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Dry taps: Uncompleted N493.6m water project gives Akanu residents sleepless nights

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Nkechiyere Nonye sells food items just by the dusty, sloppy earth road close to the moribund Abia State Water Board in Akanu Ohafia, Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia. Since the water project collapsed a year after it was commissioned by the late Navy Captain A. A Madueke, a former military administrator in 1986, access to affordable water has been a herculean task for residents of the Akanu Ohafia autonomous community.

Plaque displays the first commissioning of the Akanu Ohafia water project in 1986. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

The community, described as the largest in the LGA had a population of 11, 400 as of the last census. It is estimated to currently about 15, 000.

For years, Nonye either relies on the Ishiagbara stream for her domestic needs or travel about three (3) kilometres to get potable water at the nearest borehole.

For each return trip, she spends N200, and N30 per keg of water.

Ehi…! It’s too much nah, she exclaimed when The ICIR puts to her how much she spends monthly, just to get clean water.

“We use to fetch ‘one rubber’ like this, N30. And even when we fill the drum it finishes that day.”

“I fetch almost every day to bath the children, do laundry, and other things.”


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That has been her dilemma for ages, and several others until the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources awarded the Akanu Water Supply project in 2020 to provide a constant water supply for the community.

The genesis…

At the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, the Federal Government realised the need to improve on proper hygiene, and access to potable water. This was part of measures to limit the disease spread.

Due to the pandemic and paucity of funds, it trimmed down its budget for the year 2020 and ended up getting support from the private sector under the aegis of Nigeria Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).

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As of June 30, 2020, 181 corporate bodies and individuals had contributed N30.2 billion to the fund. Here is a list of those who donated. By December 2020, FG claimed to have spent N38.59 billion.

President Muhammadu Buhari, particularly set up a Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and approved emergency procurements (spending) as against the popular Open Competitive Bidding procurement model managed by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).

Entrance to the over N493m Akanu Ohafia water project in Akanu Ohafia, Ohafia LGA, Abia State. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

It is from these donated funds that the Akanu water project was awarded at N493.64m to Umaz Energy Limited. The company, based on findings, is registered in Gombe state at  no 5, government residential area (GRA) road, opposite the state government official residence.

With RC number 1093258, the firm got registered on January 30, 2013, as a private company limited by shares. It is owned by five directors – ‘Mustapha Umar Barambu, Engr. Sanusi Umar Barambu, Engr. Nafiu Umar Barambu, Engr. Abubakar Umar Barambu and Builder Yahaya Umar Barambu.’

It appears to be a family business. The owners also have significant interest in two other firms – Nubaj Energy Limited and Yubar Consultants Limited, except for Abubakar, and Yahaya who have stakes only in Yubar Consultants Limited.

Public search shows the contracted firm is tagged inactive. This occurs often once a firm has defaulted in its obligations at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

Besides, it was registered as petroleum products sales and distribution firm but got awarded a water project.

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This, ordinarily, flouts the Public Procurement Act 2007, but it is unclear if emergency procurements as entailed in Section 42, 43 of the BPP Act permits, due to the pandemic.

Umaz Energy Limited is to provide a 500, 000 litres water reservoir, rehabilitate an existing 45, 000 litres tank and construct another 420, 000 litres overhead tank.

Nevertheless, the emergency project should have been completed long before The ICIR’s inspection in February, this year. This is based on the completion deadline pegged at 100 days since the awarded date in 2020. This implies delivery should not have exceeded at most four months based on BPP information.

 

Akanu water project shows 100 days completion target. Source: BPP Nocopo portal.

It was labelled completed in the BPP Open Contracting portal. But the reverse is the case because the locals don’t have access to the water.

On January 30, The ICIR wrote a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to establish the contract details including the delivery date but as of the time of filing this report, more than two weeks after, no response came from the ministry.

Residents spend N120,000 yearly on water

Friday Umeh was a former employee of the state water board until he started his private business. Unlike Nonye, who depends on the stream and nearby borehole, Umeh largely contacts commercial water suppliers for his water need.

Each time water vendors visit, they charge N10, 000 to fill a 1,500 litres tank. This last him roughly a month.

This implies Umeh like several others spend about N120, 000 annually to get just water. Otherwise, they might also consider patronising commercial boreholes or at worst visiting Ishiagbara river point.

Umeh, for instance, recalls during the last festive season how 1, 500 litres of water were sold for N15, 000.

“For over 10 years since the project was abandoned, we either go to the stream or water supply, and that is why we will be so happy if they can timely finish this project”

Access to water is really a huge challenge in Abia state and the nation at large. It is far worse for those living in plain sandy areas. The state government acknowledges how bad it could be, especially in rural areas from November and March every year. This is the period when wells and water ponds dry up.

Nationally, a World Bank report says “60 million Nigerians live without access to basic drinking water and 80 million are without improved sanitation facilities.”

In 2018, the FG declared a state of emergency on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH), yet not so much has been achieved.

Furthermore, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 is about “clean water and sanitation for all” which seeks to  “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.”

30 taps, 10 fetching points, only 1 functional  

Multiple sources who spoke to The ICIR at the Akanu Ohafia community applauded the initiative but complained over delay in water reticulation.

Independent findings show there are 10 water points where members of the communities could fetch.

Each point has three taps. That makes a total of 30 taps, scattered across the town. But, none of the points is functional.

One of the water points at Aboroba Primary School, Akanu Ohafia, Ohafia LGA, Abia State. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

The only water point still functioning as of this reporter’s visit is that located within the waterboard facility at Arochukwu road, Aboroba layout in Akanu Ohafia.

It is a hilly part of the town, and the residents have no option but to trek to the hill into the water board premises to fetch.

The other point, fixed by the perimeter fencing of Aboroba Model Primary School, Akanu, much closer to the old water board office dispensed for three days, after which it stopped functioning, the locals say.

This reporter went to the points, opened the taps to physically check if they are functioning but no.

“It is just the one by the primary school that is fixed. Only that one rushes. Towards the end of November, the tap dispensed water for three days, after which it stopped. So, people currently visit the facility to fetch water,” says Umeh.

“Sometimes it will work, and times it won’t. They are still working on it,” Nonye adds. “It has been over a year since they started work on it.”

A source within the community who doesn’t want to be mentioned due to sensitivity of the environment identified other concerns such as the project cost, deliverables to measure the project standard, and efficiency.

“Aside from providing water, we are also interested in the financial aspect. It is more like the more we look, the less we see.

“At times, you see the water rush at some junctions, and it does not in others. It ought to be running day and night, so it is helpful to the masses. Not that somebody will just call me and say the water is rushing, and then, I had to leave whatever I am doing to go fetch at that point.”

There are other allegations of theft, connivance to dispose pipes meant for the reticulation of the project, and delay in project completion for public use.

“On several other occasions, our security and theirs have been having cases of missing materials.”

Residents were also concerned about the project maintenance after delivery but The ICIR enlightened that the responsibility would lay with the state government, local government, and the host community to take ownership.

Umaz confirms hitches, delayed water reticulation

On Friday, February 11, The ICIR visited the project site located within the Akanu community.

This reporter identified four borehole points, across the two adjacent stations within the Aboroba layout, where the projects are located.

But only three from the four borehole points within the facilities are fully functional. Findings reveal the three boreholes actually pump water into the 500, 000 litres large reservoir.

500, 000 litres reservoir in Akanu water project awarded by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in Akanu Ohafia, Ohafia LGA, Abia State. Photo Credit: Olugbenga Adanikin, The ICIR.

They are powered mainly through independent solar energy and the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC).

Solar power supplies energy to the water facility during the day from 9 am to about 5 pm. Grid power from the EEDC does the same through the night.

An engineer, Suleiman Kudi,  is a sub-contractor at the project site. He is a renewable energy expert responsible for the solar power for the water project.

He confirmed to The ICIR the main water project has been completed except for a few challenges such as water reticulation and fixing one of the boreholes which he said developed fault.

“A submersible pump that fetches the water from the ground fell inside. It blocked the channel. They have dug the borehole to 485 feet (145 metres) before it fell.”

He also confirmed none of the 10 water points is currently functional except for the one within the facility. But, he was quick to add that repair is still ongoing, and the project is yet to be commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources that awarded the contract.

“Primarily the project is being managed with solar since EEDC is not stable,” he told this reporter.

“We were given the mandate to reactivate the two boreholes and dig another two boreholes here.

“We started off from the already dug boreholes, changed the submersible machines and other things, and it started working. We reactivated the lines and realised all the pipes are either broken or rusted.”

An Engineer, Suleiman Kudi, a solar power expert shows the power control panel mainly provided for the water project. Photo Credit: OlugbengaAdanikin, The ICIR.

We look forward to quick delivery – Traditional ruler    

Eze Ogu Mba Okereke, the Traditional Ruler of Akanu Ohafia commended the level of works done so far. He said the project started about September 2020 and it has been tested four times even though there were leakages through the pipes.

The last test run was done in January, this year, he disclosed. And the project delivery date has been shifted to the Easter period.

“This thing can work but it remains just a little more effort,” says the traditional ruler. “It has not gone round but at least, if for one hour while they were test running, water ran through the pipes, it means the project can be successfully completed”.

“The project, so far, they have carried us along and they told us based on the test run, there are few things they need to rectify and conclude, that it will run smoothly before Easter.”

President Akanu Ohafia Development Union, Chief Don Emeri shared a similar position during an interview session with The ICIR. He said but for the leakages, the project would have been completed.

He was not sure of the project duration but the delivery date, according to him, was initially fixed to February but postponed till Easter.

“They have pumped water severally, and discharged to the pipes but there are always leakages. Each time they discover a leakage, they stop and fix it. So, since the start of the job, they have been very busy,” he explained.

We are technically done – Contractor reacts

When The ICIR reached out to the firm, its project director, an engineer,  Amos Nandom confirmed all the 10 fetching points are currently under lock until the pipes are fixed and the project is fully approved as completed. But, he was quick to say they have ‘technically completed the project’.

Officials of the water ministry, he said, had visited December 2021 to do an assessment but found out gaps that the firm was later directed to fix.

He could not say the exact handing over the period but he promised the officials would soon be invited again for the project verification before final handling over to either Akanu community or the state government before Easter.

Nandom agreed one of the borehole wells was having issues as earlier reported. He explained the iron pipe used for the submersible pump had become rusty and in the process of pulling it out, it broke and fell in. He assured that would be fixed, and would not necessarily be a problem. “At worst, we can install a slim pump, so, it is not as if it won’t function.”

He disclosed the firm has a ‘liability period’ of six months to manage the project, from commissioning after which the state takes full responsibility.

He further agreed to The ICIR’s finding on the theft of pipes meant for the project.

The contractor also identified agitations from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and other forms of insecurity as major challenges causing the delay. He raised concerns on illegal connections, vandalism, and undue fetching points.

Responding to the delivery date, the contractor faulted the 100-day timeline found on the BPP portal but explained they were given an 18-month target.

On why the firm which is registered as petroleum products sales and distribution company is undertaking a water project, he said his firm is a general construction firm, from which with their experience in petroleum piping, they could also deliver on water projects.

“It is more like the same concept for petroleum piping. For instance, if you are building a fuel station, you will have the same pipeline distribution.”

“At the end of the day, we will design a rationing plan with inputs from the community on how water should be evenly distributed across the fetching points,” he added.

Author profile

Olugbenga is an Investigative Reporter with The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at oadanikin@icirnigeria.org. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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2 COMMENTS

  1. At completion, the project should be handed over to the community or private firm to managed; not the state government to avoid leaving it in moribund like those of the 1986

  2. More information on the Water Project. Why will Uko Nkole come to commission a project that is not functioning and claimed N1Billion cost to him on the 25th May, 2022. Why will he come to commission a work he did not spent a dime.

    Is it part of his constituency projects cost?

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