Waste overflooding a street in Enugu

11.06.2022 Featured SPECIAL REPORT: Enugu, City So Dirty Residents ‘Can Hardly Breathe’

Published 11th Jun, 2022

By Joseph Adeiye

Enugu State was once one of Nigeria’s neatest, but increased migration to the state plus poor planning by the state government has left it with a huge waste disposal headache that is both a nuisance to aesthetics and a continuing source of health hazards, writes JOSEPH ADEIYE, who spent a week in the state.

A pleasant trip to Enugu metropolis is bound to be rudely interrupted by spilling bags of trash. The dirty problem of sanitation has stuck with a state that was once considered one of Nigeria’s neatest.

In fact, Enugu was neat until mismanagement messed many of its corners. Now, the Enugu populace, including a tribe that considers dirt abominable, have had to make unending complaints about waste mismanagement.


Massive garbage takes over most of this road around Uwani
Massive garbage takes over most of this road around Uwani || PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Adeiye/FIJ

One would be confronted by hygiene sacrilege on numerous occasions. No matter where you went, you were welcome by smells of rotten food and fruits oozing from dirt cans.

“Enugu is so dirty, we can hardly breathe,” Amazing-Grace Ajayi once complained in a Facebook post in March.

A number of areas in Enugu have been putting unhealthy eyesores on display. Public spaces have become litters. The streets were often dominated by dumpsters overflowing with garbage, with little pieces of paper and plastic tossed on the road by the afternoon wind. Aside the state house and some government offices, waste bins were inadequate for the abundance of trash disposed in different locations around Enugu.

Benjamin Emefili, a resident, told FIJ Enugu had experienced a significant population growth in the last few years. He believes the increase in the number of residents have also increased the waste by a couple metric tonnes.

“More people have been coming to live in Enugu in the past five years or so,” he said. “Suddenly, the waste just became too much and we started to see waste everywhere. I don’t know why the waste management agency has not done anything to fix the mess, though. It has been getting dirtier for almost five years now.”

In 2017, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of the state, vowed to make “radical changes” if the Enugu State Waste Management Agency (ESWAMA) failed to curb the growing filth on Enugu roads. He also set up a taskforce to assist ESWAMA in its duties.

Five years later, Enugu remains as dirty as ever. The trucks struggle to keep up with the daily load of garbage they must gobble up. Messy heaps continue to reappear by the main roads every waking day.


Enugu was so dirty in 2019 that Ruggedman, the famed artiste, supported an organised promotion for environmental sanitation. Fifty million naira was up for grabs as Enugu residents were encouraged to keep their environs clean.

Cleaning champions were expected to clean up the streets and be rewarded with between N2,000 and N10,000 for their videos and images. One @Enebechi convened the #EnuguTrashChallenge in 2019.

Enugu Trash Challenge

“You all should get involved. Tell your neighbour to tell his until everybody gets involved. @MrEnebechi is not government, he does not own Enugu State, he is just a private citizen who wants you and me to stay healthy by keeping our environments clean,” Ruggedman tweeted.


Scores of videos and pictures showed up for the Enugu trash challenge. Trash was not too hard to find in Enugu. The denizens of Enugu have tried to keep their city clean; the problem is its disposal.

Solid waste disposal has negatively impacted health in particular. The 2021 New Artisan Market tragedy was testament to this.

Trash left on the streets of New Haven
Trash left on the streets of New Haven || PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Adeiye/FIJ

READ ALSO: Corps Member Rescues Kwara Community From Environmental Decay


New Artisan livestock market
New Artisan livestock market || PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Adeiye/FIJ

Poor sanitation is estimated to cause 432,000 diarrhoeal deaths every year. In 2021, about 20 Enugu residents joined the statistics of sanitation deaths.

Emmanuel Ikechukwu Obi, Enugu State Commissioner for Health, confirmed a cholera outbreak in the New Artisan livestock market on July 17, 2021. The cholera outbreak claimed at least 14 lives and infected over 20 other persons.

At the New Artisan livestock market, a dirty canal big enough to be mistaken for a stream stretched from beneath a flyover bridge and flowed by the side of the market. Cattle stood on the hilltop of the other end of the market. Just down the slope of the hill on which cows, goats, and rams were kept was that dirty canal. The canal carried garbage, solid waste, and shit in its characteristic brown waters.

From the vantage point of the livestock hill, three men were noticeable: one was washing hide while the other two appeared to be rinsing rags in the same canal. They were actually using the canal as a stream!


New Artisan Market Canal
New Artisan Market Canal || PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Adeiye/FIJ

“We don’t have any other water to use,” Sanni Umar told FIJ.

The canal that looks like a small river along the market is surrounded by enough garbage for a dump. It was a dump.

Garbage dumps in New Artisan market |
Garbage dumps in New Artisan market || PHOTO CREDIT: Joseph Adeiye/FIJ

“We sell here in New Artisan Market. People use that water to bathe and to wash. Some people also come to get the water for building constructions,” he said.

“We have to get sachet water to drink; some people buy for those tankers in buckets for N50. People were sick last year; it’s because the whole place is dirty. There are no boreholes in this market. There is no water; it is this dirty water we use. If you want to drink water, you must pay for it.”

A few traders admitted that they were left to their own devices. There was no government or authoritative intervention in sight.

Those desperate enough for water gauged the dirty stream water for personal use. No one would dare consume that water, but laundry and washing are chores the canal is utilised for sometimes.


Garbage overwhelms dumpster and ESWAMA officials at Old Park.
Garbage overwhelms dumpster and ESWAMA officials at Old Park. PHOTO CREDIT || Joseph Adeiye/FIJ

The recurring theme of trash heaps popping up at street corners point at the very obvious challenge of trash dumping. There are less dumpsters and trash cans on the streets than required. ESWAMA needs to keep the trash properly tucked in the dumpsters pending the time they wait for disposal. More trash cans, dumpsters, and waste bins are urgently needed around Enugu to keep the trash out of sight.

Scholars Bernard Okpe and Chika Ogbuthe have suggested that Enugu should approach waste management by recycling and reusing waste. 

They recognised the ineffective approaches of ESWAMA and recommended mobilisation of more work forces for the agency.

“Funding and provision of necessary waste management tools and equipment will go a long way to get dirt off the streets,” they said in their 2016 publication for the IMT International Journal of the Arts and Sciences (IJOTAS).

“The government must publicise its strict environmental policies and sanction offenders after providing the necessary public waste disposal equipment.”

When FIJ contacted ESWAMA for comments on the state’s filth levels, it failed to respond to repeated messages via email and direct messages on social media. Its most recent post of Facebook was in December 2018 (the only post in 2018), proving communication is not the agency’s strong suit.

This investigation was published with development support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)

Published 11th Jun, 2022

By Joseph Adeiye


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