The Challenges of Water Supply Schemes in the Nigerian Context

About the author:  Oluwabunmi Michael has been in the Nigerian water industry since 2003. He holds a post-graduate diploma certificate in Applied Geophysics from the Federal University of Technology, Akure in Ondo State, South Western Nigeria. He has been a major player in the water engineering industry in Nigeria, having performed water engineering and other engineering and construction related water works. Further, he has supervised water projects in the all parts of Nigeria and has prepared tender/bidding documents and as well represented companies he has worked with at tender/bidding opening ceremonies for government and Unicef (A Field Office, Enugu Nigeria) water projects contracts.

Presently he is the CEO of Faith-Hydroworks Ltd based in Lagos, Nigeria. You can connect with Oluwabunmi Michael via Linkedin.

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Water is a necessity in every day of our life. In our homes, offices, schools, hospitals, markets, industries, and even in our personal journey, there is always the need for continual water supply to meet our basic water needs.

The Federal Government of Nigeria took it upon herself to ensure that there is constant supply of potable water to her citizens and foreigners who are residing in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Water Resources arm of the Government has been doing a good job on behalf of the Federal Government to ensure regular water supply in the country. To achieve this enormous task, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources also does this in association with the state’s arm of the Ministry of Water Resources, Federal and States constituted water Agencies, local Government arm of the Departments of Water Resources, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), as well as the well to do private individuals, in their philanthropic gesture.

Like any other government in any part of the world, the Nigerian Government has done well in water supply projects in the country. However, water supply projects, which is aimed at ensuring that potable water gets to all the parts of the country, have been facing a lot of setbacks.

The Challenges

There are many reasons for not achieving water supply distribution equally in Nigeria. In this article, I will limit my discussion on the challenges faced to six (6) reasons. These six basic challenges are common to the Federal, State, and Local Governments, as well as the NGO’s,
and even to the private individuals, in their effort to ensure potable water supply to the people. The challenges include:

  1. Poor fund management
  2. Government insincerity
  3. Inadequate information/education
  4. Land issues
  5. Artificial water scarcity
  6. Maintenance

Poor Fund Management

In the water supply structure of Nigeria, the major client either at the Federal, State, or local level is the government. Other clients include NGO’s, the well to do individuals who are spending their own money on water projects and giving the projects out free to communities, as well as the private individuals who are providing the water projects to ensure regular water supply in their offices and homes. Top among the NGO’s is UNICEF, which has made tremendous contributions to the supply of potable water in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Other notable NGO’s include; The World Bank (supporting water projects financially), The Rotary Club of Nigeria, The Lions Club of Nigeria, and religious bodies like churches and mosques.

But funny enough, even the major clients in this context do not see the need to ensure proper fund management when executing any water supply project. On a yearly basis, the same thing always seems to be repeating itself again and again. In executing and delivering any water project the terms of the contract are always clearly stated in the contract documents, especially those that have to do with funds. Ironically, along the same line, it is either the contractor or the client that is found not adhering to the contract agreement.

Sometimes it may take the client several months to release mobilization funds to the contractor. When this happens the contractor is delayed in moving to the site to commence work, which in turn will delay the completion of the project. Sometimes when the contractor gets mobilization funds, instead of using the money to start work on the water project, the contractor may decide to use the money for another purpose, hence delaying the project even further.

In the course of executing the water project, after the contractor has raised a payment certificate for the next payment as per the contract agreement, the protocol in the Ministry of Water Resources and other client offices may take several months before the check for the contractor is ready. This means that the contractor has to wait for as long as it takes for the next payment to be made before returning to site to continue work. While all these delays are happening, one government leaves power and another government takes over. Therefore, some water projects are delayed for years before completion, while some are eventually abandoned. When water projects are delayed for a long amount of time, both the contractor and the client have huge loses the contractor loses and the clients also make huge loses. However, when water projects are abandoned, the client takes the burden of the loss.

Government Insincerity

In Nigeria, government insincerity either at the Federal, State or local level is purely for political reasons. The political structure in the country is such that anybody who aspires to be a politician has one ambition. That ambition is to be in government to gain power. Funny enough very few, if any, are aspiring to be in government to sincerely and faithfully serve the people that elected them into power. The majority of them are aspiring to be in power for ulterior motives and their selfish interests.

The grassroots, as politicians call it, is the starting point or foundation for anybody who wants to succeed as a politician in Nigeria. Therefore, the politicians, in their smartness, do everything in their power to convince and buy-over the grassroots people during their political campaign before any election so that they can be accepted. Thus, the Nigerian political structure can be said to be in this order from the bottom to the top:

–      The low class (Grassroots) people

–      The middle class people

–      The high class people

The grassroots people are the primary and secondary school teachers. They also include the bricklayers, the carpenters, the vulganizers, the motor mechanics, the bakers, the motor drivers, the laborers, and the market women, who are doing their businesses at the local level. They are the most easily accessible to the local government and the politicians in the wards (political terms in the Nigerian political circles). These people depend on the streams in their villages/locality/communities, their private hand-dug wells, or sometimes their ancient rivers in the very outskirt of the village or at the town entrance as the major source of their daily water supply for drinking and for domestic purposes.

Ironically, this set of people constitutes about 70% of the voters during elections. They are the ones that need a potable water supply most because they are not financially strong enough to sink/drill boreholes. They cannot even afford to pay for the construction of a mini water treatment plant to treat the water from their streams or rivers before drinking. Yet they are the ones suffering from in-adequate or non- supply of potable water as a result of the political structure.

The middle class people, in the Nigerian context, are a combination of the educated and the non-educated who are doing their business on a higher level. They are the modernized motor mechanics, furniture makers, caterers, decorators, event planners, comedians, actors/actresses, small scale industrialist, as well as those people working in government establishments such as government parastatals, banks, and NGO’s offices. They also include the lawyers, lecturers in the higher institutes of learning, medical doctors, nurses, etc.

This set of people make-up about 20% of voters during elections. This may be due to their very sophisticated lifestyle which might not let them have time to stand in the sun for hours to cast their votes. However, they benefit above average in the regular supply of portable water because they live in the urban cities. The political constituencies and the senatorial districts are majorly located in the urban areas. Also, this set of people have the financial strength to drill boreholes and construct water treatment plants as back-ups for government provided water supply, if it fails to work. In many occasions these people do not depend on the government for potable water supply, and instead make their own private arrangements for their source of water.

The people in the high class are the politicians who are actively, presently, or formerly in the government at the Federal, States or local level, holding superior posts. We can also find captains of industries, senior level officers in the petroleum industry, bank executives, contractors, footballers playing professional football in big clubs in Europe, successful musicians and top government officials, etc, in this category. They are the remaining 10% of voters during elections. These people in the real sense of it rarely vote during elections. Yet they enjoyed the un-interrupted supply of potable water. They live in the Government Reservation Areas (GRA), the most expensive areas in each state of the country and the capital, Abuja. In these areas, the government is committed to ensuring that all government water projects work for their comfort.

It is interesting to know that in this class each home, office, industry, school, or hospital etc, has an industrial or domestic borehole drilled for water supply, or as a back-up supply. Water treatment plants are also available for these people because they have the money to have them constructed. Because this class has the highest level of political influence, it is here that decisions are made as to where a water project will or will not be located.

In my field experience while supervising a Federal Rural Water Supply Scheme, I led a project team to execute water projects in the Western, Eastern and Northern parts of Nigeria. After successful completion and handing over of water projects, the location of the projects on the contract papers is the same, but the physical location of water projects are changed to favor the Senator or the Honorable member from the Federal House of Representative from Abuja, who is believed to facilitate the water projects.

There was a particular surface water project which was meant to take its water source from a flowing stream in a community. A mini water treatment plant was designed for the project which will have a raw water tank and an overhead treated water storage tank on a 9m steel stanchion. But the politician believed to be the facilitator of the water project changed the original location of the project as it was on the contract documents to where he wanted the project to be sited. The project was delayed for about twelve months, if not more, to do the necessary alterations. At the end of the day, two domestic boreholes were drilled. All other design for the water project remains. The project was eventually sited opposite the politician new house (under construction). This type of case does occur, and unfortunately there is nothing anybody can do about it.

Another area of government insincerity is in the award of contracts. The Due Process Office is saddled with the responsibility of handling the award of contracts. Even with this arrangement by the government, there is always a power play. More than 50% of the water project contracts are usually awarded to the politicians as a means of settlements. The politicians then frequently sub-contract the project to the professionals after removing more than the profits in the contracts. For their own part, the desperate professionals who want to be engaged and also be recognized for big government projects, will joyfully grab the opportunity from the politicians.

In the course of executing the projects the professionals suddenly discover that the available project funds are actually not enough to finish the project to the required standard. He has already accepted the contract and commences work on the project. Therefore, the projects suffers delays or abandonment until the government either re-awards the same project to another contractor or the contractor gets approval for variations from the government, whereby he can enjoy additional funds for the same project. Meanwhile, the politician turned contractor is allowed to walk around freely with the money in his pocket. Even with the existence of Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) and other anti-corruption agencies, nothing much, if anything, has been achieved to recover such money from the so called politicians turned contractors.

Inadequate Information and Education

The first two basic challenges were based on the clients and the contractors. The next two will focus on the final consumers. Here, the people will be the main focus. People are not properly informed and educated about the need to have potable water. Many of the people living in rural areas are so used to the ancient streams and rivers where they get water for drinking and domestic purposes that any attempt to try to introduce any other form of water supply to them will appear like a taboo. In fact, they will tell you the history of how their great grandfather and grandmother have used the stream/river in their community to raise them and all their brothers and sisters.

Even after the people are eventually convinced and the water project is provided, the people don’t let go easily of their conservative nature.  In my personal field experience, even with the elite in the cities, I discovered that the information with regards to World Health Organization (WHO) standard for drinking water is not known by many. Most of the individual potential clients that I met were only interested in having a borehole in their homes and offices. As long as the water from the borehole is crystal clear, to them, it is good for drinking. I found that I have to explain at length on so many occasions why they must drink water in line with the WHO standard. The funny thing is that even with all my explanation and professional advice, some agree with me, while many disagree.

Land Issues

In every nation of the earth, land has always been a complex and very sensitive issues. For any water supply scheme to be successful and effective, the first step is to get a piece of land where the scheme will be sited. Once this is achieved, then the project is as good as done. In Africa, and especially in Nigeria, the people, by custom and tradition, are so attached to their lands that they don’t let go very easily. The contractors encounter so many problems on site because of issues associated with land on a continual basis. On occasion the contractor, in company of government officials, approaches a community head to explain to them that the government has approved a water project to be provided for them, and that all that is required of them (the community) is to provide a free land where the water scheme will be sited so that contractor can move to the site to commence work.

However, it does not usually work out as easily as that. On one hand, some communities do cooperate and give the contractors all the necessary support to enable him execute the water projects successfully. On the other hand, some communities do not cooperate. In fact, on some occasions the contractor is made to pay for the piece of land that is given to them to site the water project on. In this situation, the contractor has no option other than to pay for the piece of land even though there was no provision for money to pay for land in the contract papers.

In the past, land issues have made some clients change the location of water projects from where they were originally meant to be sited. Further, land issues have led to the abandonment of water projects in so many communities. Land issues are very serious issues that have constituted difficulties in the course of providing potable water through the execution of water projects.

Artificial Water Scarcity 

Artificial water scarcity is mainly associated with the Federal and the State Governments. Dams are scattered all over the three major geo-political zones, and are being managed for the most part by the River Basin Development Authorities and some state water boards. There are also many big water schemes that currently are, or were being managed in the past by the state’s water corporations. Through the River Basin Development Authorities and the state’s water board/corporations, the government makes water available to the citizens and the foreigners residing in Nigeria as well. They do this through regular pumping of treated water from the water reservoir that are strategically positioned within and outskirt the cities, towns, and villages. All of these water schemes were constructed many years back, and hence are very old; some were constructed more than fifty years ago. As different governments come and go they have spent, and are still spending, millions of US dollars on these water schemes to ensure that the scheme keeps working and providing a continual and constant supply of potable water to the people.

These water schemes were designed to work. In fact, it is the best means by the government standards to ensure equal and constant distribution of water to the entire citizenry. The water schemes were provided to cater to all citizens even with expansions to new sites as physical and infrastructural developments keeps manifesting when people are building new houses, offices, schools, hospitals, industries, etc. The government was aware of her responsibilities to ensure that as these infrastructural and physical developments are manifesting, there is also the need to ensure that potable water is adequately supplied in these new sites.

However, due to the bureaucracy and protocol, coupled with the greediness and selfishness of the government workers who are managing these water schemes, the schemes were artificially made to fail. Hence the effort of the government was been defeated because the government seems to be fighting a very strong MAFIA who knew the history of the water schemes more than the president of the country and the state governors. Even the honorable minister of water resources and the State’s Commissioner for Water Resources are helpless against the people managing these water schemes.

These government workers have been on the job for many years so they know how to make things work to favor them, thereby sabotaging the government efforts in providing regular and uninterrupted water supply for the people. No matter how diligent the government’s efforts are to make the water schemes work, these people make the water schemes succeed or fail as they wish. All of this works to their own benefit in one way or the other.

Maintenance

With absolute sincerity, generally in Africa maintenance is not always in our planning, except in the manufacturing industries and other few cases. Towards this end, it is generally believed that our maintenance culture is on the low side.

Therefore, it is not strange that so many water projects that are supposed to be functioning and be supplying potable water to the people are no longer working. From the northern to the eastern and to the western regions of the country, today water projects that were successfully commissioned and handed over are not serving the purpose for which they were commissioned. So many hand pumps, motorized boreholes, surface water schemes with water treatment plants, and even dam projects are not functioning today as a result of lack of maintenance.

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On paper, some government water projects are titled “Rural Water Supply Schemes”, but are the water projects actually in the rural areas or in the urban cities?

If the government and the contractors can be committed to contracts agreements to the letter. If the government can be sincere and be transparent enough in the award of water project contracts and in the delivery of potable water to her citizens. If the people become more enlightened about the necessity to have good water and are ready and willing to drop their strong cultural and traditional attachments to land and change their mentality about land issues. If the government workers and officials managing all the government water schemes can be faithful and cooperate with the government in her effort to deliver uninterrupted, easy, and equally distributed potable water to her citizens. And finally, if we improve on our maintenance culture certainly there will be equal and uninterrupted distribution with regards to water supply in Nigeria.

If all of these things happen, then in no time all the challenges associated with the delivery of constant and continual water supply in the country will naturally fade away.

Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The Challenges of Water Supply Schemes in the Nigerian Context
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4 thoughts on “The Challenges of Water Supply Schemes in the Nigerian Context

  • October 19, 2013 at 4:40 am
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    Right advice at right time, hope all those involved in water supply delivery are listening. Thanks Olu Mike

    Reply
  • April 5, 2014 at 2:11 pm
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    you are very right.this is really happening.

    Reply
  • September 18, 2016 at 2:06 pm
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    nice one bro, I might need more of ur write ups, studying to be a Supply Engineer in Denmark.

    Reply
  • December 5, 2016 at 6:47 pm
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    like and fav if your environmental teacher sent you here

    Reply

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