Cholera outbreak: Pipeborne water disappears, Nigerians drink anything –Investigation

•Water plants/schemes moribund

•Boreholes, wells, rivers, rain water to the rescue

•Cholera killed over 3, 000 in 2021 –NCDC

Nigerians are in a catch 22 situation over the lack of pipe borne water across many states of the federation. JOHNSON AYANTUNJI reports that scarcity of portable water has led to many contracting cholera, which by official statistics has killed more people than the Coronavirus pandemic in the country

Olu Adepomoye, an editor with a national newspaper is nostalgic about his childhood. He relishes the events, which he witnessed, especially when he was in primary school in his native Ile – Oluji, now Ondo State. One of such events was the day the Military Governor of the Old Western State, Brigadier Oluwole Rotimi, visited his area.

They lined the road and were waving mini green – white – green flags of Nigeria. They sang and were enthralled at the sight of the governor, who rode in a Mercedes car with a convoy of government officials. Everywhere was spiky and sparkled.

The governor drove towards the mini water plant which a few days before was on a test run. After a while, water came out of the tap everywhere the metal had been installed. That was it! For the first time, most of the inhabitants of the rural community saw water gushing out of the tap. That was in 1971. Elsewhere, in faraway Funtua, the defunct North Central State, then Military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon was on a working visit to the headquarters of the former Northern Region.

As part of his itinerary, he went to Karmanje, where the Mairuwa Dam and water treatment plant were built. Like in Ile – Oluji, primary school children lined the Funtua – Zaria – Sokoto Road to welcome the Head of State. They sang and waved their miniature flags as the Head of State went and came back while the pupils with their teachers waited to catch a glimpse of the man of the moment.

Just about the time the Head of State turned on the light to commission the project, water came out of the taps where the public taps had been installed. It was the talk of town as residents relished and celebrated an end to drawing water from the hand dug wells.

That was the beginning of a new era in Nigeria as the military administration embarked on one development project or the other, especially in the rural communities.

Also, a year before, precisely in 1970, Nigeria’s civil war had ended and the military engaged in aggressive development of the rural as well as the urban centres with the construction of water projects and schemes. In Western State, the military government in 1972 commissioned the Asejire Dam on Osun River, which supplies water to Asejire and Osegere Water treatment plants in Ibadan.

The Federal Government started the Goronyo Dam in 1984 and commissioned the same in 1992. It has a storage capacity of 97million m3 At the return to civil rule in 1979, the civilian administrations took up the gauntlet as the political parties in an attempt to win the hearts of the electorates embarked on construction of more water schemes and expanding the existing ones.

For instance, in Imo State, the Late Chief Sam Mbakwe administration executed the most elaborate water infrastructure and reticulation works in Imo State.the Mbaise- Obowu water scheme is one residents of the state can’t forget in a hurry.

In Katsina State, there are no less than seven dams scattered across the state to cater for the farming, domestic and other uses of the residents. They are found in Jibia, Zobe, Dutsinma, Malumfashi, Mairuwa, Funtua, to mention a few.

The government of late Brigadier General Samuel Ogbemudia (1967–1975) then governor of Mid-West State, established the State Urban Water Board which distributed clean pipe-borne water to the urban and semiurban towns in the old Mid-West, now Edo and Delta states.

Sunday Telegraph’s investigations revealed that barely three decades after, most of the dams and water treatment plants have fallen on bad times as they no longer function and where they are functioning, not at the installed capacity.

Nature has taken its toll on the Goronyo Dam basin which provides water for farmers, fishermen and families. It has dropped dramatically. In the past year, the water levels have dropped to just 10 per cent of its capacity, forcing authorities to ration water to homes.

This much, the Manager of Sokoto Water Board, Ahmed Moyi Tambuwal, confirmed in an interview with Aljazeerah. He said: “The Water coming to the water plant is not sufficient to cater for the population. The State government secured water tanks to supply water to the households. But not all the households get water. They are forced to rely on unsafe water from the stream and rivers.”

In Imo State, former governors Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim also built a good number of water schemes to ensure adequate water supply across the state. But all these have either been abandoned or become unserviceable.

In one of his open letters to the then Governor Rochas Okorocha’s administration, Ohakim outlined his extensive construction and rehabilitation of water schemes across the state while lamenting how Okorocha allowed those prized projects to dilapidate and go into disuse.

Under the Okorocha’s administration, what was left of the water infrastructure in Owerri was destroyed when the government was executing its urban renewal program. With heavy duty machines destroying and excavating water pipes laid underground by Israeli companies under the Sam Mbakwe administration.

The Water Board/works around IMSU Junction was at some point relocated and some of the hardly moveable infrastructure cannibalized or destroyed. That agency never recovered to discharge any meaningful service until Emeka Ihedioha assumed office in 2019.

Consequently, for more than a decade, Owerri residents have been without pipe borne water supply.

In Anambra State, before the Court sacked his administration, current Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige in 2006, had revived the water supply at Ugwu Tank Amawbia, Onitsha Water Scheme and that of Awka which functioned for about two years before he left office.

Similarly, his successor, Mr. Peter Obi completed the Obizi Water Scheme to serve parts of Aguata, Orumba South and its neighbouring towns but there was no reticulation as at then.

Even workers at the State Water Corporation have been on strike for over 20 years now with several litigations between it and the successive state governments till date. Places like Anambra East, West, Ogbaru , Anyamelum Local Government Areas use the Omabala and River Niger as sources oftheir water supply.

It is the same with Nnewi North, South, Ihiala, and Ekwusigo Council Areas which rely on Ulasi River, which they supplement with bore holes for domestic use. Sunday Telegraph’s further investigationrevealed that except in Lagos, Kano and Taraba states, pipe borne water has disappeared as all the water treatment schemes either constructed by the military or the civilian administration are no longer functioning.

Similarly, the taps have gone dry as the pipes which carry the ‘source of life’ have either given way to road construction or houses built over them. Simply put, no more pipe borne water. In Edo State, the taps have dried up. Various facilities scattered across the state are all broken down, and none functional, while the ministry exists only on paper.

In Oyo State, the Asejire Water Works along Ife Road and the Eleyele Water Dam in Ibadan have for ages been attracting turnaround maintenance, but many people spoken to during the week said water does not flow in their taps. Many public taps of old have also gone into extinction.

People in the rural areas find solace in deep wells and streams for their livelihood (both drinking and washing). How then do the people get water for their domestic use? Edward Osaretin, 55, a Landlord on Jesus Christ Street, off Upper Sakponba, a downtown in Ikpoba Okha LGA of Edo State, recollected when he was growing up in Benin City in the 80s and 90s.

He said: “I was brought up at the back of Stadium (Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium). That is where my father’s house is located. Those days we drank and filled our water bottles from taps when going to school and it was alien to talk about sinking boreholes because the public water supply was working.

“Today, the reverse is the case. If you don’t have a borehole, you will not get water to drink. You can see that everybody today has a borehole which does not come easy.

Cholera outbreak: Pipeborne water disappears, Nigerians drink anything –Investigation

When I built this house some years ago, I paid just N50,000 to sink the borehole but today, the cost is over 400,000(Four Hundred Thousand naira only). It was Osunbor’s administration as governor that we saw running water last.”

He has a soul mate in a resident of Ibara GRA, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Segun Olukoya, who said that he spends between N9, 000 to N12, 000 monthly to buy water. He said: “A tank of water measuring 2,000 litres costs N3, 000 and my family will exhaust it within a week. We have four weeks in a month. So, roughly, I spend between N12, 000 monthly. It’s that bad.”

“Since the beginning of this dry season, I have spent more money on buying water than I used to do.”

Another resident, Michael Adesegun, said: “Honestly, the water scarcity is a serious matter. No tap water and the well water have dried off. Like, you know, water is an essential commodity. I always buy 2,000 litres of water at the rate of N3, 000 every three weeks. “Now that I have a baby, it is every two weeks because of the washing and other things. It is tiring. Since I moved into this area, no water.”

He continued: “The private water suppliers sold 1,000 litres for N2,000 instead of N1,500 but we can’t complain because we need the commodity. The water we are talking about is even borehole not pipeborne water. Government should please come to our aid.”

However, this has come with a consequence. The Journal of Environment and Science in its 2017 report on Trend in Access to Safe Water Supply said “Most water supply pipes in the country were laid in the 1970s. There has been little replacement or construction of new pipelines. This has occasioned the problem of burst pipes, leading to huge wastage of the already scarce resource.”

This has in turn led to water borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, drancunliasis, hepatitis etc. Talking about water borne diseases, Nigerians, who boarded one way flight to the land of no return in one year (2021), were more than those Coronavirus killed in two years.

Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said that Nigeria recorded a little more than 3,600 deaths from Cholera in 11 months while the total fatalities recorded from Coronavirus since 2020 when the index case was recorded stood at 2,977as at last December. Little wonder Nigeria recorded a total of 111, 062 cases of cholera infections as Jigawa, Bauchi, Kano and Zamfara had 19, 588, 15, 141, 12, 116 and 11, 931, respectively.

If the reports coming out from those who should know are anything to go by, the future is bleak. Witpress said as at 2013, Nigeria had 65,000 boreholes and other ground water points.

This, no doubt, might have doubled as the need for water increases with the country’s population ratio doubling per year. For most Nigerians, it is a Catch 22 situation, as the sources of the water are suspect. For instance, Abuja, which supposedly has the best water treatment plant in Nigeria is still not safe to drink for lack of capacity and power cuts.

The Lagos Water Corporation on its website stated that the water produced in the plant meets the highest standards, and that it supplies “safe drinking water in sufficient and regular quantity to over 12.5 million people in Lagos State”. However, the water is often contaminated in the distribution network and people distrust tap water quality.

Since the raw water in the lagoon too is polluted, the city gets its water from the Ogun and Owo rivers. Biomedigrid, in its 2019 report, said Kano City depends on River Challawa as its main water supply source for domestic and industrial uses.

The portable water produced in the city meets the WHO recommended standards for potable water and ensures the suitability of the water for human consumption. However, Industrial effluents activities contributed immensely in making the river water sources unfit for human and irrigation purposes.

Water, which is treated by different Municipal bodies, meets all drinking water quality standards at the treatment plant and at the point where the water enters the distribution system. The highest values of Fe, Cu and Mn were recorded along the older distribution channel of Challawa.

The levels of Pb and Cr were generally high in both routes which are also observed in the raw water used at the two treatment plants. The results obtained from heavy metal concentrations fell within the maximum allowable limit set by the WHO for portable water except in the cases of Pb and Cr. From Sokoto to Lagos, Port Harcourt to Markudi, Oyo to Niger State, Anambra to Bayelsa, Nigerians pay through their noses to get water whose sources are suspect.

For instance, multi-million naira water supply scheme, tagged Pansenke – Onikolobo Water Supply Scheme, located in Abeokuta South Local Government Area of the state and which is meant to supply water to some parts of the state capital has been abandoned by the government.

For many years now, the water scheme has been lying fallow, thereby compounding the hardships of the people. Our correspondent gathered that the contract for the construction of the water scheme was awarded to a company for N383 million in December 2012 and as at 2013, N204 million had been paid to the contractor. The contract was awarded through the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA), as initiated by the former Speaker, House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.

A report from the Auditor General of the Federation indicated that during the physical inspection of the project in 2016, the project had been abandoned and most aspects of work claimed to have been executed had deteriorated. Also, some items and equipment had been vandalised; a development which suggests that no value for money was derived from the project, the report added.

Furthermore, it stated that N33million was unaccounted for on the project and therefore, the AGF requested “the Managing Director to recover and refund to treasury the sum of N33million being expenditure not accounted for and forward recovery particulars for verification.” The station, it was gathered, was built to supply water to Panseke, Onikolobo, Gbokoniyi, Adigbe, among other communities.

According to findings, the station has an underground reservoir of about 25,000 cubic centimeter where water from the main production station, at Akomoje, is stored, for onward distribution to Adigbe, Panseke, Onikolobo and other areas under the sub-station.

However, in its effort to solve the challenges of water supply in the state, the Governor Dapo Abiodun – led administration had embarked on the rehabilitation of the Arakanga Old Water Works in Abeokuta.

The rehabilitation work included installation of five ‘Barage Gates’ which, according to the governor, would allow for proper damming and effective distribution of drinkable water to the people.

The governor attributed ceasing in supply of water across the state to the failure of the immediate past administration to mandate contractors handling various road constructions to repair water installations they destroyed. It is a common practice to see water vendors with carts (omolanke) loaded with jerry cans filled with water they buy from borehole owners, and then re-sold to households and offices that need them.

Those who cannot afford to buy carts of water are seen with buckets dangling on their shoulders to supply. Many residents, who can afford it, employ the services of old women, or young jobless ones, to fetch water for them from wherever available and get paid for the quantity supplied. In Makurdi, Benue State, the situation is no less different. Residents are usually worried about their health during the peak period of scarcity which falls between November and April.

Despite the presence of huge water bodies in the state, the situation most residents face across the 23 local government areas becomes tougher every dry season. In the past, the State Ministry of Water Resources blamed the inconsistent power supply, pipe line vandalism and sabotage as the major challenges as the cause of the grossly inadequate water supply in the state. Mrs. Wandoo Michael, a resident of David Mark Bypass in Makurdi, lamented that since the beginning of this year, the water board hadn’t been consistent in supplying water around her vicinity and that the hand-dug wells as well as boreholes which her family rely on for their water need had dried up.

She said: “The situation has worsened since February and as I speak to you, getting water vendors to supply water has also become as difficult as sourcing for gold.

There is no water anywhere. We are really suffering. “Most mornings, I trek to long distances in search of water. Oftentimes, the water vendors too are helpless as to where to find water and when they do, we are meant to cough out between N500 and N700 for a wheelbarrow containing 10 jerry cans of 20 litres each.”

Also narrating her experience, a resident in Wadata, Comfort Terfa, corroborated Mrs. Michael, as she stressed that potable water has now become an impossible task staring at the faces of residents on a daily basis despite the presence of large water bodies in the state. “The situation is really worrisome. I buy 10 jerry cans of water every day at N600 and that’s not even enough to cater for the water needs of my family of six persons”.

Sunday Telegraph gathered from Katsina- Ala, Gboko, Oju, Ogbadigbo and Gwer West Local Government Areas that the water challenge was more excruciating in their areas such that in some of their surroundings, the inhabitants have resorted to digging the dry river grounds just to scoop muddied water. The water problem has also given rise to a sharp increase in the prices of sachet and bottle water by their producers.

Sunday Telegraph investigation revealed that the scarcity is unconnected with the over N1.5 billion owed the state water board by top politicians and other appointees of the government in the past 10 years. Closely linked to the scarcity, according to findings is the massive disconnection of electricity supply which would have helped in the pumping of water by the Jos Electricity Distribution company over alleged non-payment of electricity bills.

The state government has accumulated over N40 million debts. General Manager of the state Water Board, Engr. Gideon Adue Shenge, let the cat out of the bag. Shenge lamented that most of the debtors of the board are highly placed appointees of government whom he noted are in the habit of defaulting payment of just N2, 000 being water bills per month. Engr. Shenge also disclosed that lack of power supply, non-supply of diesel due to shortage of funds, lack of chemicals for water purification amongst several challenges have negatively affected their operations.

The Water Board helmsman hinted that since he assumed duty in 2019, the board generates between over N1 million to N500, 000 monthly on sale of water to private and corporate organizations within the state.

He noted that: “100% of the amount is remitted to the Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS) and they in turn keep 75 per cent for running of the board which is sometimes just N200,000”. “We spend as much as N650, 000 for repair and reticulation of water to four major areas of Makurdi town including Lobi-Kwararafa, two areas in North Bank and Katsina-Ala Street.

“The old and new water works have a capacity for 100,000 cubic meter of water but we are dispensing 50,000 cubic metre daily”. When Sunday Telegraph visited the Greater Makurdi Water Works, it was observed that water vendors popularly called “Mairuwa” were making brisk business as a jerrican of water was sold at N30; just as big water tankers were seen lifting water at the cost of N2, 500 and N2, 000 for small tanks.

Additional reports by Sola Adeyemo, Steve Uzoechi, Babatope Okeowo, Dan Atori, Emmanuel Masha, Adewumi Ademiju, Olufemi Adediran, Francis Ogbuagu, Pauline Onyibe, Okey Maduforo, Adewale Momoh, Clement James, Cephas Iorhemen, Uchenna Inya, Stephen Olufemi Oni, Umar Abdullahi, Ahmed Sani, Igbeaku Orji, Ladesope Ladelokun and Ifeoma Ononye