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INVESTIGATION: Kwara’s N15.7Million White Elephant: Waterworks Project Stops Functioning After Brief 6-Month Run

INVESTIGATION: Kwara's N15.7Million White Elephant: Waterworks Project Stops Functioning After Brief 6-Month Run

Odo-Eku, a community in Kwara State’s Isin Local Government Area, has struggled with water scarcity for decades. Despite their efforts, residents lack access to clean drinking water, forcing them to rely on a small spring called Omi Ekú.

This shared water source is used for everything from cooking and drinking to washing clothes and hydrating cattle, highlighting the community’s dire need for a reliable water supply.

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Despite repeated pleas for a reliable water supply, the Odo-Eku community remains without safe drinking water, despite the allocation of N15.7 million for the Odo-Eku water project.

Funded by the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA) and awarded to MalmidInternational Limited, the project was commissioned in 2020 with the promise of improving the community’s welfare. However, the project has failed to deliver on its promises, leaving the community without access to clean water and vulnerable to waterborne diseases. The failed project has only exacerbated the community’s struggles, highlighting the need for effective solutions to address their long-standing water crisis.

During a visit to the Odo-Eku community, this reporter witnessed firsthand the struggles of the residents, who are bearing the brunt of climate change.

Community leaders and residents shared their harrowing experiences, particularly during the dry season, when they have to go to great lengths to fetch water from a nearby stream for their daily needs.

Nursing mothers and students are among those most affected, forced to walk long distances to access water. The community members expressed their disappointment and frustration with the failed water project, alleging that the contractor used substandard materials, resulting in a system that only functioned for six months before breaking down.

The N15.7 million project has left the community feeling betrayed and abandoned, with their water woes remaining unaddressed.

Elder Ogundeji, the Odofin of Odo-Eku, a respected community leader, guided this reporter on a tour of the failed water project. He pointed out that the project, built in 2020, had a disappointingly short lifespan, collapsing mere months after its completion. With a sense of frustration and disappointment, he highlighted the unfulfilled promises and wasted resources that have left the community still struggling to access basic clean water.

He explained that when the project was initiated in 2020, the community was hopeful that the longstanding issue of potable water supply would be resolved. However, the project has since turned into a source of sorrow as it has failed to alleviate their water-related suffering.

“We face challenges with access to clean drinking water in our community. The water system provided by the Federal government stopped working within six months of its construction. However, we were unable to benefit from the project, as it failed to address our longstanding water issues,” he said.

Lamenting the situation, he said the borehole that was constructed by the contractor collapsed within a month, and they notified them about the problem. He said they brought another small borehole to replace the big one, which also didn’t last before it stopped working.

“When you drink clean, portable water, the likelihood of sickness is lower compared to drinking contaminated water that people wash their clothes and defecate into. The risk of sickness is higher in such cases, and survival may depend on divine intervention.

“If the challenges of obtaining portable water are too great, it is then that all kinds of sickness will surface. However, if people have access to clean, portable water, the likelihood of getting sick will be minimal,”he said.

Elder Ogundeji made a passionate plea to the government to intervene and rescue the community from their water woes. He urged the authorities to instruct the relevant parties to revive the failed water project, rectify its issues, and ensure that the substantial investment made does not go down the drain. By doing so, the government can restore hope to the community and provide them with the basic amenity of clean water, which they have been denied for far too long.

A female civil servant, who hails from Odo-Eku, spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed her distress about the challenges she faces in accessing clean water. She shared her ordeal of having to travel long distances to fetch water, a burden that weighs heavier during the dry season. Her story highlights the struggles that many in the community face daily, and the urgent need for a reliable water supply system.

She said, “Many of the teachers deployed to the Odo-Eku community find it challenging to stay. Oftentimes, some of them don’t take their baths because there is no water nearby, and they have to be in school before 8 am.

“Water is very important in human life. Our students, who are currently taking exams, find it difficult as they have to read and at the same time travel several miles to fetch water. It is not easy for them. How can they comprehend what they are learning under such circumstances?”

“If the government can use N15.7 million for a water project like this and it doesn’t serve the community for six months, that means it doesn’t alleviate the suffering that people face.

“Pregnant women and nursing mothers usually go to a river called Omi-Eku to fetch water, especially at times when insecurity has taken over the whole area,” she said.

She said that most of the time they can’t wash their clothes because there isn’t enough water to sustain them. She explained that they have to travel all the way to the city just to have their clothes washed at a dry cleaner, emphasizing the hardship they face due to the lack of access to clean water.

She fervently appealed to the government to come to their rescue and resolve the long-standing water crisis in the community. She added that despite the challenges, many residents remain devoted to their community and choose to stay, highlighting the need for the government to address their basic needs and make their lives easier.

Mrs. Mary Titilayo Ogunyemi, an elderly woman who is over 70 years old, spoke with this reporter about how she finds it hard to get water. She explained that her children have all gotten married, and no one is around to assist with domestic tasks.

She said it has been over four years since the water project was constructed and inaugurated, but after six months, it stopped functioning.

She said, “Since the water stopped functioning, the community later made contributions to repair it. In the long run, it got spoiled again, and I think it’s beyond the community’s power to fix the problem.

“The water situation is a major problem in this community. As elderly people, we don’t have children around who can go to far distances to fetch water. Most of the time, we give people money to help us fetch water. You will see them with kegs on their bikes, going long distances to fetch water.

“Where there is no water, problems always persist. We cannot wash our clothes, and some of us won’t bathe for a week because there is no water. Before we can drink water, we need to boil the dirty water before it becomes safe to drink.”

Mrs Ogunyemi explained that they go to the river to fetch muddy water. She stated that the water project did not serve any purpose for them, as elderly people in the community struggle to access clean water.

“Drinking dirty or untreated water is dangerous to the body and can cause many diseases, especially in hard-to-reach communities. Despite the amount spent on water projects, we should not have to experience any hardship from unsafe water.

“It is obvious that the material they use is not standard, and we know very little in the community, except for what they want us to know,” she said.

She appealed to the government to come to their aid in Odo-Eku and to also consider the elderly, as they are among the vulnerable ones who suffered the most.

The youth leader in the community, Peter OluwaṣeunOlatunde, spoke with this reporter about how they wake up early in the morning with many jerry cans on their motorcycle to travel to Omi-Eku to fetch water.

Mr. Olatunde took this reporter to the Odo-Eku River, where almost all the residents of the community fetch water.

The youth leader said, “It is devastating that in the 21st century, people are still finding it difficult to access potable water.” He lamented the condition of the Odo-Eku water project, which the federal government funded through the Lower Niger River Basin Authority with an amount of N15.7 million.

“Omi-Eku is where our grandparents used to come to fetch water, and we grew up knowing this place, where we also come to fetch water. The water springs out and it never dries,” he said.

“In 2020, a water works project was commissioned in Odo-Eku, which I heard was a multimillionaire project. However, within six months, the water project collapsed, making it difficult for our mothers and residents to access portable water.”

He said people come from far distances to fetch water from the river. He explained how the community tried their best to ensure that the water project worked, but all efforts proved abortive.

Mr. Olatunde, however, appeals to the government to consider them as they struggle with all aspects of life, including roads and water.

Community Needs Sensitization To Ease Their Problems

A Kwara-based civil society organization that promotes good governance in the state and monitors how public funds are spent, Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSuD), told this reporter that many hard-to-reach communities require sensitization. This is because any projects facilitated by the government or NGOs expect communities to provide feedback to those facilitating them.

The ENetSuD Deputy Coordinator for Special Duties, Abdulrasak Olayemi, stated that nobody had sensitized the community to provide feedback regarding the functionality of the project initiated in their community after six months.

He said, “If the community complains that the water project did not serve them as expected, the Lower Niger River Basin Authority will not pay the balance payment to the contractor that handled the project.

“Inasmuch as LNRBDA paid the contractor six months after the project was commissioned, they have no authority over the contractor. However, LNRBDA lacks sufficient staff to monitor projects, despite having thousands across Kwara and Kogi.”

He explained that before LNRBDA settles the contractor’s payment, they will conduct a site visit to the community where the project was implemented to verify if it meets the intended needs. Following this, they will facilitate a tripartite agreement between the community, the contractor, and themselves, which will be signed and subsequently handed over to the community, ensuring a smooth transfer of ownership and accountability.

Olayeni said community members need to be enlightened because once contractors know that residents of a particular community are illiterate, all they do is cheat the community by using substandard materials.

He, however, appeals to LNRBDA to look into their budget to see if there is room for rehabilitation; they should incorporate Odo-Eku into the budget.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2022, about 2.2 billion people globally lack access to “safely managed drinking water,” including 115 million people drinking surface water. These figures reflect the challenges in providing access to water and sanitation in Nigeria, as well as the disparities between developed and developing countries.

Service Point- Picture By Buhari Olanrewaju Ahmed

In 2010, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation. Everyone has the right to sufficient, continuous, safe, acceptable, physically accessible, and affordable water for personal and domestic use.

We Pay Contractor After Six Months

This reporter visited the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA) to investigate why the contractor refused to return to the community and why LNRBDA continued to pay the contractor despite the water project not serving the community for more than six months.

Meanwhile, the narration by LNRBDA differs completely from the allegations made by the community regarding the water project.

In an interview, the Deputy Director of Water Supply and Hydrogeologist, Mr. Kunle Razaq, revealed that the Odo-Eku water works project was awarded to Malmid International Ltd on October 25, 2020, at a contract sum of N15,691,298. He explained that the contractor was tasked with constructing the water works, aimed at addressing the community’s long-standing water challenges.Pump Engine- Picture By Buhari Olanrewaju Ahmed

Mr. Razaq stated that before the contractor starts any work, the LNRBDA and the contractor must visit the site for site possession, ensuring that all stakeholders, including the host community, are adequately represented.

He said, “You cannot simply go to a specific community without informing them. Regardless of the project you intend to offer, you must first inform them of what is coming and the benefits it will bring. This allows them to get involved, assist in supervision, ensure smooth implementation, and provide their full support to the contractor.

“We always ask where they want the project to be located. As geologists, we advise against narrowing the borehole to a specific location. However, they are free to place the overhead tanks and service points wherever they prefer, as long as the borehole remains productive.”

“Before we give the go-ahead to the contractor, we’ll ensure that the borehole is productive before any other structures are constructed, such as the service point or switch house.

“He said that when the contractor drilled the first borehole and the authority tested it, they rejected it. Then, they drilled a second one, but it was also rejected because it didn’t meet their standard, which requires a tank capacity of 22,500 liters.

“The third borehole, according to the geologist who visited the site, has a step of 1,100 meters and an installation depth of 97 meters. Therefore, we accepted the third borehole, and it has been installed,” he said.

Mr. Razaq explained that upon completion of the project, the community representative took possession of one of the pumps typically installed in the borehole, while the contractor’s installed pump remained in place.

He dismissed claims that the community lacks water, stating that three boreholes have been drilled in the area and the state government has supplemented the existing waterworks with additional water supply. He acknowledged that, given the numerous communities in Kwara State, it’s challenging to address their needs simultaneously, but efforts are being made to prioritize and provide solutions.

Mr. Razaq informed this reporter that after six months, there have been no complaints about the water work by the community. The contract given to the contractor includes a retention period of three months. After this period, if the project is still functioning, the contractor receives the remaining balance, known as retentions.

“We usually retain part of the contract sum while waiting. We hope not to encounter any issues with the project, but if we do, we refrain from signing the payment until we are satisfied with the project’s completion and its ability to serve its intended purposes,” he said.

He said the contractor went to the Odo-Eku community after five months instead of three months to assess if the project was serving the community, and he confirmed that the water project was working perfectly.

Mr. Razaq added that before a contractor will receive his retention, the community will confirm that the project is functional. There will be a letter signed by all stakeholders, including the community, LNRBDA, and the contractor, before handing it over to the community. All stakeholders will receive a copy.

He said, after six months, that the project stopped functioning, as the community claimed. Why can’t they come to the LNRBDA office to complain, since they know the people who awarded the project from 2021 up till now?

“Odo-Eku community has never sent a representative to lodge a complaint, so we were unaware that the waterworks had stopped functioning. We have thousands of projects across the state and in Kogi.

“He said there are some projects that only have minor faults due to lack of maintenance by the community, which don’t require spending money, just seeking an expert to fix them,” he said.

“Many people come to our office to launch complaints, and we send an expert to assist them. The funniest part is, they often find that the issue was minor.

He stated that the authority doesn’t have the budget to maintain all boreholes across the state, and their staff are insufficient to inspect faulty boreholes while they have thousands of projects to initiate.

He, however, urged the people of the Odo-Ekucommunity to form an association where they can make monthly contributions, similar to what other communities are doing, to maintain their borehole.

Picture by ENetSuD

Mr. Razaq also appeals to the Odo-Eku community to send a representative to make an official complaint so they can determine how they can assist the community.

According to documents obtained by ENetSuD through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to LNRBDA in August 2022, the contract sum for the Odo-Ekuwater project was N15,691,298. ENetSuD’s records reveal that the contractor, Malmid International Ltd, received full payment (100%) from LNRBDA for the project, totaling the same amount.

According to ENetSuD, in 2021 they immediately brought the current non-functional status of the project to the attention of LNRBDA, enabling the authority to review the project and address any necessary technical problems.

Meanwhile, LNRBDA informed this reporter that no one had ever come forward to complain to the authority that the water project had stopped functioning.

This story was produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation

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