Scientific revelations that Lake Chad is bound to dry up completely in 40 years time has created panic in the minds of some Nigerian administrators and academicians, who last year at Maiduguri, decided to set up a study group comprising professors from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, United States of America, policy makers, legislators, chief executives as well as staff of 35 organisations in Nigeria.
The idea of the study group, first mooted by Engr. Sule Yakubu Bassi of the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa (DTCA), was taken seriously due to the fact that over 30 million people derive their livelihood from the Lake Chad Basin carrying out fishing, live stock and farming.
The Lake Chad Basin Commission covers only the hydro graphic basin area of about 1,035,955 square kilometres of which about 90,000 square kilometres of the area falls in Nigeria and has a population of 15 million people who earn their living from the area.
Farmers, who depend on the basin, have been experiencing severe problems that have led to poverty and low productivity in the area of agriculture.
Policy makers, legislators and relevant stakeholders who expressed concern over the lake and the consequences to the lives of millions of people and communities in the riparian states (Nigeria, Cameroun, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and Libya), lack practical experience about the seriousness of the issues and when the study tour was proposed for all stakeholders to visit communities in the north that depend on the basin, it was immediately accepted by chief executives of basin authorities in Nigeria.
When the tour began late last month, the first point of call by the group was the palace of the Emir of Kano, where the Emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero, elaborated the importance of the study and the need for government to implement the findings of the group.
The emir then blessed the group and they proceeded to Challawa and Tiga dams, where the groups were amazed at the waste of water resources that was passing through the water outlets of the dams.
According to a staff of the dam, such waste if used to generate electricity, could generate enough to service the whole of Kano state.
According to Professor Jejung Lee, a hydro-geologist from the University of Missouri, 'the water condition that flows from the dam's water outlet is a very good condition to generate hydro power that will ensure electricity for the whole of Kano State.'
He said the important conditions, including the amount of water in the dam's reservoir, as well as the discharge, formed a good condition for hydro power.
The study group was made to understand that the Challawa dam needed to be funded more in the area of maintenance as an average of between 10 to 15 million naira was spent annually for the dam's maintenance.
The group also learnt that the dam had spilled over four times and on each occasion, local settlements and land around the dam were eroded.
Professor Jimmy Adegoke, a climatologist in the University of Missouri, assured the group that studies will be conducted to find out why the dam spills over.
He, along with Prof. Lee, said they will also conduct studies on the surface water change of the dam and see if it is affected by climate change.
Engr. Bassi called on state governments to direct resources to both dams so that they can become tourist attraction centres that will attract foreign exchange for government.
The Hadejia Valley Irrigation Project that lies in Ayou and Kafin was the next point of call, where the group were told that the project was conceived to give employment opportunities and livelihood to farmers who are expected to produce rice, wheat, corn, millet, sugar cane, sorghum and vegetables.
The group learnt that the project is meant to tap water released from the Challawa gorge and Tiga dams into the Kano-Hadejia river system.
Our reporter learnt that a barrage was constructed to store water, where it is diverted through water control structures into canals and laterals of the project.
Socio-economic benefits of the project are that with the completion of 6,013 hectares net irrigable area, the farmers can produce about 30,000 metric tons of food and cash crops valued at over N2.5 billion annually.
The irrigation projects have made significant impacts on poverty alleviation and rural development, especially in the areas of providing immediate employment as well as stable sources of income to the people of the recipient communities within the vicinities.
Farmers engaged in irrigation farming complained of the presence of typha (Kachala) grasses and quela birds that destroy their crops.
A farmer told the group that a helicopter came recently to the valley to spray the area with chemicals in order to scare the birds but the problem still persists.
"As a result of Kachala weeds, fishing and farming of millets have poor records here," a farmer said.
Prof. Jimmy told the farmers that studies will be conducted to see how the weeds can be turned into wealth, adding that it can be used for bio-fuel purposes.
The Emir of Hadejia, Alhaji Adamu Abubakar Maje, also elaborated on the problem of typha grasses which he said has stopped water flowing from the river channels.
He said as a result of quela birds, farmers are afraid to grow maize and now grow vegetables to prevent the destruction of their crops.
The emir appealed to the group to come-up with solutions on how to uproot the grass from river channels.
Alhaji Maje also appealed for the completion of the second stage of the project and called on the group's leader to also engage local authorities while seeking facts about irrigation projects sited in the town.
Our reporter learnt that the second channel of the Hadejia river has been blocked for the past three years with typha grasses and about N45 million was spent to dredge 15 kilometres of the river downstream.
Equipment such as aquatic water excavators and aquatic vegetation remover were purchased by the Hadejia- Jama'are River Basin Development Authority, Kano, to tackle the problems of typha grasses.
The group proceeded to Hajejia-Nguru Wetlands where they inspected projects executed by the Hadejia Jama'are Komadugu-Yobe Basin Trust Fund in Damaturu, Yobe State.
Projects embarked upon by the Trust Fund includes the following; channel clearance at Magujin Idi- Kirkassama Local Government Area (LGA) of Jigawa State, Miga Kafin Hausa in Jigawa State, Gwayo/ Gasi at Jakusko LGA of Yobe State and Tiga Dam outlet at Bebeji in Kano State.
According to engineers at the sites, the projects were executed to improve the flow of water in respective river channels including the removal of impeding typha weeds and siltation.
The Trust Fund also constructed flood retention gates at Rini Kunu, Yobe State, Dagona, Yobe State, Damasak, Borno State, Joka Joriye, Borno State, Bulagana Chiraia, Borno State and Jiyen in Jigawa State.
An engineer disclosed that the retention gates were constructed to conserve rapid recession of flood water from Fadama ponds for the purpose of irrigation, live stocking, fishing and other farming activities in vulnerable settlements.
The fund also constructed dykes and embankments in six locations in Bauchi, Kano, Yobe and Borno States in order to protect vulnerable settlements and farmlands from over- flooding.
At Gashua, the Emir of Bade, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Suleiman, commended the Trust Fund for the irrigation projects sited in the community.
He said 99 percent of indigenes of the community are farmers who depend on irrigation to grow rice, wheat and vegetables.
The emir complained of the receding river water that flows into the community and appealed for proper dredging of the river channels.
He said the river's problems have led to the migration of some species of fishes, adding that only four types of fishes can be seen in the river instead of 15.
"I hope the issue of finding solutions to the receding Lake Chad will not stop at presentations but will be implemented," he added.
The study group proceeded to Hadejia Nguru Wetlands, Miga, Magujin Idi and later went to Maiduguri to see the Alua dam, University of Maiduguri's fishery unit and South Chad Irrigation Project (SCIP) that was established in 1974 to develop about 67,000 hectares of land for agricultural purposes.
The project was also meant to have agro-business components such as poultry, sheep rearing, cow fattening unit for beef, an abattoir, flour as well as rice mills.
According to Abubakar G. Iliya, Managing Director of Chad Basin Development Authority (CBDA), all the units were expected to use ruminants of cultivated crops.
He said after the commissioning of 400 hectares of rice in 1979, the hectarage continued to increase until 1988/89 when about 10,000 hectares were cultivated.
"At 10,000 hectares, the machinery for cultivation, combined harvesters were over stretched as harvesting lasted up to May of 1989 resulting in the rains damaging un-harvested wheat," the managing director lamented.
He regretted that the problem persisted due to inadequate funding, high cost of goods and services like AGO, lubricants, spares and even the machinery itself.
"Water was never a problem and after the 1988/89 season, the lake started declining and this single factor was so politicised that it resulted in the non adequate funding of the Chad Basin Development Authority," he said.
Iliya disclosed further that as a result of inadequate funding and the reduction of water in the lake and the non use of SCIP structures, canals experienced silting.
"The degradation of the fields, the rising cost of AGO, lubricants, the need for major rehabilitation of the power and pumping stations, the non completion of the Logomani pumping station for 27,000 hectares in stage 11 and the completion of land development of 23,000 hectares out of the 27,000 hectares in stage 11, all became constraints for the sustainable development of SCIP on the Lake Chad.
Members of the group who visited SCIP's power house and pump station, expressed feelings at the way equipment were left to rot instead of put to use.
An engineer at the power house revealed that if the machines in the house are put to full use, they can generate 30 megawatts of power that can serve the whole of Maiduguri.
The engineers complained of the high diesel consumption rate of the machines which they said will make them incur high overhead costs.
The chairman of Marte Local Government Area, Alhaji Baba Isa Lawan, attributed the problems faced by CBDA to change of government policies that did not favour the authority.
He said during Babanginda's administration, CBDA was directed to hands off agriculture and concentrate only on water.
The Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Mustapha Umar El- Kanemi, lamented that the Lake Chad Basin project which was once a pride, has now become an embarrassment.
The Shehu pleaded with members of the study group to do everything possible so that the CBDA'S projects do not collapse.
Dr Olubanji of the Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri, treated the study group members to an exhibition in the institute's premises where various foodstuff made with millet and wheat were displayed.
Some of the foodstuffs displayed were biscuits, spaghetti, bread, pap etc, and members of the group advised the institute to publicise their activities in order to engage in mass production.
After the tour, the group proceeded to N'djamena for a brain storming workshop where the Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, Prof. Muhammad Daura, disclosed that the university is a major stakeholder in the study group and will assist in the area of research to form a data base for information.
Engr. Abubakar Iliya called for proper funding of the CBDA to allow for maintenance and replacement of plants and machinery as well as to procure enough AGO and lubricants to overhaul and maintain the pumping station and power generators.