The Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, recently blamed state governments for the severe water shortage in all parts of the country. He spoke at a press event marking this year’s World Water Day where he declared that it was the duty of the states and the local governments to provide potable water to citizens. The role of the Federal Government, he said, is to give a helping hand now and then, and to provide good policy.
It is indisputable that states and local governments are responsible for water supply, even though the Federal Government has responsibility for the overall welfare of all Nigerians. It will not, therefore, be out of place to say that the three tiers of government have been derelict, to say the least, in their attitude to water supply in the country.
Last year, the minister told the nation that his ministry would spend N505.6 billion on 116 water projects in the country, 38 irrigation projects, 37 dams and 41 water supply projects. He should give a progress report on those projects. He had informed the nation last year that some of the projects had been stalled for 15 years.
Nigerians are aware of hundreds of Federal water projects abandoned all over the country, some of them after spending stupendous amounts of money. In 2011, for example, the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, launched the Water Roadmap which aimed “to make water available to all by 2015.” The country was also promised the drilling of 109 “motorised boreholes” for each of the senatorial districts; the rehabilitation of 1,000 hand pump boreholes in 18 states, the installation of special treatment plants and the completion of all abandoned water projects in the country. None of those promises was fulfilled.
It does not speak well of the country that 66 million of its 180 million citizens have no access to potable water, and that, in per capita terms, Nigeria has the worst water situation in the world. According to data from the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), India has 97 million citizens who have no access to potable water, but then, it has a population of 1.2 billion.
UNICEF’s figures show that a half of all under-five deaths is caused by lack of access to clean water, with 11 percent of those deaths occurring in Nigeria. It is now taken for granted that poor quality water would cause cholera, typhoid fever, all manners of gastrointestinal viruses, dysentery, typhus and many other diseases that could lead to death.
When it comes to the provision of water for citizens, it would appear that no state can be excluded from what is arguably governmental malpractice, because water is so basic to life that it ought to be provided universally in all corners of the country. Almost all the water works in most states of the country are either non-functional or ill-maintained. The result is that Nigerians now consume N8 billion packaged water daily, according to the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr. Paul Orhii.
Packaged water is easily contaminated. No civilised country should allow its citizens to depend on such an unreliable system or be so deprived of water. In April 2016, 38 residents of Saburi I, a slum settlement in Abuja Municipal Area Council, died after drinking contaminated water. In the Galadimawa Community earlier this month, four children drowned in River Danko in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as they went to fetch water from the only fresh water source in the neighbourhood. These are just two examples out of hundreds of such incidents that have become the daily experience of Nigerians.
We urge state governments to commit to the provision of pipe borne water for every community and every citizen in the country. It is the most basic utility for civilised existence. It is the least any state government can do for its citizens.
We are conscious of the raging debate in some parts of the country over payment for water and boreholes. Payment of water rates can only be justified when the government installs water meters in every house, so that residents can pay according to how much water they use. The idea of making water producers pay for the boreholes they dig is unjust and inequitable. In the 1920s, the colonial government wanted to collect a flat rate for the water it supplied. The idea of governments taxing boreholes, on the other hand, amounts to their seeking to collect money for water they did not produce, while citing nebulous environmental reasons. This is like punishing water producers who dig boreholes to provide the water which the state governments failed to do.
Governments which are unable to provide potable water for their citizens are failing in their most basic duty. They should do everything that they can to live up to this critical responsibility.