The Ifako Okoyong community, like several others in Cross River State, is littered with water scheme projects, but the people are unable to access potable water for years. Kehinde Ogunyale reports.
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Mary Ekpang goes through frustration in search of water every day. She treks several kilometres to a local stream for drinking and cooking water. She relies on the same stream of water for laundry.
When the streams dry up during the dry season, access to water becomes difficult. “You would not find water anywhere. So it means you have to wake up very early to fetch clean water at the stream”, she lamented.
On the other day, Ekpang wakes up by 6 a.m to buy water at a private vendor a few miles away from her house. She needs N120 every day to buy six kegs (25kg) of water for the day. This means Effiong would be spending N3600 monthly to get water for her household, hence the need for stream water as an alternative.
Mary’s daily routines regarding access to and water usage are tedious experiences shared by other communities in Ifako Okoyong Odukpani Local government area in the Cross River state.
Faced with growing agitations arising from these challenges, the Federal government scoped out an intervention plan that focused on providing potable water access to the communities.
Over N13 million abandoned water project
About N13.5 million solar water supply project was budgeted for by the government in 2021. The project was awarded to Fluids Reservoir Services and supervised by the Cross River State Basin Development Authority.
Fluids Reservoir Services is a one-man business incorporated on October 5, 2016, and owned by Nasiru Isah Reshe.
Checks on the Corporate Affairs Commission’s website show the status of the organisation to be inactive.
When this reporter visited no 14 Becles Davis street, Calabar, which the company claims as the office address, there was no company with such a name at the location.
On a visit to the project site, it was discovered that the project had virtually been completed with a borehole, water house, overhead tank, and connecting pipes in place awaiting activation and commissioning.
Residents told the reporter that it has been over a year since the project was constructed, but it has not been put to use.
“We were told that a representative from the government would come down for the commissioning, but since then, we didn’t hear anything,” Christopher Asuquo, a community leader, told this reporter.
Residents in the community have already converted the land space in the project site to farm plots, growing crops all across the site. The water house was locked, and some pipes were already rusting.
But this is not the only abandoned water project scheme in the Ifako community.
Multi-million naira water projects abandoned
Asuquo led this reporter to three different parts of the community where similar water projects were started but abandoned.
He said some of the projects were embarked upon by governments as far back as the early 2000s.
He listed two by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the United Nations Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs. The UN WASH-funded project was targeted to support the community health centre. But the health centre has been abandoned and is in a state of disuse.
He further told the reporter that two of the water schemes constructed by the NDDC were awarded in the years 2000 and 2006, respectively. At the site of these projects, the reporter saw a water house, erected poles with water tanks and a drilled borehole system but no potable, running water for the communities.
It was further observed that the site of these projects had been overgrown with weeds. Some parts of the site still serve as farmland for the villagers. The engine house, solar connection panels, wires and other materials kept by the engineers were still intact.
According to Asuquo, “We did not use the first one at all. But the second, in 2006, was undergoing a test run when a pipe broke in the process of bringing out water. They told us they would come back to repair it, and since then, we have not seen anyone.”
An enquiry at the Cross River Basin Development Authority, Calabar, to ascertain the reason behind the delay in commissioning the water projects for the use of the community was met with indifference.
First, Jackson John, the Public Relations officer contacted on the phone, demanded that a formal letter from the news organisation be sent to the management.
Two weeks after the letter was submitted and acknowledged, there was no invitation for an interview. The reporter made additional futile visits to the organisation before going to press.
The daily 6 kilometres walk for water
The town crier offered to take this reporter to the village stream so as to appreciate the distance, which was estimated to be 6-kilometre round trip.
The town crier strapped himself with a sharp cutlass to clear the path that led to the stream. “There are two roads. One is faster than the other, but it all depends on where you want to come out from”, he explained.
“We will take the shorter route while going and when coming the longer one so that you’ll understand the stress our people go through to search for water,” the town crier said.
The path that leads to the stream is divided into three. The first section passes through a narrow way, surrounded by thick bushes as high as the height of an average human being. It is a 10-15 mins walk to the second section of the journey, where landscapes are more visible and used for farming. In this section, it is easy to navigate the narrow path.
The town crier said residents mostly farm bush mango, cocoa, cassava, maize and other cash crops that can be sold in the market. This is a 10-15mins walk also. This path leads to the thick bamboo forest and hilly terrain before reaching the stream.
Journeying to the stream and back to the community is approximately an hour on foot. Residents told this reporter that it is better done in the early hours of the day.
With four water projects abandoned in the community, residents in Ifako Okoyong are part of the 63 million Nigerians who do not have access to improved water sources. UNICEF and the National Bureau of Statistics reported that this number represents 33 percent of the country’s population.
The agency noted that despite having 70 percent of Nigerians with access, only nine litres of water is available to them per day for the required basic water services.
Pressure on children
For Martins Amunike, a teacher at the St. Patrick Primary School, Ifako Okoyong, who has lived in the community for over seven years, access to water has been very frustrating. “We are in a rural area and most parents do not have enough money to get water from the borehole, so children would always go to the stream early in the morning before coming to school. Some of them often come to school late and we cannot punish them for that.
“Some of these children get so tired (following the routine trekking to fetch water) that they sleep off in the classes. There is nothing that we can do other than to encourage parents to get their water on time because this affects the performance of their children”, he stressed.
The head of the community, a traditional chief, Paul Effiom, told this reporter that access to water, as well as other basic amenities, has been an age-long problem spanning decades for the community.
“To get water, you have to walk some kilometres of distance which is a challenging situation for our people. In addition to this, we do not have electricity, health centres and good schooling facilities in the community. So it is a daily struggle for villagers,” he said.
Effiom said that he was displeased with the stalled activation of several projects constructed in the community for the benefit of the people. He frowned at the lack of interest by public officials in alleviating the plight of the people in the communities.
While residents in the Ifako await the commissioning of the projects, their temporary relief is the rainwater. But as the dry season approaches, the search for water will again become their daily struggle.