Evidence that method is grossly lacking in national planning has again been show-cased in the revelation that a majority of Nigeria’s dams are lying fallow. The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, has expressed concern about this tragedy. It should not be his worry alone, but that of all who appreciate the significance of the waste.
The minister stated recently that less than 10 per cent of the dams were in use. “Some of the big ones have been there since the Second Republic, wasting away, just full of sand, but we are working together now with the Ministry of Water Resources to utilise those resources for irrigation,” the distraught minister said.
Apart from being a huge infrastructure for the irrigation of farmland, dams provide hydro-power and flood control to check environmental devastation. When our inadequacies in agriculture and electricity supply are viewed within the context of non-utilisation of these dams, the bigger picture emerges.
One of the abandoned big dams is the Okere Gorge Dam in Iseyin, Oyo State, which Ogbeh said turbines were bought in 1982 for its completion when he served as a Minister of Communications under the Shehu Shagari administration. He was moved to tears during a visit to the site in July, when he discovered that the turbines were not fixed. It means that for 35 years the equipment procured with public funds for a critical economic project has been lying fallow, without anybody being held responsible for the decadence.
Work on the dam began in 1977, with a plan to generate 3,750 megawatts of hydro-power and irrigate about 2.8 million hectares of farmland, according to Ogbeh. Only the Federal Government can give an account of how much money has been sunk into this corruption conduit. Oyo State alone has a total of 22 dams, second to Kano State, where 23 dams are domiciled.
The reckless abuse of public funds inherent in the Okere Gorge Dam saga may have been why some dams initiated by the Goodluck Jonathan administration were similarly handled. For instance, a team from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission led by Samson Eletuo on projects verification across the country recently discovered to its chagrin that a multi-purpose dam in Otukpo, Benue State, that cost N17.1 billion had been abandoned.
Eletua, a Deputy Director of Finance, told the News Agency of Nigeria, “The handlers have received 100 per cent payment. The contract sum was N17.1 billion. That has been paid, but the work (done) is barely 35 per cent.” The project had a 36-month timeline, with effect from 2011. Having been abandoned, the dream of the dam providing 130 million cubic metres of reservoir and 3.3 KV hydroelectric power has been dashed.
Under due process requirement, a contractor cannot be fully paid, without being issued a job completion certificate after engineers from the relevant ministry or agency must have inspected and certified the work done.
These abandoned dams are like the Ajaokuta Steel Company. Many of them have civil servants who collect salaries. Some may have retired, collected gratuities and are drawing monthly pension without rendering any service. The existence of this category of workers explains why the recurrent expenditure steadily remains above 70 per cent, to the detriment of capital votes for infrastructural development.
The Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro dams, all in Niger State, are hydro-power national assets, with reported combined potential to generate 1,900 megawatts of electricity. But in Kainji, only eight out of 12 of its turbines have been installed, thus, limiting its maximum output to 960MW.
Nigeria has squandered a lot of its foreign reserves on food importation for too long. This averages $6.5 billion annually, according to CNBC Africa. The country is also the second biggest rice importer globally. But this ought not to be so, given its vast land resources. An effective deployment of these dams to farming will obviously reverse this sour foreign trade order. With Kebbi, Jigawa, Kano, Ebonyi, Anambra and Zamfara states, among others, giving priority to agriculture, especially rice farming, the Muhammadu Buhari administration should map out strategies for reviving those dams to turn Nigeria from a net rice importer to an exporter.
This is possible, given the successes recorded so far in the ongoing drive to achieve self-sustenance in rice production. The drop in rice importation from Thailand to just 20,000 metric tonnes, from 644,000 metric tonnes since September 2015, according to the Association of Rice Producers of Thailand, further boosts the country’s new quest for change in this area.
Israel is 60 per cent desert and the rest arid, but with an incredible agricultural output because of its irrigation farming and maximal utilisation of its water resources, is a lesson for Nigeria. Canada generates two-thirds of its electricity from hydro-plants, second to the United States, the globally leader. These are advantages Nigeria has lost by mismanaging her dams. Therefore, a fast re-thinking is imperative on exploiting the hydro-power potential of these dams to change the ridiculous account of 180 million people distributing just 4,600MW for homes and industrial activities.
Ogbeh should actualise his pledge of ensuring a synergy between his ministry and that of Water Resources to audit these dams and put them to effective use. Ultimately, those that masterminded this waste should be identified and punished in accordance with our laws. When such people get away with abuses of such magnitude, it helps to entrench the culture of waste and compromise in public service delivery.