By Abdulwaheed Sofiullahi
Many rural communities in Sokoto state are at risk of an outbreak of diarrhoea and other diseases due to an acute shortage of potable water. This is in spite of multi-million naira constituency borehole projects purportedly facilitated by federal lawmakers representing the people. ABDULWAHEED SOFIULLAHI, who visited a number of communities, reports that the 2020/2021 projects benefited the people for just a short time. Two years after the execution, he found none of the boreholes was functional.
OVER the past three weeks, Ibrahim Shuaibu, 35, finds himself in agony, often writhing on the dusty floor, desperately seeking relief from the relentless pain torturing his body.
Unlike others who hide their sufferings, Ibrahim is unable to conceal his pain, as he witnesses a distressing transformation in his body. Every time he drinks the tainted rainwater collected from an open-dug land, his private part swells, causing ominous consequences.
In Kyadawa Community, in the Gada LGA of Sokoto State, water, a crucial necessity for life, has become more valuable than petroleum. Last year, when scarcity hit the community, leaving residents thirsty and desperate, they came up with a bold plan to dig the land and collect rainwater to create a reservoir for their needs.
However, as time went by and the contaminated water flowed through their bodies, a sinister sickness gripped the entire community. People suffered from unfamiliar illnesses, primarily marked by painful diarrhoea and persistent typhoid fever. Tragically, due to inadequate care, many lives were lost. For Ibrahim, the cause of his suffering remained a mystery to everyone.
“It was only a year ago that I first noticed the swelling in my private area,” Ibrahim recalls, his words filled with raw agony.
Seeking relief, he travelled to Sokoto town and shared his troubles with a sympathetic doctor. The doctor, moved by Ibrahim’s plight, offered a glimmer of hope through medication but also warned him to avoid the deadly water.
“Stop drinking this contaminated water,” the doctor cautioned, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation.
Yet, Ibrahim felt trapped, with no alternatives. Giving up this water meant giving up sustenance itself. He faced a heartbreaking dilemma: endure the swelling and torment or cut ties with the water entirely. As a result, his private area continued to swell, and Ibrahim’s tears flowed freely, reflecting his unending anguish.
In the village of Awakkala, located in Goronyo Local Government Area, Sheu Malami, a man in his mid-50s, shares a heartfelt story of water scarcity. It affects his community, located approximately 78 kilometers away from Shuaibu’s home in Gada LGA. Malami vividly describes how this dire situation has impacted their lives. In 2021, a borehole brought them hope and relief as clean water flowed freely, bringing back their smiles.
Sadly, their joy was short-lived when the borehole abruptly stopped working just five months later. Since then, they have been forced to rely on a contaminated well, which has caused harm to Malami’s health and that of his fellow villagers.
“We’ve been plagued by infections, particularly water-borne diseases,” he laments.
The impoverished community struggles to gather funds for the borehole’s repair, reaching out to politicians for help, but their pleas have been ignored.
The tale of water scarcity unfolds further in the Tartakoi Community, also situated within the Gada LGA, where Aishatu Umar resides. Aishatu, a mother of five children, endures an ongoing battle with an unexplained fever. Little does she know that the root cause of her ailment lies in the very water she drinks from – the water from the nearby stream.
In 2021, the community had the privilege of drinking from a newly constructed source of clean water. Unfortunately, this precious lifeline ceased to function merely three months after its installation. Since then, the villagers have been left with no choice but to rely on the stream water as their sole source of sustenance.
This stream water, used for washing clothes, cooking meals, and even consumed by their cows, has become a necessity borne out of desperation. Aishatu yearns for an alternative, knowing the toll it takes on her health. Yet, she finds herself trapped, with no other viable option but to continue consuming it.
According to a 2022 World Bank assessment, 114 million Nigerians lacked access to basic sanitation facilities in 2021, and another 70 million lacked access to clean drinking water. Research conducted by the Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP), confirmed that Sokoto is the only state in Nigeria with the lowest level of access to clean water.
UNICEF reports that in Nigeria, diseases like diarrhoea caused by contaminated water claim the lives of over 70,000 children under the age of five each year. Additionally, WHO data reveals that more than 45,000 children under five die annually due to diseases resulting from inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.
Rural residents once smiled, drinking from the poorly executed constituency boreholes
In the rolling countryside of Sokoto state, a tale of water woes has haunted the rural communities for years. The hardships faced by these residents, deprived of clean, drinkable water, seemed endless. However, a glimmer of hope emerged in the form of Honorable Musa Sarkin-Adar, the former lawmaker representing the Gada/Goronyo federal constituency. In 2020, as part of the Zonal Intervention Project (ZIP), he championed a noble cause—the provision of three solar-powered boreholes, two for Gada and one for Goronyo LGA.
With a budget of N30 million allocated for this ambitious endeavour, the project found its place under the watchful eye of the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA), facilitated by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Cee-dor Nigeria Limited, entrusted with executing the project, received a payment of N29,838,481.81.
Fortune smiled upon the community of Gada, as the two boreholes designated for the area found their homes in Shuaibu’s community at Kyadawa and Mallami’s community at Awakalla while one borehole was drilled at Aishatu’s community at Tartakoi.
In the heart of Awakkala village, the community leader Ibrahim Marafa witnessed the fulfilment of a long-awaited dream in 2021 when the borehole was finally completed. The residents rejoiced as the thirst for clean, potable water was finally quenched after two decades of denial.
However, this newfound oasis was short-lived. Barely nine months after its commissioning, the borehole suffered catastrophic damage, plunging the community back into the depths of drinking dirty stream water.
Disheartened, Marafa lamented, “We have been enduring the hard journey of obtaining potable water since the borehole was damaged nearly two years ago. Our relentless efforts to restore it have been in vain. We appealed to the local government chairman, who promised repairs, but nothing has been done. Our people suffer from water-borne diseases, vomiting, and diarrhoea. We remain trapped, longing for relief, but uncertain of when it will come.”
Tartakoi, under the leadership of Hashimu Abubakar, faced a similar tale of despair. The borehole that was installed with hope in early 2021 worked for only six weeks before failing, leaving residents in dire need. They rallied their resources, some even selling their belongings, while others borrowed generators, all to revive the source of clean water.
Abubakar expressed their plight, saying, “We were excited when Honorable Musa facilitated this borehole, giving us access to clean water. But when it stopped working, we went back to consuming dirty water, causing diseases. We pleaded with the government for help. If the solar system can’t be fixed, we ask for a larger generator to power the borehole.”
Adamu Shuaibu, a resilient leader of Kydawa, shared a heartbreaking tale that moved hearts. For over a year, the whole community had laboured tirelessly, digging the earth in search of life-sustaining water. Sadly, their efforts yielded only two gallons of contaminated water. Undeterred, they turned their efforts to a patch of land beside the road, hoping for a different outcome. However, after a week, the water dried up.
The agony on Shuaibu’s face, at 53 years old, reflected the experience of his people.
“See the magnitude of our water-related suffering,” he sighed, recounting their plight. “We endure unimaginable hardships, digging tirelessly, seeking solace in every shovel’s turn.” His voice faltered, revealing the depths of his pain.
Next to the road, where individuals pedal bicycles or ride donkeys, there is another excavation—an emblem of hope amidst their challenges. This reservoir is created by carving the land, patiently anticipating the rainfall’s touch and when it falls, it transforms into a reservoir that saves water for the community’s necessities. Unfortunately, the stream that was once dependable now contains dirty water, satisfying the thirst of both humans and animals. Consequently, the community experiences health issues, fevers, and other perplexing illnesses, affecting both people and animals alike.
More poorly executed boreholes fuel water scarcity
Yahuza Umaru, 43, starts his day at the crack of dawn, rousing his family from their slumber at 6.00 a.m. to embark on a relentless search for water. Their home, located in Kantaore Community in the Gada Local Government Area, is no stranger to the merciless attacks by bandits. And if the constant trauma of insecurity weren’t enough, a devastating water scarcity looms over their heads, casting a shadow of sorrow upon their lives.
“We used to have a borehole in our community that quenches our thirst and keeps our lives running smoothly,” Yahuza recalls with sadness. “But everything changed in 2021 when the borehole suffered a serious problem. Since that day, we have been in a constant struggle for water.”
The entire community shares Yahuza’s sorrow, waking up each morning with tired eyes, desperately searching for murky water, hoping to survive. They say that their collective hardships have not only led to innocent residents being kidnapped but also resulted in the loss of precious lives.
“I can’t find words to express how this water scarcity has caused us endless troubles and taken the lives of dear friends,” Yahuza adds, his voice filled with grief.
In 2020, the lawmaker representing Gada/Goronyo sought to alleviate the community’s suffering by facilitating the provision of motorized boreholes with fournos plastic tanks and generators at the Gada/Goronyo federal constituency, complete with four plastic tanks and generators. Among the fortunate recipients was the Kantaore community, where Yahuza resides. In early 2021, a sum of N6.5 million was allocated to Real Concrete Nigeria Limited to undertake the project, under the watchful supervision of the Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority.
Several attempts to speak with the SRRBDA weren’t successful, as the agency didn’t have a public relations officer, and after several visits to the agency’s location, the reporter was not able to speak with any staff as they said it violated their working rules to speak or release information to outsiders.
However, the community’s dreams were short-lived as the borehole suddenly stopped providing water in December 2021, just a few months after it was built. This has had serious consequences, with the community now facing a water crisis and desperation.
Aminu Abdullahi,43, shares the struggles of his neighbours. “When the borehole was working, it gave us hope as water flowed abundantly,” Aminu recalls. “But when it broke down, we sought help from people claiming to know how to fix it, but their attempts made things worse, pushing us deeper into despair. We had to go back to using our old well, which unfortunately, is not very clean. We faced many diseases and fought hard to keep our loved ones alive,” he explains. “We ask the government to help us and fix the borehole, so we can have water again.”
The Takakume community, located in the Goronyo Local Government Area, faces a similar situation as their neighbors in Kantore. They also received a borehole as part of the same project and from the same contractor. However, like in Kantore, their hopes for a reliable water source were shattered when the borehole in Takakume stopped working just five months after its construction, leaving the residents with a serious water shortage.
Hudu Mohammed, 58, recounts the bitter truth of their predicament
“We waited patiently for nearly three years for the construction of this so-called borehole, only to witness its demise within a year of operation. Each time it faltered, we sought the aid of technicians to fix it, only to find that their repairs were short-lived. We poured substantial amounts of money into these repairs, once even shelling out a hefty sum of N103,000, only to have it malfunction again after a mere two days,” he laments.
“The longest period of respite we had was when it worked for a week, but even then, the technicians constantly babbled about bushings and other mysterious issues. Frustrated by the persistent problems, we eventually resorted to selling our solar panels and pooling our resources to purchase a generator. As you can see, we are willing to adapt and make do with whatever means necessary. Prior to the borehole’s arrival, we relied on a well for our water needs, specifically one powered by a diesel engine,” he explains. “During that time, many fell victim to infections caused by fetching water from the open well. Thankfully, they received proper care and have since recovered. You see, we villagers possess a remarkable ability to adapt to whatever challenges life throws our way.”
The community’s request to the government, while knowing that wishes do not always come true, is for a stronger engine to power the borehole. The solar panels they relied on before have proven to be unreliable and short-lived. The residents want a solution that will last and provide them with a consistent water source.
The struggles of the Takakume community show their resilience in the face of adversity. They remain steadfast and resourceful despite the water crisis. They hope that their plea will reach those in power and prompt them to take action. In tough times, the collective voice of a community can bring about change and improve lives.
BCDA awarded contract to an inactive food-processing company
The construction of boreholes, a vital component of the 2020 ZIP project, was allocated to Cee-dor Nigeria Limited by the BDCA. Regrettably, upon investigation through the Corporate Affairs Commission portal, it was discovered that the company was inactive due to the absence of updated annual returns filing. Meaning, the firm has not fulfilled its legal obligations by paying necessary taxes and fees to the government within the stipulated time frame.
A thorough examination of online procurement portals Check NG and Nigeria 24 confirmed that Cee-Dor Nigeria Limited was initially incorporated in Abuja on Nov 7, 2012. However, the current status of the company remains unclear and the company’s operation is identified as food product and processing. Surprisingly, the company’s registered address, House 20, NNPC Estate, Utako, Abuja, FCT, could not be located.
Nigeria 24 provided the names of the company’s directors as Odufa Osatohanwen Ebalu, Omoathefe Osadebamwen Ebalu, Sandra Oghoreye Ebalu, and Francis Omoathefe Ebalu.
Unfortunately, conducting searches online yielded no results for any of these individuals as the contractor’s company has no online website or social media presence.
Adedeji Adegboyega, Assistant Chief Engineer of Project Development and Implementation at BDCA, addressed the issue of Cee-dor Nigeria LTD being identified as a food products and processing company. He said that the company’s Memorandum of Understanding includes real estate as part of its business scope, which inherently involves construction activities. Although the project dates back to 2020, specific details may not be immediately available, but decisions likely relied on the parties involved.
Habila Bonet, the BCDA’s head of Project Development and Implementation, highlighted that a company with real estate as part of its Memorandum of Understanding would have engineering capabilities. The selection process for contracts is comprehensive and goes beyond mere bidding, various factors are considered, he asserted.
However, document received from the CAC on Cee-Dor Nig Ltd is contrary to the BDCA’s Engineer’s claim as the company’s MoU doesn’t cover construction. It confirms that the company’s business focus is fruit juice production and distribution. The BDCA Engineer, initially said that the MoU states that the company would engage in real estate, which he interprets to include construction.
His claim is contrary to article 3 (e) under the company’s MoU, which states: “To carry on business and trade in real estate and property, estate developers, sealed lease, let mortgage or otherwise dispose of lands, houses, buildings and other property to acquire by purchase, lease, exchange, hire, or otherwise, land and property of any tenure, or any interest in Nigeria.”
Despite several attempts to reach out to Musa Sarkin-Adar, the former lawmaker representing Gada/Goronyo who nominated the project, all efforts have been in vain. Numerous calls made to his phone line went unanswered, and text messages sent to his contact and verified email address were unattended.
Another poorly executed borehole at Tambuwal LGA
The issue of water scarcity in Sokoto State extends beyond Gada and Goronyo. The residents of Dogondaji Community in Tambuwal LGA experienced a brief respite when a zonal intervention project borehole was constructed in 2021. However, the borehole abruptly stopped working, leaving the community in dire conditions.
Back in 2020, Kakoni Balla, the former lawmaker representing Tambuwal/Kebe Federal Constituency, facilitated the construction of a solar-powered borehole in Shiyar Gandu Community, Dogondaji, Tambuwal LGA. The project, which cost N11.9 million naira, was supervised by the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA), and H.H.F and Sons was listed as the contractor in the project documents. However, the billboard at the project site displayed the name of Gams & Abell Nig Ltd as the contractor. The latter is not registered with the CAC though there are companies with similar names such as Gams & Abell Oil & Gas Ltd, Gams & Abell Investment Ltd, Gams Abell and Co.
Christian Anasili, the BDCA director of procurement, tried to address the issue of the discrepancy in the name of the contractor that got the contract (H.H.F and Sons) and the firm that executed (Gams & Abell Nig Ltd) thus:
“If another contractor executed the project through sub-contracting and the work was done, it is not our concern as the agency. HHF and Sons Nigeria Limited is the company that secured the contract from us, not the one that actually executed the project.”
However, sub-contracting a project violates Section 25 of the 2007 Public Procurement ct 2007, which explicitly prohibits a procuring entity from mandating or specifying a particular sub-contractor as a condition for participating in any procurement proceedings.
The bid document released by the agency confirms that HHF and Sons is the designated contractor for the project, not Gams and Abell Nigeria Limited, which is not registered with the CAC. To shed light on the matter, the reporter managed to obtain the contact information of Hassan H. Fawaz, the managing director of HHF.
In a phone conversation with Mr. Fawaz, he seemed hesitant to provide details and directed the reporter to speak with his secretary for further information about the project. Eventually, he shared the contact of a person named Abdulrahman, who claimed to be the company’s accountant or secretary, as per Mr. Fawaz’s statement.
During the conversation with Abdulrahman via WhatsApp, he initially said that their company is involved in buying and selling. However, when questioned about the sub-contracted borehole project in Sokoto State, he altered his response.
Abdulrahman then stated, “I am an accountant of HHF and Sons Nigeria Limited, and we are a registered civil construction company with the CAC.” He did not address the question of subcontracting which their company did without any answers.
Faruq Jibo, 32, shares the hardships faced by the community since the borehole stopped working. He vividly describes the impact it had on their lives, saying,
“When the borehole was functioning, it provided us with approximately 600 liters of water per day. That’s equivalent to around 15 wheelbarrows filled with 10 30-liter gallons of water. We used to pay N10 per gallon, but since the borehole stopped working, the price has skyrocketed to N40. Some people fell ill, but fortunately, we managed to take care of them, and now everyone is healthy. We’ve tried various solutions to get the borehole working again, but nothing has worked so far. We plead with the relevant authorities in our community to come to our aid.”
Abubakar Hassan Dongondaji, 38, talks about the water scarcity they face. He explains, “Since we have the option to buy water, the water scarcity issue is not as severe in our community, especially on my street. However, we need more boreholes in our newly developed area. The borehole built by the Border Communities Development Agency was an excellent source of water until it stopped working five months ago. We are considering purchasing a new borehole. Fortunately, the other water sources we rely on, such as commercial boreholes, provide good-quality water because our community is known for having clean water. Anywhere we dig, we find good water.”
Rufai Maccido Sallah, the representative of the village head, sheds light on the maintenance challenges faced by solar-powered boreholes.
“The non-functioning borehole has brought significant suffering to the people in that vicinity. Solar-powered boreholes are difficult to maintain and manage, and they tend to break down faster than anticipated. It was a distressing experience for the community when the borehole suddenly became faulty, ending the supply of water. During the project execution, we faced some problems, mainly due to conflicting interests among our people regarding the location of the boreholes. However, a committee has been formed to address water-related issues, including the repair of the borehole.”
BCDA responds to borehole projects with short lifespans
Sadiq Abdullahi Isa, Director of Planning Intergovernmental and Community Relations at the BCDA, addressed concerns regarding certain zonal intervention projects in Sokoto State from the year 2020, which experienced a disappointingly short operational lifespan after completion.
Isa suggested that the problem might be relatively minor, suggesting that when the boreholes stopped working, the affected communities should have promptly contacted their respective House of Assembly members who represent them. He also pointed out that at the project sites, the signboards displaying information about the agency’s involvement are visible, and the rural residents could have easily found the agency’s address there to report any issues. Isa emphasized that the BCDA would be responsive if they were made aware of such problems.
He explained that some of the boreholes may have encountered mechanical issues, leading to their malfunction. However, he expressed concern that the agency is not being informed about these matters, which hinders its ability to take timely action.
Isa shared that there have been instances in the past where rural areas experienced theft of machines from the boreholes, adversely affecting their functionality. Despite encouraging the communities to safeguard the projects upon handover, incidents of theft still occur, he noted.
To address these challenges, the BCDA actively encourages individuals to report instances where the projects have stopped working. Once notified, he said the agency promptly dispatches its engineers to assess the situation.
He said further that if the problem is attributed to vandalism, the BCDA takes appropriate measures to address the issue. On the other hand, if the boreholes require minor repairs, the agency promptly attends to the maintenance to ensure they are back in operation, he stated.
* This report republished from Ripples is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR)