting away despite the government’s huge investment in the project.

With inefficient disposal, recycling, and waste management system, an overall 70% of plastic and non-plastic waste produced in Nigeria end up in landfills, sewers, beaches and water bodies.

Nigeria’s plastic bag prohibition bill

The House of Representatives in 2019, passed a bill banning plastic bags in the country. It was intended to address the harmful effects of those plastic bags on the oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment, wildlife as well as human beings and to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management.

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had also approved the Solid Waste Management Policy for Nigeria to provide a framework for a comprehensive integrated solid waste management which the federal, state and local governments, MDAs, institutions and NGOs will be part of.

The bill provided for: “An act to prohibit the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging in order to address harmful impacts to oceans, rivers, lakes, forests, environment as well as human beings and also to relieve pressure on landfills and waste management and for other related matters.”

Littering waste at New Haven

It described as an offence the failure to provide customers with paper bags, manufacturing plastic bags for the purpose of selling, and importing plastic bags “whether as a carryout bag or for sale”.

Any person found guilty of the offences shall be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding N500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both such fine and imprisonment, according to the bill which also prescribes a fine of N5 million to companies guilty of the offences.

But two years down the line, the Nigerian Senate is yet to consider and transmit the bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. If drastic measures are not taken, It is estimated that Nigeria would be the nation producing the largest amount of mismanaged plastic waste in Africa by 2025.

Another waste dumpsite in Enugu

Need for Investment in the waste recycling value chain

A 2018 World Bank report projects that rapid urbanization, population growth and economic development will push global waste to increase by 70% over the next 30 years to a staggering 3.40 billion tonnes of waste generated annually.

The same report showed that successful interventions are needed to improve waste management which will help cities become more resilient to the extreme climate occurrences that cause flooding, damage infrastructure and displace communities and their livelihoods.

Responding to this, Olorunfemi said that state governments must realize that waste recycling is one of the numerous value chains in waste management and it is one of the ways materials can be recovered, reused and repurposed.

“Waste recycling enterprises will bring about improvement in air and reduction in carbon emission”, he said. “When you recycle, there is a reduction in the volumes of waste that gets burnt or goes to the dumpsite, reduced stress on the exploitation of natural resources. It creates the prospect for wildlife and ecosystem protection and it provides an opportunity for generating employment”.

He said that the Federal government must review existing policies to accommodate global best practices with the integration of native intelligence and innovation, and provide tax incentives to entrepreneurs who are willing to commence or augment their enterprise in the sector to scale.

“This may not create a waste-free environment immediately, but it will build a foundation to which its success will depend, he said, adding that consistent and sustained advocacy and engagement with the government will make them realize the need to fund the sector that is currently suffering for lack of creativity and capacity on the part of the regulators.  

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