By Emeka Mamah, Vincent Ujumadu, Chidi Nkwopara, Anayo Okoli, Nwabueze Okonkwo and Peter Okutu

IT was the famous Greek philosopher, Thales that floated the idea that “water is life.” Several research findings still point to the fact that living things cannot do without water. Water accounts for a good proportion of the human person and living. Even the late music maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti in one of his tracks, water no get enemy; stated as much.


However, this all important creation of God is not available for the people of the South East zone due to lack of planning or neglect by the various administrations that have served in the five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo which make up the area.

Politicians still play politics with provision of water. During the first republic, politicians were said to have used water supply as a weapon of blackmail against communities.

Weapon of blackmail

They would take water pipes to  communities in order to woo them  but later went back to collect such pipes if such communities failed to vote for them. Apart from the second republic when both the governors of old Anambra and Imo States, Senator Jim Nwobodo and late Chief Sam Mbakwe respectively tackled the issue of water, no other administration in the new states that emerged from the area due to constant adjustments by successive federal administrations has ever done anything meaningful in this regard.

Mbakwe started the greater Owerri, Umuahia, Okigwe and Aba Water Schemes but could not complete all of them before the Muhammadu Buhari coup which terminated the life of the republic. Jim Nwobodo also started the greater Enugu, Awka, Onitsha, Abakaliki and Nsukka Water Schemes but could not complete them before he lost power to late Chief Christian Onoh in a controversial election in 1983. Today, most of those water schemes are yet to be completed, thus exacerbating the problem of acute water shortage in the zone. The story is arranged state by state.

Unending water scarecity in Abia: In Abia State pipe borne water is non-existent. No part of the state, including the capital, Umuahia and the commercial nerve centre, Aba has functioning pipe borne water as present and past governments have been paying lip service to the provision of potable water; one of the essentials of life. In fact it will be very apt to describe the state Water Board as existing only on paper.

The state has a Ministry of Public Utilities, and each administration, had a commissioner for the ministry and whose only visible job as observed by the residents of the cities is occasional repair of street lights. The people of Abia State had often wondered if provision of pipe borne water is part of the duty of the government.

Expectedly, the failure of the government to provide this basic necessity of life has provided opportunity for private individuals to sink commercial boreholes in every corner of the state’s cities, especially in Aba and Umuahia. It is these private boreholes that the people utilise for drinking and other domestic purposes.

It is a common sight, on daily basis, to see residents, especially children carry kegs of various sizes in search of water from the private boreholes scattered across the cities even as most of the boreholes sunk by politicians as constituency projects are not functional. Such projects which are usually commissioned with fanfare are merely for show.

Poor environment of the boreholes

Perhaps due to the poor environment of some of the boreholes, some of the users often contract one illness or the other. For those who can afford it, sachet (pure) water serves as drinking water.

Yet year in, year out, the government makes budgetary provisions for pipe borne water as passed by the House of Assembly. Perhaps it is time the people begin to ask the law makers and the executive questions about the allocations made for pipe borne water, and hold them accountable.

Water supply: Anambra’s jinxed sector

THE new Anambra State may have been developing fast in many sectors since its creation in 1991, but one area the state has lagged behind is in the water supply sector. Perhaps the reason for the neglect might be as a result of the total dearth of infrastructure at the creation of the state, which made the various governments that had been in place to face such important areas as roads, health and education and significantly enough, the state has fared well in those sectors.

Children queueing for potable water

There are many gigantic water schemes in various parts of the state, including the famous Nkisi Regional Water Scheme in Onitsha started by the Nwobodo administration in the second republic, the Nnewi water scheme, the Awka water scheme, the Enugwu Ukwu and Nimo Water schemes, which, unfortunately are no longer functioning.

The worrisome situation is that most cities in the state do not enjoy public water supply, thus paving the way for commercial water vendors in the state to thrive.

A major attempt at rehabilitating water schemes in the state was during the administration of the immediate past governor, Mr. Peter Obi, when the state government attracted many international donour agencies to assist in the provision of water. Following a study, it was felt that the short term approach towards solving the problem was to sink boreholes in strategic places as an interim measure.

Interim measure

That was how the idea of sinking boreholes in primary and secondary schools came up. The exercise worked as many primary and post primary schools had water. Unfortunately, most of them collapsed after some time and the institutions were back to square one.

In Awka, the Peter Obi administration reconstructed the gigantic water tank at Aroma junction and boreholes to supply water to it were sunk at the Commissioners’ quarters. Pipes were also laid from the borehole site to the water intake tank, but up till now, water has not flowed and no reasons were given for the situation.

Elsewhere at Udoka Housing Estate, also in Awka, another scheme was rehabilitated and water actually flowed. On the day it was commissioned, officials of the state government urged residents in the neighbourhood to pay for the reticulation of water into their homes. Census of households in the areas to be fed with the water was actually taken, but the residents appeared not to be interested as almost all compounds in the area had boreholes. Also, most of the houses that did not have boreholes found out that it was cheaper for them to purchase water from the tankers than subscribe to the government water scheme, hence, the Udoka water scheme was not put to adequate use.

In Onitsha, the Nkisi Water Scheme, which was started during the second republic, is yet to be completed. When the past administration wanted to complete the project, it was discovered that all the machines installed in the area had gone bad and therefore needed to be replaced. The work was still ongoing when the government changed hands and work is yet to be completed. A recent visit to the area showed that the contractor had moved out of the site.

Similarly, the water schemes at Uruagu Nnewi, Aguata, IfiteUkpo, Nibo, Awkuzu and Agulu, among others, which engaged government attention during the administration of Mr. Peter Obi, are not functioning, despite huge amounts spent by government on them.

Indeed the water supply situation in Anambra State had a fundamental problem that arose from the status of the workers of the state Water Corporation, who returned to the state at the creation of the new Anambra State. The workers were owed salaries and allowing amounting to billions of Naira and the argument of the state government was that as a parastatal that was expected to sell water and get paid from the proceeds, it should not expect the government to pay them every month for doing nothing.

Attempt by the state government to give the corporation seed money to enable it resuscitate the abandoned water schemes and make money from them was rejected by the water corporation workers who wanted government to equate them with the civil servants working in the ministries.

Their crisis with the state government lingered until the present administration paid the outstanding salaries and allowances from the state coffers. As it stands, one of the most lucrative businesses in the state is water supply by tanker drivers. For instance, a 20 –litre jerry can of water costs N20, while 1000 litres tank attracts about N5000, depending on the source of supply.

Onitsha: Water corporation and its non-existent services

For over a decade now, there is no pipe borne water running in the commercial city of Onitsha, Anambra State, as provided by the state water corporation. The last time Onitsha residents and environs drank from the facilities of the state water corporation was in the 80s and early 90s, when the taps dried up.

Individuals have since cashed in on the situation by sinking commercial boreholes from where they sell water to their neighbours at exorbitant prices.    The non-supply of water worsened during the regime of former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju when he vowed that he would no longer pay ‘dead woods’ in the water corporation salaries.

Diplomatic approach

Former Governor Chris Ngige came on board and applied the diplomatic approach whereby he paid them salaries and owed them allowances based on his belief that they were no longer in active service. Reprieve later came for the workers when the Industrial Court sitting in Enugu ordered the authorities of First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Awka branch to release N1.5 billion for the settlement of the salary arrears owed them and staff of Anambra State Environmental Protection Agency, ANSEPA by the state government, during former Governor Peter Obi’s regime.

Death of 232 workers over non-payment of salaries

The order followed garnishee proceeding brought against the state government, by Messrs Enobong Etteh, counsel to the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, the umbrella union representing the two agencies. This was after about 232 of the helpless workers had died between 2006 when Obi took over from Ngige and 2014 when he handed over to Willie Obiano.

As it is now there is nowhere a tap is running from the installations of the state water corporation in Onitsha in particular and some other parts of the state as private water business boomed for bore-hole owners and table water operators.

Ebonyi phenomenon: The phenomenon of water scarcity has remained a major challenge to various administrations in the state as it has brought untold hardship and pains to the people of the area. This development has over time made citizens of the state embrace raining seasons as it affords them the opportunity of collecting and storing rain water for drinking and cooking.

However, the immediate past administration of Governor Martin Elechi, made concerted efforts to alleviate the pains of Ebonyi people in this regard by embarking on the construction of two gigantic water projects at Oferegbe and Okawu in Ikwo and Onicha Local Government Areas respectively.

While that of Okawu was not realised, the Oferekpe Water Scheme succeeded as the project had been test run and commissioned for use by then President Goodluck Jonathan. Also, to ensure availability of materials and speedy reticulation of water within and outside the state capital, Elechi built and commissioned the Ebonyi State Pipeline Production Company just as his administration started the process of water reticulation before its tenure expired.

Distribution of water

The current administration of Governor David Umahi has since continued with the reticulation process amid some challenges. The State Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr Francis Orji who spoke with the South East Voice, noted that the present administration was committed to reticulating water to different parts of the state, adding that the distribution of water to various locations was being delayed because of the rampant incidents of broken pipes, resulting from the ongoing road construction work in the state.

Orji appealed to Ebonyi people to be patient as their plight was being addressed by the present administration. The impact of the water scarcity had made Ebonyi a sure market for the sales and distribution of both bottled and sachet water, otherwise known as pure water by water vendors even as pure water now sells for between N100 and N120 per bag in the state. The scarcity has made citizens to buy water from compounds where commercial bore-holes had been sunk for domestic needs.

Enugu: Town hall meeting over acute water shortage 

Enugu State was  created in 1991 from the old Anambra State. Although Enugu had been the capital of the defunct Eastern Region, East Central State and the old Anambra State since 1900, when the Southern Nigeria Protectorate was established by the colonial administration of the British Empire, the issue of water has become a recurring decimal.

Safe potable water

Out of the 3.3 million people in the state, only about 37.8 per cent of all households or about 1.2 million households have access to safe potable water, while the remaining 62.2 percent or 2.05 million others have not.  It is common seeing residents of Enugu metropolis, especially young people rushing with jerry cans and other big containers to fetch water from, sometimes, very unusual places like inside gutters where there is a burst or leaking water pipe or a shallow, dirty stream like the “Jootu” at the 7-Up Bus-Stop, Garki, Awkunanaw in Enugu South Local Government Area.

Although currently, there is rainy season, the extent to which the problem of potable water has affected residents of some areas in Edinburgh, Obiagu, Abakpa Nike and Trans Ekulu among others in Enugu metropolis, is worrisome. It has gotten to the point where the current administration led by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwanyi has announced that it would summon a Town Hall Meeting anytime next month “to tackle the lingering water situation in the state and fashion out the best ways of ensuring improved water supply.”

During the administration of Chief Jim Nwobodo in the old Anambra State, the government initiated several schemes to address the problem of acute water shortage. Nwobodo started the greater Awka, Onitsha, Abakaliki and Nsukka Water schemes.

The Greater Nsukka Water Scheme which was abandoned since then was to source and treat water from the Adada River while the Enugu Scheme would get water from the Ajalli River through the 9th Mile Corner but the projects were not completed before he lost a controversial election to late Chief C. C Onoh. Since Nwobodo’s departure from the Lion Building (Government House) in 1983, none of his successors had tackled the issue frontally.

However, during the Military era, some ADB- assisted bore- holes were sunk in some communities especially in the present Ebonyi State in a bid to eradicate guinea worm disease which was a major health problem then. In the present Enugu State, “the ADB boreholes” were sunk at Imufu, Olido and Amufie among other numerous communities.  Apparently in a bid to address the issue of water scarcity, the former Governor of the state, Mr Sullivan Chime assented to the amended Enugu Water and Sanitation Law, a principal law of Enugu State Water Corporation as enacted by the House of Assembly on October 2, 2012.

This was even as some officials of his government reportedly connived and sold some of the big water pipes purchased and kept at Nkpologu, in Uzo Uwani Local Government by the Nwobodo administration for reticulation of water from Adada River to Nsukka under the Greater Nsukka Water Scheme. A native of Nkpologwu, Mr Benson Eze, however, said that, “our people prevented the buyer of the pipes from taking them away. We reasoned that it was wrong to allow thieves take away the pipes after guarding them for over 30 years.”

The law which was designed to regulate activities in the water sector, as well as boost water supply, also prescribed charges for operators of private water works for domestic or commercial purposes. Furthermore, the law also “empowers any person or group of persons to take water from any water course or any other underground water by way of application to the Commissioner for Water Resources for the grant of a licence,” just as it prescribed charges for producers of sachet and bottled water, industrial water users and commercial borehole operators, among others.

Under the law, producers of sachet water are to register with N10,000 and annual renewal fee of N5,000 while bottled water producers paid N20,000 registration and N10,000 annual renewal fee. Licence for a commercial borehole attracts a fee of N35,000, and annual renewal fee of N25,000; while licences for industrial water boreholes attracts N30,000, with an annual renewal fee of N20,000.

The then Commissioner for Water Resources, Mr Michael Nwachukwu, explained that “by the dictates of this law, no individual or group either for commercial or domestic purposes has the right to utilise state resources, in this case, water, without a legitimate licence. “We are now poised like never before to ensure that potable water gets to every citizen of this state, under sanitary conditions,”  adding that the government had along with some donor agencies initiated measures to tackle the water challenge headlong.

Table water producers

“Our facilities were run down previous years and the current administration had tried to fix such facilities and that is why there had been an improvement on supply in recent times. “We try to ration supply of water and that is why some areas get water twice weekly, while others may get less,” he said.

Mr Blessed Okonkwo, Chairman, Table Water Producers Association of Nigeria, Enugu State chapter, however, said that government’s policies were hindering provision of potable water and urged the government to address the issue of multiple taxation on its members. Okonkwo said that members of the association had long grappled with the issue of taxation, by both the state and local governments and urged the government to streamline such charges to make the business climate conducive.

Okonkwo listed the levies charged by the state government annually to include ESWAMA N48,000, vehicle permits N9,000, NESREA N115,000, effluent N30,000 and development levy N30,000. Others are fumigation N30,000 (quarterly) and business premises, N150,000. He said that the levies charged by the local governments included factory permit N6,000, and development levy N6,000 while the Standards Organisation of Nigeria charged N10,000 quarterly.

“We appeal to the government to streamline these charges and give us one single receipt for these charges,” he said. Water is sold at between N5000 and N10,000 per tanker in the state despite the current rainy season.

Water scarcity in Imo

Imo State cannot be said to lack water, especially as it boasts of several natural sources. They include Imo River, Otamiri, Nworie, Urashi, Lake Nwaebere, Oguta Lake, Uramurukwa and Ogochieoche among others. If these natural sources of water served the purpose for their existence before the civil war, it is no longer so today. It is a known fact that these natural sources of water have since been polluted, leading to periodic water borne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever, among others.

In Owerri for instance, all the drains constructed by road contracting firms in the city, emptied into the two major rivers- Otamiri and Nworie. This has led to the pollution of the natural water sources. Faced with this ugly development, the Sam Mbakwe administration came up with water projects in parts of the old Imo State. They included but are not limited to the Greater Owerri Water Scheme, Okigwe Water Scheme, Umuahia Water Scheme and Aba Water Scheme. While the last two water schemes were ceded to Abia State, following the creation of the new state, the others are in Imo.

However, the Greater Owerri Water Scheme, which was carefully packaged to serve Owerri municipality and all the adjoining communities, was completed and commissioned by the Mbakwe administration, while the other water projects were at varying levels of completion before the soldiers struck and sacked the Mbakwe government. The sacking of Mbakwe ultimately led to the abandonment and decay in the water sector.

Faced with the deteriorating situation and the dire need to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals in the health sector, the past administrations of Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim built several solar powered water projects. These, have however, been abandoned by the current administration.

Water hawking soon became a huge economic enterprise. While some people chose to use tankers to hawk water, others built water bottling companies.


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