The inability of the Bayelsa State government to run a water project handed over to it by the Federal Government has led to the wastage of N5.9 billion and lack of potable water in the state, writes MIKE ODIEGWU.
There is no potable water in Bayelsa State. While people in the rural areas depend heavily on polluted rivers, rivulets and streams for water, those living in Yenagoa, the state capital, buy water from vendors, mostly northerners, who purchase in gallons from privately-owned boreholes.
On September 9, 2016, the Federal Government inaugurated a massive water intervention scheme, the Central Ogbia Regional Water Supply Project in Bayelsa State.
The project, which gulped N5.9 billion, was sited at Otuoke, the community of former President Goodluck Jonathan in Ogbia Local Government Area of the state.
The inauguration, which was greeted with fanfare, brought fresh hope to the people, especially the downtrodden, who since the creation of Bayelsa State had been denied access to potable water. The project inuaguration made people to heave a sigh of relief.
While the then Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, led Federal Government’s entourage to inaugurate the project, the then Secretary to Bayelsa State Government (SSG), Chief Serena Dokubo, led the state delegation.
The project was not designed to serve Otuoke alone, it was established to provide potable water to 13 Ogbia communities to be extended to Yenagoa, the state capital.
Adamu acknowledged the importance of adequate water supply, adding that it was a crucial aspect of social and economic development.
“The project we are inaugurating today is among the high priority projects for water supply. This project commissioning, therefore, further demonstrates that the Buhari administration is committed to completing all viable projects that have a positive impact on the lives of our people without any political sentiments,” the minister had said.
He tasked the host communities to take ownership of the water project by maintaining it for improvement of livelihood and reducing water-borne diseases.
Serena Dokubo, who represented Governor Seriake Dickson, at the event, commended the Federal Government for the project, saying such a project was needed in other communities.
Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, who then represented Bayelsa East said: “A lot of children die from consumption of unclean water, a lot fall sick, you have to spend more to take them to the hospital to get cured.”
However, all those hopes and promises have become a mirage. The project, which had the Fibow Petroleum Engineering Consult Nigeria Limited and the NARDA Limited, as contractors, died shortly after it was inaugurated and handed over to the state government.
For a few weeks, the people surrounded taps at designated areas in their communities to fetch water flowing from the facility. They were excited. But the excitement was ephemeral.
They woke up one day and met the tap dry and against their expectations the taps have remained dry for over three years.
The project has become a sorry sight and an unpardonable waste of public resources. Standing on the bumpy, portholed road leading to Otuoke before the Otuoke bridge, it is difficult to see the walls of the fence securing the facility. The fence has been overgrown by weeds.
Only two massive elevated tanks and a faded project’s signpost can indicate to a visitor that a serious project was once inuagurated in the area.
Walking through the unpaved sandy path leading to the project site, it is common to see women and children carrying buckets or gallons of water trekking out of the site to their homes inside the community.
“We come here to fetch water directly from the tank in that complex because our taps are no longer running. We walk many kilometres to get the water,” one of the residents with a dejected look said as she walked slowly on the sandy road with a bucket of water on her head.
Inside the complex, the taps located at strategic points have also been overgrown by weeds. Water no longer flows from them.
The generator house has gathered dust and cobwebs. The place looked desolate as no feet appeared to have walked its path for a long time. A massive CAT generator installed to power activities in the complex has been abandoned.
Curiously, the offices and apartments built for water workers in the complex have been rented out to some families and students.
The occupants spread their washed cloths on the walls and windows of the buildings. Some of them were seen making fire within the compound to cook their food. No guard secures the gate.
Six massive tanks, two sitting on raised platforms and others on the ground are almost covered by bush.
“This project has failed,” one of the occupants, who spoke in confidence said. “We now live here and pay rent to the community. We pay N30,000 per room to the Otuoke Community Development Committee (CDC). We pay every year.
“All the rooms and apartments have been occupied. Some students of the Federal University, Otuoke also pay rents to stay here. We are not happy that the project has failed. You can see that even the taps within this complex are not working.
“We live on a waterworks site, yet, we buy sachets water to drink. We are begging all the stakeholders of this project to make it work again. When it was commissioned, it worked for some weeks and stopped,” she said.
When The Nation visited the Deputy Paramount Ruler of Otuoke, Chief Otazi Moses, he refused to talk about it.
Also, the Otuoke CDC Chairman, Robert Oru, said he needed a clearance from the Paramount Ruler of the community before he could speak on any matter concerning the community.
“Everybody wants to know something about Otuoke. So, I won’t talk to you until I get clearance from our king,” he said.
When reminded that the people in the community and other areas were suffering because the project was not working, Oru stuck to his guns.
But the CDC Chairman of Otu-Aba, a neighbouring community to Otuoke, Sunday Afili, lamented the inability of the project to live up to its benefits.
He said: “The project was a good one. We were happy that our community was part of those to benefit from it. But when it stopped almost immediately it was inaugurated, we became sad.
“Look at the tap over there,” pointing at one of the dried taps, “we once went there to fetch potable water. We no longer depended on the river behind me. That river is always polluted.
“But now the project is not working and we are suffering. We don’t know why it stopped. Nobody has told us. I know a lot of money was spent there. Whatever the problem is, they should make it work,” he said.
But some Ogbia indigenes blamed the government of Seriake Dickson for abandoning the project. They alleged that it was one of the ways Dickson used in expressing his hatred for Ogbia people.