OVER the years, Nigeria has made modest progress in expanding access to water, sanitation, and hygiene to its rapidly growing population of about 200 million people, the largest on the African continent. Forty-eight per cent of the population has access to basic drinking water sources, and thirty-three percent have access to sanitation, according to recent reports The water sector in Nigeria has witnessed a switch reform since 1999, at the advent of the current political dispensation. Noteworthy, the progress made between 1999 and 2006 is noteworthy. That was the period Mukhtar Shagari was appointed as minister in-charge of Water Resources in June 2001, to be precise. It however signaled the beginning of water revolution, prudence and accountability with several multi-billion naira contracts were awarded and executed diligently. These include construction of irrigation water schemes, earth and medium dam projects as well as boreholes and water treatment plants to solve the country’s perennial crisis of water. These were all embarked on and completed under the supervision of Shagari.
His tenure witnessed the construction of Hadejia Valley Irrigation Project in Jigawa State, Owiwi dam and Water project, Shagari Earth dam in Sokoto and N468 million for Egbe/Little Ose water supply project in Ekiti State just to mention a few. Evidence has shown that these projects boost irrigation activities in the affected states as well as improve access to potable water. As at the last count, thousands of farmers and communities have been counted as beneficiaries. The accountability prose of his tenure was put to a test when he revoked about 1,400 water projects across Nigeria because of his findings that several of the contracts were awarded to individuals, rather than to eligible companies. Shagari gave the Ogun-Osun River Basin Authority a face lift that enabled it to embark on the rehabilitation of Oyan dam and at the same time completed the Abeokuta-Ota water schemes before he bowed out of office. Today, the Gombe water project done during his tenure is judged as the best in the whole continent in terms of structural design and technical capacity. Lest we forget that in October 2003, Shagari secured approval from the Federal Executive Council, an approval of N10.7 billion for water projects across the country. The project is to complement already completed 2,500 water projects nationwide, in addition to about 195 other water projects under construction during the period. In order to fast-track the water project scheme nationwide, Shagari initiated the disbursement of hand-pump machines across states of the federation.
A total number of 20,000 hand-pump machines were distributed across 774 Local Government Councils in the country for irrigation farming purposes. The erstwhile minister had ensured that the hand-pumps were locally produced in Nigeria. The initiative draws accolades from Water experts describing it as unprecedented in the history of the country. The tenure saw a placement of high priority on indigenization policy of the Federal Government by announcing the revocation and transfer of a multi-million contract awarded to a Korean company in May 2002 to a Nigerian company. The contract was to build the Inkari Dam in Akwa Ibom State. A similar contract for the rehabilitation of Sabke Dam in Katsina State was legally transferred to an indigenous company. Under Shagari’s watch, the erstwhile moribund River Basin Developments Authorities were resuscitated. That singular move paved the way for the rehabilitation Kano River Irrigation Project in Kano, the Goronyo dam irrigation project in Sokoto, the Owena River Basin Development project in Ondo the Niger River Basin, the Chad Basin and the Bakolori Dam Irrigation project in Zamfara. Others include: Orji river regional water project, the Gombe water project, the Azare, Galma, Hadeija, the Falalia, and the Kano irrigation project to mention but a few.
The Agaie and Lapai dams in Niger State, the Northern Ishan water project in Edo and the Mangu Regional water project and treatment plant in plateau State were a few of the plethora of the water projects initiated and completed by Mukhtar Shagari as minister. By the time he left office, over 25 medium sized dams and thousands of boreholes had been constructed and completed. Till today, most of the executed borehole projects were visibly painted green-white-green to signal its belonging to the Federal Government through the Ministry of Water Resources. The results were visible to all Nigerians as water supply coverage had increased within this period from 35 per cent to almost 65 per cent before the end of his tenure in 2006. The Ministry of Water resources received prompt attention from the Presidency and secured funds as approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for various water related projects to the tune of over N180 billion from 1999 to the end of 2004.
One of the evergreen memories was the process that led to the establishment of a steel pipe factory in FCT, Abuja. The ministry had needed to provide 800 million cubic raw water capacities for both water supply and agricultural production within the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in 2001. The water was projected to journey underground from Gurara dam to Usuma Dam and is estimated to cover about 75 kilometers. To achieve this task, dedicated pipes of 3-diameter radius are needed to channel the water via gravity to the UsumaDam reservoir. It is so huge that, certainly, it will require a specialised vehicle that could convey it to the destination after its importation to the country.
Not only that, the products were definitely not on the shelves which means an order had to be placed for specified production in a far away Asia country. But the patriotic Shagari had looked inwardly by not allowing the importation of such dedicated pipes into the country, rather, he mandated the Contractor to use technical modalities for the production of such pipe in Nigeria. That means, a pipe factory that will embark on the production of such pipes must be situated in the country. This was done without adding an extra cost to the contract sum.
In the end, the initiative tagged FLAGSHIP PROJECT was completed successfully and now provides raw water usage for both water supply and agricultural usage of about 3,000 hectares of land within the Federal Capital Territory. Not only that, the raw water also provides for about 30 to 35 megawatts for electricity purposes.
Before Shagari left office, his not watered-down patriotism came to bear when he advised the Federal Government to ensure the evacuation of the power generated to feed various textile industries in Kaduna. Unfortunately, such a brilliant idea was never put to test neither does it adhered to. The rest are now history.
In spite of this, the flagship project and many of his initiatives had remained an episode for the foundation of his enduring legacy in Nigeria’s water sector. No wonder he was spotted on the continent and made the President of the African Ministerial Council on Water Resources during his ministerial tenure.
No doubt, his moral integrity in governance had motivated former president, Olusegun Obasanjo to hand him a commendation letter in which he said the minister had demonstrated humility, vision and patriotism in ensuring that communities across the country gained potable water.
These accolades further earned him a holder of the prestigious national honour of Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR). As of today, the decoration on Shagari made him the first serving Minister to be honoured with CFR.
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