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Dams: Neglected water resources amid acute food insecurity


Prevailing socio-economic challenges have exposed Nigeria’s dire need for increased food production. The threat of mass hunger and starvation has never been this acute. As such, unless urgent steps are taken, the country might make Malthus’ prediction realistic.

Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, in his 1798 writings, An Essay on the Principle of Population, propounded that while population growth is exponential, food supply and other resources remain linear. That prediction could explain why, months ago, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that the country could no longer foot the bill of food importation.

The President said: “I wish farmers could go and stay in their farms so that we can produce what we need sufficiently that we don’t have to import. In any case, we don’t have money to import, we must produce what we have to eat.”

Concerns for self-sufficiency in food is not a recent development. Many years back, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) said food (crop) production has not kept pace with population growth, resulting in rising food imports and declining level of food self-sufficiency. Faced with that stark reality, the country squandered amount of its foreign reserves on food importation, despite its vast arable land resources.


According to a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s spending on food importation rose to N22.78tr in 2019 from the N12.77tr recorded in 2010, when the survey was last conducted.

The report showed that total expenditures of households in Nigeria on food and non-food items for 2019 were N40.21tr, up from N21.62tr recorded in 2018.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said Nigeria lost $10b in yearly export opportunity from its cash crops alone due to continuous decline in the production of the commodities.

Though agriculture remains the largest sector of the nation’s economy and employs two-thirds of the entire labour force, the production hurdles have significantly stifled performance of the sector.

The sector’s problems include, outdated land tenure system, limited adoption of research findings and technologies, high cost of farm inputs, poor access to credit, inadequate storage facilities and poor access to markets and others, which have kept agricultural productivity low, as well as poor irrigation system.

A lot of the farming is still artisanal with many of the farmers relying on rainwater for irrigation. This brings to fore, the recurring questions of the usefulness of the country’s many dams, which experts claim will not only increase food production, but also automatically reverse the sour foreign trade order.

The Guardian gathered that many of the country’s dams are lying fallow. Stakeholders have continued to raise concern that the dams’ under-utilisation is affecting the fortune of the sector.

For instance, the revelation that for the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than one per cent yearly shows there are bigger challenges in the sector that needs urgent attention. Even countries that are not as lucky as Nigeria, in terms of arable land and good climatic conditions, are churning out agricultural produce that has boosted their export rate.


For example, Israel, which is 60 per cent desert and the rest arid, has an incredible agricultural output because of its irrigation farming and maximum utilisation of its water resources. Canada generates two-thirds of its electricity from hydro-plants and second to the United States, the global leader. These are advantages Nigeria has lost by mismanaging her dams.

FROM the country’s endless list of dams and reservoirs, the major ones are-Ede-Erinle Reservoir, Osun State; Asejire Reservoir, Oyo State; Bakolori Dam, Sokoto State; Challawa Gorge Dam, Kano State; Dadin Kowa Dam, Gombe State; Goronyo Dam, Sokoto State; Ikere Gorge Dam, Oyo State and Jebba Dam, Niger State.

Others are Jibiya Dam, Katsina State; Kafin Zaki Dam, Bauchi State; Kainji Dam, Niger State; Kiri Dam, Adamawa State; Oyan River Dam, Ogun State; Shiroro Dam, Niger State; Tiga Dam, Kano State; Zauro polder project, Kebbi State and Zobe Dam, Katsina State.

From this list, only Bakolori, Goronyo, Kafin Zaki, Kiri, Oyan River, Tiga and Zauro polder project were designed for the purpose of irrigation, while others were for the purpose of hydroelectric power and water supply.

One factor attributed to the redundancy of the dams in many states is state governors’ indifference to agriculture development. For instance, based on reports, Oyo State alone has 22 dams, Ogun-about 12 and Kano-23, which have remained in shambles and wasting away.

Just as revealed by the former Agric Minister, Adu Ogbeh, reports have it that some of the big dams are regrettably idling away, despite the huge investment pumped into them.

ONE of the affected dams is the Goronyo Dam in Sokoto State. The climate change has dealt a deadly blow on the dam.


The second largest earth dam in the northern part of the country, it was built to store one billion cubic meters of water, but as at 2018, its water has reduced to only 10 per cent of its required storage.

Other factors identified as the cause of the dam’s deteriorating state include-poor watershed management, deforestation, irrigation system, waste and poor management of hydrology in the catchment area.

Though there were claims that work on the dams had been completed, The Guardian gathered it was not so, as in August 2009, the then Governor Aliyu Wamakko, urged the Federal Government to hasten completion of the irrigation project. The Minority Leader of the State House of Assembly then, Alhaji Bello Goronyo, said N4b was needed to complete canalisation, but only about N600m was provided in the 2009 budget.

When the former Minister of Water Resources, Mr. Suleiman Adamu, visited the dam in 2018, he raised the alarm over its continuous shrinking.

Adamu told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that the ministry carried out an assessment of the dam two years earlier, with obvious devastating evidence, saying that recent visit revealed immediate threat.

“Well, I am really shocked about what I saw, you will probably recall that two years ago, I was there and was marveling at the amount of water that remained in the dam. And to come and see this desolate place in less than two years, I think it is mind-boggling.

“Obviously, we can see the effect of climate change right on our doorsteps, for those that were skeptical about it, this is real… There is need for all Nigerians to learn from how poor management affected water resources potential, we must take steps to reverse this trend.”


FOR the Okere Gorge Dam, sited in Iseyin, Oyo State, it has been the case of abandonment for years. The dam, initiated by the military regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was started by the administration of Shehu Shagari in 1983.

The 565 million cubic-metre multi-purpose dam, is the biggest in the Southwest and has the capacity to generate electricity, enhance fishing, tourism and can supply water to the whole region for irrigation activities.

According to reports, turbines and other equipment procured in 1982 were yet to be fixed, showing that for 38 years, the equipment purchased with public funds for a crucial economic project have been lying idle, with nobody being held responsible.

Work on the dam began in 1977, with a plan to generate 3,750 megawatts of hydropower and irrigate about 2.8 million hectares of farmland, according to Ogbeh.

More than N5b, it was gathered, was lost yearly due to the abandonment, as critical potentials of the dam like power generation, potable water distribution, fish and aquatic resources, as well as farming were said to have been left to waste.

Sources revealed that the road leading to the dam is in a deplorable state, thereby discouraging potential investors and tourists from developing interest in the project.

Just few weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives from Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Kajola/Iwajowa, Shina Peller, who inspected the abandoned project, called for the urgent resuscitation of the dam project.


He expressed sadness that such a giant project like Ikere Gorge Dam, which has a great potential that can be tapped to stimulate economic growth, could be abandoned for years even as it was almost at the completion stage.

“There is need for us to bring Ikere Gorge Dam to life. Aside from the fact that the dam has the capacity to generate electricity and water for irrigation activities in the Southwest, it can also help promote tourism and enhance agricultural businesses. It will also aid massive job opportunities and wealth creation for our people,” he said.

The Chief Executive Officer, Choice Fisheries Consults Limited, Remi Ahmed, who operates a fishpond in the dam, narrated to The Guardian the deplorable state of the dam. He has been facing a lot of challenges, travelling about five times to the area, before he was given access to operate the dam, despite the difficulty in accessing the road.

While noting that the dam and others in the state are wasting away, Ahmed called on the Federal Government to lift restriction placed on all water bodies, especially underutilised dams across the country, for easy access to farmers.

A socio-political group, Ebedi Frontliners, Iseyin (EFI), through a statement wants the state government to enter into an agreement with the Federal Government on ways to agree on a concession arrangement so that the state can make use of the dam for its planned power generation project.

“Our country has shown over time that we like to see resources go to waste, we have got reliable data that financial losses in Nigeria is accruing yearly. If you look at the potential of Ikere Gorge Dam like the body of the water for drinking and farming, fish business, recreational activities and generation of power and the rest and I can safely tell you we lose over N5b yearly to the abandonment of the project.


“If we look at that humongous waste and our need as a nation, we can easily conclude that it is time that urgent attention is given to the project, we need the state government, through our amiable Governor Seyi Makinde to please look into this and find a way of reaching out to the Federal Government on a concession agreement so that the project can be completed and the people will benefit.”

AS for the giant Bakolori Dam in Sokoto State, which used to have irrigation potential of more than 23,000 hectares of land for rice production, it appears the glory of the dam has departed.

The five-kilometre long dam created in 1975, but completed in 1978, is one of the world’s longest dams, on the Sokoto River, providing all year-round irrigation in the Sokoto-Rima basin, but the project has become an economic disaster because the soil is becoming increasingly infertile as a result of irrigation and there is less water available downstream from the dam.

It is a major reservoir on the Sokoto River, which in turn, feeds the Niger River. Water from the dam supplies the Bakolori Irrigation Project. It has a capacity of 450 million cubic meters, with a reservoir covering 8,000 hectares extending 19 km (12 mi) upstream.

Based on reports, the dam is now regrettably not functional due to long period of neglect by government, which has further been worsened by the vandalisation of irrigation facilities.

According to sources, the abysmal state of the giant dam is worrisome and might require several billions of naira to bring it back to its original yielding capacity, as well as restore the large-scale rice irrigation scheme, which entirely relies on the water supply from the now decaying dam.

THE Kafin Zaki Dam, Bauchi and Zauro polder project, Kebbi State appear to have peculiar cases. The projects seem to be controversial, a development that has been hampering their completion and eventual take-off.


The Kafin Zaki Dam was first considered after the 1972-1974 drought in the Sahel and during the Shehu Shagari regime in 1979-1982, a contract was awarded to Julius Berger Plc, to build the dam. In 1984, the contract was terminated, but it was reinstated in 1992 by the Ibrahim Babangida regime.

In 1994, the Sani Abacha regime terminated the contract again, and set up a judicial committee of inquiry into all aspects of the project. In 2002, funding was allocated for the project, but then abruptly withdrawn.

In 2008, Governor Isa Yuguda awarded a contract to Dangote Group to restart the abandoned project, a move that was supported by Abdul Ahmed Ningi, the state representative at the National Assembly when the project was cancelled in 2002.

A pilot project for the Zauro polder dam was inaugurated in 1982 covering 100 hectares in the northern part of Birnin Kebbi. A study of the project issued in 2009 stated that conditions have steadily deteriorated during the project lifetime, with waterlogging causing loss of productive farmland due to salinity and alkalinity.

In 2000, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources said it was planning to rehabilitate the pilot project. An audit of Federal Government accounts for the year 2007 showed that a 2002 contract worth almost N84m with 25 per cent advance payment had been awarded for rehabilitation of the dikes and drainage.


However, the project seemed to have been abandoned after payment of the mobilisation fee.

Aside from this, another issue threatening the existence of the dam is the conflicts over irrigation and flood control projects. Reports have it that farmers with low-lying fields want less flooding, while farmers higher up want more. Fishermen want early flooding, farmers want later flooding and pastoralists want an early dry season so they can access grazing lands. But the improper management of the problems has contributed to the state of the project.

It is unsurprising that the same fate that befell other dams has befallen some dams initiated by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, which according to reports have also been handled with reckless abuse of public funds. For instance, a team from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission led by Samson Eletuo on projects verification across the country about three years ago discovered that a multi-purpose dam in Otukpo, Benue State that cost N17.1b had been abandoned.

Eletua, a Deputy Director of Finance, told the News Agency of Nigeria, “The handlers have received 100 per cent payment. The contract sum was N17.1b. That has been paid, but the work (done) is barely 35 per cent.” The project had a 36-month timeline, with effect from 2011.

Having been abandoned, the dream of the dam providing 130 million cubic metres of reservoir and 3.3 KV hydroelectric power has been dashed.

The Guardian investigations showed that despite views that majority of the dams are lying fallow, and in need of prompt resuscitation to support agricultural activities such as irrigation and fishery, the impact of the ministry of water resources, in charge of dams and reservoirs has not been felt.

Despite the promises made by the former minister, Ogbeh, when he was in office of plans to open up over 200 under-utilised dams, nothing was done before he left office.


Experts claim the ministry should have risen to the occasion by ensuring that dams and reservoirs are given the needed attention and maintenance to support not only agriculture, but also water supply and hydropower generation across the states.

An agriculturist, Prince Wale Oyekoya, likened the story of the abandoned dams to the case of the Ajaokuta Steel Company, which had gulped several billions of naira without any result.

He noted that like Ajaokuta, which has civil servants collecting salaries, the dams also, despite their redundancy are having workers on pay roll.

“Some may have retired, collected gratuities and are drawing monthly pension without rendering any service. The existence of this category of workers explains why the recurrent expenditure steadily remains above 70 per cent, to the detriment of capital votes for infrastructural development.”


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