With the gradual return of the dry season otherwise known as harmattan in Makurdi, the capital of Benue State, there is a steady return of mobile water vendors popularly known as “mai ruwa”. This is occasioned by the steady drop in water level of wells and limited rainfall, which have become the residents’ major source of water as pipe borne water is only available in some homes in few areas of the town.
Makurdi, which is located in North-Central Nigeria, has an estimated population of over three million. But, with one of the major rivers in the country, River Benue, running through it, it has become a typical example of the proverbial story of “living on a river bank but washing ones hands with spittle”.
Although successive administrations in the state from 1999 to date have tried to address the problem of potable water production, supply and distribution through the Benue State Water Board in the form of the Greater Makurdi Water Works, it has been a futile attempt.
With the shortfall in provision of potable water to the ever increasing population and layouts in Makurdi, the services of mai ruwa come in handy as the water vendors buy water in 20 litres jerry cans and hawk to residents in the town at usually N25 per jerry can.
With the return of the raining season, most of these water peddlers who are all from the Northern part of Nigeria make a return to their various states to engage in farming activities as the demand for water drops drastically. However, now that the harmattan has crept back, they are back in their droves and business is starting to gradually pick up tempo as they serve residents of Makurdi where they cannot access potable water as a public utility.
In a chat with this writer, a water vendor who hails from Yobe State and spoke in Hausa, Musa Bello, stated that he has been in the business for about two years in the state and it helps him meet up with basic needs.
According to him, he left Makurdi for Yobe during the farming season to work on his farm and spend time with his family, adding that he is back now that the dry season is setting in so as to continue with his business.
Another mai ruwa, Buka Sani, who also returned from farming in his home state of Kebbi, said he would continue shuttling between Makurdi and Kebbi as the seasons change, in order to make the best out of both the raining season and dry season for farming and hawking water respectively.
Sani expressed hope for brisk business this season as the taps are still not running with water and more people have sunk boreholes where they can buy water and peddle to residents.
It will be recalled that in 2001, the then governor, George Akume, awarded the $26.4 million worth Greater Makurdi Water Works contract to Biwater Company to build a water treatment facility with a capacity of 45,000 cubic meters per day. But, unfortunately, with over $6.2 million expended by the end of his two-term tenure in 2003, it wasn’t still eureka for Makurdi residents in accessing potable water.
Subsequently, the Governor Gabriel Suswam led administration revoked the contract and re-awarded it to Gilmor Nigeria Limited and, in March 2003, the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, commissioned the $42 million 50,000 cubic metres daily capacity waterworks, with a potential to be extended to 100,000 cubic metres. The action raised hope for the over 600,000 residents of Makurdi that they would have unhindered access to potable water. However, the situation did not change; reason being that although the government said the project was almost completed, the second aspect of the project which involved reticulation to link pipelines to homes in the town, weighed down the completion of the project.
It is worthy of note that the existing water pipelines which serve a few homes are those that were laid in 1978 and are either rusted, burst beyond repair or are obsolete in many areas and whenever water is pumped from the Water Board, water is wasted at broken points thereby becoming Non Revenue Water (NRW).
So to say, the need for reticulation to take place in Makurdi before any proper potable water supply can be achieved cannot be overemphasised, considering that the metropolis has grown beyond the former setting of Wadata, High-Level, GRA, Wurukum, North Bank, etc with new layouts such as Nyiman Layout, Welfare Quarters, Owner Occupier Estate, Makurdi International Market, Agber Village, Tionsha, and Agboughl, to name but a few.
From the foregoing, the town has grown and even as the state is believed to have spent over N5 billion during the past administration in the area of potable water provision with the construction of the Greater Makurdi Water Works and water plants in the other two geopolitical zones (Zone A and Zone C) of the state, little wonder the Country Director for Water Aid, Dr. Michael Ojo, last year revealed that only 45 percent of the state had access to potable water, with just three percent of this figure having access to government provided potable water.
The situation is appalling so much that the Governor Samuel Ortom too, while inspecting the Greater Makurdi Water Works, berated the lack of potable water in the state when he stated that the people of the state had waited too long for public water supply. “A lot of money has been spent on this water project and there has to be justification for such spending. Our people deserve to feel the impact of this project. They can’t wait any longer,” he added.
The question therefore now is; with the current biting economic times and recession which has affected even the payment of civil servants’ wages, where and how can the state government access money to fully reticulate the Greater Makurdi Works for it to provide potable water according to its capacity and projection of 35 years viability?
By Damian Daga