Northern Nigeria is on the frontline of the Sahara Desert, where the effects of climate change manifest ominously as desert encroachment, erratic rainfall and a drastic reduction in surface and underground water sources. To address this, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) partnered with the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) to co-finance the implementation of the Zaria Water Supply Expansion and Sanitation Project. Under this arrangement, IsDB funded the construction of transmission mains, service reservoirs and booster stations while FGN funded the construction of the Galma Dam, and AfDB funded the rehabilitation and expansion of the distribution network and the provision of toilet facilities.
In every drop of water, there is a life story. Mine began in 1964, four years after Nigeria won its independence from British colonial rule. I grew up in Kafanchan, a railway town located in the southern part of Kaduna State, where I spent the first 13 years of my life. Water flowed generously through Kafanchan, by way of multiple natural springs. Not far from where we lived were the famous Matsirga Waterfalls, known locally as Kabyek Tityong – a place of outstanding natural beauty.
As children, our favorite pastime was to swim and fish in the rivers that flowed through our hometown. We would often play by the waterfalls, which fell dramatically into a gorge surrounded by rocks. Matsirga cascaded from a face of sheer stone through four natural funnels. It was about 30 m tall and fell into a large plunge pool at the bottom. As the firstborn in my family, I felt naturally responsible and watched over my siblings as they jumped happily into the water, one by one.
Baba was a successful merchant, who worked hard to build his wealth so that he could give us a good life and a quality education. He enrolled me into a madrasa at an early age, where I studied the holy Quran under the late Malam Iro Musa Mailawali, our neighborhood imam and spiritual guide. I made many lifelong friends during my time there, with whom I not only shared some of my fondest childhood memories, but also my fears and aspirations.
We were fed three square meals per day, processed from crops that had been cultivated on our teacher’s farm, including maize, millet, guinea corn and rice. This early exposure to subsistence agriculture made me realize the importance of water to families, communities and even nations. I often pondered the fact that water constitutes about 80% of both the surface of the earth and the composition of the human body, such was its significance to our survival.
"what was required was the final push to conclude this novel project, which would provide relief to the communities of Zaria. "
As children, Baba taught us that the best way to thank Allah for his blessings was to spend our money in a righteous way, so we were always encouraged to support the less privileged members of society. Since my family was one of the first in Kafanchan to connect water through pipes to our house, we shared the water connection with our neighbors, who would send their children to fetch water using containers of varying sizes.
In our town was one of the branches of Kaduna State Water Corporation, which treated the supply water from the famous Kagoro hills a few kilometers north of Kafanchan. I remember that whenever there was a burst pipe, the water gushing out of the pipe would rise as high as the roof of our houses due to the strong water pressure. Little did I know that one day fixing burst pipes and leaks would be part of my work.
The water supply soon became scarce and presented a number of challenges to the community, especially in the area of Zaria. This led to deteriorating hygiene and sanitation among the rapidly growing population and resulted in numerous outbreaks of waterborne diseases, such as typhoid fever, cholera and diarrhea. Other impacts included increasing poverty, as a result of people’s declining productivity due to illness and the time they had to spend fetching water over long distances.
Education also suffered as students had to spend hours searching for water. Such challenges limited any prospects of social mobility. Water scarcity led to migration to the southern parts of Nigeria, particularly among pastoral nomadic communities. There were also food security issues, resulting in malnutrition, stunting and a reduced life expectancy.
I became involved in the Zaria Water Supply Project in February 2019, when I was deployed from Kaduna Industrial and Finance Company to Kaduna State Water Corporation to be the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer. Prior to my arrival the project had been substantially completed; what was required was the final push to conclude this novel project, which would provide relief to the communities of Zaria.
I immediately briefed the State Governor that the project was ready for commissioning and he directed us to come up with a letter of invitation to President Muhammadu Buhari to serve as a special guest of honor. The day of the commissioning was one of the most memorable days of my life, as I was a central figure in an event that would bring relief and succor to millions of people by supplying them with potable water.
The event was colorful, with powerful dignitaries in attendance such as the President, the Governor, the Emir of Zazzau and officials of IsDB, among others. Members of the community were not left out, for they came out in large numbers to witness the historic occasion. Some of the speeches made tears of joy run down my cheeks.
As the team leader, I provided focused, results-oriented leadership to the project team. I ensured that the team were motivated to be productive in accomplishing all the tasks assigned to them. I played the role of liaison and information officer between the different stakeholders involved in the project. The sermons of our parents, teachers and mentors guided us to ensure that our thoughts, words and actions were based on the fear of Allah, overriding public interest and patriotism.
"The water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service profile of the town and country were enhanced."
In the case of the Water Treatment Plant, the vital inputs included electric power, treatment chemicals and spare parts. Poor electricity supply was our main challenge. The alternative to a public electricity supply is to rely on generators, which are costly to operate. Maintenance of the modern water infrastructure and assets financed by IsDB and other stakeholders is another potential challenge that must be addressed when it eventually becomes necessary. Without regular maintenance the facilities will deteriorate.
Public perception of water as a gift of God was a challenge that required an innovative solution. Cost recovery is important to sustain the Water Corporation, as is the practice in most parts of the world. However, we are happy that these problems are known, and all hands are on deck working to address them.
The biggest achievements of the project include its completion on time, within budget, and with savings unlike other public projects in Nigeria, which were marred by undue delays, and sometimes abandoned without completion. The project continues to positively impact the lives of the communities it serves. The water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service profile of the town and country were enhanced. The multiplier effect improved all aspects of health, income and human development as envisaged by the Sustainable Development Goals.
Communities are now buying water more cheaply than they used to. Perhaps the most novel aspect of the project was the low-income connection policy to benefit poor families who could not afford the connection fees. The social connection policy recognized that not all fingers are equal and ensured that families with modest incomes were carefully identified and connected without payment, so that they too could access water as a right.
The fees payable are prorated into token amounts to be included in people’s monthly water bills for payment without burdening them beyond what they can afford. This is an innovation that has never been practiced before, and poorer people are happy that they have not been left behind.
I am particularly proud of the role I played in organizing, along with my colleagues, the successful commissioning ceremony of the Zaria Water Supply and Sanitation Project by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The event took place without a hitch, full of glamour and history, and marked the end of a decade-long water scarcity for over two million people in Zaria.
I was overjoyed to see the beaming smiles on the faces of the crowd, made up of men, women and children that came to welcome the President and witness the ceremony. This event reminded me of a hadith of the Prophet (SAW): The best amongst mankind is he that brings benefit to others. In this case, IsDB, the Federal Government and the Kaduna State Government partnered to change and benefit the lives of the Zaria people forever.