• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Lagosians battle water shortage despite N16bn budgetary allocation for corporation in 5 years

Lagos masterplan: The canal, right of way, and the politics in between

Water, just like food, is a basic need in the day-to-day activities of humans. In Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city, the residents, however, grapple for survival of water, despite the existence of the Lagos Water Corporation. While some spend huge capital to drill boreholes, others capitalise on buying water for daily use. Damilola Olufemi, in this report, documents their experiences and how Lagos allocated N16bn into the corporation between 2019 and 2023; yet, Lagosians find it difficult to get potable water.

Read also: Nestle, two others to raise awareness of water conservation

In late March, Collins was met in the Ikoyi axis of Lagos State, where he was relaxing after having his breakfast in a restaurant simply called ‘Mama Put’.

Collins, a resident of Jakande in the Lekki area of the state, while sharing his experience and inability to get water, expressed that the water in his locality is so bad that “it looks like chocolate.”

He expressed his displeasure over the inability to get quality water and how much of his finances have been diverted into the purchase of water for himself and his family members.

“We don’t have water in Jakande. Our water is bad. We buy water and 25 litres of water cost N300,” he said.

Collins narrates his inability to get quality water and how much of his finances have been swerved into the purchase of water. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

Following this, Collins disclosed he spends between N6,000 and N7,000 weekly to get water just for domestic use. On average, amongst other expenses, he spends N24,000 on the purchase of water every month just for domestic use.

“I buy sachets and table water to drink, and that costs a lot. In a week, at least, I spend N2,000 on sachet water,” he said while giving the figure of how much he spends on drinking water.

Read also: Cholera looms in Plateau as residents resort to untreated water consumption

The financial cost involved also could not allow him and his family to buy chemicals to treat the colourful water in his locality.

He decried the high cost of chemicals for water treatment as another challenge.

“If you want to treat water, the expense is too much. I don’t have money to treat water. The chemicals to treat water are so expensive,” he lamented.

Collins, while sharing how this has affected him with our correspondent, said he had no other option but to resort to managing and reusing water since “there is no money.”

“I manage the water because of the financial cost and implications. Managing it in the sense that the water used to wash clothes/plates would still be used to flush the toilet,” he sighed.

Lagos Water Corporation

The Lagos Water Corporation (LWC) was named Federal Water Supply in 1910 with the construction of Iju Water Works commissioned by Mr. Lord Lugard, the then governor-general of Lagos, in 1915 at Obun Eko Area of Lagos to supply water to the colonial residents of Ikoyi back then.

The agency, which is currently under the Lagos State Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, was changed in 1979 to Lagos State Water Management Board by the first executive governor of the state, Lateef Jakande, and was formally launched in 1986 by the then Military Administrator of Lagos State, Group Captain Gbolahan Mudashiru.

However, in 2004, the former governor of the state and incumbent president, Bola Tinubu, renamed it to Lagos Water Corporation by Lagos State Water Sector Law (No. 14).

According to the agency, it “operates as a state government parastatal with the responsibility of providing potable and safe water to over 18.0 million people in Lagos state.”

Information on its website as of April 2, 2024, noted that it has developed a Lagos Water Supply Master plan to increase the water production capacity to 745 million gallons per day by the year 2020, addressing the challenge of water shortage and ensuring a steady supply for the growing population of Lagos.

However, after four years, residents of the state have yet to enjoy regular water supply from the corporation. Its motto, “Working to serve you better,” seems not to sit well as residents now find succour in purchasing water from ‘Meruwas’ (water sellers) while others drill boreholes for the usage of water rather than rely on the corporation.

A group of meruwa pushing trucks to deliver water. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

Read also: Caverton Marine: Promoting water transport using Nigeria-made passenger ferries

The need for Lagos residents to get water supplied on demand led to the formation of the Lagos State Water Tanker Drivers and Owners Association, with its headquarters in Ikoyi.

The chairman of the association, Solola Olufemi, disclosed that the association relocated from the Inner Marina part of the state to its current location and has existed for 40 years.

The Ogun State indigene, who described himself as “Oluomo Oluomi” (head of water tankers), said he once worked as an ad-hoc staff for the federal government when Lagos was the capital of Nigeria.

His work during this period was to supply water to houses of government officials for a monthly remuneration.

Mr Olufemi explains the formation of the association. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

“I was fortunate to work then as an ad-hoc staff. While I was working with them, we were given letters about where we supply water to officers’ houses. We supply the water, park the trucks and go home, and at the end of the month, we get our salary,” he said.

However, the relocation of the nation’s federal capital from Lagos to Abuja led some of the workers across the ministries to delve into the business of water supply by trucks in the state.

“We in the business as workers for the ministries, we felt water is their problem in Lagos. It is something we can invest in. We took the advantage and we started investing in the business. That’s how we formed it,” Olufemi said.

The cost of supplying water by the association, as seen on its price list by our correspondent, as of March ranges between N25,000 and N40,000, depending on the location of delivery.

“Majorly, the least amount of tanker we have is 10,000 litres,” the association chairman said. He, however, did not disclose the number of tankers that deliver water daily. Instead, he said, “It is based on demand and also difficult to ascertain.”

Olufemi explained that many years ago, water in a 10,000-litre capacity tanker was supplied at N3,000. However, the same quantity has increased to N25,000 for deliveries within Ikoyi.

He blamed the hike in price on the high cost of fuel, saying, “That is why the price is so difficult to even determine.”

Citing some of the challenges faced by the association, Olufemi disclosed that the inability to get its land has been a major concern as its current location is being leased.

“The major concern of ours is land. Each time I see and wake, I pray someone could just gift us land. Tomorrow, if the owner of this land says I want to build on it, that means we have to relocate,” he said.

Lagos State Water Tanker Drivers and Owners Association office in Ikoyi. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

On how much a plot of land is in Ikoyi, he said, “It depends. I can’t determine for the owner of the land. It varies. Some are doing the leasing business to make money while some do it to sustain their land.”

However, findings by BusinessDay as of April 2, 2024, indicated a N1.5m/sqm for the average price while the most expensive and cheapest prices go for N1.52m/sqm and N550,000/sqm, respectively.

Meanwhile, those prices are for residential land in old Ikoyi while the price of commercial land is always slightly higher.

In new areas in Ikoyi, especially Banana Island, the price is also higher. Before now, a standard plot measuring 1000 sqm was selling for about N350m and N500m.

Olufemi also decried the reaction of people towards the business as not being rated, rather, “they see it as a dirty business.”

Read also: NBC to reduce water use in plants located in water-risk areas by 20% in 2025

Another challenge, according to him, is the cost of equipment. He lamented that the cost of a pumping machine sold for N28,000 earlier is now sold for N240,000 while a tyre of a tanker formerly N80,000 is now N300,000. These, he said, led to the high cost of water supply.

“People fault us that we sell water at N25,000 and that we are not reasonable. Pumping machine we supply water with, we bought it at N28,000 before. Now, it’s 240,000. A tyre of N80,000 to N90,000 is over N300,000 now. As of last year, I can remember vividly that I bought a brand new tyre for N110,000. Now, it’s over N300,000. It affects everybody,” he explained.

Lagosians groan but have no choice

Mrs. Asabi Oladejo, a trader in the Ikoyi area of the state who sells water and other consumable items while speaking with our correspondent on the rate of how Lagosians purchase water for use, explained that water is a very profitable business in the Ikoyi area.

“About water, we suffer before we get water and I detest getting here (my shop) and I don’t see/have water because that water is very important because there are those who buy in bags and pieces. Water is expensive here,” she said.

Buying a bag of water from the manufacturers costs N300 while retailers sell to consumers for N350 and N500.

Responding to how much she sells per day, considering the in-depth unavailability of water in the area, she said, “I sell no less than 50 bags per day on average,” acknowledging it to God’s grace.

A visit to the Ikoyi zone

In the early hours of March 12, 2024, our correspondent was at the Ikoyi zone of the Water Corporation to observe its operational activities. However, to his surprise, the compound of the agency looked deserted with no traces of any activities going on nor were recently carried out.

After three minutes of being on the premises, a man, who appeared to be a staff of the corporation, stepped out from his office and asked, “Hello, how can I help you? Who do you want to see?” With his appearance, there was a sort of relief that questions as to why there hasn’t been water in the area would be answered.

However, the hope of this reporter was dashed as he refused to comment on why there hadn’t been water from the corporation. Our correspondent had said, “I thought the water corporation should be able to provide water to individuals’ houses through the pipe” he abjectly responded, “That is not why you are here and I wouldn’t want to talk about that. You want a truck to help you get water and that is what I’m doing.”

Read also: 5m in dire need of water, others in North-East, says WASH coordinator

Equipment destruction, lawsuit

In a bid to ascertain the reason Lagosians could not get water as expected from the corporation, our correspondent one Tuesday morning in March, under the guise of being a new occupant in one of the areas in Surulere, visited the LWC located beside Teslim Balogun Stadium in Surulere.

While approaching the premises of the agency, some of the workers were seen seated outside having a discussion.

The environment looked calm and less populated with few members of staff.

Getting inside the premises, this reporter approached the workers and was ushered into an office by a staff member for deliberation.

The staff, during the discourse, asked the new occupant, “How long had there not been water? When you came, you met water?”

Surulere LWC zone. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

The LWC worker was swiftly replied to by the new occupant in the environment, saying, “No, there hasn’t been water. I moved in December 2023 and those I met in the compound said before I came, they had no water for a long time.”

Responding to the reason behind the lack of water provision for Lagosians, the staff of the LWC disclosed that a trailer had destroyed one of the corporation’s pieces of equipment.

“We (Water corporation) have issues with the supply of water. There was a trailer which destroyed one of our equipment,” the agency worker said, adding that there is a lawsuit currently ongoing on the matter.

He said, “That thing (the damage) is not something small. It is a big case that is still presently in court. The damage is very big.”

To be sure that this reporter is a resident of the area, the agency worker asked, “Do you have a bill at your compound?,” and our correspondent responded, “Yes, but I don’t hold any presently.”

It was, however, assured that water would be made available shortly. However, no specific duration was given for this.

“You will soon have water by the time we are done with that issue. We are working on it,” he said.

“They don’t give us water”

Akerele Street is one of the popular streets in Surulere, a constituency of the former House of Representatives speaker and incumbent chief of staff to President Bola Tinubu.

Across the street, as observed by our correspondent, the residents of the community lack water from the LWC.

One of the residents of extension two on Akerele Street, referred to as Baba, while speaking said the community was only able to make use of water provided by the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, while he was serving in the House of Representatives.

“There is no water here. We make use of water (borehole) provided for us by Femi Gbajabiamila. Gbajabiamila did borehole in every extension,” he said.

Baba, a resident of Surulere expresses disappointment with lack of water by LWC. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

According to him, an alternative to getting water once there is no power supply to pump is to buy water.

When asked if the water agency brings bills for residents to pay, he expressed annoyance over the unavailability of water saying, “Who wants to pay to water corporation? They don’t supply water. They bring bills but we don’t pay. They collect revenue from the government and spend it.”

“Water Corporation does nothing. They don’t give us water and aren’t ready to do that,” he added.

When asked the amount of the bill charged, he said, “I don’t read it. I tear it.”

‘We use our money to drill borehole’

In Iponri Estate, a few kilometres after TBS in Surulere, a young woman, Mrs. Glory Kolawole was met close to her compound when this reporter entered the estate.

She berated the lack of water by the LWC in the area and that residents of the estate had found an alternative in the borehole.

“There is no government water functioning here. We use boreholes and not government water,” she said.

In the course of the interview, this reporter sighted a borehole which appeared not to have been in use for a long time.

When asked, the mother of three sarcastically expressed that it is a government borehole and “it is working very well.”

She said, “That is government work (points at it) and that is what we are seeing there. Once they supply water, we make use of it very well. That is one of the benefits we enjoy from the government.”

A borehole sponsored by Femi Gbajabiamila at Akerele extension two, Surulere. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

She additionally disclosed that the non-functioning borehole has been like that since the administration of the former governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode.

“It never worked,” she said, and during the period it supplied water, it was salty.

“So, it was more like it didn’t serve its function before it eventually spoiled,” she added.

She expressed that the government is supposed to spend money (for the provision of water) but it can’t and this made residents of the estate drill boreholes with their money.

“We dug boreholes with our money. I did my borehole then at N150,000 four years ago,” she told this reporter.

Paul Blessing, an entrepreneur who resides in the Surulere area of the state added that there is no water from the corporation, saying “more than a year, since the 2023 presidential election, there hasn’t been water.”

The food seller who said there is a borehole in her area, however, blasts the state electricity company over unstable power supply despite the malfunction of the LWC.

“We have a borehole. What makes us lack water in my compound is the lack of electricity. We had even notified them to disconnect the light because of that,” Blessing said.

Sanwo-Olu seeks aid to tackle water inadequacy

To know the amount of capital expenditure approved for the water corporation, BusinessDay Investigations, through the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget and Open States Nigeria website, scrutinised the budget of the state.

It was discovered that the sum of N16,848,965,127.75 was the total capital expenditure approved for LWC between 2019 and 2023.

Findings by BusinessDay Investigations on the 2019 budget from the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget show that the sum of 3,208,982,257 was approved as capital expenditure for LWC.

It was further discovered that the sum of N6,465,845,812.00 and N3,714,446,910.00 was budgeted for the water corporation in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Further findings by BusinessDay Investigations indicate that N2,510,713,656.75 was approved for 2022 and N949,030,492 for 2023.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu during COP28 held in the United Arab Emirates had called for sustainable private and philanthropic financing to tackle the state’s inadequate water infrastructure.

The governor revealed that the state gets only 210 million gallons of its 700 million daily potable water needs.

Sanwo-Olu said, “Given our meagre resources, it is really a challenge but we certainly cannot continue to give excuses. This gap is being felt by underserved communities and the risk to the public is high.”

‘Water supply has been epileptic’

According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 17, water is essential not only to health but also to poverty reduction, food security, peace and human rights, ecosystems and education.

The international body states that water demand is rising owing to rapid population growth, urbanisation and increasing water needs from agriculture, industry, and energy sectors.

Water, Sanitation, Hygiene National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASHNORM 2019) by the National Bureau of Statistics and United Nations Children’s Fund in its per cent of households based on water source location and distance covered to source for drinking water indicates 15.8 per cent in Lagos dwells within water source location; 33.5 per cent within the compound/yard; 50.7 per cent elsewhere; with 2,825,140 number of households.

It added that 60.9 per cent covered less than 100m distance source for drinking water; 27.4 per cent covered more than 100m but less than 500m; 0.8 per cent covered more than 500m but less than 1km; 0.0 covered more than 1km but less than 2km; 0.0 covered more than 2km but less than 4km; 0.1 per cent covered more than 4km; 10.8 per cent were not known while the number of households water elsewhere is calculated as 1,625,301.

In 2021, for the main source of drinking water by Lagosians, WASHNORM categorised the source of drinking water and percentage as:

Piped water: into dwelling 3.4 per cent; 0.9 into yard/compound/plot; 17.1 per cent for tube well/borehole; public tap/standpipe figured at 1.0 per cent.

Improved sources: protected dug well 1.6 per cent; protected spring; bottled water 3.1 per cent; sachet water 70.2 per cent; unprotected dug well per cent 1.4; cart with a small tanker/drum 0.4; rainfall collection 0.1; tanker-truck 0.1; unprotected spring 0.0; surface water (river, stream, dam, lake, pond, canal, irrigation) 0.0; others 0.6; while the number of household members is 13,376,240.

Abiodun Ogunlana, the Chairman, Iporin Housing CDA, while speaking with our correspondent on the water supply situation in the estate, said residents of the estate lack water supply from the LWC.

He expressed that drilling boreholes around the estate has become a concern, “looking at the disadvantage of the boreholes to the buildings because it is becoming what people do almost like every day.”

“We don’t have water from the water corporation. No water for like three months now. It’s been dead. At a point, we heard they are fixing, renewing the pipes and all that stuff,” Ogunlana said.

Mr Ogunlana expresses hope of water restoration by the corporation. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

When asked what the water situation is in the last four years, he said, “It’s been epileptic. It is off and on. It has not been stable around here.”

While advising the government, he said, “The government should try and fix the water corporation because drilling boreholes around the estate is dangerous to buildings.”

He further confirmed water bills are bought by the corporation despite the unavailability of water for a long time. “Yes, people pay,” Ogunlana disclosed.

On the least amount of bill paid, he said, “I think it’s like N3,000 for those using the analogue metres. We still have people that use prepaid metres.”

‘Drill borehole if you want to use water’

In Lagos Mainland Local Government, findings further showed that the residents of the area lack water.

Findings by BusinessDay Investigations to the Iponri Water Corporation in the area revealed this as staff of the Lagos State Water Agency advised that drilling boreholes is the only and last resort for any resident who needs water.

Just as in the scenario in Surulere, our correspondent disguised himself as a new tenant in one of the areas very close to the water corporation.

Five men, who are workers of the agency, were met during the visit and questioned why there hasn’t been water in the community.

Iponri Water Corporation. Photo credit: Damilola Olufemi/BusinessDay

BusinessDay correspondent explained he moved into the area around November 2023 and his neighbours had told him there hadn’t been water for a long time before then.

Confirming this, one of the men without hesitation, sharply replied, “No water anywhere.”

Backing this up, another responded, “There was no water before that time (November 2023) and up till now, we are still on it.”

Responding to when the unavailability of water would cease, the man who had earlier said there hasn’t been water anywhere responded, “Drill borehole. Borehole is what everyone in the area is using.”

Borehole is the best but it’s costly

Gbenga, a panel beater in the area, while responding to an alternative way they get water for those not financially buoyant, said that is where the meruwas comes in. He advised this reporter to have a permanent meruwa who helps him with water as a way to promptly access water and “reduce financial cost.”

“Unless you use Meruwa. That is what people use in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, we go fetch at that mosque (points at it).”

Speaking on his preferred choice of getting water, just like Collins, Gbenga laments the financial challenge involved in drilling a borehole. He said, “Having a borehole is the best but it costs a lot of money.”

Too many boreholes dangerous – Geophysicist

Speaking with BusinessDay Investigations, Kilaso Emmanuel, explained the effects of too many boreholes in a community.

According to the geophysicist, one of the effects is that it affects the foundation of buildings.

“Sometimes when the foundation of the buildings within that environment is not strong, it can affect the foundation of individual houses.”

While explaining further, he said the amount of water each house gets might be reduced, which may also lead to some of the wells drying up.

He, however, expressed that a borehole is not the only and best solution when it comes to providing water to communities.

He cited the dam as a better solution which is supposed to channel water to individual houses.

“Borehole is just an alternative in case of emergency or in case of regions where it is hard for government water to get to,” Emmanuel clarified.

LWC reacts

In a reaction, the Head of Public Affairs, LWC, Mrs Kehinde Fashola, has assured residents of the state that work is ongoing due to the unavailability of water supply by the corporation.

“There is no point making noise when making things work out underground. The government is not resting. The government is assiduously working on it,” she disclosed while assuring that when things turn out, it will be magnificent.

She further disclosed the corporation got assistance from the United States Agency for International Development saying, “All these, they are still in their premature stage. I want to assure you that very, very soon, all will be well.”

While speaking with our correspondent, Mrs Fashola also confirmed the ongoing lawsuit revealed to BusinessDay Investigations by a staff of the corporation.

“Yes, I think that’s per Oworo Waterworks,” she said. She, however, stated that it has nothing to do with other waterworks.

“Very soon they will come up because it is for our benefit that water is running and we are making money from it,” she said.