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Why Suleiman Hussein Adamu, Water Resources Minister, feels Nigerians should pay for water

On the face of it, there’s water everywhere. Indeed, water is often likened to the free air that we breathe. Like air, it is generally believed that water is one of the things that nature has freely endowed society with. However, that would be true if nothing was required to make the many types of water from different natural sources – rains, brooks, streams, rivers, oceans, etc – potable. We just must reckon with the fact that human efforts and resources are required to achieve water potability, not just for humans but even for animals and plants. And there is also the fact that there is a nexus between water and health that compels governments to take every step to preserve, conserve and protect natural water sources in order to maintain ecological balance that is critical to environmental sustainability.

The point being made here is that water is a more serious business than we have tended to imagine in this country. Engineer Suleiman Hussein Adamu, Honourable Minister of Water Resources, recently sat with a team from BusinessDay to share his perspectives and opinion on the water supply situation in Nigeria and underscored the fact that “water issues transcend the four years or eight years of an administration”, in the context of his 15-year National Water Resources Roadmap.

What is your outlook on the water situation in Nigeria?
Let me begin by saying that everybody is looking at the next election to see what will be shown. Last week a State Governor, came on courtesy visit and said that in his state, there are over 3 million people, but the water supply scheme can only cater for 1.5 million of them. Even then, the system is not operating at optimal capacity –and that is double jeopardy especially considering the fact that the existing facility is not even up to installed capacity in the face of increasing population.
Until the States begin to plan properly and understand that water issues transcend the four or eight years of an administration, we will continue to have problems in the Water sector.
When I came into office as the Minister, I knew that maybe the best guarantee I had was four years, but I did not plan for four years when I rolled out the National Roadmap for the sector. I planned for 15 years and hoped that whoever succeeds me would continue to work with the Roadmap. So I made sure that the Roadmap touched all the key the issues in the sector to turn around the sector for the good of Nigerians
There are a lot of strategies that we can deploy at the Federal Government level but there is much more that can be done if the states key into it.
Very soon I will have to go round to the states again for an advocacy visit and equally seize the opportunity to talk with them at the Governor ’s forum, and the National Economic Council. Many the State Governors have done well, so we give them credit.

Read also: Understanding the Water Resources Bill

Since the introduction of the Roadmap, which of the states, from your assessment, have stood out in terms of buying into your vision for the sector?
There are quite a number. Plateau, Kaduna, Ekiti and Ondo States are doing quite well. Some other states have launched some initiatives but lack the kind of vigour that I desire to make the required impact in the Sector. However, some of them are not even talking to us.
Even with the PEWASH program (Partnership for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene programme) in which we are trying to support states with 50 percent contribution for rural water supply, there are some states that have not come up to express interest.
We initially had about 12 states which signed onto the protocols. Up till the time that we launched it in 2016, but by the time I left office in May, we had 22 states that had signed onto the programme. And when I came back after my re-appointment, another 11 signed onto the protocols, so we now have 33 but there are still three states that are yet to key in.

We started with the pilot programme and the first two states to show interest were Kano and Ogun. We launched the pilot programme for the two states between 2018 and 2019, and we were able to rehabilitate over 700 water supply schemes in these two states.
We recently launched another intervention for 10 states, then two additional states came up to meet all the stated requirements. You must know that it is not enough for them to signify interest – they must commit their 50 percent project funds. We want to see their budget for Water Supply and, in some cases, we would need to see that they open a separate account to start the programme.
The idea behind PEWASH programme is that we focus on an entire local government area and ensure that it has 100 percent access to water.
Now we are starting with 12 states, the other two states are going to invest their money before we bring our own intervention funds. We did not add them up initially, they came later to indicate that they would be committed to the programme ,and because we have exhausted our funds for the year, we requested that they can join when they have their funds. So at the end of the day, if we intervene in providing water supply in two local government areas and the state does two, we would have four local government areas with complete rural access to water.

How does this programme fit into the food programme of the president?
First of all, we decided to revitalise all the River Basin Development Authorities in the country. Until we came into power, all the River Basin Authorities executing procurement for constituency and the ministry’s projects.
The first question I asked was to know how many hectares of land for irrigation that they have added in the past five years. It became obvious that indeed, they had completely derailed from their functions. We told them that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has made food production a focal activity and that they must key into the scheme, because they are better placed than any other agency to key into the agenda.

We rejigged the management and stopped the River Basins from becoming places where those that failed election were given appointments. We dissolved the managements and decided that whoever would be at the helm of affairs in the different departments would have to be a professional –for instance, if you are heading the finance department, you must be a finance professional; if you are heading engineering, you must be a qualified engineer, and so on. We asked each management to give us a four-year action plan. I scrutinised their budgets personally. If I do not see projects that have to do with increasing agricultural productivity, I will send it back and request them to go and rework it, and in their annual reports I want to see how many hectares of land for irrigation they have added to the already existing ones.
Next to revitalising the River Basins is the National Irrigation Development Programme which I launched to move from 170,000 hectares in 15 years to 500,000 hectares. The country has a potential for about 3.14 million hectares for irrigation. So, at federal level, we want to increase it from 170,000 to half a million hectares by 2030.

We are trying to encourage the states and the private sector to come and develop another 1 million hectares. And, of course, for the private sector operators looking for brown fields, seeing the success in the rice programme, a lot of people are coming around to look for land, from 100 to 2,000 hectares. Sokoto State has acquired some land for their community and in Cross River State, we have 1,000 hectares in one community. There are some communities in Kebbi State, around the banks of the River Niger, with similar land holdings.
The River Basins had a lot of land that was not developed, they had been acquired for many years but left undeveloped. So we told them, ‘If you can’t develop the land let us get people that are interested.’ We have leased about 55,000 hectares of it to commercial farmers. Some of them have, however, not been able to put theirs to use for some finance and security reasons, but in all of this, we are trying all we can to encourage commercial farmers to come in and invest.

In Gurara, we had several hectares allocated to small holder farmers. As at 2019, we compressed the land and allocated same to nine large-scale commercial farmers to provide modern farming. By the end of this year, we should have additional 100,000 hectares under our irrigation development programme. As at the end June this year, we had about 90,000, so we need just 10,000 hectares more, and if we are not able to achieve it, I think 90 percent is fair enough.
Of course, we prioritised all the projects we inherited and we are trying to finish the ones that we can. When I was appointed into this position, I made a decision that we were not going to start any new project because we had about 116 projects which we inherited, including 37 for dams, 38 for irrigation and about 43 for water supply. We carried out extensive professional audit for these projects and made some of them our priority for the next four years, but now, I’m looking at some new projects in irrigation that will bring in another 12,000 hectares. We are working with the World Bank on what we call the ‘Transforming Irrigation Management in Nigeria’ project, which is expected to bring in about 48,000 hectares scheduled for implementation in 2022.

We want to make sure that the River Basins become very relevant. As part of the restructuring, we have reintroduced agriculture extension services. We have also created a new position of Executive Director for Agric. Services.
The next thing we need to do is find a way to equip them because during the privatisation exercise in the 80s, they were compelled to sell their equipment, including heavy-duty equipment. They need those equipment now and it costs a lot of money to procure.
We understand the importance of our role in implementation of the agricultural strategy of this government and we are working towards realisation of that objective.

In terms of states sharing your vision for water supply, do you think there should be a law that mandates states to comply and make them do better?
The Federal Government has done a lot in the different sectors – security, education, health, etc. But the fact remains that if every state and everyone plays his or her part, there will be no problem.
As I speak, the projects envisaged for support by international financial institutions are in danger of being frustrated by politicking and reluctance by some states to meet counterpart obligations, although Water is a basic economic commodity that practically every politician promises voters during election campaigns.

Some politicians during campaign will say, ‘If you elect me, you will not pay for water.’ But why won’t they pay for water?
We have done whatever we need to do. Even the President had declared a state of emergency in the sector – first time in Africa. We launched Partnership for Expanded Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH) programme and the National WASH Action Plan and this is the way the country should go. In that document, you will see clear roles for the Federal Government and roles of the states and local governments.
We are urging all governors to read the document, and keep pushing. The President states in the document: “Henceforth Federal Government’s intervention in any water projects in the states will depend on the commitment of the government of the state to water, sanitation and hygiene”.
I inherited the Central Ogbia Water Supply scheme (in ex- President Jonathan’s community). It was about 80-90 percent completed. When I came into office, I asked that we finish the project. I came in November 2015 and by September 2016, I commissioned it. However, a year later when I sent a team to go and inspect the scheme , the state government had locked it, saying that they cannot afford N2 million monthly to buy diesel and that was how they deprived 13 communities of potable water.

As part of the audit again, I discovered that Federal Government built the Owena Dam. Almost 15 years ago the Federal Government built a new treatment plant for Ondo State, and the state was supposed to do the transmission pipeline, storage and distribution network. Up to that time that had not been done. As at the time when I came into office, the treatment plant was eight years old, still brand new, and still under lock and key. But I give credit to Gov. Akeredolu who has been making effort to secure finance to finish the project.
Owiwi Earth Dam in Ogun State is brand new, with a brand new treatment plant. It’s just for Ogun State government to tap the water, do the transmission, distribution network and overhead tanks. But till today, they have not done these. Only some few days ago, I saw (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo saying he wants to carry out cage fish farming in the dam.

We have over 200 dams built by the Federal Government in the last 40 years. It is left for the states to tap in and provide water for their people or provide irrigation facilities to enhance farming and increase agricultural development for the people. And these governors are aware of all these, but they will still come back and say that the Federal Government should support them. So why should we be making investments without getting the required impact?
Going forward, we have said that we are going to put a lot of conditions on support we are providing for states.
Now, the Federal Government support for urban water scheme is limited to 30 percent and rural water scheme is 50 percent, because the masses need it more, since everybody is drilling his/her own borehole in cities, which also is not sustainable.

Will it be too much to ask that the Federal Government cascade down its function to do a sample project in each region?
That is what we are trying to do now. We are meeting with the World Bank for a $700 million facility. Of this, we are going to commit $350 million for rural water, and states must compete for it. The World Bank has said that it would be performance-based. Our plan is that we want to take a city from each geo-political zone and make it a model city by providing 100 percent coverage. But the states will be the ones to borrow the money. Unfortunately, the World Bank says they will likely approve only half of the money for now because of the Covid-19 pandemic; the rest will come in 2022.

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