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THE THIRSTY CITY (I): Despite N12.29bn allocation, Lagos residents can’t access water from government pipelines

THE THIRSTY CITY (I): Despite N12.29bn allocation, Lagos residents can’t access water from government pipelines
December 17
10:23 2022

BY DESMOND OKON AND VICTOR EJECHI

 

Edith Akimuleya had risen on a humid morning to start her trade for the day. The sun soon accompanied her, casting a beam to reveal the flour dust on her chest. She continued mixing the flour in a black bowl, getting set for baking.

Small-scale baking businesses mostly fall in the informal sector of Nigeria’s economy and are sometimes taken up by some people as a last resort to escaping poverty amid a high unemployment rate in the West African country.

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The morning routine dots Akimuleya’s life as she serves her community through her work at a tiny shop in Agboyi.

Agboyi, a community of about two million people, is located in the Agboyi-Ketu local council development area (LCDA). Agboyi one, two, and three, which make up the divisions of the community, spread across Alapere and Ogudu in the south of the local council.

“Iya Ghana”, as Akinmuleya is fondly called, plays a significant role in the “existence” of Agboyi as most residents rely on her pastry business for their crunchy snacks. But the lack of access to good water is a daily hurdle she confronts to make sales.

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In all the 15 years she has lived in the community, Akimuleya has never accessed potable water from the government and has resorted to buying water to keep the business alive.

“It’s only through buying of water and rain that we get water. The water scooped from wells is also not good because the land has salt and I itch when I bathe with it,” she said.

“Sometimes, we buy a keg of water for N100, and I use five kegs a day; that’s N500. If we don’t wash our clothes, we use three. If you have children, you will need a lot of water.

“I buy water for my catering business, too.”

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Akimuleya speaking to journalists from her small ‘bakery’

Her struggles resonate with most residents in the area. Morufu Sadiq, a septuagenarian who also spoke on the water situation in Agboyi, said tenants in the community spend more on water than house rents.

The government, he said, once tried to provide a borehole for the community years ago, but could not continue the project after their equipment developed a fault.

“Since then, they’ve not returned,” Sadiq lamented.

“We can’t get drinkable water. The well water isn’t good. It’s not drinkable. You can’t use it to cook. It’s used for washing plates, and some use it to bathe, but you can’t bathe with it.”

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WATER TRAVELS LONG DISTANCES TO AGBOYI

The lack of public water has forced Agboyi residents to travel a few distances — usually on canoes — to buy water. Funmilayo, a resident, described these trips as “suffering”.

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Sometimes, Funmilayo travels to Ketu, a 2.51 km journey from the community, in search of water. The pain is exacerbated by the cost of the commodity, which she said is expensive at N50 per keg, depending on where one buys.

Funmilayo deals in agbo (local herbs), a business that is heavily reliant on clean water; so, she spends N300 daily on water — an amount sometimes higher than her daily profit.

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“But the highest I’ve spent in a day is N500,” she said, explaining how it cuts into her profit.

“We don’t drink the water we buy. It is just to prepare food. We can use it to make tea since we boil it. We suffer a lot with getting water… and before you can get it, you have to walk a long distance.”

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Raheem Damilola, 22, captured washing her clothes with rainwater. On a normal day, she spends N200 daily on water in Agboyi.

Even though residents go long distances in search of water, sellers go to even farther places to get their supplies.

For instance, many sellers dig boreholes in Ogudu (1.92km away) and pass the pipes to the community, while others fetch water in tankers from Oworoshoki (3.32 km away) and then transport it to Agboyi to sell.

Speaking to TheCable, Jamiu Osun-Oba, the traditional leader of Owode-Elede, said the major problem in the community is water and a motorable bridge. Osun-Oba, who is also a popular water vendor, noted that “good water” was very hard to come by.

When he started the business years ago, he got water from tankers at N8,000 for 100 litres. When the price increased to N12, 000, and eventually to N16, 000 about two years ago, he decided to dig a borehole in Ogudu and channelled the pipes to Agboyi for business.

“I couldn’t afford to buy it again. That was why I decided to make my own borehole,” he said.

“The one I’m selling, I got it from outside Ogudu down to Agboyi here. And you know how much it would cost.”

Osun-Oba said water business generally started flourishing in the local government when the water corporation stopped working.

“We were getting supply from the water corporation before, [and] they were giving us bills every month; but now, we have to find a solution to the problem. The people are suffering for water in this community,” the community leader added.

A well in Agboyi. Residents complain about its unclean content.

A water project by Aboyi’s traditional leader

Life in Agboyi two – where Osun-Oba, and Akimuleya do business – is uninspiring.

Residents live without basic facilities such as motorable roads and are forced to access the community by canoes. They don’t have a secondary school or a well-equipped hospital.

Here, development is simply a mirage, evoking questions as to the level of attention the state is giving to its mega-city dream. Although Agboyi is surrounded by water, residents confirmed to TheCable that they do not get potable water from government pipelines.

On entering the community, this reporter spotted a woman bathing a toddler in the dirty river.

The dirty Agboyi river provides an alternative for some residents who cannot afford to buy water.

“This water (pointing to the river) is not good,” a resident said.

“It comes from far away. I believe it’s not fair to use it for anything because there are many things that go in. Contents from the toilet are flushed into the river. It’s not good to use. So, we beg the government to bring water for us.”

NO PUBLIC WATER FOR OVER 30 YEARS

In a conversation with TheCable, Monsuru Oladega, the king of Agboyi LCDA, spoke of steps he has taken to ease the stress of his subjects. As he spoke, it was not hard to read that he too has suffered from the problem.

In partnership with some politicians, Oladega provided a borehole for the community, but it is yet to be commissioned. This would be the second attempt at providing water after the first project by the government failed.

He, however, insisted that water supply from the government would be a permanent solution.

“I will still appeal to the Lagos state government to see how the public water can get to this place because that will solve the problem permanently,” he said.

When asked whether there was ever a time residents enjoyed public water supply in the community, he said: “I doubt it. I know that in Agboyi we don’t have water supply from the government.”

“I could remember the borehole that was dug here before was during the military era, but it was not used because the water was bad.

“The [water] problem is permanent. Where you don’t have water supply from the government, that is a permanent problem. So, when I told you that the borehole that was dug here before was during the military era, Olabisi Oyelola, we’ll be talking about 30-something years ago.”

Oladega, the king of Agboyi LCDA

A PIPELINE ONCE RAN THROUGH REPODUN, IN KETU

Meanwhile, a trip to Alapere showed that there were basic needs that even kings do not have and had not experienced.

Samuel Damilare, a businessman, remembered a time when he and some others in Repodun street, Alapere, Ketu, enjoyed water from government-run pipelines. He recalled how a pipe passed through his community and was “channelled into each house”. But that time quickly went by.

“We just used that water for like two years, and it just stopped,” Damilare said.

“Since 2010, that was when the water corporation stopped the supply. Ever since then, residents find it cumbersome to get water.”

Damilare told TheCable that he spends N1,000 daily on water; but even so, the supply from meruwa, the local vendors, is not safe for ingestion. He added that efforts have been made to talk to the state authorities for help, but nothing has been done.

“When the government water was running, we were paying N7,000 monthly, and then it was increased to N15,000,” he further recalls.

“The water was regular at the time and it was clean. If it is not clean, you can keep it and allow it to settle. Nobody would think about the money if the water was constantly coming like that.”

Meruwa operators getting supplies from a compound in Akinyemi, Alapere.

BROWNISH, OILY WATER IN OGUDU

When rich folks house-hunt in Lagos, Ogudu environs make the shortlist. The area sits at the centre of the state in Kosofe LGA, making access to other locations easy. More so, it holds a trickle of the allure found in upscale areas of the state. A drycleaning business run by Paul is sited somewhere in this region.

Paul, also a civil servant with the state government, said since he relocated to the area, not once has he received water from the Lagos Water Corporation (LWC).

This, he intoned, was eating deep into his business.

He said the water from boreholes “stains customers’ clothes”; so, his only hope for clean water is the meruwas whom he patronises almost daily.

“For someone like me that is doing laundry business, I use water often. So, I buy that [meruwa] water almost every day. So, imagine buying water N1,200 almost every day or two days intervals, by the time you add it up in a month, it has really eaten up from the profits we make here,” he said.

A sample of water Paul uses for laundry in his shop in Ogudu.

Ultimately, residents in Ogudu and surrounding areas like Akinyemi in Alapere, depend on water from wells, and meruwas. The reason is that boreholes in Ogudu produce brownish water – a situation that has been largely blamed on the land.

This has forced people with deep pockets to drill water from places deemed to have good soil, usually long distances away. Wells also come in handy. But water from this source turns oily within 24 hours.

And if you live in the police barracks in Ori Oke, Ogudu, like Precious Lemchi, you would have to wake up at odd hours to fetch from the well when it must have settled.

“When you get to the well, because of the multitude of people fetching the water, you will not be able to get clean water because everyone is trying to fetch it at once, and you end up fetching mud,” Lemchi said.

“Most times, when you don’t fetch mud, you end up fetching water that is oily, and you can’t use the water to do anything unless you allow it to settle.”

Precious Lemchi, fetching water from a well in a police barracks in Ori Oke, Ogudu. The water would later become oily.

She said she spends between N300 to N1,000 daily on water, depending on where she buys from.

“The least the meruwa will fetch is eight gallons which is N300, but if you’re buying from those who sell water directly, a gallon is N100,” she said.

According to Lemchi, the meruwas get their supplies from wells, and sometimes carwash outlets.

“You can’t even use it to cook, and once you bathe with it, your body starts to itch. I don’t know what they mix with that water. So, we prefer to go to the well by ourselves no matter how unclean it is,” she added.

Lemchi and many others who spoke to TheCable also said they have tried to get the attention of the authorities on the situation. The last attempt led to the drilling of a borehole in the police barracks which demands constant electricity to serve the people.

According to global organisations like World Bank and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), basic water services are improved drinking water sources in which collection time is not more than 30 minutes for a round trip, including queuing.

Adequate access to these facilities would enable citizens to maintain good hygiene and live healthier lives. Nevertheless, about 771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home, WaterAid said.

THE THIRSTY MEGA-CITY

To some, the Lagoon city is a den of life’s many vicissitudes. But what everyone agrees with is the economic status that makes it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its counterparts in other big economies.

Lagos state, the sixth-largest city in the world by population, is Nigeria’s chief commercial, financial and maritime nerve-centre with seaports at Apapa, Tin Can Island, Roro Terminal Ports, and Ijora Container.

Lagos accounts for over 80 percent of the country’s foreign trade flows and generates over 50 percent of Nigeria’s port revenues. Its estimated nominal GDP was put at N33.50 trillion in 2021 according to the state’s citizen’s budget, with a projected growth rate of 4.02 percent.

The state’s economy is said to be larger than any other economy in the ECOWAS sub-region. Back home, Lagos always tops the chart on internally generated revenue (IGR) every year.

However, most places in Lagos are experiencing water shortages than the state is willing to admit.

The National Bureau of Statics (NBS) said, in its 2019 water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) survey that 70 percent of water facilities are constructed by non-government actors, and 64 percent are self-supplied in Lagos and Nigeria at large.

Also, about 90 percent of the city’s over 20 million residents get their drinking water from boreholes. However, a piece of research, published here, found that boreholes in Lagos are contaminated with microplastics.

In 2018, Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti, former commissioner for the environment, assured Lagosians that their water throes were over. Prior to the time he spoke, residents had grumbled about the state’s inability to take care of this essential need.

Durosinmi-Etti said the government was more determined to provide sustainable water demand for the people.

Durosinmi-Etti also said the government had completed the rehabilitation of 48 mini-waterworks in different parts of Lagos, including Ikeja, Surulere, Onikan, Epe, Ikorodu, Dolphin, Ajangbadi, Victoria Island, VI Annex, Lekki, Ikoyi, Ojo, Igando, Badore, Ikate, Apapa, Coker Aguda, Magodo, Meiran, Isheri Osun, Alexandra, Eredo, Somolu, Ojokoro, and Iwaya.

Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti, former commissioner for the environment

Babatunde Durosinmi-Etti

“These were in addition to the rehabilitation of the major waterworks of Iju and Adiyan Phase I with 45MDG and 70MDG capacity respectively, as well as the ongoing construction of the 70MDG Adiyan water treatment plant phase II, to produce and supply water at their optimal capacities,” he had said.

“Others are the four MGD Ishasi waterworks, and the two MGD Imeke-Iworo waterworks both of which will serve the corridors of Mile 2, Owode, Barracks, Alaba International, Old Ojo Road, Ajangbadi, parts of Badagry and adjoining communities.”

Muminu Badmus

In another instance in 2019, Muminu Badmus, group managing director, Lagos Water Corporation (LWC), while reacting to reports that the state had privatised water supply, said communities such as Bariga, Lawanson, Ketu, Ojodu, Agboyi and Mile 12, among others, were “receiving water supply as part of the commitment of the LWC management to customer satisfaction through improved service delivery”.

However, TheCable’s investigation showed that the government had merely paid a lip-service to the people’s yearning as the situation persisted and worsened over the years. Despite the sum of N12.22 billion allocated to the state’s water corporation to develop the sector, the people are still longing for a good water supply to meet their daily demands.


This is a special investigative project by Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF) in partnership with TheCable, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Published materials are not views of the MacArthur Foundation.

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