Engineer Saheed Adeniyi Aremu, a water resources and environmental engineering expert, is an associate professor with the University of Ilorin and currently Managing Director, Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin. In this interview with UMAR BAYO ABDULWAHAB, the LNRBDA boss speaks on the outfit’s mandates, water-based issues and the new innovations being introduced into the agency, as well as flooding challenges.
Sometime ago, your agency signed an MoU with the Kogi state government. What does the agreement seek to achieve?
The MoU we signed with Kogi State government was my first assignment when I resumed office on the 12th of January, 2017. We actually signed the MoU on the 27th of January 2017 and the MoU is basically to release some parts of our lands to the state government for use for some of its scheme. You know we cover part of Kogi west and central. Basically, we released our farmlands to them for some of the schemes of the Kogi state government. These include; farmlands, ponds and some farm lands with irrigation facilities, and the government has started using some of them for their youth employment scheme in line with the federal government’s policy.
We released a total of 5,897 hectares to the Kogi state government and since then they have been using that farmlands. As you know, the River Basin Development Authority is saddled with the responsibility of developing both surface and ground water for multipurpose uses, and since we have that in custody, we release part of our land for the government to use for a certain period of time.
For how long are they expected to use the land?
The first is usually a maximum of five years, then we intend to make it up to 25 years, and this is just to actualise our dreams and for the Kogi state government to actualise its dreams.
We have also signed another one with the Kwara state government, totalling over 80 hectares of land, some at Omu-Aran, Malete for its programmes. Then, there is another one in Shonga. Ours is just to partner as we have partnered with corporate bodies, individuals and now we are moving ahead to partner with state governments Ours is to provide the enabling environments while the state government will provide other farming implements as it seeks to achieve youth employments and agricultural productivity in line with the federal government’s objectives.
Still on farming, irrigation is still a major challenge to commercial farming in Nigeria. Can you tell us some of your intervention programmes, particularly in Kwara?
In Kwara, we want to move a step further. In the past years, we had just season- based farming, we relied on rain-fed agriculture. But now, we want food production to be all year, we have much water in the raining season, we don’t have water during the dry season and the purpose of irrigation as the term denotes, is to provide water. You take water from the source to another place where there is no water. And over the years, experts have been able to discover that you have more productivity even as much as 90 percent productivity with irrigation than rain-fed agriculture. Now, what we are doing in Kwara and Kogi states, you know when you provide water, you must provide irrigation facilities to where it is needed
Of particular interest is our project at Kape omi, that is Ejiba, now our irrigation facilities. We have different canals to move water until 3 kilometres of needs, we have lined about 18 kilometres, and we intend to move on to 32 kilometres. That one is strictly by gravity and that is what makes that place unique in Nigeria. It flows by gravity to where it is needed via the canals, no electromechanical means is needed on the adjourning lands. You can have fish ponds so that you have all-year round production and in line with the federal government directive to boost agricultural production. So, irrigation is just bringing water from where you have abundance to another area where it is needed .Our local farmers are idle during dry seasons since there is no water, so when you have irrigation you will ensure an all-year round agriculture production .
Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Malam Adamu Sulyman directed all Lower River Basins Development Authorities to come up with a five-year development plan. Can you give us an insight into this?
We have the short term goals, we have the medium term goals and we have the long term goals .So the short term is just to clear more lands and the medium term is just to see if we can have potable waters supply. We want to shift from having bore holes al around to a sustainable way of water provision. That is why we want to introduce compact treated water system which will be based solely on natural activities unlike the ones we are having which treatment is solely based on chemicals. So we want to use natural processes to treat water which will be available and then we want to concentrate more on pipe borne water which is the sustainable way.
Then in agriculture too, we are moving away from the fertilizer-based to the organic- based one and the integrated-based one, so that you use what you have in the farm to also improve the soil property. By this, you don’t have to bring any fertilizer and the rest, you do that within the farmland.
Also, our long term goals include provisions of more dams and impound more water. You know, as the population increases, water is not increasing. God has just endowed us with certain basic sources in which water gets to earth surface, which is rain and is not increasing with the population .That means the little we have now we must have a way of impounding them, getting them available for people to use so that we don’t have water stress and water scarcity.
Our long term goal will now be in future, how we can impound water, make it available for people to use when there is no water .And when we have so much water like floods that is happening everywhere, we have a way of channelizing them. That is why we have included in the project, flood and erosion control, we try to control them, channelize them into a basin and when you channelize them into a basin, the basin will now serve as raw water either for treatment as potable water, agriculture food processing and other purposes
But when you have so many water, like in the raining season, you dam it in the basin, if you now want to use it during dry season, you use it for irrigation, drinking purposes and the rest.
Then the treatment too, we are trying to move way form chemical treatment of water, we want to focus more on the natural way of removing some chemical pollutants and bacteriological pollutants. We want to find a way of treating the water naturally and it will still have the same quality with the one treated with chemicals. That is our future development plan.
Part of our plan also is to expand the project areas of coverage to reach communities that we have not been able to capture now. With increasing urbanisation, we also want to move to other communities which we have not captured in terms of development of their underground and surface water.
But the journey now is to focus well on underground water. As you can see, the shallow wells are drying off, people are just drilling boreholes indiscriminately and this is not sustainable. After sometimes in some areas, you will see they don’t get water and coupled with hazards of drilling boreholes here and there, we want to focus on pipe borne water so that at the end of the day, we will be able to meet our sustainable development goal.
There was a recent report that by 2020, there will be water scarcity. How prepared is your agency for this challenge?
Yes, that is our focus now. In view of the increase in population, there will be water scarcity. It is true .That is why we have the short term, medium term and long term goals to meet that target. So, we have known an impending danger, now it is for us to work before it happens. I don’t think we will have scarcity because Nigeria is endowed with surface water, water that can be used for different purposes. We know that more that 70 per cent of the earth surface is made up of water but it is not evenly distributed. So, Nigeria has its own fair share of water. Ours therefore, is to really optimise the use of water and that is why the government has created the River Basin Development Authority so that you manage the water.
Also, we have developed a master plan for all the water resources. We also have gauging stations which will monitor or manage hydrological information. We monitor them and every year, we review them and come up with our report within our catchment areas. You will agree with me that the major focus of the river basins is to have all these things so that we don’t have scarcity of water in future as you have rightly said.
How is your agency keying into the change agenda of the Muhammadu Buhari administration?
You will notice that during the Independence Day speech of Mr President, he made mention of revitalisation of the basins. Our key role in the change agenda is to ensure one; we have water and then we have land. You know the core mandate of the River basin is to develop both surface and underground water. Surface is the one above the land under ground is the one beneath it .The core mandate of the River basin is to develop this for different uses, over the years we have focussed on agriculture ,then we construct dams, we do feasibility studies, and after doing this we acquire land, then follow up with land clearing and cultivation for farmers. We also provide irrigation facilities.
So, we actually have keyed into change agenda in terms of boosting food production and agriculture. Government spends lot of money daily to import rice and is part of the change agenda to reduce the amount spent on importation of rice by next year. We have also keyed into that by clearing more land like over 200 hectares this year for rice production, we also have our farm which belongs to the authority, we are trying to expand more to boost food production.
Also in terms of provision of potable water, since we could not meet the Millennium Development Goals of safe drinking water, we want to key into the Sustainable Development Goal of the government to provide potable water. We have keyed into that agenda by constructing dams, that is to impound water, rehabilitation of treated dam too. Also within our jurisdiction, we have made effort to reticulate water just like providing electricity .As the city is expanding, the pipes need to be laid to reach households. What we are saying in essence is that, in terms of water provisions, we have drilled so many boreholes but we are moving towards a sustainable ways of providing water to the public.
Also as part of our programmes, we have incorporated youth empowerment /employment scheme. You will recall that recently, the Hon Minister of Agriculture, Engineer Adamu Sulyman launched the youth empowerment/employment scheme aimed at providing farmland and training and inputs for graduates and other youths of our areas of coverage, to get them meaningfully employed and then to also increase food production.
Similarly, the change agenda from our end, is to revitalise the river basins, even as we have also expanded our scopes to seek for ways of treating water naturally rather than using the chemical basis. We have also keyed into the Songa model which was also launched by the minister. Songa model is the agricultural integrated techniques whereby you have a close look at some activities in which you use water; you have animal husbandry, aquaculture and the rest. So, the Songa model was introduced this year and we intend to implement it after the 2017 fiscal year, it was part of our budget, money is being appropriated and we hope to start the Songa model in our areas of coverage areas.
How many youth are you targeting for the youth employment /empowerment scheme?
According to the guidelines provided by the honourable minister, it is supposed to be 50 youths. We will train them on how to use water for farming activities for a year, after which we give them farmland. We are targeting people both in rural and urban areas, then we blend them together, train them on better farming techniques, most especially those that are organic and integrated in nature. We teach them,we do practical and the rest for one year after which we give them land to practice. There and then, they can also go into different schemes like the CBN scheme. The benefits are two-fold. Apart from being self-employed, they will also boost Nigeria’s food production.
Before now, river basins wee abused by politicians who used them as avenue to get jobs for their supporters. With professionals like you coming on board, how do you intend to change the narrative?
Yes, we are core professionals in the field if you look at us from 1-12. We were brought in to revitalize the river basins to our core mandate which is water production. But with the advent of this constituency project, politicians usually put their constituency projects in government agencies, agriculture production, flood control and the rest, are part of our mandates. So, we are just the executing agency , they bring the project ,we execute following due process and making sure these facilities are provided. So, the constituency projects are basically just to improve the peoples’ wellbeing in the constituencies. They are not an avenue to give money to politicians, but rather to really fund what we are doing and we supervise the execution of those projects.
Some of these projects you are involved in are yet to be completed, what is responsible for this delay?
There are lots of factors that are responsible for the delay of any projects not to talk of the River Basins alone. One of these funding which is a great challenge .If you appropriated for a project ,you send a bill and that project is not properly funded within the years, obviously, you know that the project may not be completed .When we came on board, we sat down with the contractors and tried to identify the problem. What I observed is that so many contractors don’t have the required capacity, mostly financial capability to execute projects and you know most of these contractors will raise certificate for certain stage of projects and what to be paid and if is not paid, he won’t go to the next stage.
You also will see in contract agreement, most contractors will state clearly that they are having the financial capability to execute the projects. Now, we have stressed it that any contractor that wants to execute our projects must have the capability to execute the projects from the beginning to the end, not getting midway and asking us to pay and if we don’t pay ,you will abandon the projects. Further to this, we have impressed it on our contractors that within the stipulated period, they should complete the projects. If we have money to pay, we will pay but ordinarily if you give somebody a contract he is expected to complete the projects before you pay or you can pay stage wise.
How is the agency handling farmlands recently submerged by flood in some parts of Kwara state?
Flood and erosion are also parts of our major. We talk about flood, it is not just a national phenomenon but global. We border the Niger Tada /Shonga axis, so we have some problems and is not a new thing. Whenever there are releases from the dam, we do have problem or when we have the intensity of rain fall. This year also, we have the same problem and you know the federal government is trying to solve this problem of flooding there, especially in Tada /Shonga axis.
The federal government is building a 32-kilometre dike. Dike is just an embankment parallel to a flow of a river just to prevent it from undulating or getting into the farm land. The federal government is trying to protect 3,200 hectares of land that which we have at Tada /Shonga but you know the projects is ongoing and we have not finished it. So, the water at times, will backflow but hopefully the contractor has said come 2019, he is going to complete that project. So, if we are now protected and you are able to complete the 32 kilometre dike, it will be able to protect the community and our farm lands too so that that 32 kilometres will be used for crop production.