Special Feature on Federal Ministry of Water Resources
The National Water Resources Bill, when passed into law, will provide an opportunity for public private partnership on urban water schemes, particularly in the area of operation and maintenance.
We Are facilitating frameworks for private sector investment in water projects
In this interview, the Honourable Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, speaks on the policy and legislative framework to facilitate access to water and sanitation, and private sector investment in water projects. He was interviewed by Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria.
Mr. Adamu is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Council Member of COREN (Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria) and also current President of ACEN (Association of Consulting Engineering, Nigeria). Jide Akintunde: It has been said that Lake Chad has literally gone from being an oasis in the desert to being just desert. The Lake Chad, which spans Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon, has contracted by up to 95% over the last 50 years. How does the government view the crisis arising from the recession of the Lake Chad?
Suleiman Adamu (SA): The recession of Lake Chad is a very serious problem. We
believe that the security crisis that has been going on in the northeast of Nigeria for years is strongly linked to the depletion of the lake. And although the lake has shrunk by 90 percent over the years, its surface area fluctuates from time to time. Sometimes, it covers an area as low as 2,500 square kilometres, down from 25,000 square kilometres in the 1960s. However, during a decent rainy season, the area can expand to as much as 8,000 km2. So, the situation is erratic.
But the fact is that the depletion has caused a lot of environmental and economic challenges in that area. Over the years, the people have lost considerable means of livelihood. Young people around the area are increasingly finding less opportunities and they are beginning to join armed groups.
Most people are moving westward and southwards. Cattle rearers are moving southwards, causing a lot of tension between the herders and the farmers along the way. The entire ecosystem is devastated and it poses a lot of security challenges to the country.
JA: What are the policy measures of the Federal Government in intervening the Lake Chad crisis and enabling positive adaptation for Nigerians that are being physically and economically stressed by this major ecological challenge?
SA: First and foremost, President Muhammadu Buhari took this matter to the international community. During the United Nations COP 21 in Paris, he brought up the Lake Chad environmental challenges. Before then, I don't think we had any leader from the member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) that had the zeal to stress this issue at that high level. President Buhari has now brought it to the global stage, stating that the shrinking of Lake Chad is a major cause of the security crisis in the north-eastern part of the country and some of our neighbouring countries.
Secondly, we have been able to rally members of the LCBC, namely Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR) and Libya to this cause. President Buhari has tried to engage the Commission to be much more proactive in addressing the challenge. Last year, my Ministry championed the signing of an MOU between the Commission and a Chinese company to conduct a further feasibility study on recharging the lake.
We have seen that perhaps the best solution we have at the moment is to divert water from the Congo Basin into the Lake Chad. The lake has always been rainfed. It also relies on the Chari River and Ubangi River, flowing from the CAR and Cameroun, for 95 percent of its water. But due to climate change and other factors, the Lake has been shrinking. There is also high evaporation from the lake because of high temperatures and desertification, which are also related to climate change.
There has been a plan to take water from the Congo Basin to replenish Lake Chad. We have the support of member countries of the Congo Basin for the project. All that is required to take the Lake Chad to a reasonable level is 5 percent of the total runoff of the Congo Basin that annually flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
We are not talking about taking the surface area of the lake back to 25,000 km2. We only want to take it to a sustainable level to maintain the ecosystem and the economy of the area. The MOU with the Chinese company is to conduct further study on the feasibility study that was done in 1992. Incidentally, Nigeria had financed that study to the tune of $5 million.
The next stage would be to look at the best option based on the outcome of the feasibility study. The chosen option would then be developed further. This inter-basin transfer is going to take years to plan, especially bearing in mind that even the pre-feasibility study indicated that we might need about $14 billion to do the Lake
During the United Nations COP 21 in Paris, President Buhari brought up the Lake Chad environmental challenges. Before then, I don't think we had any leader from the member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) that had the zeal to stress this issue at that high level.
Chad replenishment project. I suspect it might be more. But it might also be less, depending on the options we have.
In addition, as part of the efforts to bring the crisis to the attention of the international community, we are engaging with UNESCO. We are planning an international conference, which we initially wanted to hold this August. But it was not feasible. UNESCO is not ready. Therefore, it is recommending that we hold the conference during the first quarter of 2018. Plans are, however, underway. We have the local organising committee, and we have sent out letters.
The aim of the conference is to gather together experts from all over the world to critically discuss the options we have. Perhaps some clever person might come up with an idea that would not require us to recharge the lake from the Congo Basin.
So, we are trying to achieve two things. We will get a technical approach to addressing the situation and also raise more international attention for the problem. Therefore, whatever intervention emerges from the technical studies by the Chinese company, we would be able to take it to the international community to get financing. JA: In 2010, the United Nations explicitly recognized human right to water and sanitation. What is the policy thrust of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources in moving the country towards universal water access?
SA: Well, I don't know if you followed our meeting of the National Council on Water Resources in the week of August 14th in Akure, Ondo State. The theme of the Council's meeting was, Revitalising Urban Water Supply.
There is a huge problem of access to water in the entire country. Under the Millennium Development Goals, we achieved 69 percent coverage for universal water access in Nigeria. But over 50 percent of the rural population does not have access. In November 2015 when I assumed office, one of the things we started looking at was how to bridge these gaps in both the rural and urban areas.
We came up with a new programme, which we called Partnership for Expanded Water Sanitation and Hygiene (PEWASH). It's a 15-year programme. In the first two years, we are going to plan and consolidate. From 2020, we expect to scale it up. We are talking with our development partners. We are also trying to rally the States because water supply is the responsibility of the States and Local Governments. The Federal Government deals with policy issues and we are facilitators.
With the PEWASH programme, we want to find a way to incentivise the States to invest more in water supply and sanitation. We already have about 15 States that have indicated interest to collaborate with us. The idea is that if they provide this much investment, the Federal Government will give them a matching grant.
We have created youth employment opportunities in our river basins. For most of the underutilised land in the river basins, we have invited commercial farmers to take them over... Now we have leased over 50,000 hectres of RBDA land all over the country to commercial farmers.
The development partners have also bought into the programme. We actually collaborated with them in shaping the programme.
But what worries me the most is that in Nigeria today, there is not a single city that can boast of 100 percent pipe-borne water supply. Most residents have to build boreholes. The existing municipal water schemes are epileptic. That is why we brought the issue once again to the attention of the States at the National Council on Water Resources meeting. Based on records that our Ministry collected, pipe-borne water services declined from 30 percent to 7 percent from 1990 to date. Only 7 percent of the Nigerian population has access to pipeborne water. This is totally unacceptable.
We are going to hold a retreat with all the Ministers and State Commissioners at the end of September. The World Bank and other development partners have been invited to the retreat. The only thing we are going to discuss at the retreat is delivery of urban water supply because it is a very important issue.
You are probably aware that we have the National Water Resources Bill that has reached second reading at the House of Representatives. I am sure when the lawmakers reconvene from their recess, there is going to be more vigour in their activities. We hope the bill would be passed before the end of the year.
If passed into law, the law would provide an opportunity for public private partnership on urban water schemes, particularly in the area of operation and maintenance. Clearly, the States cannot manage these urban water schemes. There are a lot of infrastructure that are languishing, without being maintained or upgraded. The best solution might be to hand them over to the private sector, which can do a better job. The proposed law will provide a regulatory framework for that to happen.
But by and large, State Governments must invest heavily in water supply schemes. It is an expensive venture but we don't accept a situation where States and Local Governments think sinking boreholes is the solution. You cannot sustain a city like Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna or Kano with boreholes. More so, there are lots of rivers, dams and raw water available for State Governments to treat and distribute. But States are not investing in that.
JA: Our attention has been drawn to the advocacy for ending open defecation in Nigeria in eight years' time. And I said, eight years to end centuries-old practice in Nigeria? Are you very optimistic that this would be achieved, not so much that it is achievable?
SA: It is very much achievable so long as the States and Local Governments cooperate with us. In late March or early April, we celebrated the Obanliku Local Government Area in Cross River State as the first LGA to be 100 percent open defecation-free (ODF). That was under RUSHPIN, the codename for the Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion in Nigeria programme. We achieved open defecation-free Obanliku under two years.
There are actually thousands of communities that are ODF, according to available data from UNICEF. But what we have with Obanliku is that the entire Local Government Area is ODF. We will maintain the tempo of the programme across the country. I believe it is about education and advocacy.
But at the community level, there is a need to provide public toilets. We now have a policy that any water scheme we are embarking on must be accompanied with a public toilet scheme. Under the PEWASH scheme, we are committed to building toilets in parks, bus terminals, on street corners, etc.
Even the culture of public urination is improper. It continues to happen because our city planners have not made provision for public toilets. But it has to stop, even if it requires enforcement. Nasarawa State, for instance, has passed a law that you cannot defecate openly. Gradually, we are trying to change the mindset of people by providing the facilities to stop open defecation and urination, and showing them the benefit to their health and wellbeing.
If that approach is not effective, we would put the necessary laws in place and enforce it. In the meantime, we are on the right track and I believe it is doable.
JA: How would you like to highlight some of the work that the Ministry is spearheading?
SA: As somebody with a project management background, I look at everything as a project. I consider every assignment I carry out in this office as a project. A project is a task that has a beginning and time limit. For every project, you need to plan; and you need to understand your problems.
I was appointed in November 2015, and four weeks later we had a retreat with key stakeholders in the water resources sector. We agreed that the Ministry was not operating in the way it should and it needed to be put back on track.
Secondly, we needed to revitalise the River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA). They had previously been politicised and vandalised. We also needed to do something about all the ongoing projects. I inherited a debt profile of N89 billion with a requirement of another N200-300 billion to complete all the ongoing projects – about 116 major projects in dams, irrigation and water supply.
But as you are aware, the resources are not quite available. Therefore, we needed to find alternative ways of funding our projects and doing other things. We then came up with a roadmap that was presented to the President and we got the approval to proceed.
Even before we got the approval, we had started working on changing the operations of the River Basin Development Authorities. We have since restored agriculture extension services in the country. We are getting them to complete their projects and focusing their budgets squarely on improving irrigation facilities to support agriculture.
We discovered that the agriculture revolution that this Government is unleashing can only be realised fully if the country practices all-year farming. And the Ministry of Water Resources is responsible for irrigation facilities, so we have a critical role to play in this endeavour.
We have created youth employment opportunities in our river basins. For most
You cannot sustain a city like Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna or Kano with boreholes.
of the underutilised land in the river basins, we have invited commercial farmers to take them over. The RBDAs didn't even know they had all this land. Now we have leased over 50,000 hectres of RBDA land all over the country to commercial farmers. This has never been done before.
We did a technical audit of all the ongoing and abandoned projects we inherited and prioritised them. Our aim is to finish as many of these projects as soon as possible. We have impounded the Kashimbila Dam. We commissioned the Central Ogbia Water Supply Scheme last year. We are working towards commissioning another one, Northern Ishan Water Supply Project in Edo State, very soon. By the end of this year, out of the 116 projects from the last Administrations, we would have less than 100 still outstanding and continue through 2018.
We have introduced the PEWASH programme. We revived the National Water Resources Bill, which had been abandoned for 10 years, and got it approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and is now at the National Assembly.
We got our National Water Resources Policy as well as the National Irrigation and Drainage Policy approved by FEC. The two policies are currently being implemented.
We have also got the proposed Lake Chad inter-basin transfer project back in discussion, and signed many MOUs with various countries and organisations on mutual cooperation. We are working with the Federal Ministry of Power on the Mambilla hydropower project and on what we call mini-hydro schemes, among other things.
The National Council on Water Resources meeting, which had been stopped for about two years, was also revived by the current Administration.
We have built stronger confidence between the Government and the international development partners, including the World Bank, African Development Bank, United Kingdom DFID, UNICEF, and the European Union. We have a strong working relationship with them now.
Most importantly, I met a professional staff in the Ministry that were totally demoralised. They were not operating as the professionals that they were supposed to be. However, their confidence has now been restored. The professional staff in the Ministry now know they have somebody they can speak in the same language with. The technical staff in particular are doing a lot and they are proud of their job. People are happy to do what they are supposed to do. Things are changing in terms of the image of the Ministry.
JA: I don't want to speculate as to what would happen after May 2019. But I would like to ask what are those key things that you would like to see achieved between now and May 2019?
SA: We have a roadmap that we painstakingly developed. I think the most important thing for me is to see that we are very realistic with our dates. We know what we want to achieve from now to 2019. If I am able to achieve those milestones, I will be very happy.
I have what I call legacy programmes. I am hoping those would continue. I would like to see our irrigation facilities expanded. I would like to see the PEWASH programme up and running; I would also like to see some impetus on the Lake Chad inter-basin transfer project. There is also an internal one we are working on, the Hawal Transfer Project, from Gongola River to South Chad. I would like to see that also on stream.
Even though we are not directly in charge, I would like to see the Mambilla project fully take off. The original concept was from this Ministry and we are part of the technical committee to deliver the project.
There are a host of other hydro-power projects that have been identified that investors would like to finance. I would like to see as many of the 116 projects we inherited to be finished. If I get those done, I would be quite fulfilled.
Government is a continuum and somebody else would come and continue. The good thing is we have a programme for the next 15 years. I keep saying that any clever Minster that comes to this Ministry already has a roadmap to build on from where we would have left off.
There are a host of other hydro-power projects that have been identified that investors would like to finance. I would like to see as many of the 116 projects we inherited to be finished.
Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu