Favour, Benice, and Francis –all siblings were delighted when the news broke that they would soon stop racing down Edewe River to fetch water. Favour, the oldest of the siblings, had not even been born the last time the community last experienced the joy of drinking and fetching pipe borne water, now 30 years ago. “I have never seen water flowing from tap heads in Ugboha, Esan South East in Edo State. My mother once told me that late Ambrose Alli, then Governor of old Bendel State, provided water supply to every community in the old Bendel State,” she said. It was therefore with high expectations that she and Benice, her younger sister as well as Francis, the youngest among them, were looking forward to seeing new tap heads erected in their village. Benice had hoped that she and her siblings would no longer struggle every day to fetch water down the river.
But that was not to be.
“We go to Edewe River every day to fetch water for our mother,” 15-year old Favour said, pushing a wheelbarrow with two empty 25 litre gallons toward the bumpy road leading to the river. Like many other kids in the community, they trek the long distance every day to fetch water for their mother’s domestic use and for drinking too because due to the lack of pipe borne water at Ugboha. As to be expected, Favour said getting the loaded wheel barrows up from the River to their home is an energy-sapping task, and it is one tedious task they must carry out every day. For every trip, the children spend an average of 30 minutes to and fro – exerting themselves behind the wheel barrows loaded with gallons of water, each of which weighs as much as 50kg. According to UNICEF, about 70 million people, out of a population of 171 million Nigerians, lack access to safe drinking water.
Further, over 110 million lack access to improved sanitation in 2013 while open defecation rates, at 28.5 per cent pose a grave public health risks to many in the nation. Every year, an estimated 124,000 children under the age of 5 die because of diarrhoea, mainly due to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene. Lack of adequate water and sanitation are also major causes of other diseases, including respiratory infection and under-nutrition. As Favour and her siblings race down to fetch water each day, they always walk past glance the building housing the Northern Ishan Water Supply Project awarded back in 2005 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo to provide water to Ugboha, Uromi and environs. They continue to hope that one day, it will serve their community.
The water project, awarded to Chinese construction company, CGC, at the sum of N2.2billion, was jerked up to N2.4billion in 2009. “The dam is there and we are still rushing down to Edewe River to fetch water,” young Favour, said in an echo of lamentation mixed with disappointment. All the while looking towards the main office of the multibillion naira water supply project, bounded by rivers such as Obuh where the water project is dammed, Edewe and others around. The people of Ugboha, like any other community rely on river water for their daily chores and consumption and although within and around the community, there are over fetching points provided as part of the project designated to serve the community, none of them could bring forth even a drop.
The ICIR findings revealed that, of the over 70 fetching points contained in the bill of quantity of the contract for the water project, only 35 were provided for Ugboha by the construction company. Also, piped water network otherwise known as water reticulation is one of the major issues that have delayed the completion of the project since 2012. In 2014, Friday Itulah, a member of House of Representatives representing Esan South-East/Esan North-East Federal Constituency, moved for the completion of the project. Itulah, a former Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, said insufficient water reticulation in the community hosting the water in-take plant led the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to appropriate in 2012, the sum of NI70million, which he said was not eventually released for the project.
That sum, Itulah, speaking on the floor of the House of Reps then, said was released through Owena River Basin Development Authority to DADIM Integrated Concepts Limited for the reticulation. According to him, another N130million was to be released for outstanding payment, compensation and revatilisation of equipment by the ministry to the main contractor- CGC, which he said was also not released. In all, a total of N300 million delayed the completion of the project in 2014 and Itulah suggested for its inclusion in the 2015 fiscal year Appropriation Act. But four years after he moved the motion for the completion of the project, it remains uncompleted, with the water reticulation still not done. Six of the tap heads at Egwuare Ugboha, where the water project’s main office is situated, have never supplied water− the real reason Favour and her younger ones whose home is just a few meters away from one of the tap heads, still go to river every day to draw water. Augustin Odion, a farmer in the village denounced claim of the Federal Government that the project has been completed as recently listed among the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Odion, returning from the river having gone to help lessen the burden of his children who run the errand every day, balanced a 25litre gallon of water on his head while holding another four-litre gallon in his left hand.
In plain terms, Odion said if water was running he would not need to go to the river to fetch water that morning. “Which water dem complete? The water is not completed, dem no complete am,” he queries with admixture of jest and anger in his voice finding an escape through Pidgin English and standard English language.
“I decided to help my children today because they have more work to do. Out of 70 taps they are supposed to give our people, 35 were given to Ugboha and the six that belong to the host community are not even working,” says Odion who formerly worked as a security guard for CGC at the site of the water project. For Oshahon Friday, another farmer, riding his Qlink Motorcycle down Obuh River is part of his daily routine, because according to him, the river is the only source of water available for him and his family to drink since the water supply project is yet to function.
“This na the water we dey drink,” Friday said, strapping two 25-litre gallons filled with water on the carrier of his motorbike. When reminded the water is not safe for drinking, by this reporter, he defiantly replied: “Na so we dey drink am.” “If we no drink this water, na wetin we go dey drink my brother,” he further asked rhetorically while pushing the bike up the road.
A food vendor at Ugboha main junction, who preferred to be identified in this report as Mama Sunday, said the reticulation of the water supply project didn’t get to her area. She and her children, she said, go to the river to get water for domestic use but rely on sachet water, widely known as ‘pure water’ when it comes to drinking. With a bag of pure water containing 20 sachets and costing N100, her family, she said, consumes at least three bags of water in a week.
“The tap no reach here, na only market area e reach. E dey flow there only when they open the dam. But we no get am here,” she said in Pidgin English When it was awarded, the water project was designed to supply water, alleviate community and socioeconomic needs of the people of Esan North East and South East Federal Constituency in Edo State. Findings by The ICIR revealed that 13 years after it was awarded, the water supply project, which is expected to pump 9,000 cubic metres of water per day, is uncompleted and yet to serve its host community−Ugboha. The palace of Onogie of Ugboha, the traditional ruler of Ugboha community, has only a water tap that also does not bear a drop of water. The tap is one of the two designated for the palace but the second one was never provided.
An uncompleted project, yet commissioned
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture and Suleiman Adamu, his Water Resources counterpart last year handed over documents of the water supply project to Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State at a symbolic commissioning held at the Governor’s Office in Benin City. Seen as taking credit for the work not done regarding the water project, the host community protested. In November 2017, Suleiman Adamu, Minister of Water Resources, listed the Northern Ishan Water Supply project among eight projects he said will be commissioned in early 2018. The project, he said, was one of the 116 abandoned or uncompleted projects the Buhari administration inherited, saying his ministry conducted a technical audit and prioritized the hitherto uncompleted or abandoned 116 major projects inherited.
Therefore, on May 23 this year, Adamu, in the company of Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and other officials of Federal Ministry of Water Resources and those from Edo State Government, headed for Ugboha to commission the project −but it was a mission impossible − they were chased away by an angry mob at the community who set up a fire barricade at Ugboha main junction in protest against the shoddy job done. Rather than get scared by the presence of heavily armed security operatives that accompanied the ministers and their entourage, the angry Ugboha youths backed by their elders, stood their ground. Pointing at the main entrance of the community, a youth in the community who did not want his name to be mentioned, said:
“This is where we stopped them.” But the commissioning was done− though symbolically at the Government House, Benin City. The team, according to those familiar with the event, hurriedly moved to Benin City where the minister handed over the documents of the project to Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State as a completed and commissioned project. “We have finished our intervention programme and we are here today to hand over the project to the Edo State Government led by Governor Godwin Obaseki,” Adamu was quoted to have said while handing over the project documents to the governor, stressing the satisfaction that government was satisfied with the quality of job done.
Listed for commissioning twice yet still uncompleted
Despite not having been completed, the administration before President Buhari’s government put the project up for commissioning on two botched occasions. In 2011 and 2012 under former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Northern Ishan Water Supply Project was listed as completed and ready for commissioning − but attempts by that administration to also commission it was rebuffed by the people of the community on the issue of water reticulation and compensation for damaged farms and properties.
In her mid -term report (2011-2013), Sarah Ochepke, Minister of Water Resources under Jonathan, listed the water supply project among others as completed and ready for completion. Ochekpe said the water project, which gulped N2.497 billion and created 120 jobs, would serve 150,000 people in the said report. Also, Obadiah Ando, her predecessor, in his Roadmap for Water Sector in 2011, listed the project as completed and ready for commissioning. Former Vice President Namadi Sambo in 2012 was expected to commission the project, but protest by the host community over the insufficient water reticulation and compensation to land owners and farmers, whose properties and economic trees were affected, led to the postponement of the commissioning. While Jonathan and Buhari’s administrations have claimed that the project is completed, in reality the project remains uncompleted till date.
The project is still hampered by issues of reticulation, delayed construction of roads to the river and compensation to land owners. A pump house constructed beside Obuh River where CGC dammed the water and to supply water to the main station at Ugboha and Uromi, was under lock and key when this reporter visited. No worker was in sight also. A bridge constructed by the Chinese firm on the river to link the next village is in bad shape and a makeshift bridge allegedly constructed by CGC over Obuah River to link the next community is nothing compared to the quality work expected of such a construction firm. Apparently constructed from metal scraps and slabs, the bridge is already showing signs of rust and imminent collapse.
There are no hand railings to support pedestrians or prevent them from falling into the river which flows at a high currency. “There have been cases of people falling into the river,” said Jesty, a native of Ugboha whom the reporter saw by the river bank during his visit to the community. The absence of workers at the pump house, he said, was evidence that the project was not properly done.
“If it was done well and commissioned, why are there not workers here?” he queried. According to him, the road that leads to the pump house from Egware Ugboha which ought to be constructed as part of the project was completely eroded, and that is partly the reason why the project remains uncompleted. Years of neglect and torrential rainfall have washed off gravels laid on the road and kerb erected on its side years ago when the project was awarded afresh, suggesting that efforts were made in the past by CGC to construct it. There were signs that it was hurriedly graded at Egware Ugboha ahead of the botched commissioning yet driving a vehicle on the road is near impossible. Odion told The ICIR that the government officials who wanted to commission the project wouldn’t even be able to drive down to the river due to the deplorable state of the road.
“Their motor no go ever pass the road to see the river,” he said, and added that people of the community did not allow them to go beyond the main junction. Villagers who ply the road with motorbikes to get water at either Edewe or Obuh River do so with some sort of dexterity, else there would have been fatal crashes due to the appalling state of the road. When Saliu Ahmed, Managing Director Benin Owena River Basin Development Authority, the supervisory agency for the project, was met by The ICIR reporter in his office at Kilometer 24, Benin-Sapele Road, Obayantor, he declined to comment on why the project has not been completed. After initial pleasantries and introduction by this reporter, Ahmed requested to see the reporter’s Identity Card which was promptly handed to him. But he would later insist that a formal letter be written to his office on the aspects of the project in which the reporter was interested.
“Let’s make it formal, we have to document it,” he said, adding, “go and write us and we will respond to those issues.” “Yes, I have seen your Identity Card, but I can’t just grant you an interview just like that,” he said. He would also not be persuaded by the reason that the reporter flew from Abuja to Benin for the interview. Subsequently, a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) was sent to his office on June 20, 2018 and the request was not honoured at the expiration of the seven working days allowed by the FOI Act for a respondent to respond, neither did his office ask for an extension.
Earlier, on June 4, 2018, an FOI request was sent to the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Abuja demanding for the detail of the contract. The ministry is yet to respond to the request. In the 2015 budget, the project was listed as ongoing and a sum of N6, 189,529 was appropriated for it. In the following year, it was categorised as a new project and a total of N150, 000,000 was appropriated for it. But the project could not be traced in the 2017 budget. It is conceivable there was no appropriation for it.
The politics and people’s anger
James Odoh, popularly known as Abela in Ugboha, is the Secretary of the Ugboha Progress Union (UPU), an interest group that has been sending petitions to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources on the unpaid compensation to owners of land taken over by the government for the construction of the water supply project and water reticulation.
He confirmed that youths and elders of Ugboha blocked the road to prevent the commissioning of the project. “We have been writing and writing without getting any response from the government,” he said. The amount calculated by the union for compensation of economic crop and farmland affected by the siting of the project, according to a copy of petition written in 2012 sighted by The ICIR was N3, 808,000. In the petition, the community also demanded that qualified sons and daughters of Ugboha should be employed by the contractor during the construction and government when the project is completed.
“Whereas we have qualified graduates who are engineers and computer analysts, they only employ our people as security and casual workers,” he said. Abela and his compatriots are angered that while Uromi and Irrua as well as other communities are enjoying the water project, their home − Ugboha, the source of the water is lacking pipe borne water. “Our people say who first reach river no dey fetch dirty water, but here at Ugboha, na dirty water we dey fetch. That’s not fair to us,” he submitted, arguing that once the water was pumped, the pipes laid around the community burst due to inferior materials used, besides the feeling of resentment that the water flows straight to Uromi and environs without serving them.
“When they pump the water, it goes to Uromi direct, they abandon us here and we are the owner of the river,” he further stated. Their demands, he insisted, is for the government to fix the road that leads to the river, pay compensation due to them and complete the water reticulation so that the whole community can be served.
Their reservations and anger seem to have the royal blessing of the traditional ruler of Ugboha, who also has insisted that the project was never completed before commissioning. “The project is not completed and for my people to protest, they know why,” says Stephen Ukator, the Onogie of Ugboha. As he makes for his Toyota Sequia SUV car to exit his palace when approached by The ICIR reporter, he simply pointed to a tap head standing in his compound as an example of the claim that the water project was not done satisfactorily. “If they say it is commissioned, I don’t know about that, let them complete and commission it,” he said as he drove away in apparent disgust. Like the traditional ruler, Abuya Ogbemudia, a youth leader in the community is angry, accusing the Federal Government of perpetrating corruption while claiming to be fighting corruption.
“It is fraudulent to list this project in the achievements of this administration,” he said, adding: “It is corruption to list what you did not do as your achievement.” To him, the siting of the water project at Ugboha and naming it Northern Ishan Water Project is more political, because, according to him, Ugboha is in Ishan South East while Uromi is part of Ishan North East. Ogbemudia argues that Tony Anenih, a former Minister of Works under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration who hails from Uromi, influenced the award of the contract. But he said it could not be sited at Uromi as there is no river there.
“We are not Northern Ishan, we are Southern Ishan, Ugboha is in Ishan South East. “Uromi, Chief Anenih’s place is Northern Ishan, and has no water or river, the Chinese water engineers from CGC came to Ugboha in search of water. The water project was originally approved to be sited at Uromi.” Ogbemudia recalled how the people of Ugboha were approached by the Chinese engineers on their plans to dredge Obuh River for the project to supply water to the whole Ishan. “They approached our Onogie and we showed them the road to the river and we didn’t attach any conditionality to it.” He lamented that despite not giving the government or the contractor any condition, the people’s farmland were taken over, their crops were damaged and now the water project does not serve them in any way.
We will construct the road -Edo State Government
The Edo State Government is not unaware of the poor state of the road leading to the dam and the agitations for water reticulation and compensation by the people of Ugboha. Three months to the commissioning of the project, Yekini Idaiye, the state’s Commissioner for Energy and Water Resources, was at Ugboha to see the dam himself. “When we got there, we discovered that there is no access road to the dam, even the road to the pumping station is in a deplorable condition,” he recounted. Admitting that the project was the baby of the federal government, Idaiye told The ICIR that he reported the sorry condition of the road to the governor who directed that it should be constructed by the state’s Ministry of Works.
“He asked me, is the dam okay? I said yes, can it serve the people? I said yes sir. He said okay, I should send a memo to the Ministry of Infrastructure that is the Ministry of Works, which I did. The Ministry of Works then sent a technical team to go and do the evaluation of the road.
“As I speak to you now, they have done the drawing; they have done everything to construct that road to the dam. That was where we stopped,” he said. Though he said the project’s bill of quantity was never shown to him and he wouldn’t know the specifications therein, the commissioner disclosed that he contacted the Managing Director of Benin Owena River Basin Development Authority on the reticulation issue, adding that the agitation by the people concerning water reticulation was well placed.
“I saw reason with them in the area of reticulation and I called the MD of Owena and he told me that they are already working. The following day the MD of Owena went there. “It is not our duty to do the fetching points; Benin Owena River Basin Development is the one handling it. They said they were to be given 70 fetching points around the entire town. But they have been able to do 47,” the commissioner said, adding the state government will engage the federal government on the compensation.
“Their challenge is that they have not been compensated, that their farmland were destroyed, the crops were damaged. They want compensation from the Federal Government; the second one is that the water should be reticulated round the town. And that, why would they site a project in their place and be extending the water to Uromi and other areas without giving them water,” he said.
Governor Obaseki, The ICIR was told, is setting up a panel of inquiry on the project with the view to proffering a lasting solution. But as it stands, the Federal Government has already listed the project as one of the achievements of President Buhari in its Fact Sheet when he marked his third anniversary in office on May 29, 2018. In the Fact Sheet, the project is among the seven water projects categorised as completed by the administration. In it, the Northern Ishan Regional Water Supply project is written as supplying water to the people of Ugboha and Uromi.
- This investigation was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR
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