When it comes to being blunt, the minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu is one man to reckon with. In this interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday, he speaks on sundry issues bordering on good governance, as well as plans by his ministry to revamp the water sector roadmap.
There has been growing criticism of this government to the effect that the ministers in President Buhari’s cabinet are not effective. Some say it is due to none release of funds by the President. As an integral member of the ‘change’ government, how can you explain the relationship between the President and his ministers?
All that are beer parlor talks. We have a very good relationship with the President; believe me. Whether you know it or not, all of us went through thorough scrutiny before we were appointed. Even the President was dumbfounded because of the kind of rot he met when he assumed office. Don’t forget that the transition committee of the previous government refused to cooperate with our transition committee. You know the idea of transition committee was to exchange ideas and information, but they refused to cooperate. They merely gave the President a handover note on the 28th of May, 2015, which means nobody knew what was cooking in the government circle until we came in. The transition committee from our side were not government officials and they had no access to information. So, our transition committee merely prepared how government is going to be. So, it was practically impossible to know anything about the health of government affairs until the handover note of May 28, 2015.
And you will agree with me that, it was virtually impossible for President Buhari to have opened the handover note before the following day which was the handover ceremony. The mess we met was incredible. If I start telling you what I met here you will marvel. I met a debt of N88.9 billion, with 117 ongoing projects, none of which had been commissioned. I was told in the handover note that I needed over N200 billion to complete the ongoing projects. Another thing is the difference in style. People are judging President Muhammadu Buhari and his government on the basis of the style of the PDP government. The PDP government ruled for 16 years. Everybody believes that the President must sack his service chief’s immediately he assumed office. Others also believe that he must have his cabinet immediately.
Different Presidents constituted their cabinet at different times. PMB has his on style. He needed to read and understand the government before bringing us on board. He had to know the contents of those bulky documents before bringing people on board. Every minister is doing his bit. Believe me; we are the most disadvantaged set of ministers. Before we came, houses had been sold. Except those who have houses in Abuja. We are operating on shoestring. The President himself has set an example. He is living a modest and spartan life and we are trying to do the same. The era when ministers spent money on publicity is gone. The money is just not there. We know what the country is going through and we cannot continue the usual way. Partly, that is what change is all about.
Recently, you presented what observers termed ‘a lifeline’ for the revamp of the water sector “roadmap” to the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Can you tell us more about the crux of the policy?
The road map is hinged around two frameworks basically. One is the national water resources master plan which was revised in 2013. It is supposed to be from 2015 to 2030. And the other one is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which Nigeria subscribed to. So, we decided that if we have road map, we should coin it around these. This master plan has been in existence in this ministry. I knew about it for as far back as 1995. It was done by Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) and it was to be for 50 years. Which means by 2010 it ought to have expired.
In 2013, JICA came back to review it but the unfortunately thing was that the master plan was not strictly followed. So, I came and inherit a few projects under the master plan that were just there without any proper planning. Some of those projects were just brought in by the whims and caprices of those in power at the time- be it the executive or the judiciary as the case may be. When we came in, we thought that of what use was it if we have master plan and not faithfully implementing it. But thank God that as soon as we came in, we ensured that the master plan is ready and we have resolved that whatever project we are going to execute in this ministry must conform to a laid down master plan. One other issue was that so much money was being spent on projects that are not too important. But if we have a master plan that identifies specific projects that are relevant to the water resources sector it will check against redundant projects. Key projects that would have reduced flooding and key projects that would have helped against drought were not taken seriously. So, we are to take it back.
Secondly, we are way-way behind in terms of the MDG’s as it relate to water and sanitation sector. Under the MDG’s which expired in 2015, we were supposed to have attained 75% coverage for water supply but we didn’t make it. We only achieved 69%. It is even worse under sanitation which is a component. We now said look, what can we do to avoid a second embarrassment so that by 2030, we are able to mobilise this country to ensure that we have adequate water supply and sanitation facilities? So, that is another key issue; those are the key frameworks we have. But the master plan itself encompasses a lot of things. The first thing is we started with our own structure as a ministry; I mean the mandate of the ministry and the River Basins and the agencies associated with them. We are evolving new strategy to ensure that we do some restructuring. Remodeling and reshaping of the ministry. This is to ensure that we have round pegs in round holes and our processes and procedures are done smoothly and efficiently.
How do you intend to achieve this goals?
In order for us to achieve the aims we want to achieve. I will give you an example, most of the huge projects we inherited were procured with preliminary design, not with any detailed design. There were no proper study and design before they were contracted and appointed to execute these projects. You find that the very first year the contractor mobilized to cite, they would start calling for a review. They will tell you this is wrong. This dam axis is not suitable, the soil or the foundation is not suitable because they didn’t wait to do proper study and design to be able to get proper costing for projects and to get value for money.
Now we have resolved all that, from now henceforth, projects will no longer be based on preliminary design. Proper studies will have to be done, even if it is going to take two to three years, why the hurry? If you are doing a project and you expect it to last for life why do we have to curtail and compress the critical things we need to do? This are some of the reshaping and restructuring I said we need to do.
We are also looking at the issue of irrigation because the focus of this administration is to improve food production and you can’t go into all-year round farming without water. Most of the critical infrastructures needed for irrigation are owned by the ministry through the River Basins. So, we have to restructure the River Basin, we have to revitalize them and at the same time, we now have to draw up programmes for irrigation development. The sad story is that the over 200 dams and the irrigation facilities that we have around them, we are only able to develop 130,000 hectares of irrigable land, at least, at the federal level. Of course at state level you know it will not be very significant because federal government has the largest network of irrigation facilities. Out of the 130,000 hectares of irrigable land, only 70,000 is being utilized effectively. This is a country with the potential for 3.14 million hectares of irrigation and we are not even utilizing up to 10%. And every day we kept talking about green revolution.
If we are serious about feeding ourselves, we must expand the irrigation scope. So, we came up with a plan. Under the road map, we are going to have a short to medium term plan of increasing irrigable land to 100,000 hectare by the year 2020. But between now and 2030, we want to bring in the private sector, we want to bring in large scale commercial farmers so that at the end of the day by 2030 we can have 1.5 million hectares. That is half of the capacity we have in this country. We should be able to have it under both public and private irrigation; public in the sense that the River Basins are going to be the ones anchoring that. But we are also working as part of the revitalization of the River Basin to make them fully commercial. They will still be owned by government, but will be operating like commercial enterprises. So, that is the kind of thing we are looking at as far as irrigation is concerned.
How will this help the power sector in terms of hydro electricity supply?
It will help to a greater extent. Nigeria has the potential for 14,000MW of hydro power and we continue to suffer acute shortage of power in this country. We are also going green. We have subscribed to COCK 21 which is aimed at reducing carbon emission. One of the ways to curb carbon emission is to explore the renewable energy option. So, we think there should be a new drive in that direction. In this wise also, we are seeking the involvement of the private sector to come develop dams for hydro power. Even the few we have today, we are preparing them for concession. So, we don’t have specific target on the number of megawatt we want to see by 2030. All we are determined to do is to continue to exploit our hydro potentials. You are aware that Mambilla hydro is coming on stream with about 3000 megawatts. We are beginning to get there. We have existing dams with about 200 megawatts of mini power; 2, 5, 15, 30 potentials in the existing dams which have not been exploited. Some of these dams are due for concession. In fact, every dam being constructed in this ministry should have provision for hydro power to be installed and we will like to concession all of them.
In the area of water supply and sanitation, like I said before, we failed in the MDG’s. We didn’t meet the target and one of the chief causes of the breach was that funding has been adequate. And we thought over it and came to conclusion that even the combined funding from the federal, state and local governments put together on a consistent basis will never be enough for us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). So, we need to involve the private sector and the communities. In this connection, we developed a programme called partnership for expanded water, sanitation and hygiene. We have gone a whole lot of discussion with development partners. In the next two weeks, I am going to present it to the governor’s forum because the programme is a partnership between the federal, state, local governments, as well as the communities, private sector and, also, our international development partners so that we can have one programme for the country on water and sanitation, so that we can mobilize the whole country towards attaining it.
The two key things that would come out of that programme are that, one, we are working on some models whereby people will begin to see that there is opportunity to make money in providing water supply; not pure water, but municipal water supply and sanitation facilities. We want to create entrepreneurs out of this, we want to leverage on corporate social responsibility, we want to leverage on foundations, we also want to have a data base so that we all know that we are all working towards a particular goals. If we know how much water we are providing, we can know the gap and see how we can fill it. We want to mobilize this country towards that direction of adequate water supply and sanitation and, in particular, freeing this country from open defecation because Nigeria committed itself to totally eliminating open defecation by 2025. These are the two key issues under the water supply and sanitation sector.
What of trans-boundary issues like the Lake Chad?
We are working through the Lake Chad Basin Commission on the process of salvaging the lake. One of the options, you all know, is the idea of inter Basin transfer from the Congo Basin into Lake Chad to make sure the lake doesn’t dry up. However, that is generational project. It is not a project that can be finished in one, two or three years. It is a project that the study alone can take three years. But we are working on the first stage now. We hope that by next year the second stage will be finished. It is at that point that we will know the best option to take, then will begin to do the detail design and, also, to start looking for funding. That is work in progress.
Let me place it on record that we inherited about 117 ongoing projects. Like I said in one of my official engagements, since 1999, this ministry has never commissioned a single, fully, finished, completed and finalized project. Even where they commissioned, it was just a publicity stunt. It is not that the project is contractually finished and fully paid for with final accounts done. The first time we did that was last month in Otuoke. Next year, we hope to commission 20 to 30 projects in dams, irrigation and water supplies. That is also the commitment we are making under the road map, to continue with the ongoing projects that we think are viable and ensure that they are completed. What we did was to subject the projects we met to technical audit. We brought in professional engineers to do what we call rapid audit. We gave them some specific parameters to look at and they came back with report. Based on that, we were able to determine the project to prioritize for 2016 because budgets are not released at once. So, based on the budget release, we know which project to prioritize. And we are also able to prioritize projects for 2017 and those of 2018 and the amount to be pumped in every year until we get them completed.
We may not be able to complete all before 2019 but we have identified the critical ones we think we can finish. On the other hand, we are bold enough to discard the ones that are not viable, especially, the ones at 5 to 10% that have not being funded for the past 10 years. We say the best option is to count our loses and move on. In the first instance, these project were not meant to be but were implemented because of the influence of political heavy weights.
We thank God that this year up 75% of our capital budget has been released which is very good. Last year, it was not up to 50%. Even with the extended budget implementation period, we still did not get up to 50%. If the current trend continues next year and we are able to get cash backing, we will do much better. What is even provided in the proposed 2017 budget is much more than that of 2016. We are very hopeful that we can deliver on our expected commissioning of the stated number of projects.
Your ministry has two bills before the National Assembly. What are they all about?
No, they are actually one bill and two policies. The policies were adopted at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and was the end of the matter. The FEC has approved the policies; it is left for us to implement it. FEC has also approved the draft bill. The next thing is to send it to the National Assembly for the purpose of passing it into law. We are very anxious to see that law passed because we have never had consolidated water resources law in this country. This is the first of its kind in our country. Even, some components of the road map are tied to this law being passed. It will provide enabling environment for the private sector to fully participate in water supply schemes. They can run a water distribution systems, they can improve municipal water treatment. That is an example. There is room under the irrigation policy and the proposed law to provide for more stakeholder participation in which farmers will have more say in irrigation management and development.
If you recall, around 2012, many riverine states were subjected to harrowing experiences, occasioned by the worst flooding in Nigeria’s modern history. The flooding, it was said, was as a result of the release of water from dams in Cameroon. How were you able to mitigate the incidence of massive flooding this year?
Very simple. recall that the Cameroonian President was here some months ago. During that visit, we signed a memorandum of understanding with them, that before any future releases from the dam, Nigeria would be notified and also create early warning systems. There is a better collaboration and information sharing between Nigeria and Cameroon now. But we are not stopping there. Although, not yet on stream, the Kashimbilla dam is under construction. It is one of those dams that is supposed to be a buffer to reduce the effect of flooding. The issue is that the River Benue is the least dam river. River Benue and its tributaries have been virgin for a very longtime and that is where we have huge potentials for hydro power and the same time mitigate flooding.
May be in the next decade or so, we have serious reduction in flooding. One thing we are also doing is that we are soon going into partnership with some Hungarian experts to look at Niger. We want to do what we call in-engineering terms; river training. The whole idea is to redesign the river channel so that we have areas for navigation and areas we can use for farming and put in place structure in the river that would reduce sedimentation. One of the key things is that River Niger has lots of sediments; it is getting shallow and shallower so that when water comes more than the capacity of the river bed, it spills to the river bank. We are going to work with these Hungarian experts to develop new ideas, strategies and structures to be put in place in the strategic area of the river so that we can reduce these sedimentation. We reduce the bank here, increase it there just the same way they conquered Danube River in Europe. That is the expertise they want to bring for us to take a look at for the river Niger. When that is done, we may reduce the cost of dredging river Niger every year. We can create all year round navigation and just may only need maintenance dredging from time to time. On the whole, what we want to do is to bring scientific focus back to do things technically and scientifically and not to be doing things with the rule of thumb.