3 August 2009

Nigeria: A Senator's Worries Over Kafin-Zaki Dam


Lagos — Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan (ANPP, Yobe North) has upped the ante of opposition to the construction of the Kafin-Zaki Dam.

Sufuyan Ojeifo, in this piece, captures his lone battle for the economic preservation of the people in the downstream communities of Jigawa, Yobe and Borno states who will be affected by the dam if constructed.

He is a ranking member of the National Assembly. Having spent eight years in the House of Representatives (1999 to 2007) and moved up to the Senate where he currently represents Yobe North on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan understands the nitty-gritty of representation in the Parliament.

Lawan has a good grasp of the potency of the Legislature as a platform for influencing the Executive in terms of its policies and programmes with the universal intendment of achieving public good. There is a synergy between the two arms of government, whether as institutions or as individuals, regardless of political or ideological leanings, for the utilitarian benefits of society.

As an ordinary citizen of Yobe State, his views on the proposed construction of the Kafin-Zaki dam by the Federal Government would have been dismissed as inconsequential, despite the fact that he holds a PhD in Remote Sensing. But his views carry a lot of weight as a representative of his people in the National Assembly. This is why he has become a drum major in the battle against the construction of the dam.

His battle against the construction of the dam started on September 2, last year, when he called on the Federal Government to suspend the proposal, pending proper consideration of all the interests of the upstream and the downstream communities in Jigawa, Yobe and Borno States, which benefit from the free flowing Jama'are River.

His argument was that no fewer than two million indigenes and residents of Yobe would become impoverished if the dam was constructed (in Bauchi State) on River Jama'are. He said that the damming of the river "would exacerbate an already dire situation for the communities downstream in Yobe State like Bade, Jakusko, Nguru, Karasuwa, Bursari, Geidam and Yunusari."

According to him, "In Borno State, areas like Abadam and Mobbar have had dried Fadamas. Fishing and irrigation activities which were more reliable economic activities than rain-fed agriculture are at their barest minimum now, thus, the livelihood of over 2 million people has been in jeopardy." It is feared that this could further worsen in the months and years ahead.

Lawan stated "the Hadejia-Jama'are-Yobe River Basin drains a catchment of approximately 85,000 km2 in Northeast Nigeria," stressing that "under natural conditions (i.e. in their unregulated state) and prior to the drought that began in the early 1960s, the two major tributaries, the Hadejia and the Jama'are contributed approximately 40 per cent and 60 per cent respectively."

He added: "Since the early 1970s, major water resources developments in the Hadejia branch (the Tiga Dam, Kano River Project Phase 1, Challawa Gorge Dam, Hadejia Valley Irrigation Project and the extensive pumped farmer-managed irrigation in Kano and Jigawa States), coinciding with reduced rainfall, have sharply reduced flows in this tributary, so that now the river flow at Gashu'a consists almost exclusively of Jama'are water."

He explained that the Kano and Challawa Rivers which joined together to form Hadejia River and Jama'are River at Gashu'a (his hometown) to form the Yobe River, "flows into the Lake Chad," adding, "Before the construction of the Tiga Dam, this River System contributed about 5 per cent of the water in Lake Chad and created vast Fadamas between Hadejia, Nguru and Gashu'a.

"But since the inception of the Tiga Dam in 1974, the dam has held back about 50 per cent of the water coming from the Kano River and water supply to the Fadama areas downstream have been greatly reduced and the Yobe River does not flow into the Lake Chad any more. Actually, there is hardly any more contribution of water from Hadejia River into Yobe River. The river has been sustained largely by water contribution from Jama'are River.

"For some years, there has been prospect for the construction of Kafin-Zaki Dam in Bauchi State and the possibility of the development of irrigation schemes in the Jama'are Valley that would further reduce the river flows at Gashu'a and beyond." Saying he would be happy to see more jobs and wealth created for the Bauchi State people, the best way forward, he stated was to have a basin "wide equitable, sustainable, efficient and effective water resource distribution and utilization for the common good of upstream and downstream communities alike."

He urged the Federal Government to "commission a study of the consequences of the construction of dams and barrages on the Hadejia River on the downstream communities in Yobe and Borno States from 1970s," adding, "I urge the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, initiate a remediation process of the inequitable sharing and utilization of the water resources in Hadejia-Jama'are-Yobe River System for the benefit of all stakeholders."

On January 21, this year, he took on the Bauchi Governor, Malam Isa Yuguda on his claim that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua had approved the construction of the multi-billion naira dam in Bauchi State. He said the construction of the dam was not included in the 2008 budget, adding that no allocation was given to it in the 2009 budget.

According to him, "the story of the approval of construction of the dam cannot be true as no budgetary allocation for it has been provided in the 2009 budget. If that dam is created, our people will be thrown into poverty as the Jama'are River will dry up. That is why the Jigawa State House of Assembly has resolved not to support the construction of the dam."

He said the claim by the Bauchi State Government that it would create one million jobs through the construction of the dam should be discountenanced, saying "Over five million people in Yobe, Jigawa, Borno and indeed parts of Bauchi States will be subjected to abject poverty and suffering as they will lose their means of livelihood."

He pointed out that Yar'adua could not have approved the construction of the dam without adherence to due process and the rule of law. According to him, "The President is a leader who believes in and always submits himself to Due Process and the Rule of Law. Therefore, the story that he had approved construction of the Kafin Zaki Dam cannot be true. This is because no matter the pressure from some quarters on him to approve of the construction, he would allow for necessary due process to take place."

He advised that leaders should not to play politics with issues of grave economic consequences to the people, stressing, "The consequences of the existence of Tiga and Challawa Dams in Kano State have been intense poverty in our land, desert encroachment in over 75 percent of Yobe and Borno States, migration and heightened insecurity and annual conflicts between arable farmers and herdsmen over the control of scarce and scanty agricultural land and water resources."

Penultimate week, Lawan proposed an alternative to the construction of the dam: he called on the Federal Government to optimize the present Tiga and Challawa dams in Hadejia-Jama'are Rivers instead. According to him, "Let me appeal to the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, consider optimizing the present Tiga and Challawa dams in Hadejia River; the flow downstream should be regularized; typha grass infestation cleared and regulation structures put in place. These steps are necessary for remediating our environment and recreating our erstwhile vibrant and sustaining agricultural lands."

Expressing concerns that the downstream communities were already restless over reports that the contract for the construction of the dam had been awarded by the Federal Government, he said: "I want to take this opportunity to appeal to our downstream communities (in Jigawa, Yobe and Borno States) that the Federal government has not awarded the construction of the Kafin-Zaki dam as the government is fully aware of our predicament and therefore would not do anything to exacerbate it."

He noted that, "the resort to media propaganda by the proponents of the construction of the dam would neither change the facts not the law, pointing out that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Act 86, 1992 subsists. For the avoidance of doubt, a project of this magnitude cannot be embarked upon without an EIA. The EIA Act 86, 1992, is unambiguous on the must-do steps. Suffice to say that, Part 1 of the Act on General Principles of EIA- should sufficiently enlighten and educate us to understand the procedure and process necessary for such an undertaking."

He maintained "there would be adverse consequences in the downstream areas of Hadejia-Jama'are Rivers system if the Kafin-Zaki dam is constructed," stressing that in a presentation to Yar'Adua by the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Dr. Abba Sayyadi Ruma on March 28, 2008, he (Ruma) acknowledged the fact that the construction of the dam and full development of the irrigation scheme would definitely reduce available water and create an unhealthy situation downstream.

Will Lawan's fight to save his people from the adverse effects of the dam (if constructed) succeed against the currents of perceived selfish business interests garbed in the cloak of public good being doled out by government? Time will tell.

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