What a waste: fact-checking four claims about Nigeria’s garbage problem

Claims

Four claims about waste and population in Nigeria

Source: The Guardian newspaper, Nigeria (May 2019)

checked

Verdict

Two unproven, one mostly correct and one incorrect

  • A newspaper article urging more recycling in Nigeria made a number of claims about the waste produced in the country.
  • Its claim that Nigeria produced 0.65 kilograms of waste per person a day was mostly correct. But not data shows that the country generates over 62 tonnes of waste a year.
  • Two claims on Lagos’s waste generation and the city’s population were unproven.


Piling waste posed a “grave danger” to people in Nigeria, a national newspaper said, putting them at risk of environmental hazards and epidemics.

As Africa’s most populous country struggled to come to grips with the problem, recycling solid waste could help prevent disasters, Nigeria’s Guardian said in May 2019

The article made a number of claims about waste in Nigeria. We checked four of them. 

Claim

“Nigeria generates over 62 million tonnes of waste a year.”

Verdict

incorrect

The article’s statistics were gathered during a development awards ceremony in Lagos in March 2019, its author Adaku Onyenucheya told Africa Check.

She could not recall who had provided the figures as a recording had been lost. But she said she had been referring to waste in general, not only solid waste as the headline of the report suggests.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization defines waste as “material left over after products have been made by producers and after they have been used by consumers”.

We traced the figure of 62 million tonnes to a 2012 World Bank report titled What a waste: A global review of solid waste management

But the statistic was for sub-Saharan Africa. The report estimated that Nigeria alone produced 40,959 tonnes of municipal solid waste a day, or 14.95 million tonnes a year. 

It defined municipal solid waste as waste collected by municipalities from residences, industries, institutions and construction.

The 2018 edition of the report has data for 2016, when solid waste generation in Nigeria rose to 34.6 million tonnes. But it did not have data on non-solid or liquid waste, according to the bank’s Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience unit. 

We therefore rate this claim as incorrect based on the most recent publicly available national data. 

How were these figures calculated?

To arrive at its most recent estimate, the World Bank relied on a number of sources. These included peer-reviewed journal articles and cited academic papers. Where data was not available, it relied on its studies and those from other donors or project documents. 

Models were then used to project future waste generation. These suggested that Nigeria would produce 54.8 million tonnes of solid waste in 2030, and 107 million tonnes in 2050.

There was an acute lack of data on waste management in Nigeria and many other African countries, said Prof Oladele Osibanjo, president of the Lagos-based Waste Management Society of Nigeria.

The National Bureau of Statistics told Africa Check it did not have data on waste generated by Nigerians.

Waste generation was a “highly variable parameter” affected by factors such as the city and even the seasons, said Dr Chidozie Nnaji, a water resources and environmental engineering researcher at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Nnaji said most waste generation studies were localised, and there was a danger in “over-generalising” their results.

Claim

“Each person [in Nigeria] generates an average of 0.65 kg of waste per day.”

Verdict

mostly-correct

In its 2018 report, the World Bank estimated that each person in Nigeria generated an average of 0.5 kilograms of solid waste a day in 2016.

The report gave Nigeria’ population as 186 million people in 2016. But the country’s statistics bureau estimated the 2016 population at just over 193 million. There’s been no official population count since 2006, and those figures were mired in controversy. 

Other sources showed that each person’s average waste generation was close to the claim, analysts told Africa Check. 

A survey of waste management in Abuja by Chibueze Ogwueleka, published in 2013, estimated it at 0.63 kilograms per person. 

Obiora Ezeudu is an environmental engineer and researcher at the centre for environmental management and control, University of Nigeria.

He told Africa Check that this study “assumed that Abuja has equal representation of all Nigerian entities in terms of culture and ethnicity and socio-economic”. These factors influenced the waste generation rate, Ezeudu said.  

Dr Thaddeus Nzeadibe, a senior lecturer in the geography department of the University of Nigeria, said Ogwueleka’s rate of 0.63 kilograms per person was a sound estimate. 

“I don’t seem to have an idea of any other study done on Nigeria’s per capita waste generation,” said Nzeadibe, who has a doctorate in environmental management. “His rate is a clear representation of Nigeria’s per capita waste generation.”

But he added that “because it was done in 2013, it is possible the rate would change if the study was done in 2019”.

Claim

“Lagos has an estimated 21 million inhabitants.”

Verdict

unproven

In 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics estimated Lagos’s population at 12.6 million.

But this figure is contested. The Lagos state government’s website says the population is 21 million, the number given in the Guardian’s article. 

What could explain this difference? Dr Isiaka Olanrewaju is the data agency’s director of household statistics. He told Africa Check that to estimate Nigeria’s 2016 population, the agency used both its own survey and projections from the National Population Commission. 

But Lagos took a different approach, Olarewaju said.

“The commission based its calculations on who was seen physically during the census, whereas Lagos state based its calculations on those who were usual residents of Lagos state, whether seen or not seen during the period.”

Claim

“Lagos has an estimated waste generation of over 15,000 tonnes every day.”

Verdict

unproven

The Lagos Waste Management Authority is responsible for the state’s waste collection and disposal.

Dr Ola Oresanya has headed the agency for more than 10 years. He chose to use a “safe” population figure 20 million, and estimated that an average person in Lagos generated 0.5 kilograms of waste daily.  

But this “may have increased to 0.6 kilograms because of an increase in affluence and rate of generation”, he told Africa Check. The city produced about 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes of all forms of waste a day, he estimated. 

But, again, Lagos’s population is contested, with estimates ranging from 12 million to 21 million. And the World Bank’s 2018 report estimated that only 10% of the city’s waste was collected.

We therefore rate the claim as unproven.

Additional reading 

 

 

 

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