According to Spiegel Online, a German newspaper, tonnes of hazardous electronic waste from Germany find their way into Nigeria daily.
According to the story; “Billstrasse”, a community, “about five kilometers from the port of Hamburg, is the hub of a global bill of exchange. Before the shops, old stereo systems and yellowed refrigerators are loaded daily in minivans” from where they make their way to West Africa with Nigeria as the ultimate destination.
With a population of over 170 million and borders so porous and corruptly manned, Nigeria often serves as the final destination for used goods from all over the world.
The report from Spiegel Online indicates that most of the used electronics that end up in Africa’s biggest market, are polluting the living environments. This also means putting millions of Nigerians in harm’s way.
According to the story; “Dismantled, old equipment contains hazardous chemicals and metals such as PCBs (Poly Chloro Biphenyls). For this reason, it is illegal to export the electrical waste to countries which have poorer recycling methods than their own. This is how the Basel Convention on the Control of Hazardous Wastes, which is anchored in EU law, was born.
“No African country has methods to adequately recycle toxic electronic waste. Although Germany made the decision in 2015 to test all used products before exporting, thousands of tonnes of electronic devices are shipped across the borders every year”.
The report suggests that lax border controls and endemic corruption aid and abet the practice of dumping hazardous electronics in Nigeria.
Nigeria's economy has long being a smuggling boon.
Customs and immigration officials in the country have often been accused of looking the other way and ripping apart quality control codes once their palms have been greased.
“Every day”, writes the Spiegel, “around fifty containers of used electronic goods arrive at West Africa's largest electrical market in Nigeria's million-kilometer Lagos. The traders at the Alaba International Market are accustomed to the fact that many of the imported products are not intact.
"Of a hundred computers that have come in, maybe thirty are perfect, with seventy there is some difficulty, says the dealer Carl”.
Carl sells laptops, which are unloaded from a container, at a small desk under an umbrella. Around him are humans, tangled cables, pile up DVD players.
From the big electronic markets like the one in Alaba, electronic waste end up in landfills in Ojota where scavengers are often seen picking through piles of hazardous waste without safety protection.
“Every year, 400,000 tonnes of electronic waste are produced in Nigeria. Because the country does not have adequate recycling facilities, an informal chain of scrap workers takes over this function.
“About fifty of them work at Tajudeen, in a backyard in the north of Lagos. They move with metal trucks through the streets of the big city, read old metal and buy all sorts of electronics. The often underage workers hand over old mainboards by hand. Once the units are dismantled, Tajudeen sells the valuable materials - aluminum, copper, iron and gold - to private buyers.
“A risky merit: recycling is dangerous for the workers themselves and their environment, says Oladele Osibanjo. He is Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Nigeria's leading expert on electronic scrap. "It's not just electronics thrown away, it's the harmful chemicals," the story reads.
Aside from its infamous porous borders, Nigeria also struggles with cleaning up its environment--with dangerous chemicals and waste materials often ending up in rivers, lagoons and freshwater sources.
Rüdiger Kühr, a German expert on electronic waste, says Nigeria doesn’t have the infrastructure and technology to deal with the challenge of electronic waste.
To deal with the monumental problem, Kühr says, Europe must avoid "that our electronics end up as a threat to the environment" in Africa.
European institutions and companies could cooperate with countries such as Nigeria and buy back e-waste, suggests Kühr.
For now, however, hazardous second hand electronic appliances and scrap are making their way across Nigeria’s porous borders as you read this.
Calls placed to the publicly available phone lines of the Ministry of Environment and the Customs Office in Nigeria for a reaction to this report, were neither answered nor returned at the time of filing this story.