A city afraid of its water…

The fear of Abuja water is the beginning of wisdom…

Mama Ekene is a 35-year old mother of three – Wisdom, Chinwe and Junior. She lives behind Babangida Market in the Federal Housing Estate, FHA, Lugbe, Airport Road Abuja, with her husband Emeka. Every morning, she is roused from her bed by a persistent Ka-ka-ka-ka-ka, ka-ka-ka-ka-ka, ka-ka-ka-ka-ka sound.

That morning, it was Idris Yahaya, a 20-year old water vendor. He was using a metal strip to call attention to his merchandise of ten jerry cans of water. As one of Yahaya’s regular customers, she beckoned to him. Each costs N30.00. Yahaya emptied ten of his jerry cans into Mama Ekene’s bins and vats, collected N300 from her and hurries to a nearby borehole to refill his jerry cans. Mama Ekene uses this water for cooking, washing and cleaning her home.

In the evening when her husband, Emeka, returns home, he comes with two cartons of bottled water. Each costs N700 and lasts only 2 days. ‘We spend roughly N6, 000 per week on water. But if my relatives are visiting or it is in the harmattan, I spend as much as N30, 000 every month for water’, Mama Ekene told me.

This happens in other places as well. Ayo Olugbenga, 32, said that ‘my landlord had a bore-hole and a well on the premises. If we wanted water for cooking and drinking, we had to buy from his bore-hole at N50 per bucket. If it was for other domestic chores, we drew from the well. In the dry season the well dries up and we buy water from him for all our needs’, he said.

In the ‘rich people’ areas too the story is nearly the same. John Akinbiyi, Lakeview Estate manager told us that water wahala in the estate took a bad turn after the visit of the Abuja area manager of the water board to the estate in April 2011. He allegedly told Akinbiyi to replace the estate’s water meter with a new one even though the old one was still working well.

Akinbiyi began to lose sleep. First, the manager levied him N20, 000.00 levy for the meter {which was supposed to be installed free of charge by the FCTWB}. He also made Akinbiyi foot the bills for to the installation of that new meter. After Akinbiyi effected all the payments and installed the new metre, he lost more sleep. His N76, 000.00 monthly bill for 29 units in the estate shot up above 100 percent to N736, 000.00 monthly. Akinbiyi said he studied the bill and found out that instead of the estate being billed for domestic water, the FCTWB gave him a commercial bill.

He tried hard to change his consumer status but it didn’t work. So he took his case to the public complaints commission. ‘When I gave proof in the form of receipts from our bankers that we were not defaulting in making payments of our tariffs, the area manager confiscated them,’ Akinbiyi said.

Abuja is Nigeria’s federal capital territory. Built in the 1980s, it became the administrative capital and ‘centre of unity’ on 12th December, 1991. The city centre, known as the ‘best purpose built city in Africa’ is the most expensive place to live in Africa. It presently has three districts, Phase 1 (Central, Garki, Wuse, Maitama and Asokoro, Phase 2(Kado, Durumi, Gudu, Utako and Jabi) and Phase 3(Mabuchi, Katampe, Gwarimpa and Wuje).

The city has two water treatment plants – phase one, built in 1983, and phase 2 built in 2000. Both are situated at the Lower Usuma Dam and run by the FCTWB. Its storage tanks are located in ‘rich people’ areas like Maitama, Asokoro, Gwarimpa, Jabi and several military installations. No such network of distribution exists in the ‘poor people’ areas. Only old hand water pumps provided by the Ibrahim Babangida programme of Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, DFRRI, in the late 1980s are found in some places.
These ‘poor people’ locations include Nyanya, Karu, Gwagwalada, Kubwa, and Jikwoyi. All of these towns lie close to towns like Lugbe, Chika, Kuchigworo and Pyakasa. Nobody thought about these towns when Abuja was being developed. ‘There are no water pipes laid here by the Federal Housing Authority, FHA, in the FHA Lugbe or in the other suburbs. There is no plan for electricity. There is no plan for sanitation. So when we build our houses, we try to take care of these needs, particularly the water needs of our tenants either by digging a well or constructing a borehole’, a landlord who wanted to be anonymous told me. Landlords and entrepreneurs exploit their tenants and customers as a result. They construct something that looks like a borehole in their compounds, seemingly guaranteeing unlimited water supply. Then, unsuspecting tenants pay N1.5million for a two bedroom flat in these suburbs.

Estimated population for Abuja in 2020 is expected to hit 5million from its current 4million inhabitants. If that actually takes place, per capita daily demand for water in litres would increase significantly from 80 to 108metres to a whopping 800,000metres.

The authorities know about this. Three years ago, they planned to build two new water delivery mains to be known as phases 3 & 4 water treatment plants. Two construction companies – Messrs Biwater and Sarplast Limited – the one British and the other French were awarded these contracts. The Biwater contract which was awarded on 25th July 2005 at a contract sum of nearly N15billion with a 24 month completion period has not yet been completed in 2011.

Before publishing this story, I got in touch with Ryan Murphy, director and group project finance director of Biwater to know the stage of work on the project. There was no response, two weeks after the request was made to him. My investigations however tell that as soon as 70% percent of the contract sum was paid to Biwater, various irregularities in the implementation procedure cropped up. Biwater complained about the site conditions, the need for improved and cost effective operating procedure and used other idiom for its inability to complete the water projects.

So the government decided to look into the matter. That review approved another N4billion (about a 27% increase in the original fee) for the Biwater contract. The project has not been completed. Five years after the review, Biwater suggested a ‘capital light funding structure’ as an ‘alternative to government debt’. In a letter dated 6th March 2009 to the FCDA, Biwater finance director Ryan Murphy said that the main features of the capital light funding structure were the following:

(a) that finance for water problems in Abuja and surrounding towns can be handled by a local special purpose company, SPC, without equity or dividends,

(b) that it is envisaged that the FCTWB would be a shareholder in the SPC, giving rise to a transparent partnership, because the ‘Banks require that the Ministry of Finance guarantees the obligations of the FCTWB under the water purchase agreement’,

(c) that Biwater would design, construct and operate the project assets until the loans are repaid, but will not take over or operate the state utility responsible for delivery of the water services.

But this proposal threw up a series of questions. One, if there is a ‘capital light funding’ option where a local company could get funds for the construction of a new water facility from a Dutch government development bank (according to Murphy), why pay N15billion to Biwater for the same purpose? Two, why pay an additional N4billion after the presentation of this proposal by Biwater? These posers must have engaged officials of the Bureau for Public Procurement, BPE. They refused to approve a certificate of ‘Due Process of No

Objection’ to the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, when it requested for the additional N4billion to augment the N15billion already paid to Biwater.

Our investigations at BM Communications reveal something strange. In July 2005 when the contract was awarded to Biwater Limited for the construction of the 20,000m3 Lower Usuma Dam Water Treatment Plant (Phases 3 &4), we found out that it was awarded based on an ordinary ‘preliminary engineering design’ instead of the final engineering design Biwater claimed at the time of the award. What transpired was that Biwater submitted two bids: the ‘Compliant’ as well as the ‘alternative bid’. Because the ‘alternative bid’ appeared to have lower costs, a shorter time completion timeframe and claims to the possession of modern technology, authorities at that time jumped at it. It turned out that the alternative bid was a mere preliminary engineering design supported by drawings, provisional bill of quantities, and a construction manual. Biwater did not reveal at that time that there was also a project consultant, Messrs Coyone et Bellier Nigeria Limited, who was supposed to prepare the final engineering design, review any new bill of engineering measurement and evaluation but who did not do so.

A similar case took place between Biwater and the Tanzania Water Board, Dare salaam Water and Sewer Authority, DAWASA, in 2005 when the Dam project was awarded. But DAWASA went ahead to cancel the contract and won a compensation of $8million when Biwater took up the matter for hearing at an International Arbitration panel, IAP. The IAP found out that Biwater did not follow conditions of a contractual obligation with DAWASA. ‘But if the Nigerian government takes Biwater to court like DAWASA, we would be humiliated. I say this with all sense of responsibility, and to accuse those who advised the authorities to enter into that contract with Biwater of compromising the interest of this country for theirs and Biwater’s’. They should have studied that contract carefully but they didn’t’, a highly placed government official who did not want his name published said.

Another water contract was awarded to Sarplast (WA) Limited, to construct two water storage tanks in the city centre to supply and install a 58.35km ductile iron pipes and fittings. These pipes were to extend from the Usuma Dam water treatment plants to each of the tanks, to facilitate supply and installation of control systems and other allied facilities. The year was October 2006. The original contract sum was N12Billion. And as at when a report of ongoing federal capital territory administration projects was requiring verification was being collated in July 2009, Sarplast had already collected half the contract sum, had executed only 20% of the project, and work had been suspended. The way things stand now, the project will not proceed if another N9billion is not pumped into the Sarplast contract: there are allegations that there was an under-estimation of quantities derived from initial designs, and that the prices of importation of the large diametre iron pipes have increased from 20% to 50% due to changes in custom duties and government policies.

Jubril Ibrahim is FCTWB director. He told me that water in Abuja is ‘fair and good’. According to Ibrahim, since the FCDA does not recognise the ‘satellite’ towns along the airport road as ‘satellite’, his board cannot take responsibility for their water problems. He said that he was aware of the Biwater and Sarplast contracts but ‘authorities at the FCDA and the director of Engineering of the FCDA should be in a better position to give you details’, he said.

So Abuja residents like Mama Ekene and many others are wary of consuming Abuja water. They prefer to buy from the vendors. Questions they ask mostly include: Is the FCTWB water potable? Is it clean? Does it meet the standards of the World Health Organisation or even that of NAFDAC? Can Abuja water pass laboratory tests if it is so subjected? We decided to speak with Godwin Odioko, a water expert in Abuja.

‘A good number of people who package water for public consumption get water from three primary sources – from the FCTWB, from boreholes and from the rivers. Water from the river or lake is the most dangerous because most people shit in the rivers. They also empty their industrial and domestic waste into these rivers. Now, you should also be aware that that is where the FCTWB gets its water too. So, either from a borehole or from the river, the water has to be tested and treated before it becomes safe for consumption. It would interest your readers to know that even water from the FCTWB for packaging either as bottled or ‘pure water’ has failed the laboratory tests conducted by NAFDAC before such waters are certified as fit for consumption. To the ordinary person on the street, the water from the FCTWB may look colourless, odourless and tasteless but it falls short of many of the other 36 criteria for water to be potable – the Ph level, E-coli, the salmonella and so forth’, Odioko said.

I visited Sabo Lugbe, along the airport road, Abuja. Residents live in shanty houses without sewage and toilet facilities. They get their drinking as well as domestic water from three boreholes and from wells beside huge mountains of refuse. Bath and domestic waste water is randomly thrown away on the streets. Rubbish litters everywhere and the stench of excreta fill the air. Akeem Jamiu, 32, told me that when it is dry season, residents sometimes queue up at boreholes till midnight for water to meet their needs. Sometimes there are fights leading to broken jerry cans and heads. Figures from the World Health Organisation, WHO, Department of Public Health and Environment, August 2010, reveal a ‘burden of diseases’ attributable to drinking unsafe water and living in circumstances like Sabo Lugbe. Compared to Bangladesh [150million], Mexico [103million] and Japan [127million] Nigeria [138million], leads in inability to supply safe water and manage water resources. In a UNICEF 2000 survey of 30 countries whose populations have access to safe drinking water, Nigeria was not listed, even though Algeria, Egypt Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Sudan, South Africa and Zimbabwe were. In August 2011, over 100 people in Sabo Lugbe died from diarrhea. There are no official records – there are no hospitals and health centres in the suburbs.

Odioko believes that fear of water in this city is the result of overstretched facilities in a ‘fast growing city’ like Abuja. But a report by Water Sanitation and Hygiene, WASH, insists that ‘some of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the world are managing far better than smaller and settled populations’. The report also said that the most common reason for failure in providing water is a lack of efficient management, accountable local and municipal authorities and a national will to solve the problem.

Supplementary reports by Ajibola Majulagbe, Mass Communication Department, Maurid Institute, Nasarawa State, Nigeria.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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