Agonies of people thirsting for succour
‘Water, water everywhere… but none to drink’
From Geoffrey Anyanwu (Awka), Emmanuel Uzor (Abakaliki), Chuks Onuoha (Umuahia), Petrus Obi (Enugu) and George Onyejiuwa (Owerri)
In the South-East geo-political zone, potable water has continued to be a source of headache to the people of the region.
But the agony caused by scarcity of drinking water in the region differs from state to state; while it is more in Enugu and Ebonyi states, it is less in Imo, Abia and Anambra states as the people have easy access to boreholes.
Nevertheless, the general sufferings faced by the people of the region have made successive governments continue to make efforts to solve the problem.
Investigations by Saturday Sun, however, showed that these efforts are not bearing fruits in some of the states, while in some others, they have relapsed.
Anambra State has had pipe-borne water long before the creation of the state, with the then famous Greater Onitsha Water Scheme and Imo-Awka Water Intake. These two water schemes were fully in operation until during the administration of Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju in 2001.
Taps were running regularly in the commercial nerve centre of Onitsha and Awka until 2002 when the Water Corporation workers embarked on indefinite strike over arrears of salaries owed them by the state government.
Following the non-resolution of the issue, the pipes got rusted the taps dried up because of long delay. But when Senator Chris Ngige became the governor in 2003, he tried to reexamine the issue.
He paid some of the arrears owed the workers, and rehabilitated some of the structures, including reservoirs. And in 2005 people began to see water running from the taps, especially in Awka again.
Ngige was on the verge of changing the outdated pipes to modern rubber pipes, when he was sacked by the Court of Appeal in 2006.
When Mr Peter Obi took over, he also tried to do some work to bring back public water, but along the line he had issues with the members of staff of the Water Corporation who disagreed with him on his method of reorganisation.
The disagreement lingered until Obi through the state House of Assembly proscribed the corporation and nothing again was done than the digging of boreholes in the various community through the MDGs.
Unfortunately, only the boreholes directly under the care of the host communities are still functioning.
During President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, the Federal Government promised to embark on a N290 million Awka Water Scheme. But it did not see the light of day.
Meanwhile, the incumbent administration of Governor Willie Obiano has assured that it would bring back water to the state.
The Commissioner for Public Utilities, Mr Obi Nwankwo told Saturday Sun that action was on, towards the realization of the promise, disclosing that the government has already engaged foreign partners from South Africa to commence work.
Nwankwo disclosed that the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) had already approved the project, adding that the company would also see to the reticulation of the water.
“We are waiting to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). We are also looking at Nnewi zone and Awka zone, and knowing our governor and the seriousness he attaches to any project, this one will not be different,” he said.
Anambra residents place pipe-borne water top on their prorities after the good network of roads they have now, and are patiently waiting for the administration that would make it happen.
In Abia State, the issue of federal or state water scheme has remained a pipe-dream as it would be a surprise to residents to see water run from a pipe that is not a borehole in a private residence.
This is because every effort geared towards providing water in the state has failed, leading to an unending water scarcity in Aba and Umuahia.
What is in vogue is water provided by private individuals in business places and private residence.
It is these private boreholes that serve residents of Aba and Umuahia as source for drinking water and domestic purposes.
It is a common sight, to see residents; especially children carry kegs of various sizes in search of water from one private borehole to another which are scattered across the cities.
As at the time of filing this report, most of the boreholes sunk by politicians as constituency projects are not functional even when they have been commissioned with a lot of fanfare.
In the rural areas, the people have continued to rely on streams and wells for their domestic water needs.
The state has about 14 water schemes namely Umuahia Regional Water Scheme, Aba Regional Water Scheme, Uzuakoli Water Scheme, Elu-Ohafia Water Scheme, Ehimiri Water Scheme, Abiriba Water Scheme, Ubakala Water Scheme, Afugiri Water Scheme, Ariam Usaka scheme.
Others are the Nnono Water Scheme, Igbere Water Scheme, Mbawsi Water Scheme, Mbutu-Ngwa Water Scheme,Umuagbai Water Scheme, Ogwe Water Scheme, Nkwo-Amiyi Water Scheme, Uturu Water Scheme, Olokoro Water Scheme, and Mbutu-Ukwu and Water Scheme, but none of them is functioning.
According to the Abia State government, they are willing to execute the abandoned water schemes, but would be doing so in partnership with reputable private institutions, companies and organizations which are to provide these services to the people either on a commercial or charity basis.
In Enugu State, due to the large deposit of coal underground, it is very difficult to sink boreholes and get water unlike in the other states of the South East.
The coal in Enugu has, however, made its residents depend largely on water from the public water supply which over the years has not been reliable.
Enugu has three major water schemes; namely the Greater Enugu Water Scheme at Ajali Owa, constructed in the 80s by the Jim Nwobodo administration.
It is the largest water scheme in the state, designed to provide water for the Enugu urban and its environs; it was designed to produce 77,000 cubic meters of water per day.
There is also the Enugu Augmentation Water Supply Scheme at Oji-River, which was constructed by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
It was designed to produce 50,000 cubic meters of water per day. The third and the oldest water scheme among the three water schemes, is the Iva Valley Water Scheme constructed by the colonial masters in the 40s.
This scheme, the smallest in the state, was designed to produce 4,400 cubic meters of water per day because of the population of Enugu. It is situated at the foot of the Milking Hill, Iva Valley.
Speaking to Saturday Sun on the state of these water schemes, Sir Mathias Nriji, Director Public Relations, Enugu Water Corporation, recalled that by the time the Sullivan Chime administration came to power in 2007, the Greater Enugu Water Scheme had already broken to almost zero point production.
Fortunately, in 2006, Enugu State alongside five other states of the federation benefitted from the National Urban Water Sector Reform Project sponsored by the World Bank and that caused the rehabilitation of the Greater Enugu Water Scheme and it became functional again.
The first phase of that project, Sir Nriji noted came to an end in 2013; as he pointed out that the reform project helped Enugu State Water Corporation to rehabilitate all the broken down electro-mechanical system in the water scheme.
“Before then the scheme had seven pumps at the low lift and four pumps at the high lift, making it 11 electric pumps. Unfortunately, before the rehabilitation all these pumps were broken down remaining one; but when the National Urban Water Sector Reform Project came on board broken down pumps were all made functional, between 2006 to 2013 when the project came to an end, Enugu was having water supply from that scheme. But unfortunately, from 2014 towards the end of that year and 2015, all the installed equipment started breaking down. Reason was that there were no spare parts provision in the rehabilitation project; spare parts were not there and equipment was all imported from overseas, Nriji added.”
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuany, according to Nriji, brought remarkable changes in water production and distribution in the state. “Within few months he came to office, he paid a familiarization visit to our water installations in Ajali and Oji, saw things for himself and was disturbed because when he came on board the water stopped running.
“He subsequently released funds to the corporation which has made it possible to work. If you go to the production point now at the Greater Enugu Water Scheme, you will see that the broken down pumps’ at the low lift have been fixed, remaining three pumps. And rehabilitation is still ongoing from the funds he provided to the state Water Corporation. Then at the high lift that was having only a pump we have recovered two pumps there now.
“At the Enugu Augmentation Water Scheme in Oji we have 15 pumps; five pumps in each of the three sub-stations. Before the intervention of the governor, only one pump was functional in each of the sub-stations, but today, we have been able to restore two each in the sub-stations and the rehabilitation work is still ongoing.
On the non-availability of the public power supply to some areas in the state capital, the director, public relations, noted that during pipeline improvement in the town there were three companies working in different zones.
He explained that while pipe replacement was successful in Awkunanaw, Ogui, Uwani, Independence Layout and GRA those of Abakpa, Trans Ekulu and Emene were stalled following the termination of the contract.
He added that as for the areas where they excavated the old line to lay the new line, but could not complete them are the ones having problems now. And I know the government is not overlooking it and I am sure something will be done very soon.
The late Chief Sam Onunaka Mbakwe is generally acclaimed as the best performing governor of old Imo State.
While in office, the late governor had established a number of water projects in virtually all the parts of old Imo State, which now comprises the present Imo, Abia and parts of Ebonyi states.
He had established water projects in the Okigwe Regional Water Scheme, Orlu Regional Water Scheme just as the Njaba River scheme was meant to serve the entire Orlu zone and Otamiri Water scheme in Owerri to take care of the water need of the entire senatorial zone.
These water schemes had functioned optimally throughout the regime of the late Mbakwe before the military sacked the civilian administration in 1983.
But as the years rolled by these water projects became dysfunctional, decayed and moribund as successive military administrations did not maintain them.
However, it was only during the military administration of Navy Captain Anthony Ogugua that attempts were made to revive the Okigwe water schemes. But even at that, the effort of the administration suffered a huge setback as the necessary chemicals and equipment were not procured before he was removed as the military administrator.
Also during Governors Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim regimes, these water projects were not revived as the Government House got its water supply from a borehole like other parts of the state. And this has not changed, the Rochas Okorocha’s administration also gets its water supply from a borehole.
Saturday Sun recalled that the revival of the Okigwe Regional Water scheme was abandoned by the Ohakim administration as a result of the government inability to fulfill the contractual agreement with the foreign firm engaged to manage the project.
The case of the Otamiri Regional Water Scheme was not different. The Udenwa administration had shortly on assumption of office handed the Otamiri Regional Water scheme to an indigenous firm under a PPP agreement to supply potable water to the residents of the Owerri capital city and its environs.
However, the Otamiri Water Scheme has not supplied water to residents of the Owerri metropolis as the premises has been overgrown with weeds.
Also in 2012, in a bid to ensure effective circulation of water in the state capital and the Government House, Governor Okorocha privatised the Imo State Water Corporation to the West African Utilities Metering System and Services Limited to manage the corporation.
The company was supposed to pay the state government an initial N100 million upfront and thereafter pay N10 million every month to government, but that agreement never worked.
In January 2016, the government out of frustration sacked the workers of the Imo State Water Corporation and the Imo State Water Development Agency for redundancy.
The governor thereafter concessioned the Imo State Water Corporation to Hengen Nigeria Limited in his bid to ensure that water was made available to the people of the state, but to no avail.
So, with all the regional water schemes becoming dysfunctional and the concessioning of the Imo State Corporation and the Imo State Water Development Agency carried out to revive the water schemes remaining moribund, residents of major towns in the state now rely on water from boreholes for their water supply while those in the villages who could not drill boreholes had resorted to water vendors.
As a result of the situation, prospective tenants who want to rent living apartments in Owerri and its environs now first inquire if the house has a borehole otherwise they would not rent it.
Investigations revealed that those who are building new houses across the major towns whether for commercial or personal purposes, have to drill a borehole.
Even old houses that previously do not have boreholes have also embarked on drilling one to retain their tenants, but which translates to increase in rent.
But in Owerri, there are boreholes where residents who do not have water in their homes come to buy.
Madam Alice a food vendor at Wethedral Road said that she spends about N500 daily to buy water for her cooking and washing dishes.
This she said, excludes sachets water and bottled water for the customers, pointing out that without these she cannot carry on with her business.
It is the same case for Stanley Uzoma who operates a laundry outfit.
He said he spends N1,000 daily to enable him do his business.
“There is scarcity of water in Owerri and those of us who are in this kind of business need plenty of water to wash clothes and to rinse them to be neat. So, I spend at least N1000 every day because we have to buy it and a keg of 40 litres is N100”.
Lamenting the inability of successive governments to ensure steady water supply to residents of the state capital, Chief Celestine Odom, a retired civil servant, said it was worrisome that there was no longer public water supply in the Owerri municipal as they had it in the days of the late Sam Mbakwe.
He pointed out that it was lack of real planning by the government that was responsible for lack of potable water in Owerri.
However, Dr Joachim Ezeji, an infrastructure and water utility specialist, said that the government alone cannot solve the water problem, saying that the state alone cannot provide all the required water, adding that the private sector needs to participate as it is done in other civilised world.
He, however, queried some of the state government policies, especially as regards concessioning or privatising the Imo State Water Corporation.
Dr Ezeji maintained that the government ought to have been proactive in getting clean water for the populace by ensuring that its regional water schemes are functional by replacing old pipes and the laying of new ones.
Despite huge sums of money already sunk into water projects in Ebonyi State, the issue of water availability is still far from being actualized.
Indeed, the Ebonyi State government has created a new Ministry of Water Resources as part of efforts to make water available to its citizenry.
However, despite the concerted efforts by Governor David Umahi, water is still not seen across the state.
The Commissioner for Water Resources, Mrs Euphemia Nwali said the state government has moved to revive the Ezilo Water Scheme built by the former governor of the old Anambra State, Dr Jim Nwobodo in the 80s.
She said the water project was very critical to the people, especially in line with Governor Umahi’s resolve to put all necessary amenities in place.
The commissioner said the Ezilo Water Scheme is very important as it is expected to serve the people of Abakaliki, the state capital, while insisting that the government is committed to the welfare of its citizens, adding that the water scheme was built in a way that it would be able to supply over 45,000 cubic metres daily to Abakaliki and its environs.
Also speaking, Engr Denis Nwali of Ebonyi State Water Board, said that the problem of water has been surmounted by recent approval of the governor for the piping and reticulation of Oferekpe and Ezillo water schemes within and outside the state capital.
He said that in the next few days, Abakaliki and its environs would benefit from the water schemes, adding that “in the next few days, we will be able to reticulate water to all homes, within the state capital while efforts are in top gear to complete the Ukawu water project so that it will serve Ishiagu and its environs.”
But, some residents of Abakaliki maintained that the state government has not done much in the area of provision of water unlike in other sectors.
They were of the opinion that little or nothing has been done in the area of water except the lip service paid by government officials as they called for more action in that regard.
“We have not seen policy being matched with action as regards the area of water supply in the state right from the time of former governors Sam Egwu and Martin Elechi. The government does not need billions of naira to get the Oferekpe water scheme which was almost 60 per cent ready, by the last administration working, all they need to do is to continue with that project, get the pipes passed and reticulate the water to the populace because people are dying of complications arising from the consumption of various water from poorly dug boreholes in the state,” Dr Gerald Okemini, one of its residents, said.
Niger Delta: Why peace talks collapsed –Militants
As military reiterates commitment to protect oil installations
From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
There appear to be confusion over the peace talks between the Federal Government and the Niger Delta leaders over the crisis rocking the region, with militants, already threatening to resume the bombings of oil facilities.
The Niger Delta leaders under the aegis of the Pan Niger Delta Forum led by the duo of Chief Edwin Clark and the Amanayanbo of Twon Brass, King Alfred Diete Spiff had met with President Muhammadu Buhari on November 1st 2016, where they presented a 16 point demand to the Federal Government, claiming that meeting the demands, was one sure way to ensure lasting peace in the region.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu after the meeting, had said the President, needed time, to study the demands and come up with a lasting solution to the demands of the Niger Delta stakeholders.
However, weeks after the first meeting, there has been no follow-up meeting, and there is no one in sight. This is making some stakeholders in the region conclude that the Federal Government was not ready for peace in the region, but was only buying time, to consider a military option, in resolving the crisis.
Ironically, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, (MEND), which had been a strong pillar of support for the Federal Government’s peace moves in the region, is of this school of thought. Its spokesman, had on New Year Day, issued a statement, passing a no confidence vote, on the Buhari government for its poor handling of the Niger Delta crisis.
On the heels of MEND’s no confidence on the Buhari’s government, came a statement from chief Edwin Clark, where he warned the Federal Government that militants might resume hostilities, if Buhari’s government prolongs the peace talks.
Investigations by Saturday Sun from multiple sources in the region indicated that there is a lot of confusion over the peace talks, and that the issue need to be sorted out, for the peace talk to take off.
The confusion, it was further gathered, is traceable to the different groups, angling to position their members ahead of the talks. This is in addition to the rebellion of other ethnic groups in the region against the Ijaws.
According to a source close to the militant groups in the region, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, led by Clark, goofed during the meeting with Buhari and could not articulate their point, thus making it look like it was an all Ijaw affair.
“Already the Chief E.K Clark group has disorganised the whole thing by demanding oil blocs. They were to hammer on the restructuring of Nigeria and demand freedom for Tompolo but they were telling Buhari things, they could not even say to Jonathan when he was in power. Tompolo is key to the peace in the Niger Delta region, so also are the Okah brothers. Our leaders need to go back to the drawing board and ensure all groups are represented for Buhari to take them serious” the source, said.
Jude Tabai a frontline youth activist in the region, popularly referred to as the Amanayanbo of Youths, who has vast experience in negotiating with militants, disclosed that the lack of seriousness on the part of Niger Delta leaders, was what was stalling the peace talks.
According to him, Buhari is deeply concerned about the problem of the Niger Delta, which is frustrating his economic plans for the country. Tabai disclosed that various people with vested interests have sabotaged the peace process, which has rendered the E.K committee a lame duck.
“I was privileged to know from the Presidency and other security agencies at the highest levels, concerning the genuine desire to solve the Niger Delta problem. But the handicap is that there are over 300 groups putting itself forward as problem solvers in the Niger Delta region. The President is serious but Niger Delta leaders are not serious.
“As a stakeholder in the Niger Delta region who is well grounded in the crisis, I have held meetings with security chiefs at the highest levels and I can tell you authoritatively that the biggest problem facing the Federal Government is lack of genuine leadership among the people of the Niger Delta. There are various acclaimed groups with vested interests, not the interest of the Niger Delta. The various voices talking to the Federal Government through bombing of oil facilities have affected the peace process,” he said.
On his part, the President of the Ijaw Youth Council Worldwide, Udengs Eradiri, who attended the November 1 meeting as an observer, said many of the Niger Delta stakeholders that were at the meeting were shocked when few days after the meeting, King Alfred Diete- Spiff, led members of the Niger Delta Contact committee to present another set of demands to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, which emboldened the Federal Government to continue to treat the Niger Delta issue, with scant regard.
Hear him: “At the meeting with President Buhari, it was obvious that he has nothing to offer to the region, After Chief Edwin Clark did the introduction, King Diete-Spiff did the presentation. It was therefore shocking when few days after the meeting with Buhari, King Diete-Spiff was again in Aso Rock to present another set of demands to Vice-President Osinbajo. I had to call him to express my reservation about his involvement in the second meeting and he was trying to lecture me. But I told him plainly that attitude, such as the one he has displayed are what makes the Federal Government look down on us.”
Rebellion against the Ijaws
Tabai further revealed that other ethnic groups in the region especially the Urhobo and Itsekiri have decided not to give the Ijaws the leeway to just take decision over the affairs of the region.
According to him, while the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) that commenced bombings have since declared ceasefire, other militant groups sponsored by other ethnic groups are the ones bombing facilities to send a statement that they should also be included in the peace talks if the Federal Government want peace.
“Ijaws were principal beneficiaries of the Federal Government’s amnesty programme because they were at the forefront of the Niger Delta agitation. Now after the NDA ceasefire, groups from Urhobo and Itsekiri like the Niger Delta Greenland Movement for Justice sprang up and started bombing oil facilities in the upland to tell the world that they are also a force to be reckoned with. These groups are being sponsored to rebel against the Ijaw people. Just do a fact check of oil facilities blown up in the last few months you will discover that there are mostly in the upland where you have the Urhobos and Itsekiri.
“The recent problem of Niger Delta started with Avengers and if the Federal Government can strike a deal with the leadership of the NDA, 60 percent of the problem is solved. The leadership of NDA would help the Federal Government to trace the leadership of the other aggrieved groups that believed that they are being sidelined because settlement with the NDA is seen as an Ijaw affair”, he added.
Forces behind stalled talks
Aside the issue of lack of a common front to discuss with the Federal Government, Tabai identified three forces closely connected to Niger Delta leaders, that are stalling the peace talks in the region.
According to him, the feud between Tompolo and his kinsmen Michael Jonny and Emani Ayiri an Itsekiri leader is what snowballed into the Niger Delta crisis, which has led to a national problem.
He said the bombings in the region would stop if the three forces were made to sit in one room and talk things over.
“At the first inaugural peace meeting on the Niger Delta crisis hosted by the NNPC at the Transcorp Hotel, Abuja, my advice on how to immediately stop the bombing was ignored. My advice was that Tompolo, Michael Jonny and Ayiri should be made to sit together in a room and discuss. The NSA, Minister of Defence, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs can bear me witness because they were in attendance. These three people are from Delta state and check it; most of the bombings are coming from Delta state. So the Federal Government should talk to them and the problem in the region is almost solved.
“The Federal Government should not bother itself about MEND. As far as most Niger Delta stakeholders are concerned, MEND are group of criminals trying to manipulate the system to remain relevant. The Federal Government needs not believe in 419 people that are being paraded as the solution to the Niger Delta problem. As things stand today in the region, there is no basis to discriminate along party lines because the crisis in the region is affecting everybody in the country,” the youth leader, declared.
Face-off over fresh threats
The NDA has threatened to resume bombings. The threat was contained in a statement, signed by Brig Gen Mudorch Agbinibo, the spokesman for the group.
The group declared that it took the decision to go back to the trenches because the prospect for a genuine dialogue and negotiations has been dashed.
According to the NDA, rather than concentrate on how to have genuine talks, the Federal Government was deliberately laying bobby traps to frustrate the talks.
“The world is aware that, the government of Nigeria has ear problems but we never knew that it has taken a deteriorating deaf level dimensions. It is only through hard knocks that we can speak to the Nigerian government henceforth”.
The military through the Director, Defence Information, Brig Gen Rabe Abubakar has been talking tough, warning the militants to desist from attacking oil installations.
Abubakar, who said the military would not condone any act of sabotage, further said that the military would ensure the protection of oil facilities in the region.