When many years ago, a popular musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti of Nigeria, in one of his evergreen songs, asserted that water has no enemy, he really meant that water is indispensable in the entire human life. Water is part of food and if food is one of the three basic needs of man (food, shelter and clothing) then water lays the foundation for the three basic needs of human life.
Unfortunately this simple logic of water has lost its meaning to Nigerian leaders. In the beginning was water, there is water in the air, water on the ground, water underground, water everywhere, yet there is no water to drink. In the pre-Independence days in Nigeria, there were public taps where we as children would queue to fetch water even in the villages. I grew up at Igarra in Akoko-Edo local government area of Edo State to meet the public taps built by a colonialist named Stanfield. He successfully harnessed the Onyami River at Ojirami, a town between Igarra and Ososo. There he had the Ojirami dam which supplied water to Igarra and its environs. Today, only Edo State government can explain what had become of the dam and the public pipe-borne water.
In nostalgia one can once again take a look at not too distant a time, when the Iju and Shasi water works flooded public taps with water. But today, that luxury has gone into oblivion——into the archives as historical reference. What about the UNDP water project in Lagos, where large-size rigs lined up the road from mile two through Gbagada to God-knows where. Lagos residents heaved a sigh of relief when those pipes were being laid; genuinely thinking that the era of water for politics has abated. Till today, the pipes and rigs are drier, much more than what they were, when they were first laid. At the national level, Kainji dam which has gulped so much money belonging to Nigerians is neither supplying the required megawatts of electricity nor supplying drinking water to the citizenry. It has become one of those elephant projects which has lost its usefulness to the public, so much so that the public has lost memory of its existence. What a shame on the nation!
This clearly was not the intention and spirit of our political founding-fathers who were one and the same with the people. Remember the four-cardinal point agenda of Chief Awolowo, the free education, free health services, electricity and rural development which include public pipe-borne water- supply. There were similar people-oriented developments in Dr. Azikiwe’s Eastern region and Ahmadu Bello’s northern region. These were achieving with the very trickles of money coming from the sales of Cocoa, from the West, palm oil, from the East and groundnut from the North. Unfortunately, the military forced themselves on the people, grabbed as much money as they could, and taught subsequent governments how to steal public money while wasting so much of it on useless and unreasonable projects. Their concern was to bring development to the people but to consolidate themselves into perpetual power. None of them thought that water was an important project for the welfare of the people. They had so much money from the oil-boom at their disposal, but sad enough, none of them gave priority to water. Some of them even boasted that the problem with Nigeria is not money, but how to spend it. They had the money and the opportunity yet, they ignored public water supply. The best they could do is to sink few bore-holes which the masses besieged and in turns operate manually in order to draw water. What a shame, in a country flowing with milk and honey, to lack drinking water, a situation where Nigerians still drink from guinea worm-infected streams, where only the affluent landlords and individuals have enough money to sink bore-holes and the poor queue to buy a bucket of water for ten naira, especially in Lagos which has been much taunted as a mega-city. I can understand other Nigerian towns and villages as lacking drinkable water but I will not forgive Lagos State, which has so much money to plant trees and flowers at the neglect of public pipe-borne water supply.
In the same vein, I will not forgive all the past and present Presidents of Nigeria who have no definite policy on public water for the people, Shagari dwelt so much on “green revolution” at the detriment of public pipe-borne water supply. Obasanjo, Buhari and Babaginda are simply write-offs, as far as public water supply is concerned. They never considered drinkable water necessary for human life, even at Obansanjo’s second coming as civil President. In Y’ardua- Jonathan’s seven-point agenda, the issue of public water supply is conspicuously missing. Even as the various campaigns and rallies raged on, no government, senator or other leader, from more than fifty political parties in Nigeria, made a definite statement about his policy on public pipe-borne water supply. Very soon, the last lap of the 2011 general elections in Nigeria will be concluded and the people have to wait till another four years, if ever they will hear of a deliberate policy on public pipe-borne water supply.
The people are tired of bore-holes which are unhygienic, tedious to fetch and obsolete. The people want to turn on water effortlessly in their bathrooms, toilets, kitchen and perhaps rooms. Not even public taps will pacify Nigerians at this age of computer technology. The money stolen by our political leaders in every second of the day is sufficient to provide pipe-borne water in every nooks and crannies of Nigeria. It can be done, if only our leaders are sincere, frugal and corruption-free. What are we living for, if not to live a full life not as beasts, but as true human beings? Only our leaders can answer that question.
Pat Asakome who is a broadcaster, an author, media consultant and an anlyst in public affairs writes from Lagos, Nigeria