How failed water projects worsen food insecurity in southwest Nigeria
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The failure of Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority to harness water resources for domestic and agricultural use is spiking hunger and business collapse in the Southwest region, GBENGA OGUNDARE reports.
IN their rustic state, Aba Alusekere and Aba Aluwaya — tucked deep inside the agrarian settlements of Iseyin Local Government Area of Oyo State — make for a painful paradox: thirst in the midst of running brooks. It is somewhat difficult even for the villagers to understand. Flanked by two mega-billion water projects and a vast farmland measuring 680 hectares on one side and another 520 hectares on the other, old Ashiru Seriki and his family, for instance, have no water to drink or farm.
This wilderness experience was the last thing Seriki had on his mind when he fantasised about life more than 30 years ago. He and his kinsmen then happily signed away their landed inheritance to the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority (OORBDA) in order to make way for the Middle Ogun Irrigation Project.
The gleeful rural folks took photographs with the OORBDA officials after the signing ceremony at its headquarters in Abeokuta, Ogun State. They then headed back to Iseyin with a long list of expectations: power supply to the villages, large-scale farming all-year-round through the technology of irrigation, and clean drinking water as soon as the project took off.
But today, “we don’t have water to drink yet,” Seriki lamented to the reporter. “We mostly resort to self-help by digging shallow holes on the ground every now and then and pray for omi abata (muddy spring) which we scoop and treat with alum to make it drinkable.” That comes with constant bouts of water-borne diseases, he added.
Lamidi Adelabu, another villager, would have worried less if an attack of hunger and harassment from shylock money lenders instigated by poor harvest are not added to the water woes the farmers suffer already. “Since government didn’t give us the irrigation they promised us, we only rely on the coming of the rains to wet our farms,” Adelabu explained, adding: “But since last year up till now, it hardly rains, so we didn’t harvest anything to sell or feed ourselves.”
As the OORBDA and federal lawmakers keep splashing funds on empowering commercial motorcycles riders, installing transformers and building primary schools for rural communities, it has neglected the momentous Ikere Gorge Dam and Middle Ogun irrigation projects which will improve water access and ensure sustainable farming for the inhabitants of Iseyin. So the rural dwellers, farmers and fishers who forfeited their lands have lost their livelihoods too, and they have a lot more to lose as corruption pervades the agency and the elements become more unfriendly.
Extreme weather fluctuations in the sowing seasons are enough auguries of how yields will look like when it is time to reap. There is no data yet confirming food insecurity in Oyo or the Southwest, but large hectares of farms blighted by lack of water and extreme climate, and years of woeful harvests farmers recount, tell it all.
In the pre-rain scorching sun, planted seeds die and dry up in the ridges, thanks to heat and the lack of water to nourish them. The worn-out farmers have an alternative though: to trek several kilometres from their settlements in Aba Alusekere and Aba Aluwaya to a distant Ogun river where they can fetch water in their kegs and travel back to their farms to begin the round of watering.
“It is always a tortuous experience for both the old and the young anytime we dare to go to the river,” Seriki said. “That is why our children will not stay with us on the farm again. They would rather come on weekends only to help us fetch water at the river and then go back to the town where they can at least get water from the well.”
“This is our fatherland where we were born, and we have been here before the water project came to Iseyin. So please help tell the government we need a borehole to access the water supply they promised us,’ Seriki appealed.’
At his 100-hectare cassava plantation located somewhere on the Ibadan-Iseyin Road, Bola Olalere also recounted the story of his dying dreams—the Oke-Ogun Green Revolution. When he conceived the project a few years ago, Olalere’s concern was to empower the crowd of unemployed youths in the whole of Oke-Ogun using large-scale mechanised farming as a launch pad.
Few years down the line, however, “we only rely on rainwater for now,” a perplexed Olalere explained, “and this comes with a lot of limitation because we do not have control over the rains. Without irrigation, the work is not easy”.
Competing profitably in the agric value chain process has been everything but easy for Akanmu Olasunkanmi too. After losing an entire 80 acres of maize plantation to lack of water and drought in 2020, in addition to labour cost running into N1.5 million, Olasunkanmi could not agree any less with Olalere.
“I didn’t take away a single cob of corn from the 80 acres despite the huge money I invested. You can imagine the frustration and depression if I begin to add the cost of tractors and other labour expenses,” the owner of LASFUN Integrated Farms Ltd at Olodo Village in Egbeda Local Government Area of Ibadan, Oyo State griped.
Like Olalere and his Oke-Ogun Green Revolution project, Olasunkanmi also had a dream of making Ibadan the food basket of the entire Southwest. But reality has forced the disillusioned farmer to abandon this dream.
“Ordinarily, I should have gone ahead to plant pepper and sweet potatoes by now, but where do I get the water to make them yield and not dry up like the maize plantation?”
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink
The irrigation system Olalere, Seriki and Olasunkanmi urgently desire to drive their farming is actually available, except that the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the OORBDA will not make it work for the poor peasants. Located at Ikere Gorge, some 28km North-East of Iseyin, is the Ikere gorge dam – an earth fill multipurpose dam with a reservoir capacity of 690 million cubic metres and a total land area of 47km capable of generating 6 megawatts of hydroelectricity.
In addition, it could also provide irrigation water for the 3,000 hectares of arable farmland now known as the middle Ogun irrigation project. The irrigation scheme itself is located at the bank of River Ogun, one of the four impounded rivers that make up the Ikere Gorge Dam.
Suppose it is fully operative, the Ikere Gorge Dam could supply 82 million cubic metres raw water through the spill way to Ogun and Lagos states, especially the Iju Water Works, according to a report by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC). The ICRC is a federal government agency mandated to regulate Public-Private Partnership (PPP) endeavours aimed at addressing Nigeria’s physical infrastructure deficit.
The dam could also provide water supply to the disenchanted farmers, the poor rural folks of Iseyin, Okeho, Iganna and the neighbouring towns whose livelihoods largely depend on farming. The potentials are endless and mutually exclusive actually. For instance, with steady release of water from the Ikere Gorge Dam, the irrigation scheme could also provide 17,325 tons of maize, 954 tons of sorghum and 3,630 tons of cassava tubers annually, OYEDEMI OYELEKAN ADEYEMO cited in his research work: Operational Performance of Ikere-Gorge Dam in Iseyin Local Government Area of Oyo State, South-Western Nigeria.
But the snaky pipes wired across the irrigation scheme are rusty and worn out now from lack of use more than three decades after Messrs Niko Engineering Ltd was awarded the contract to build the Middle Ogun Irrigation Project in 1990. Our reporter discovered upon visiting the vast facility that the three massive generating sets installed to power the irrigation scheme are also in disuse.
“Lack of power supply is the reason the irrigation system can’t work,’ Ahmed Madaki, Project Manager of the scheme, explains.
Madaki’s excuse sounds plausible in Nigeria where electricity supply remains a riddle the federal government seems unable to decipher and the pump price of diesel needed to power the three massive generators meant for the irrigation project keeps soaring on escape velocity.
According to Samuel Adewoyin, a project staff at the Middle Ogun Irrigation Project, the generators gulp some six drums of diesel (an equivalent of 205 litres) per hour on a good day.
“If we need to power the irrigation system on a single day, then we will need to put on the generators for 10 hours. That is, six hours in the morning, and four hours at night,’ Adewoyin explained.
Going full throttle at 205 litres of diesel an hour, the irrigation system will invariably require 2,050 litres of diesel in a day to irrigate the 680 hectares of already cultivated farmlands. Both for the managers and the poor farmers who operate on the rented lands, crunching the figures further will do nothing but dispirit any would-be entrepreneur.
For one, pump price of diesel at the moment stands at N220 per litre. So, for an irrigation system that gulps 2,050 litres of diesel in a day, that will be some N451,000 needed in a day, and N13,530,000 in a month. To make the dream of an all year round farming a reality, therefore, the farmers might then have to break the banks to get the N162,360,000 needed to power the generators for twelve months.
“Obviously the farmers can’t finance that and that is why we are hoping the irrigation project will be connected to the national power grid very soon,” Madaki said.
And that is like waiting for Godot. When he visited Iseyin in 2017 to inspect the irrigation project, Suleiman Adamu, the Minister of Water Resources merely gave the usual rhetorics of regrets and promises many public office holders in Nigeria are known for.
“I am very sad about the state of the project. However, in line with the ministry’s roadmap for completing ongoing projects, the project will be resuscitated by the Federal Government through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP). Also, government will get the project connected to the national grid for easy access to power supply,” the minister told reporters.
When a river forgets its course
Three years of budget appropriation have come and gone since Adamu made this promise, but the Middle Ogun Irrigation Project is yet to take off. The OORBDA would rather double down on frivolities like supplying Bajaj motorcycles, transformers, solar panels, and others. Nigerians owe all these to a combination of crooked procurement processes backed by legislative impunity.
The 12 River Basin Development Authorities across the nation have their five functions spelled out in the RBDA Act, Section 4. These functions are tied to the 2007 Public Procurement Act (PPA) whose overall goals, as stated in Sections 4e and 4f of the PPA are to ensure value for money, efficiency, economy, and transparency. The PPA expressly states in Section 18 that a procuring entity shall plan its procurement by (a) preparing the needs assessment and evaluation (b) identifying the goods, works or services required.
But an analysis of BudgITTracka, a budget watchdog in Nigeria, reveals that the RBDAs across the nation are annually featuring projects like building of primary school classrooms (common in the east), supplying and installing transformers and solar systems for many communities, and purchasing motorcycles for the youth. These belong in ministries of education (UBE), power (Rural Electrification Agency), and trade and commerce (SMEDAN). These agencies budget and execute similar projects annually.
It is true Section 4(d) of the RBDA allows the agency, under the ministry of water resources, to plan and execute infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, and others that can facilitate their core mandate of managing water resources for domestic, industrial, and agricultural purposes, and for flood control as in dams and reservoirs. However, it remains unclear how these Bajaj motorcycles, solar street lights, community primary school buildings, and electrification of rural areas, relate to the RBDAs core mandate.
Right in the picture are federal lawmakers
These members of the legislature carry out executive functions under the guise of constituency projects, which they bury in the budget of several agencies willing to “play ball”. This is why many agencies award contracts for projects outside their mandates, a practice that has been condemned by many Nigerians.
The sharp practices in the water sector is enhanced by willing RBDAs the federal lawmakers (sponsors) have used to siphon appropriation. The project sponsors most times also have interests even in the bidders, as confirmed by an exhaustive investigation of constituency projects across the nation carried out by the Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC), and contained in its Constituency Project Tracking Group report released in 2019.
It states in part that “The findings of the 1st Phase of the tracking exercise contained in this report corroborate the perception of average Nigerians that ZIPs have become a conduit for corruption…’
Between 2015 and 2017, in Oyo and Ogun, where studies confirm less than 20 per cent have access to public water utilities, for instance, the OORBDA, in conjunction with nine federal lawmakers (three senators and six members of the house of representatives) appropriated N420 million for empowerment and rural electrification projects unrelated to the RBDA mandate, in violation of the RBDA Act and Public Procurement Act.
The agency claimed to have supplied Bajaj motorcycles every year to farmers in Ogo Oluwa, Surulere LGA (between 2015 – 2016) and youth in Ibadan Southwest/Northwest, Oyo State, at N6 million, N10 million and N19 million respectively. The OORBDA also claimed to have installed two units of 33kva and two units of 11kva transformers in EgbedaOnaAra LGA at N20 million.
It also claimed it installed 100kva transformer at Aladota Agunpopo, Atiba LGA; a 200 kva transformer at Oko Oba, Oyo East LGA; a 200kva transformer at Akosobo, Oyo East; a 300kva transformer at Ajobele, Afijio LGA, and 200kva at Ajiwunmi, Oyo West, all of these at N16.8 million. The agency also installed 80 units of transformers at Oyo Central for N150 million; six units of solar street light in Ibadan Northeast and Ibadan Northwest in Oyo South Senatorial District for N4.2 million; and 2 units of 500kva transformers in various LGAs in Oyo for N9 million.
In Ogun, the pattern also sticks out like a sore thumb. In 2017, across Abeokuta North, Obafemi Owode, Ewekoro, Abeokuta South, and Odeda LGAs, the OORBDA and the senator representing Ogun Central claimed to have installed solar power, transformers, and boreholes in 500 homes in each of the five LGAs. The projects gulped N37 million each, and all the project sites, according to Tracka, cannot be traced.
Combing the streets and highways of Ibadan and Oyo town to ascertain the location of solar-powered street light and transformers turned out to be a chase after shadow experience for the reporter. In fact, majority of the youths interviewed claimed they did not know the lawmakers representing them in Abuja, neither have they received an empowerment of Bajaj motorcycle from any lawmaker.
Some former senators behind these fraudulent projects include: Olanrewaju Tejuoso from Ogun Central who also had oversight function over the OORBDA; Adesoji Akanbi from Oyo South and Monsurat Sumonu from Oyo Central. From the House of Representatives, they include Saheed Akande Fijabi from Egbeda OnaAra in Oyo State, AkintolaTaiwoMichaael from Ibadan North, Abiosun Dada Awoleye from Ibadan North, Adedapo Lam-Adeshina respresenting Ibadan North-East/South-East, AkeemAdeniyi Adeyemi representing Afijio, Oyo West, Oyo East, Atiba West. All these lawmakers either misappropriated the funds for these projects, unrelated as they were, or connived with the OORBDA.
Unfortunately, none of these witnesses or collaborators with the agency has been held to account. Chinelo Ogugua, spokesperson for the ICPC, when contacted by our reporter on the efforts of the Commission to track the massive fraud at the OORBDA, responded through a text message on March 8, saying: “Good afternoon. ICPC does not disclose the status of its investigation pls.”
However, Olufemi Olayemi, Managing Director of the OORBDA is currently standing trial before the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts after an initial arrest warrant issued against him by the House Committee on Public Accounts. The committee is investigating the deliberate refusal by non-treasury and partially funded agencies to render their audited accounts from the period 2014 – 2018 to the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF).
Wole Oke, Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, says the OORBDA Managing Director has failed to provide any proof of submission of OORBDA accounts to the Auditor-General of the federation between 2014 and 2018. An analysis of the AuGF’s report between 2014 and 2018 had nothing on OORBDA. In fact, the report had little on the Federal Ministry of Water Resources itself.
Sections 3, 4, 15, 58, 60 and 61 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 stipulate severe sanctions for this kind of fraud. Any public official so convicted will serve five years in jail after his dismissal. And if he is not a public office holder, the jail term is 10 years. Neither has an option of fines. In fact, if found guilty, the entire directors of the procuring agency are automatically convicted.
But for now, the lawmakers who helped the OORBDA aggravate food insecurity in the entire Southwest are still shielded from the wrath of law, while the Oke-Ogun farmers and villagers battle the long-term effect of their abuse of office – scant harvest – which aggravates the food insecurity and poverty brewing in the Southwest.