In Benue, It’s Thirst In The Presence Of Water

By Solomon Ayado

As the people continue to experience scarcity of water supply in Makurdi, the Benue State capital and other major towns of the state, SOLOMON AYADO writes that the location of the agrarian state in the midst of several water bodies, including the River Benue, has not given it any real advantage as regards access to potable water.

“I recall that many years ago, in the 1990’s, even up to 1998, water used to flow from the taps in nearly all parts of the town. In Wadata where my parents live, which wasn’t even really developed at the time, there was water supply to homes. Today, 15 years into our democracy, the case is different. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that I can’t immediately think of any part of the state capital that has regular water supply. It is indeed appalling and a big shame, I must say,” Monday Ogah, a resident of Kaduna Street, Makurdi, the Benue State capital, stated this when LEADERSHIP Weekend spoke with him about the water situation in the capital city.

The poor access to water supply in the state despite its proximity to the River Benue has remained a source of concern to all residents. Apart from the popular River Benue, there are other minor rivers like River Kastina-Ala, River Buruku and another river in Agatu local government which form the major water bodies in the state. For those unfamiliar with the terrain of the state, Makurdi, the capital is located on the banks of the River Benue. It is therefore a surprise to many that the state faces potable water challenge.

In 2008, the state government awarded contracts for the construction of the Greater Makurdi Water works, Otobi Waterworks and Katsina-Ala Water works at the cost of N4.99 billion, N2.6 billion and N1.5 billion respectively, with completion period of 18 to 24 months. The Makurdi water works has the capacity to supply 100,000 cubic metres of water per day while Otobi and Katsina-Ala have capacity for 15,000 cubic metres each.

However, the huge investments the government has made in the water sector can best be described as a drop in the ocean. The situation is akin to that of one in water but still thirsty. It brings to mind images of a canoe peddler who in spite of working on the water still goes to bed with his body dirty. The pitiable sight of children and women, some with babies strapped to their backs, trekking long distances to look for or buy water is a common feature in major towns in the state. The situation is worse in the villages where a huge majority of the population depend on shallow streams and hand dug wells for water.

In February 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan during a visit to the state, commissioned the Greater Makurdi Water Works projects. But the project has not yielded the expected result of providing water to the people, since it was commissioned. The pipes have remained dry. The government said it would require at least N500 million for reticulation before residents can begin to see water flow in their homes.

Residents of major parts of Makurdi, including High-level, New GRA, Modern Market and Wadata among others, are battling with water scarcity. In Gboko, Katsina-Ala and Otukpo towns, the situation is not different as residents largely depend on mobile water vendors popularly called mai ruwa. At the waterworks, heavy duty tankers throng in to buy water which is later sold to residents at exorbitant prices.

When LEADERSHIP Weekend visited the Greater Makurdi Waterworks site located beside St. Joseph’s Technical College, on old Lafia Road, Makurdi the entire area was in a state of chaos. From the entrance, water tanks and wheelbarrow trucks can be seen indiscriminately parked in and around the premises, making the road that links the Makurdi Old Bridge with North-bank impassable. The premises are also unkempt, with overgrown weeds dotting the grounds.

Although the water works still maintains its structure, maybe due to maintenance by the management of the place, signs of neglect are visible on other structures around the premises. This is in addition to punctured water pipes from which water gushes out uncontrollably.

Further investigations by LEADERSHIP Weekend at the Makurdi water works revealed that water tankers and wheelbarrow trucks lined up in the area purchase water from managers of the place, which they in turn sell to residents at rates determined by the sellers.

A vendor who was met at the place, who simply gave his name as Musa, told our reporter that a big water tanker is filled with water from the place at the rate of N2000 while the small tankers pay between N1200 and N1500.

“We buy water here at various rates and we sell it to residents around High level, New GRA and Modern Market areas, among others. We supply a big water tank to residents at N4,500 while the small tank is supplied at N2,500. But the price varies depending on the distance where the supply is made and the number of tanks a customer is able to buy,” Musa stated.

Meanwhile, for roving water vendors in Makurdi, mostly young men, they do not have a definite place to operate their business because, according to them, it is whoever beckons on them that they serve.

Abdul Umar was met buying water at a residence on Inikpi Street, High level in Makurdi. He said, “A jerry can of water is sold at N25 while the whole truck with 10 jerry cans goes for N250, adding that the price varies depending on the negotiation between the seller and buyer.

Similarly, many residents of suburbs including Agboul, Fiidi Apir and Gyado Villa areas have resorted to sourcing water from shallow wells and the River Benue. This is however causing a lot of water-borne diseases to the people as the water is usually not treated, medical experts noted.

Oche Inalegwu, 50, a resident of Agboul spoke to LEADERSHIP Weekend when our correspondent visited the area. He said “We are seriously facing water shortage here. Most times we buy water from mai ruwa or fetch from the streams around the area and most often, from the River Benue. Unfortunately, the situation is causing a lot of health problems to our people.”

Despite having identified reticulation as the stumbling block to water access in the state, it would appear the government is not prioritising the matter as there are no visible signs to prove otherwise. The newly appointed commissioner for water resources, Esther Zungwe could not be reached for comment when LEADERSHIP insisted her office.

However, the commissioner of Information, Justine Amase said in an interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend that the state government is saddened by the situation and is moving to acquire a bond from the financial market, part of which would be used to settle the reticulation problem of the Greater Makurdi Water works.

“We are almost there and you are aware that the state government is acquiring a bond from the capital market which part of the money would be used for the reticulation. But the issue of water scarcity has been there since the creation of the state and not because of the present administration. But I think that the Suswam administration should be commended for executing the project and for trying to obtain the bond which is in process, so that the money is properly utilised to solve the water reticulation problem,” Amase stated.

While residents of the state continue to wait for the government with uncertainty, one thing is however certain, the challenge of access to water supply in Makurdi and its environs is far from over and only time will tell when their woes would be over.

Source: Leadership Nigeria

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