• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Nigerians at mercy of boreholes as water corporations, facilities become moribund

20240519_022649_0000

…No respite in sight

…Consumers’ health at risk

…More financial burden on families

…Govt’s efforts yield no results

While driving along the Dominic Utuk Street in Uyo, one can hardly ignore the imposing head office building of the state water company.

But the humongous size means nothing to the residents as the shallowest borehole in town provides more water than the company, despite being commercialised some years ago by the government.

Read also: Indiscriminate borehole drilling and its health implications

Across the country, it is the same sad tale of dry public taps, with the reality being that the supply of pipe borne water is more epileptic than electricity supply.

Another sad reality is that there is hardly any part of the country where residents can rely on government-provided pipe borne water, as almost all the water corporations are moribund today.

Sweet reminiscence

“I remember those old good days in Benin City, when as students, on our way back from school, we would stop at any public tap on the road and streets to drink water and cool our heads from the harsh sun with water from the then Bendel Water Corporation.

“I cannot even trace any of those public taps again, some gave way to business premises and petrol stations and nobody, and even the government cared. It is sad,” Igure Ovie, a retired civil servant, lamented.

But the above sounds like a fable to many, especially the new generation, who hardly see public tap or water gush out of any one mistakenly on the streets.

A nation of boreholes

According to BD Sunday’s check, over 90 percent of households in Nigerian urban areas get their daily water from boreholes, which are often untreated, while local areas resort to water from streams, rivers and supplies from water tankers.

There is hardly any state where water corporation is working even in Lagos, Abuja and other major cities as their facilities are either obsolete or dilapidated, resulting in many of them being moribund today.

In Akwa Ibom State, BusinessDay’s checks revealed that several pipes acquired by the state government for water projects within the capital city are rotten, while giant concrete overtanks constructed many years ago as reservoirs are yet to receive water.

To the dismay of the residents, a private company in charge of the water supply in the state has not lived up to expectation, rather it blamed its inability to provide pipe-borne water on the high cost of diesel used in running the generators for its operations.

In Abia, the only time the residents enjoyed stable pipe borne water was during the administration of Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe, the governor of the old Imo State, comprising Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states then.

Sadly, in Aba, the commercial hub of the state, public tabs are being uprooted to make space for other “useful things” as water has never gushed out of them in decades.

The situation is despite two major water schemes by the government in the commercial town.

On a visit to the site of the Aba Regional Water Scheme, located at the foot of Aba River, off Industry Road, in Aba North Local Government Area, BDSunday discovered that the entire site has been overtaken by weeds and the structure in decay.

Though the Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration in 2019, expressed disgust with the state of the multi-million-naira Aba regional water scheme, being executed by JDP, an Israeli engineering firm, for the Federal Government, nothing has happened beyond the level the former governor met the project.

Apart from the abandoned Aba regional water scheme, Uche Ukeje, general manager, Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA) told BDSunday that the initial water scheme for Aba, which was situated in SAMEK, near Ariaria Market, has also been abandoned for years now.

On a fact-finding in Benin City and Asaba, Barry Ojie, a resident of Asaba, Delta State, decried that water corporation facilities in Benin City are moribund, and nonexistent in Asaba.

With more than 95 percent of residents relying on borehole water, Agbor Alphonsus, a resident of Ogwashi-Uku, Delta State, regretted that the state government has not done much.

“There are some water reservoirs the state government needs to reactivate. There are some at Otulu Community in Aniocha South Local Government Area. When we visited there some years ago, the state government had a water scheme project that could serve five to six communities. But the project is abandoned,” Alphonsus noted.

He is worried that while most of the water corporations are dead, people are collecting salaries every month as staff from the Ministry of Water Resources.

“Every budget, at both state and federal levels, has provision for water resources, but there is no water supplied, where is the money and why will our politicians keep making budgets for moribund institutions like Water Corporations. Then, why are we blaming discos for sending bills for electricity they did not supply every month? It is fraud and the masses are suffering from it the most,” he explained.

Same scenario plays out in Lagos where most of the state water corporation offices are shadows of themselves. Also, on a visit to the Lekki Phase 1 Water Corporation, BDSunday was greeted with rot as the corporation hardly supplies water to the affluent residents again.

Bayo Kuto, a staff of the water corporation, blamed the situation on pipes being destroyed during major road works, especially in recent times.

The sad news for those hoping for respite is that significant repairs, according to Kuto, cannot commence without approval from higher authorities.

But with or without the repairs, Ademola Idrisu, a resident, argued that there has never been water in the first place, hence the repairs meant nothing to the residents who have long resorted to boreholes and supplies by water tankers.

From Ijora, Surulere, Iju to many other places where the Water Corporation is situated in Lagos, there is little or nothing to write home about as residents seem to have forgotten that the corporation exists.

The dilemma for many Nigerians is the fact that nothing seems to work in the country as privatization of water corporations may not result in steady water supply considering the bad experience with the power sector.

In Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, where the government commercialised the water corporation, there is no water.

“It is a water company now and not government that runs it; it should generate its finances and run profitably,’’ one angry resident said in reply to the excuse of the company for not supplying water.

However, the lack of supply from the water corporations has resulted in additional financial burdens on Nigerians as households are now resorting to borehole water and water tank supplies, which experts frown at due to their health hazards.

At a time of acute water shortage in Aba, firms such as Nigerian Breweries Plc and PZ, through their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities provided free water to Aba residents. But those are old stories now.

“I live in Ogwashi-Uku and more than 95 percent of the residents rely on borehole water. Some people here rely on the water tanker that fetches water from Aboh Community where water is easy to get water from boreholes. But the water tanker drivers sell at exorbitant prices to residents. In December last year, I bought a full tank of water for N30,000. The price keeps increasing as the demand increases,” Alphonsus decried.

But, while sinking boreholes is self-help, the price of doing so keeps increasing every day and is becoming a burden on struggling Nigerians, who now source their electricity through generators, water from boreholes, even security now and maybe, the air they will breathe tomorrow.

Michael Onyeyiri, a borehole installer, explained that as prices of materials for the borehole digging and installation increase, the charges also increase.

Again, the depth and area also determine the price of a borehole.

High cost of digging boreholes

“Ordinarily, digging a borehole should have been very cheap in Lagos because you can get clean water from 30ft, but it is expensive because of the high demand by new house owners.

“Places like Benin City and Asaba are between 100 ft to750ft to get water, while Abuja is more for clean water. So, the deeper, the more expensive the borehole becomes,” Onyeyiri explained.

There are also health concerns with the increasing dependence on boreholes for portable water in Nigeria.

Health concerns abound

According to Nurideen Omoleye, a medical doctor and public health activist, most of the water from boreholes are not treated, yet most households use them.

“The sachet water companies do not even treat their water well enough, so also most borehole owners do not treat the water for domestic use because it looks clean. “There are irons, acidic soil and other factors that impact water quality. There are also some impurities in an assumed clean water that only chemical treatment can remove.

“Health is failing nowadays due to the usage of untreated or poorly treated borehole water,” the doctor said.

According to him, water from water corporations or rather government water, is still the best because of the extensive treatment.

Govt huge taxes for non-existent water

Sadly, despite their inability to provide water with public funds, there have been attempts by the government in the past to impose taxes on private water facilities, a sad development that was criticized and that led to protests in states where the government mulled the tax.

Then, in Abia, the government used touts to intimidate residents to pay what they designated as borehole levy.

Residents, who refused to pay were abducted from their homes and detained with Police support.

Emma Nma, a young graduate who was one of the victims in 2015, recalled being abducted from his River Layout residence, while preparing breakfast by some touts, who claimed to be working for the Aba North Local Government.

“The touts numbering about five, forced themselves into our kitchen and forced me into their vehicle. They also had some policemen working with them,” Nma recalled.

Same thing almost happened in Delta State if not for the strong resistance from the masses.

Taxing borehole owners

According to Ifeanyi Olanye, chairman, Asaba Correspondents’ Chapel,

Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Delta State Council, at a time, the state authorities came with the directive that borehole owners would pay tax.

That directive, he noted, was greeted with opposition from residents and borehole owners. “Thus, the issue of taxing owners of borehole water died a natural death. Up till now, the issue has never been raised,” Olanye said. But the questions such attempts to tax borehole owners have raised include; whose duty is it to provide water for the citizens, is it the citizens themselves or the government?

Lukman Yinusa, a senior public servant in Jos, Plateau State, decried that it is a big shame for any government to think of taxing borehole owners for engaging in self-help in a crucial service it failed to provide.

“The government is meant to tax from the services it provides and use the same tax to boost infrastructure for the welfare of the citizens and not the reverse here in Nigeria where you pay bills for electricity that was never supplied and for water that never gushed out of the tap,” he said.

But on the part of the government, there have been efforts of successive administrations to address the water issue, which many decried have yielded little or no result.

Promises, promises, promises … hoping against hope

Almost all successive governments in the country promised to reactivate the various water schemes in their domains, including the federal government, yet public taps are not functional.

Ned Nwoko, senator, representing Delta North in the National Assembly, promised his constituents more efforts at ensuring that the Federal Government will give required attention to a dam project in Ogwashi-Uku. The pending dam is believed by many as a solution to water problems in many parts of the state.

Also, on the efforts of the government, Chidiebere Nwoke, who served as Commissioner for Public Utilities in Abia State, the execution of the multi-million-naira Aba Regional Water Scheme by JDP, an Israeli engineering firm for the Federal Government, had lingered for years without actualisation because the contractor had held the Federal Government that awarded the contract and the Abia State government to ransom, stressing that the scenario must not continue.

Nwoke, who debunked the insinuations in some quarters that the state government was lukewarm to providing water to the state, said that the government had been involved in various water projects in parts of the state, especially in major towns, which up till today is non-existent.

Suggesting a way out, Nwoke noted that the Aba project contract should be disencumbered.

Uche Ukeje, general manager, Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA), told BD Sunday that the Alex Otti-led administration is trying to solve the portable water problem in Aba.

Ukeje’s strong hope is rooted in the fact that having solved the epileptic electricity supply challenge with Geometrics Power, Alex Otti, governor of Abia State, will fulfill his promise of reviving the abandoned Aba Regional Water Scheme, and many believed that he would deliver on that promise too.

Like the epileptic electricity supply despite privatisation, most of the respondents in BD Sunday’s questions on the water issue, do not think that the government or private sector will address the water challenge soon, hence more boreholes are being dug every day as the only way out for steady water supply for households and businesses.