By Chinelo Obogo
Poor access to portable water in Nigeria is a major cause of high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five as only 26.5 percent of the total population of the country has access to clean drinking water according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
But according to the National President of Association of Table Water Producers of Nigeria (ATWAP), Mrs Clementina Ativie, this challenge is one of the major reasons why entrepreneurs like herself decided to start production of clean and accessible water at affordable prices for Nigerian households.
In this interview , the ATWAP boss explains that the association exists not for profit but to complement the effort of the government in providing clean water to the citizens. But one of the major challenges the association is contending with besides issues of high cost of production, is how to contain the activities of quacks who bottle contaminated water for sale to the public. She said the only way this issue can be properly tackled is for the Federal Government to actively collaborate with ATWAP to flush out quacks and make water manufacturing more profitable. Excerpts
Why we increased price of table water
The increase in the price of table water was caused by many factors. I can tell you that if we set the price of water based on the cost of production, 99 per cent of Nigerians won’t be able to afford it. Sachet water is still N10, while table water is now N70 because the materials which we usually buy for about N480, 000 per tonne before now has risen to N1, 500,000 (One million, five hundred thousand naira). So tell me why we won’t increase the price of bottle water.
For over 12 years, the price of water has remained stable while every other thing has increased, yet, we have been bridging the gap and making sure we produce. In fact, we have been subsidising the cost because, if we sell it according to our production costs, I don’t think many people would be able to afford table water in this country. Basically, what we are doing is a humanitarian project because we are not making profit.
As table water producers, we are the only people that add value to life because we make water drinkable and ensure that we take it to the doorsteps of the people. We bridge the gap where the government can’t provide sufficiently and ensure that water is available to many Nigerians at an affordable price.
Already our products are everywhere. There is no place you go in Nigeria and you don’t see sachet or bottled water and that means that someone has taken them to that point. We are playing a major role in ensuring that the people get good quality water.
Why table water production is not profitable
We are not making profit at all, let alone much profit. Unfortunately, the business is addictive. Once you are into it, it is difficult to leave it. We bring in money from other sources to be able to fund our water business. A lot of us in the business are pulling in money from other businesses to sustain it, apart from the quacks because they are not adding value. That is why we are insisting that the regulatory agencies, such as the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) should collaborate with ATWAP to help them get rid of quacks in the business.
ATWAP is an association that has national coverage. We are at the national, states and all local government areas and wards across the country. There is no state in this country where you won’t find ATWAP because we have a very strong structure. ATWAP has been in existence for the past 22 years.
How government can help manufacturers
What we are asking the government is to put a regulatory framework that will strengthen cooperation with the association, so that we will be able to tell the regulators what is going on. We can’t do much about quacks in the business because we are not a regulator. NAFDAC is supervising but how many people are they supervising? The number of staff at NAFDAC is not up to 10 per cent of water producers in Nigeria. They are however trying their best but what happens when they are not there? So whatever they are doing without carrying us along is as good as doing nothing. This is because, when they leave, the illegal activities they are trying to control would continue. But if they put us as surveillance officers, we will be able to keep them under check and whenever they have any issue with them, we make sure that the law is complied with.
We have over 30,000 water producers in Nigeria and ATWAP has about 24,000 members. Even NAFDAC cannot tell you how many people they have registered because people come in and go out. Sometimes, when they get to a factory, they will discover it has been converted to a residential building. It is we that know who is closing, who is coming up, who has gone to NAFDAC and who has not gone to NAFDAC. It is only we can say you can’t be in this industry if you can’t do the right thing. But if we don’t have the cooperation of the regulators, what do we do?
Checking excesses of quacks
We can checkmate our members but what do we do to those that say they are not ATWAP members? There are people that when they open their factories, NAFDAC does not refer them to join us as an association. They tell you that it is voluntary and not mandatory. We have a structure that government can use to monitor them because we are in all the states. For example, a local government can have about four to five units of ATWAP and they report back because we have our task force teams. We see a lot of things going wrong but we can’t do much because we don’t have the cooperation and backing of the government. The structure we have built in the past 24 years should be used by the government to check the activities of water producers.
We have the mechanisms to check the frivolous activities of non-members because we work 24 hours but the government agencies work eight hours a day. If you give us the backing, we will be able to be there for you and be your watchdog and make sure that whatever you want to be done is complied with considering the fact that many people love to cut corners.