By Abdul Jelil Adebayo
With over 15,000 cubic meters per hour and about 131 million cubic meters per annum, the FCT Water Board can be said to be one of the best potable water providers not only in Nigeria but also across the sub-region.
It is a government utility organisation saddled with the responsibility of providing safe, adequate and affordable water supply service in the country. And it has not failed in that aspect despite the challenges along its path of operations.
The Board was established in 1989 with the sole responsibility of providing water supply in accordance with the World Health Organization and Nigerian drinking water quality standards to residents of FCT, Abuja.
With four departments and seven operational units and 17 Area offices, only 40 per cent of FCT has potable water.
Its main sources of raw water are the Lower Usman Dam (LUD) in Abuja and Gurara, Kachia, in Kaduna State. It has six storage tanks and 13 booster stations for high elevation.
The Board has 54,584 customers including major ones like Julius Berger, Transcorp, Sheraton, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, NIA, NAF, CBN, Nigerian Army, 7UP, Coca Cola, Dantata and Sawoe, Presidential Fleet, NNPC, CGC and ACG.
Since the appointment of Dame Joy Okoro as acting General Manager of the Board late last year, there have been changes that reflect in the increase of its revenue generation and performance. Out of her intolerance for corruption, she warned the Board staff to desist from collecting cash from customers with the claim to help them pay. She vowed that any staff caught would be dealt with; this, she said, would stem the tide of corruption among its 1,402 staff.
Okoro, therefore, urged customers to make use of the four platforms for payments: direct payment at the 16 area offices of the agency, e-Transact, Remita and Nibox. She also encouraged regular customers meetings with the area offices, where complaints are tabled and addressed.
Before her appointment, the monthly revenue was as low as #95,000 to #150,000 monthly, but now the revenue has increased from between #195,000 and #209,000 monthly, improvement stakeholders commend her for.
In the meantime, funding of the Board is through FCT annual statutory budgetary appropriation and Donor Agencies. Unfortunately, the funding has been irregular, insufficient and inconsistent with attendant consequences in slow operation and dwindling revenue generation.
For instance, in 2011, the Board was able to realize #2.195 billion while, in 2016, it realised only #1.585billion and, as of August last year, it generated #895million only. A poor outing one may say. But since the assumption of office of Okoro, the revenue has increased to an average of #200million every other month.
In spite of this, however, the Board has been able to serve the city effectively. It has also an over 40 per cent coverage level of water supply to the FCT and environs. It has introduced AMR meters to enhance billing efficiency and revenue generation.
The infrastructural development plan was designed to be implemented in five phases, which, unfortunately, was not followed hence the hiccups in the smooth flow of water to every cranny of the territory.
The Abuja Water Supply Master Plan first phase is fully operational and has a raw water supply source from LUD and Gurara.
The 1, 2, 3, and 4 Water Treatment Plants, WTPs, are fully operational, while six Storage Tanks at the periphery of the city (2, 3, 4 and 5) are completed and 1 and 6 located at Katampe, Maitama, Asokoro, Apo and Lokogoma Districts re under construction.
It has Trunk mains for raw water from LUD to WTP and Trunk mains for raw water from Gurara to LUD.
Also, there are associated trunk mains for treated water and 13 booster stations for high elevation, satellite towns and the University of Abuja located at Maitama, Asokoro, Karu, Kubwa Airport, University of Abuja Permanent Site, Bwari and Gwagwalada.
Meanwhile, all capital water infrastructure projects are under the supervision of the Engineering Department of the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, but there are some projects that are jointly supervised by FCT Water Board while others are solely supervised by the Board.
In exercising the autonomy bestowed on the Board by the Establishment Act 2017, the Board, with the approval of the Minister, proposes the re-positioning and establishment of the Boards financial autonomy, which will boost the IGR drive and further requests that 35 per cent of the IGR be retained as operational cost.
When this approval is given, the Board has the potential to improve the IGR to a minimum of #400 million monthly. It was reliably gathered that actual releases from the Board appropriation have been nose-diving for the last three years.
A recap of some releases in the past years will help out. In 2011, for instance, it was able to generate #2.195 billion while its operational cost released to it was #436.4million. In 2013 also, the Board was able to generate #2.165billion but was given only #270 million as running cost. In 2016, it realized #1.585billion and was given #112million as running cost. In 2019, it generated #1.185billion and was given #95million to run its activities for that year.
From these figures, it is clear that the yearly revenue collection is directly proportional to the operational cost released. The higher the release, the higher the collection and vice versa. It is therefore needless to say that this hampered the Board’s efficiency and effectiveness in revenue collection.
In spite of these challenges, Okoro said the Board is serving the city with potable water, payment of outstanding liabilities to contractors owed, increment in urban water supply coverage and automation of some of its activities including billing and payroll.
Successful integrated FCTWB with electronic payment gateways for ease of customers; payments, tracking and monitoring of revenue, initiation and the creation of synergy of purpose, public awareness among departments, units, staff and management within the Board are some of her achievements.
The challenges are numerous just as it is expected of human endeavours which include lack of befitting office accommodation, increase in population without corresponding increase in water supply infrastructure.
She also lacks a maintenance manual, job specialised training while vandalisation of appurtenances on the trunk mains is frequent.
Multiple water inlets to some high-rise structures and lack of As-built drawings (water distribution network) for some districts and estates developed by private estate developers are also challenging to the Board.
Okoro said another major headache for the Board is illegal to house connection, ageing infrastructures and irregular payment of approved operational cost.
However, she said, however, that the Board is desirous to have 100 per cent water supply coverage to FCT and 24 hours water supply to areas of Abuja.
The Board seeks to produce its own bottled water, anxiously waiting to implement the Board autonomy and to be the hub for urban water training and capacity development in Nigeria.
Indeed the Water Board management can raise the cup, clink the glasses and say with conviction that it has not disappointed on the mandate given her so far.
- Abdul Jelil is an Abuja based journalist and writes via firstname.lastname@example.org