James Ojo Adakole
At about 9:25 a.m on a cool Thursday morning, Adebanjo Tolu, sat quietly on a pavement made of concrete gazing sparingly at motorcycles and passers-by. His countenance suggests that of someone struggling with exhaustion and regret. Clutching a black, oval-shaped bowl and wrapped cloth, he was taking a rest after making two trips to a commercial borehole not far from his home to fetch water.
Every day, he parts with N70 or N100 to fetch water from a privately-owned borehole sunk some distance away from his home for his domestic use and that of his grandmother.
Prices of water depends on the bucket one is using, as well as the demand for a particular day. On the average, Tolu pays N50 for three trips for his kind of bucket.
“This is how I fetch water every day for the family,” Tolu told Sunday Sun. “With my bucket, I buy water for prices within N70-N100 daily. Most of the times, they sell three trips of the bucket for N50.”
Free but unavailable
For Tolu and other residents of Agbowa-Ikosi, Otta-Ikosi, among other communities in Ikosi-Ejinrin Local Government Development Council Area (LCDA) of Lagos State; getting water has become a difficult task. Residents of these communities depend majorly on borehole they dug themselves to get water for their domestic use most of the times. This, however, comes at a cost.
Investigations around the communities showed that most of the public boreholes where residents can fetch water for free are not functional. Even those that are functional – mostly built by concerned individuals -hardly supply the required volume of water to meet the needs of the communities due to epileptic power supply.
“We only use public boreholes when there is light. Even when there is light, the water does not last before it gets finished. This place looks local to me, we need electricity, water and other things essential for development to take root,” Tolu told Sunday Sun.
This, Sunday Sun, gathered has been taking a huge toll on small scale businesses particularly those who operates canteen in the area.
From novelty to nightmare
Tolu and other residents of Agbowa-Ikosi, Otta and its neighbouring communities ordinarily should not be enduring such difficulty meeting getting water only if Otta-Ikosi Regional Waterworks – a multi-billion naira project mounted some distance apart – is fully operational.
However, the project has remained largely ineffective despite millions of naira sunk into it. According to investigations by Sunday Sun, the idea which births Otta-Ikosi Regional Waterworks project was first conceived by the then governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande in 1979 to meet the water needs of the rural communities.
However, the project dragged for several years spanning the administration of Bola Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola until May 19, 2016 when it was commissioned by the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
By its original design, the regional waterworks with a daily production capacity of 18 million litres was meant to serve nine communities between Itokin and Agbowa, according to the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC), Mr Muminu Badmus. These communities include: Ado, Agbowa, Ago Hausa, Ago Owu, Ajebo Orugbo, Iganke, Ikosi, Odo Ayandelu and Otta Ikosi.
“Up till now, the supply of sufficient potable water to meet the demand of the people is a task to many nations across the globe, including Nigeria, and indeed Lagos is faced with the same challenge. In line with the state’s policy to ensure water is supplied to every home in Lagos, the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration has continued to rehabilitate the major waterworks across the state, as well as expand distribution network to meet demand for water by the people,” Badmus had said in his speech during the inauguration of the waterworks in 2016.
According to details of the project available on the official website of Naston Engineering Construction Limited – the contractor which handled the project – rehabilitation of the Otta-Ikosi Regional Waterworks was awarded for $4,372,893,312.50 ($26,935,011.27).
About three years after the project was commissioned, however, residents said it has failed to serve its purpose. Visits to the Waterworks in Otta-Ikosi revealed the project lacked maintenance with bushes clogging the building housing the project while workers were barely seen on site.
During the reporter’s two visits to the site of the project, first on a Friday and second on a Thursday, workers were nowhere to be seen. A note dropped by the reporter who was accompanied to the site by a community leader in Agbowa-Ikosi was also not returned.
At the Agbowa Distribution Centre of the project – which houses a gigantic reservoir – bushes were seen all over the building which was locked with no guard in sight.
“This hardly sees water free of charge here since this Waterworks was mounted. It’s really a nightmare to us. We buy water to cook and do virtually everything except when there is light. If there is anything the government can do about it, they should not hesitate because we are really suffering,” a resident who preferred anonymity told Sunday Sun.
Also speaking, High Chief Sakiru Kunle Odufowora, the Aro of Agbowa-Ikosi said: “This Waterworks has not been of any benefit for us since it was constructed. There was a day we sent our people down to the place because of leakages of water around our communities, they wrote a letter and they gave us a reply. They told us to go to their head office and complain to them there, which we did, but till now, nothing has been done about it.
“Most people here depend on boreholes being provided by the Federal Government and those dug by the affluent in their communities. A lot of people also buy from nearby communities. But as far as the Waterwworks project is concerned, we’ve never enjoyed it,” he told Sunday Sun.
The community leader for Agbowa Ward 1, Biodun Sodeke, stated that despite efforts made by a committee set up to prevail on the government to fix the Waterworks, nothing significant has been done.
Sodeke, who also doubles as the Ward 1 committee chairman for health, said an in-depth coverage conducted by the committee revealed a high level of neglect and mismanagement of the project.
His words: “I came across this project by the end of year 2017 because of the situation of our Primary Health Centres (PHCs). By that time, I discovered we were buying fuel to pump water and the taps provided for us were not working.
“The situation particularly caught my curiosity because the giant tank that has been erected for donkey years – which is over a decade by the Lagos State Water Corporation – was not serving its purpose.
“This prompt me to write a letter to the corporation to inquire what the problem was and to know their plans of addressing the issue. I wrote to them and did a follow up of which I spent almost a day in their office.
“After this, I started pursuing the letter from one office to another until I met the Assistant General Manager of Production of the Corporation who promised us that the matter will be looked into.
“At the end of the day, they came to work, met the site production manager at the water works and work commenced. We even formed a committee to look after what we have been doing which we have the video coverage. In the course of the investigation, we saw leakages everywhere, we saw pipes which ought to be underground on bare floor damaged.
“This prompt water float to some villages because of damaged pipes. Then we wrote a letter to the contractor, asking for the engineer to come with us and see what they have done. The engineer told us they had commissioned the work and so there is nothing they can do about it again. We went back to the water corporation, but couldn’t get a definite answer from the water corporation. They said we have to go back to the local government that they have to do it, but the council said they were not the person who started it and as such cannot go into it until Water Corporation finishes the work.
“It is not serving its purpose to people in the community. We are appealing to the government and the media to come and assist us because it is always an awful sight to behold. By the project design, the project is expected to serve Otta and then Agbowa-Ikosi after which Agbowa will redistribute to Imota, Isiowo and other villages leading to Ikorodu then back to Itoke and its surrounding villages.
“Yet residents hardly see a drop of water despite spending trillions of naira on this project. It’s always about spending. The project is not useful to us. They commissioned it about three years ago under the administration of Akinwunmi Ambode, but the situation has been the same. We are begging the government to come to our aid.”
A top source in the area who has good knowledge of the Waterworks alleged mismanagement of the project since inception, noting it was unfortunate huge amount invested into it has not produced any result even after it was commissioned in 2016.
“This waterworks is a window pipe for making money. It’s nonsense. It’s yet to work properly since it was commissioned. I was in the Local Government when it was commissioned by Governor Ambode. Since then, it has not worked again. It was even tanker that came to drop water inside the tank before it was commissioned,” the source said.
Schools resort to self-help
Most schools in the area hardly depend on the water supply from the Waterworks for their students. At Agbowa Community Junior Grammar School, boreholes sunk are mostly powered by generators.
“We have boreholes that are functioning, but that is only because we power it ourselves using generator. We don’t depend on water supply from Waterworks,” a source who spoke with Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter said.
Walking the tight rope
Access to water remains a major challenge for developing countries. A report by the United Nations states that: “Water scarcity, poor water quality and inadequate sanitation negatively impact food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world. At the current time, more than two billion people are living with the risk of reduced access to freshwater resources and by 2050, at least one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water.”
The situation has attracted global efforts one of which is the drafting of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) six by the United Nations in 2015 which aims to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” by year 2030.
Nigeria faces a huge task in meeting the target, however, given its shortage of infrastructure and poor funding. According to United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Nigeria report, “poor access to improved water and sanitation in Nigeria remains a major contributing factor to high morbidity and mortality rates among children under five. The use of contaminated drinking water and poor sanitary conditions result in increased vulnerability to water-borne diseases, including diarrhea, which leads to deaths of more than 70,000 children under five annually.
“Seventy-three per cent of the diarrheal and enteric disease burden is associated with poor access to adequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and is disproportionately borne by poorer children. Frequent episodes of WASH related ill-health in children, contribute to absenteeism in school, and malnutrition. Only 26.5 per cent of the population use improved drinking water sources and sanitation facilities.”
The report adds: “Based on World Bank estimates, Nigeria will be required to triple its budget or at least allocate 1.7 per cent of the current Gross Domestic Product to WASH. The ambition is highest for rural sanitation where the gap for improved services is 64.1 per cent.”
Demand for water in Lagos is increasing at the tick of every second. With rising urbanization, Lagos is coming under increasing pressure to meet the basic needs of its teeming population of which water is one.
With a population of about 22 million, the state is the largest commercial city in Africa and the 7th fastest growing city in the world, according to a Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung (HBS) Foundation research, with a population estimated to be growing 10 times faster than that of New York and Los Angeles, and more than the population of 32 African nations combined. By 2020, its population is projected to notch 35 million. The astronomical rise in population is creating a huge infrastructural deficit.
According to Badmus, the demand of 20 million Lagosians is about 540 million gallons per day, while the state is producing 210 million gallons per day. This implies that the state can only provide 38.8 per cent water of its daily needs.
The Corporation had in January hinted at expanding its facilities to meet the water needs of the Lagos residents. “These projects include the ongoing construction of Adiyan Phase II of 70 MGD, development of the Igbonla Water Scheme Phase 1 of 100MGD, expected to serve Victoria Island down to Epe corridor. Other proposed schemes include Adiyan Phase III of 70MGD, with 6,295 km network, Ibese Phase I Water Treatment Plant of 50 MGD, and the Yewa/Ishasi Water Scheme to produce 85MGD,” the General Manager of the Corporation had been quoted as saying earlier this year.
“A proposed integrated water supply in Ikorodu and its peri-urbans will be executed to supply 35MGD. This project comprises upgrading Otta-Ikosi from 4MGD to 31MGD; and the rehabilitation of Oke-Ota-Ona Water Plant of 3 MGD, and Lagos road mini-waterworks of 2 MGD. This integrated water supply project also includes the construction of seven booster stations that would enhance production and supply of water to the communities in the axis”.
LWC, contractor keep mum
Efforts by Sunday Sun to get response of the LWC to ascertain why the project has not been functional proved abortive.
When our correspondent visited the public affairs unit of the LWC situated at Ijora, on November 3, 2019; he was told the person authorised to talk was not around.
The female official who attended to the reporter, however, subtly said that the Corporation is working round the clock to address the water needs of residents across the state.
When this reporter pressed for specific details about the state of Otta-Ikosi Regional Waterworks and why the project has not been functional, he was to drop his contact details with a promise of reverting to him.
True to the official’s words, the said authorised official contacted this reporter on via a WhatsApp message on November 8, through his number dropped earlier, but failed to address questions bordering on Otta-Ikosi Waterworks.
In a follow-up call, the official stated the matter would better be addressed by the Corporation’s CEO, promising to get back to the reporter on November 20, a promise that never came true.
On November 18, the official sent a press release entitled “LWC APPEALS TO RESIDENTS TO PATRONISE PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY, WARNS AGAINST CONSUMPTION OF UNSAFE WATER.” A follow up WhatsApp message and call was not answered.
Similar situation also played out when the reporter visited Naston Engineering Construction Limited – the contractor awarded the project -at Iponri, Lagos, to comment on the Waterworks and allegations of leakages resulting from its activities.
Some of the officials who addressed our correspondent directed him to the LWC, maintaining they were not authorised to speak on the project.
“The Waterworks is a project of the Lagos Water Corporation so you don’t expect us to speak on that. There is no information we can provide here so you have to visit LWC office at Ijora which is not far from here,” an official of the company identified as the project manager told this reporter.
New government, new hopes
Many residents of the Agbowa-Ikosi, Otta and other neigbouring communities are clinging to hope that the new administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu would revamp the Waterworks.
“Now that we have a new government in power. Our next step is that we are thinking of writing the Ministry of Water Resources to let them know what is happening at Agbowa and its neigbouring communities. This project started since the administration of Lateef Jakande, but it has been rendered useless, because it is not functioning,” Mr Sodeke said.