INVESTIGATION: Multi-million naira Hadejia Jama’are River Basin pivot irrigation project wastes away in Bauchi, Jigawa and Kano states
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By Elijah Ojonicko AKOJI
In what looks like an endless circle of deception, Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority continue to receive millions of naira in yearly allocation on poorly executed and fraudulent irrigation projects in Bauchi, Jigawa and Kano States; WikkiTimes’ investigation has revealed.
Mallam Bello Aliyu is always anxious whenever the rains are over, and dry season sets in.
“We remain at home and wait for another raining season to be able to farm again or we look for an alternative source of water supply,” says Aliyu, a small-scale farmer in Kanye Babba, Babura Local Government Area (LGA) of Jigawa state.
Shuwaki, Kanye Babba and Jama’are communities in Tudun-Wada, Babura and Jama’are Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Kano, Jigawa and Bauchi states continue to decry government’s neglect despite being predominantly agrarian. Without access to irrigation farming, farmers like Aliyu are rendered jobless whenever the dry season sets in.
Irrigation practices which give room for year-round farming has been neglected in Nigeria despite huge amount of resources thrown at it by the government. Irrigation potential estimates in Nigeria vary from 1.5 to 3.2 million acres, says the World Bank in its 2014 report. The latest estimate gives a total of about 2.3 million acres, of which over 1 million acres are in the North.
Putting it into context, the level of abundant water resources and investment in the sector does not correlate with the state of neglect of farming communities in the country.
One of such investments is the failed ₦176 million Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Pivot Scheme meant to enable irrigation farming practice in three communities across three states namely Shuwaki, in Tudun Wada LGA (Kano), Kanye Babba in Babura LGA (Jigawa) and Jama’are LGA (Bauchi).
The project’s intention is to aid subsistence farming, as well as improve food security, a major focus of the current administration. However, this is not the case due to project’s failure as most farmers in these communities continue to lament government neglect in providing irrigation support for them.
In the 2018 and 2019 national budgets, the Hadejia Jama’are River Basin Development Authority (HJRBDA), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, proposed the construction of a center-pivot irrigation sprinkler.
A center-pivot irrigation system is a modern and mechanized irrigation method consisting of several pipes to convey water, as well as sprinklers supported by trusses and mouthed on wheels. This method of irrigation increases crops yields while also conserving water unlike flood and drip-well irrigation.
The project started only to be abandoned later, though funding continues, investigation by WikkiTimes has shown. The project, which received over N87 million as funding from the Federal Government was awarded to Isa Halilu Nigeria Limited, Triple K. Construction Company and Potentzia Seed Limited, records from open treasury portal show.
Painful lies we were told – residents
A visit to Kanye Babba community in Babura LGA, Jigawa State, one of the project locations, revealed that food insecurity is evident across the communities.
The project was moved from the Hadeija LGA, the location initially stated in the budget.
According to the community’s secretary, Ibrahim Yunusa, HJRBDA officials visited them and proposed the irrigation project.
Thereafter they requested for land, and vouched to acquire a large expanse for the project but that was the last time the residents heard from them since 2018, Yanusa said.
Bello Aliyu, a retired civil servant and the Kanye Babba (district adviser on religious matters), said farmers often travel to neighboring states including Kano, Taraba, and even Benue to get necessary irrigation support such as drip-well, manual and localized irrigation.
The same experience was observed in Shuwaki community in Tudun-Wada LGA, Kano State. Armayau Kwaringoshi is one of the residents of the community who had high hopes when the project commenced.
He expressed his disappointment in the project, adding that community members were hopeful when they were informed about the irrigation scheme and when the contractor moved to site.
Kwaringoshi, however, lamented that the project has been left in its present state shortly before the 2019 general election.
They only came back in March 2020 to move all their equipment. We have not seen them since then,” he said.
Another resident, Ya’u Namadi Shuwaki, corroborates Armayau’s statement.
He said he was informed by the contractor and an official of the River Basin Development that there is a change of project from the initially proposed center pivot sprinkler to the provision of boreholes in different farmlands within each project community.
In Jama’are LGA, the story remains the same.
A visit by this newspaper to the project site shows that many were abandoned.
There were two installed solar panels on both sides of the farmland where the project is situated. There were also borehole pipes sunk into the ground, apparently meant for water supply to the farmland.
Mustapha Umar, engineering officer of HJRBDA, explained that the project was changed due to the unsuitability of the project site.
“It is a flood-prone area, and that was why the contractor could not do anything there, especially the installation of the center pivot irrigation sprinkler.
It was later changed, considering the high level of flooding which always affects the area during raining season. So they swapped the project for drip-well irrigation,” he said.
Furthermore, Umar said that the agency has since then dug over 50 boreholes at every 40 meters of every acre, providing water for each acre of farmland for farmers, using generators and pumping machines. He disclosed that farmers fuel the generating set since the cost of fueling the machines wasn’t provided for in the agency’s budget.
According to him, each of the drip-well boreholes has been functioning well as each farmer was given a water-pumping generator as an aid to use in pumping water daily.
This invariably runs contrary to the intention of the pivot irrigation scheme and brings into the question whether appropriate feasibility studies and environmental assessment was done, said Bello Gambari, an irrigation expert.
“Drip well irrigation is one of the cheapest irrigation system available in Nigeria but leaving the farmers to cater for the fueling wasn’t well thought out considering the already dire situation most rural farmers find themselves in financially,” Gambari said.
He explained that drip well cost around N50, 000 to N70, 000 depending on the size of the sumo used since most drip-wells are handmade.
Even then, Umar’s claim is difficult to believe. Findings showed that he owns acres of farmland which the wells serve, at the exclusion of other farmers. Aside Umar who claimed to be a beneficiary, attempts by this newspaper to locate other beneficiaries were futile.
Ibrahim Danjuma is a popular farmer in the area. When asked about the project, he said: “I don’t know anything about the project. I have not benefitted from any irrigation project. The land is not accessible so we don’t go there to even farm.”
False hope and lies by contractors
A breakdown of the amount expended on the contract showed that Isa Halilu Nigeria Limited was paid N18,550,054.43; Tripple K. Construction Company Limited and Potenzia Seed Limited received N36,190,476.20, and N33,178,756.28 respectively.
This reporter met with Haythman Yahaya, the Manager of Tripple K. Construction Company located at 7, Dorowa Street, off Audu Bako way, Nassarrawa LGA Kano State to enquire about the project abandonment in Kanye Babba. He chronicled how the project started, adding that the company had to stop the project due to no fault of theirs.
Yahaya explained that the company was only paid 15 percent mobilization fee and that that all the equipment needed for the project was imported from China without additional funding.
“After we were paid the mobilization fee we proceeded to clear and prepare the project site for the commencement of work. However, funding stalled and the equipment worth over N15 million imported from China for the project is left to waste,” he disclosed.
Yahaya said the cost of acquiring the equipment is yet to be covered by the contracting agency, HJRBDA, and as such the company decided to abandon work.
“Until the agency pays back the money invested into the project and the contract fee, the company won’t return to site to continue the project,” he said
The River Basin Authority, however, did not dispute the fact that equipment was purchased. It added that the challenges of theft, vandalism and maintenance were the main reason why the project in Kanye Babba was stalled.
Sani Mohammed, Director of Account of the agency could not explain the outstanding amount owed the contractor when questions concerning it were posed to him.
The Managing Director, Isa Halilu Nigeria Limited, Mohammed Sani, who was contracted to provide irrigation facilities in Jama’are, Jama’are LGA, Bauchi State, could not be bothered that the project he was paid N18,550,054.43 to execute has been abandoned.
Sani could not be reached after several weeks of visit by this reporter at his office located in Hauwau house, Gyadi Gyadi, Tarauni, Kano State. However, when contacted on phone Sani asked the reporter to direct questions to the HJRBDA for answers. He insisted he was not in the position to provide any information about the project to the reporter.
A Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, request sent to the company was received by one Isa Garo on October 19, 2020 with no response weeks after the request was made.
The FOI Act (FOIA) 2011 stipulates that response to requests should be made available promptly, but in any event, not later than 7 days from the date of receipt of the request. Furthermore, section 2(7) of the FOIA provides that the act is “applicable to private companies utilizing public funds or providing public services or public function.”
The third contractor, Potenzia Seed Nigeria Limited’s address could not be located. On request, another address provided by HJRBDA at Plot 2, Sanni Marshal Road, Nassarawa LGA, Kano State belonged to another company. Also, a search on Nigeria’s company directory, Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, was futile.
However, its project site which was said to have been cleared and ready for construction was left desolate depriving farmers of their farmlands.
Also a search in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to confirm the registration of Isa Halilu and Tripple K. construction limited proved abortive as both companies could not be found on the commission’s website, this contravenes the Public Procurement Act (BPP) (2007) which states that the minimum qualification for the awarding of any contract must be with a Proof of Registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), a Tax Clearance from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for at least three years and Pension Clearance Certificate from the Pension Commission (PenCom) among others.
Federal Agency Defrauding Farmers
In reaction to a FOIA request sent to the HJRBDA enquiring about the status of the project, the agency agreed to an interview granted by the Managing Director at its headquarters on Maiduguri Road, Hotoro, Kano State. His response was at variance with that of the contractors.
According to Abdullahi, the center pivot sprinkler project was appropriated in 2018 and commenced same year. He said the project was only proposed to be sited in Tudun-Wada, Jama’are, adding that Kanye Babba was originally not among the beneficiaries.
It was later included, Abdullahi said, because there were several irrigation projects in Hadejia where the project was initially situated.
When asked why the projects are stalled two years after the contracts were awarded, he explained that they are on-going project and are in phases, adding that he is pleased and impressed with the level of work carried out there, which he claims is at 80 percent completion.
Abdullahi also said the initially planned center pivot irrigation scheme was changed to drip-well irrigation and that over 40 drip wells have been dug. Some, he noted, were already serving farmers before the flooding which destroyed the farmlands and kept farmers away from farming for a very long time.
This naturally suggests that funding for the project should be reviewed downwards since the pivot irrigation is not as costly as the drip-well irrigation system, says Gambari.
But this was not the case. Abdullahi could not explain why the fund for a pivot irrigation project stated in the budget would be spent on drilling boreholes and buying pumping machines without any review of the procurement process.
When informed that the contractors were paid N87 million in 2019, he could not offer any concrete explanation. But he insisted the projects were near completion, despite contrary evidence.
Regardless, there is a lot more than meets the eyes in the matter. Engineer Ibrahim Abdullsalami Yakasai, Head of Procurement at HJRBDA, said the project was advertised in the national dailies specifically Daily Trust and had several bidders.
He further said the project advertised in the tender was actually the center pivot irrigation sprinkler and all contractors awarded the contract were selected on merit.
He however was not forth-coming on the procurement process when the project changed mid-way from the center pivot sprinkler to the drip well irrigation system. In his response, Yakasai stated that the need for change was necessary so as to avoid wastage of resources. But he also declined to provide additional information on the overall amount expended on the project.
A call to the members representing these local government at the National Assembly Allhassan Ado Doguwa representing Doguwa/Tudun-Wada and Isa Hassan Jama’are representing Jama’are/Itas-Gadau federal constituency by this Newspaper to get their opinion and awareness on the project was futile as their phone rang severally but it was not answered. Also, text messages sent to them in this regard, were not replied as at press time.
Experts decry poor project conception
For Mike Falodun, an irrigation expert with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the project conception was poorly done.
He said although center pivot irrigation sprinkler is expensive to construct and seems more mechanized for irrigation farming, it is often prone to vandalism and poor maintenance in Nigeria.
Experts also argued that Nigeria will continue to face a lot of setbacks in its drive to ensure food security if such project abandonment, corruption and mismanagement of funds are not properly tackled.
Hamzat Lawal is the chief executive officer, Connected Development (CODE), an anti-corruption advocacy organization.
In an interview with WikkiTimes, Lawal explained that corruption is one major factor hindering government’s effort towards curbing food insecurity.
“Nigeria’s agricultural sector would have been the largest sector in the whole of Africa, considering the nature of our soil and population as an advantage. We are faced with the evil corruption and until it is brought to its knees, we will continue to face a lot of setback in the agricultural sector as a country,” he said.
Development expert and project consultant, Nura Gazali, takes it further.
He explained that: “Corruption is one of the key issues affecting public projects and policies. It is one of the major impediments for implementation of projects across public sectors including the agricultural sector.”
“Food insecurity in Nigeria is continuously being aggravated by myriad factors, and poor conceptualization of project and corruption are among the two major causes for setbacks in the quest to ensure food security,” Gazali said.
* This investigation is supported by the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Center for Investigative Reporting.