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Another dam on the Niger?

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REPORTS that the authorities in Niger Republic are planning to construct a dam across the River Niger is a cause for worry among Nigerians given that the base load of Nigeria’s power generation still remains the Kainji and Jebba dams on the same River Niger.  Any attempt to erect a dam upstream in Niger Republic, therefore, would adversely affect the operation of the two hydro power stations in Nigeria which would worsen the power supply situation in Nigeria.

    First, there would be reduced water level with negative impacts on the socio-economic life of the riparian communities as well as biodiversity downstream in Nigeria. This, in turn, will affect the generating capacity of the Kainji and Jebba dams. Ultimately, there would be further reduction in power supply, a situation Nigeria can hardly afford at this time. 

    Nigeria should, therefore, explore appropriate diplomatic channels to persuade Niger Republic to drop the plan or have it reviewed based on a comprehensive environmental impact assessment report. Nigeria has been placating Niger Republic with electricity from the dams in an attempt to prevent damming up north. 

  According to reports, Niger Republic’s Kandadji Dam, which has been in the works since 2003, is expected to generate 130 megawatts of electricity for Nigeriens. Experts say the construction of the dam poses significant risks to the Nigeria power plants. The question is: why did Nigeria not take steps to stop the project at the initial stage? Was Nigeria unaware that such a project was being proposed upstream in Niger Republic?

   Obviously, the decision to continue with the project is a reflection of the state of diplomatic relations between the two countries and shows a lack of cooperation among the countries making up the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) of which Nigeria and Niger Republic are members. 

   Nevertheless, available information shows that the Kandadji and Tauossa dams in Niger Republic and Mali respectively are part of the NBA’s “2008-2027 Investment Programme of the River Niger Basin”. At the 8th “Summit of the Niger Basin Authority Heads of State and Government” held in Niamey in April 2008, the body agreed to implement several projects, of which the Kandadji Dam is one. The others are the “Water Charter of the River Niger Basin” and the 2008-2012 priority five-year plan, among others. Ministers representing the Authority’s members held the meeting. 

   If Nigeria was represented at the summit, it simply means that the construction of the Kandadji Dam cannot come as a surprise. That being the case, what was Nigeria’s position on the issue of the proposed two dams in Mali and Niger Republic? Did Nigeria object or raise concerns about the likely impacts of the dams on her hydro-power stations? Obviously, the interest of Nigeria has not been properly protected in these dam projects. 

   There is reason to believe that among the countries that make up the NBA, Nigeria makes the biggest financial contribution, which should give her an advantage in the body’s decision-making process. The fact that multilateral agencies such as the World Bank through the International Development Association (IDA) are funding the project to the tune of between $203 million to $258 million also shows its importance and the fact that there may be no going back. The other financiers include the Saudi Fund for Development, Islamic Development Bank and OPEC Fund for International Development.

   In any case, the NBA is an inter-governmental body established to foster cooperation in managing and developing the resources of the River Niger basin. Founded in 1964, the members include Guinea, Mali, Niger Republic, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Benin and Nigeria. The body is there to ensure integrated development of the basin’s water resources such that no member country is disadvantaged in any manner. 

   While centering of water and hydroelectric power maybe individual country’s riparian rights, under the NBA framework, the countries harmonise the development of energy, agriculture, forestry, transport, communications and industrial resources pertaining to the River Niger basin. That creates harmony and rational utilisation of the water resources.

   Over the years, the NBA has worked to promote Integrated Development Plan of the Basin. That is why the seemingly unilateral decision of Niger Republic to build a dam that is not in Nigeria’s interest raises concerns. There is, therefore, need to review the original terms of association to foster peace and harmony and there is a need to strengthen power export among the basin countries. This is necessary because once dams are constructed upstream, the volume of water downstream reduces and only a harmonious collaboration would make for peaceful co-existence to prevent water wars.



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