INVESTIGATIONSINVESTIGATION: Despite multiple borehole projects, Kwara community suffers water scarcity

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On a cold Friday morning in May, every household had rubber drums, metal containers, and clay pots filled with water gathered from rainfall from the previous night, lined up in front of their houses.

Individuals, especially women, were joyfully transferring the water into their kitchens in the Isanlu-Isin community, under the Isin Local Government Area of Kwara State. “Despite the rain starting around 2:00 am, I woke up to collect rainwater. During this season, it’s our main source for drinking and cooking,” said Ashaolu Ruth, 58, a resident of Isanlu-Isin.

According to Ashaolu, the Igbonla River used to be the primary source of water. “Until we used it to cook and the food’s colour changed to brown,” she said, illustrating her point with Obe Ila (a soup delicacy made from okra, popularly consumed among Yorubas).

Thus, to prevent diseases from ravaging the community, villagers stopped consuming the water and repurposed it for only bathing and washing clothes decades ago.

Engaged in tailoring activities in her small shop, another resident, Adeleye Oluwakemi, paused to lament about the water scarcity affecting the community, reflecting on her circumstances as a woman. Describing the difficulty she passes through to get water, she shakes her head raising her voice to scream “Iya omi n je wa gidi gan” which translates to “We are suffering greatly from the lack of water”.

 

“There are boreholes and wells that were dug, but due to the hilly terrain of this part of town, it is extremely difficult or impossible to access water. However, there are areas in other distant parts of town where water is easily accessible,” Adeleye said.

 

Like other women living in Oke-Aran, a suburb of the community, Adeleye is accustomed to collecting plenty of rainwater on rainy days and waking up at 4:00 am to fetch water from a well or borehole on dry days.

This is the stark reality of the report released by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and World Health Organisation which reveals a significant global disparity of women bearing the primary responsibility for fetching water for their households, while young women are nearly twice as likely as men to take on this task and spend more time doing so each day.

 

Amidst these severe complaints are several physical structures of borehole water construction and overhead tanks at different places in the community. Ajide Deborah, 66, an old trader engaged in petty trading, lives behind one of the overhead tanks equipped with taps.

 

 

Deborah, a resident of Isanlu-Isin

“This particular project was executed a long time ago but has never worked,” she explained. “Everyone in this area has to trek for a very long time to fetch water and then return with containers on their heads, walking up the hilly road. This water scarcity has led many houses in the area to be deserted by individuals who could not cope with the extreme water poverty”, she said.

Despite selling bags of sachet water, she cannot afford constant consumption due to financial constraints. Consequently, her children and grandchildren have to bear the burden of carrying large water containers on their heads up the hill. “The children become angry and tearful whenever they are asked to fetch water after school,” she lamented.

 

Fetching water in this fashion, according to Emmanuel Kilaso, the founder of Securecycle Environmental and Climate Change Initiative is a daily disruption during the formative years of children, especially affecting their education.

 

“Part of the children’s lives are spent fetching water when it could be used for development activities beneficial to the growth of the community and country,” he stated. It is logical to conclude that there will be improper sanitation in every community experiencing water scarcity, which could breed diseases and move the nation farther away from achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6, which focuses on clean water and sanitation.

The World Bank estimates that over 60 million Nigerians lack access to potable water, and 80 million lack access to improved sanitation facilities, with 167 million unable to access basic handwashing facilities. This, the experts say, is very disturbing.

Speaking on previous calls for intervention regarding the predicament, Ajide said, “Whenever politicians come to our community seeking our votes, we bring up the pressing matters of road and water infrastructure, and they promise to address them. However, once they take office, they seem to develop a sudden case of amnesia regarding our concerns.” Despite the political promises, the reality is that the Isanlu people continue to face significant development challenges, especially with road and water access.

 

Containers used by one household to collect rain water

Chief Babatunde Ayanda Michael, who holds the title of Chief Òdé, says, “A significant issue in certain areas is the difficulty of accessing water in a very sustainable way. Many residents attempt to dig wells, but these often run dry during the dry seasons. So people have to trek long distances to obtain water from other areas where individual households have constructed functional boreholes. But, even in those areas, not every household can afford to build a borehole, increasing water poverty.”

He also mentioned that government boreholes are mostly non-functional. Despite reports of these projects not working, political officeholders are frequently unavailable, especially when they are out of the office.

 

Government agency in charge of water projects has made no difference

 

 

In response to these water poverty calls, the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA), a government agency, was tasked with the responsibility of developing potable water supplies in the community.

 

Some of the borehole constructions in strategic areas of the community were projects supervised by this agency. However, these projects, which initially made the residents happy, have been executed at different times but have all resulted in failure. The biggest water project, aimed at providing water for the entire community, was executed in 2010 under the administration of former Kwara South Senator, Simon Ajibola, who was in power between 2004 and 2015.

 

A clay pot for collecting rainwater in the front yard of Ashaolu’s house

To ascertain the causes of abandonment and non-functionality of the projects, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was submitted to LNRBDA on May 31, 2024. The request specifically asked for information on the multiple failed water projects, including the amount paid, contractor details, and reasons for non-completion.

 

Swiftly, the initial response was communicated through a phone call, with a digital response provided later by the agency.

 

The response provided the details of the contractors and stated the reasons for the failure. “The Water Borehole project remains non-functional as you have observed due to significant changes initiated by the community in the original design and other vital components; this caused a major setback to the delivery of the project as the contractor had to abandon the initial excavation works which the Authority had to pay for.

“This resulted in a paucity of available funds, and subsequent funding could not be obtained. This was further compounded by the fact that Senator Ajibola, who facilitated the project, did not secure a certificate of return, leading to a complete cessation of funding,” the letter read.

In conclusion, the agency stated that the rehabilitation of the water supply scheme project is currently under the procurement process in the 2024 budget.

Contractors behind the failed Water Projects in Isanlu-Isin revealed

As stated in the FOI response, the projects supervised by LNRBDA were divided into three and assigned to three different contractors between 2005 and 2014.

The first project, for which N13.4 million was disbursed, is titled Upgrading of Water Supply Scheme (Rising Main and Main Pipeline at Isanlu-Isin) and was contracted to a certain company, Petmog Global Concept Limited, located in Lagos. A check of the company on the Corporate Affairs Commission portal disclosed that the company is currently inactive due to the absence of updated annual returns filing, indicating that the firm has not fulfilled its legal obligations by paying the necessary taxes and fees to the government within the stipulated timeframe.

A thorough check on online procurement portals NG-Check and Nigeria24 also confirmed its inactivity and non-closure of its operations or services.

The second company, Solvic Investment Limited was tasked with completing the rehabilitation of 2 Boreholes at Isanlu-Isin with a disbursement of N2.4 million.

An online search of this company on procurement portals—NG-Check, Nigeria24, and CAC—revealed that the company is also now inactive and lacks digital contact details.

During a visitation by this reporter to the physical address at Agba Dam, Ilorin, as revealed in the FOI response, the company could not be found. The revelation that the company had another physical location at the Ileatan compound, Omuaran, Kwara, necessitated a visit to the place, but it also could not be located.

The last project supervised is the construction of a complete Package Constituency Water Project Motorised Borehole at Isanlu-Isin, for which N5.7 million was also released. The contracting company is named Mafolayomi Press Limited, located at Block 2, Agba Dam Estate, Ilorin as revealed in the FOI response. However, a visit to this location by this reporter revealed that the company does not exist.

Likewise, an online search on the procurement portals and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) yielded no results for the company.

Shockingly, several online searches with the company’s name revealed that Mafolayomi Press Limited is a press industry based in Kaduna State, owned by Honourable Afolayan Musa Moses, a former member of the Kwara State House of Assembly.

Based on national procurement laws, it is evident that a press agency lacks the professional capacity to construct boreholes, and contradicts section 16 Public Procurement Act 2007. The section stipulates that all bidders, in addition to requirements contained in any solicitation documents, shall “(a) possess the necessary: (i) professional and technical qualifications to carry out particular procurements; (ii) financial capability; (iii) equipment and other relevant infrastructure; (iv) shall have adequate personnel to perform the obligations of the procurement contracts; (b) possess the legal capacity to enter into the procurement contract”.

In attempts to contact Hon. Afolayan it was discovered that he had died upon in 2016, while he was still in office.

Honourable Michael Buoye, a former local government counsellor of the affected ward, noted that if the tank constructed in 2010 under LNRBDA were operating adequately, the entire town would have enough water.

Considering the community’s topography, which includes both hilly and lower areas, it is primarily the hilly areas that suffer from water scarcity. He mentioned that the government had considered this topography before constructing the water project in the hilly areas, but, unfortunately, the project has failed to produce any water for nearly two decades. Emphasizing the importance of sustainability, he referred to the borehole project near Oke Aran, which was dug during the rainy season but ceased to function in the dry season.

During his tenure in office, according to him, resources were not provided by the state government to execute the water projects. Commenting on the level of underdevelopment, he highlighted that, while Ilorin is the capital of Kwara State, the state is more than just Ilorin, and stressed that development should not be centered solely on Ilorin.

By: Peace Oladipo

This story was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation

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