8 May 2003

Nigeria: A People's Creativity in a Water Crisis


Water has remained an important natural endowment which the various Nigerian people's have continued to lack. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and various other kinds of water sources abound in the country. Yet many people have died, with the health of many more jeopardised on account of the lack of water.

At both federal and state levels, several millions of dollars have been committed to providing water for a people who increasingly become sick for lack of same. A recent instance was the failed $500 million World Bank assisted Rural Water Rehabilitation Scheme. A project by which the rural population of Nigeria, which takes about 80 per cent of the over 120 million people, were to gain access to drinking water. Since last year when this project failed, there have been a few other rural water supply projects bearing different nomenclatures, but whose impact is yet to be noticed.

This unceasing water crisis has left many rural populations to explore creative ways of sourcing water. Piwoyi, a little village of some 10,000 persons located at the western entry to the Abuja City centre, is one of the several thousands of rural settlements in Nigeria, where an interesting scenario is unfolding in the creative sourcing and dynamic use of water.

This is a typical rural settlement whose gentle name sounds like the musical waters of an unceasing stream. Piwoyi is the only village in the Federal Capital Territory to have beenvisited by President Obasanjo. According to John Gatta, the village head of Piwoyi, when in the year 2000, President Obasanjo paid a casual visit to the village, he did promise the people that he was going to ensure that portable water supply was extended to the village. Today is three years since the president's visit, and the people of Piwoyi, like their millions of counterparts in rural areas across the country, have continued to suffer the lack of drinking water. Like other towns in the capital territory and beyond, the people of Piwoyi rely entirely on vendors who supply water to the village in tankers at very high costs. The severe water crisis has no doubt exposed the people to various kinds of health hazards, including socio-economic deprivations.

Piwoyi, is a Gbagyi word said to mean "New Settlement." This "New Settlement" which was indeed founded by the Gbagyis about half a century ago, has continued to grow in size and population, with commercial activities, socio-economic infrastructures such as schools and cottage industries, increasing almost on a daily basis.

Much more than before the president's visit, the people need water now. What is however amazing is how this bitter experience of the people of Piwoyi, which is made up of Nigerians of different backgrounds and origins, has brought out a certain creativity in them with respect to the sourcing and use of water. Down the eastern end of the village, there is a river which comes surging in an arc that seems to envelop the little village. The source of this river is yet to be established. About 35 meters in width, the river is not quite deep, and interestingly has large pebbles and surrounding vegetation of luxuriant proportion.

Like a garden deliberately packaged by nature to soothe the people, majority of the vegetation species around the bank of the river are fruit-bearing. Besides, at different locations, in different slopes and slants, there are hills around the river, shadowed by the surrounding trees, which provide convenient platforms for various kinds of activities such as picnics, reading, washing, bathing etc. Across the length and breadth of the river, the pebbles exist in such sizes that they easily serve as stepping stones by which people cross from one side to the other end of the river. On the whole, the surrounding ever green vegetations together with the persistently flowing river, provides a very cool and slightly breezy environment which the people of Piwoyi have not failed to utilise.

According to John Gatta, the river which runs through the upper Utako district was one of the basic attractions that led to the founding of the "New Settlement." "Now that we have people from various parts of the country in Piwoyi, this river has become very resourceful not only to Piwoyi people, but also to neighbouring towns such as Aleita, Chika, Kuchi Gwolo etc. At the earliest times, the Piwoyi River was good enough and was used for drinking and other domestic activities such as washing of plates etc. The forest used to be thicker than what it is today. The water level also used to be higher to such extent that one coult not notice the pebbles at the river bed. But today, there have been significant withdrawals of and contamination of the water due to increasing use," Chief John stated, adding that the people were most surprised at the president's visit three years ago, and had happily anticipated safe drinking water in the village before the present time.

Broken promises notwithstanding, the situational beauty and the ever flowing character of the Piwoyi River has come to the creative sensibility of the many less-privileged Nigerians living along airport road, such that the Piwoyi River, inspite of its unorganised and untreated nature, is not only useful for day to day washing of clothes, but a potential resort where friends, neighbours and families take time out to relax during the weekends.

While the people still cherish the freedom with which they use the river for their various purposes, they still seem to be waiting for a potential investor who would develop it into a better resort. Under the current atmosphere of freedom, every weekend friends proceed to have a nice time at the river with bottles of wine and snacks.

Daily Trust visited this place and discovered that there are equally those who visit the river in search of a serene environment to read novels, while some find it more interesting to play chess games and ludo in the natural environment.

An interesting observation is that the river has been partitioned among men and women. The upper course of the river is strictly reserved for the men who might be completely naked while swimming or playing games, or having other kinds of fun. The lower course of the river which is the female's domain is equally restricted, though not as strict as the men's domain. There is however the arc section which is opened to both sexes. In this area men and women, boy and girls could be seen swimming or bathing or washing as the case may be. No one cares to stare at the other. According to Daniel Godwin, a young sturdy guy of almost 30, "it is no big deal if a young girl comes around and sees a young man swimming or washing clothes. Godwin describes the Piwoyi River as "a little Miami beach in Abuja, awaiting development."

A young lady who also spoke to Daily Trust however laments what she described as a sad development which itself has raised further questions. "Although the river flows round the year, and has been very helpful to us, but now the dry season, during which the water body is clean and safe for swimming, is passing away. There is an increasing intensity of heat. As the rainy season sets in the occasional showers of rain have increased the water level, and gradually swallowing up the pebbles and making the water dirty and unsafe for swimming." The question one would probably ask is why, inspite of broken promises has the government not taken the development of river resorts seriously in the capital territory. And when, as a matter of fact, would the ordinary Nigerian be rescued from the hazards of the lack of water?

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