Lekki: Lagos highbrow neighbourhood where scarcity of potable water is akin to chronic headaches

Tope Omogbolagun writes about the water challenges confronting residents of Lekki area of Lagos State

It was a cloudy Tuesday morning as Praise Akerele engaged in a shouting match with a roving water seller who appeared wearied from the water truck he had been pushing as early as 5am.

Akerele who was noticeably angered and running late to work shouted at the water seller identified as Bala for delaying before bringing her water in four jerry cans.

She wasn’t the only one in need of water; it’s the routine episode in the neighbourhood and residents, especially workers, try to store water before leaving for work.

“Bala, Bala, bring me water here,” echoed occupants in apartments close to Akerele’s while the water seller struggled to meet the demands with the water-filled kegs in the truck.

Akerele, who works with a telecommunications company in Victoria Island, said she relocated to her area due to traffic and stress of commuting to work on a daily basis.

She said, “I used to live at Mowe in Ogun State before I got the job and after a few months of coping with traffic and stress of going to and from work, I decided to end the misery by getting an accommodation in Lekki.”

She said that she had thought life had started fully on a good note upon joining the league of residents in highbrow Lekki without knowing that the water issue was a challenge.

She narrated her daily ordeal as our correspondent assisted in carrying some of the kegs of water to her self-contained apartment located at a popular street on Jakande Roundabout, Lekki, Lagos.

Lack amid abundance
It was a self-contained apartment painted white with a modern wardrobe occupying one side and a mattress on the other side of the room. The other door leads to a kitchen while a bathroom overlooks the kitchen. The room is neatly tiled with every item well-arranged.

As she continued to dress for work, she narrated, “I got this apartment about a year and seven months ago for N500, 000 annually. I would get half the price in some other parts of the state.”

She added that when she thought she had settled down conveniently and things were getting better for her that she discovered she was in dire straits.

Akerele took our correspondent to the kitchen where she opened the tap and muddy coloured water gushed out of it in a reckless force.

She said, “When I saw the brown water, I thought I could use antiseptic soaps and liquid. But I didn’t know that it was ineffective till I developed skin allergy. It was so bad that I had to visit the hospital and was on medications. It was after that skin issue that I started buying water to bathe. Before then, I couldn’t even cook with the water; I used to cook with sachet water popularly known as pure water. Sometimes I use table water. After I had an allergy, I started to bathe with table water.”

Akerele stated further that her expenses on water mounted until she sought alternatives from itinerant water sellers who usually fetch water for neighbours in her compound.

She added, “It was until my neighbours told me that there are people who help to fetch water in the neighbourhood that the expenses reduced a bit. The mei ruwa (water seller) that helps us to fetch water often charges extra for carrying it upstairs. One would think living in Lekki means that life is stress free but the lack of water has made life difficult.

“Even at that I still spend about N10, 000 on water every month. The water problem is a big issue on the Island, but that of Lekki is much more common. Although some houses have boreholes, many Lekki landlords don’t go the extra mile to make potable water available.”

Like Akerele, Ann Odun who lives around Chevron Drive Lekki has also been battling lack of potable water.

Odun said she relocated to the axis when she got a well paying job and tried to avoid stress as much as possible. She noted that she lately realised that there were other ways staying in Lekki could stress out the residents. One of such is the fact that she was faced with dealing with lack of potable water.

She said, “I think Lekki money stays in Lekki. There are usually a lot of bills to pay when one adds the problem of lack of potable water to the mix. It’s difficult to save. I never knew about the water issue in Lekki until I moved there. I would have thought that it occurs only in low areas and maybe some extremely poor neighbourhoods. I never knew such a thing awaited me. When I saw the coloured water when I first moved into the house, I thought it was due to a dirty tank. I didn’t know the water was from the borehole.”

According to the World Health Organisation, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water. It also states that some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services.

Also an Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, Kelly Ann Naylor, stated that access to water was not enough, noting that if the water wasn’t clean, it wasn’t safe to drink.

Similarly, a survey conducted by Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics and UNICEF shows that millions of households in Nigeria do not have access to clean water sources. While the supply of clean water in Nigeria has improved recently, three in 10 people still lack access.

According to aid agencies, 60 million Nigerians, or 33 per cent of the population, do not have access to clean water.

Residents of Lekki, though live in the affluent area of Lagos State, are part of this estimated population of people who do not have access to clean water.

More residents decry cost of potable water
Odun said that she spent about N20, 000 monthly on water. She said, “When the mallams bring the water, they charge extra to carry the keg of water upstairs.’’

Another resident, Mr Charles Uduak, said people see those living in Lekki as rich Lagosians.

Uduak stated, “People see us as being rich staying in Lekki. But the stress we go through to get clean water to drink and cook is not easy. The sad thing is that despite the fact that people have complained many times, the government isn’t doing anything about it. Instead, people have developed coping mechanisms to get clean water. If I open my tap water, you’d be surprised to see the water from it. It’s really terrible, and we do nothing with the water.”

Uduak further said that the public water that was supposed to be an alternative to the water from the water board was lacking in Lekki.

He said, “The water is really bad. I think there is an issue with the topography of the place. Whenever one digs the regular borehole, it produces dirty water and many of the house owners do not want to pay for a borehole to further dig the ground. My landlord left Nigeria for overseas three years ago. We just pay tenancy money into his account and he has an agent that supervises the house. The water has been that way since we moved in. I pay for the water services to fill my tank every week. I have an extra tank outside that they fill every week. That’s the least we could do. That’s about N8, 000 every week aside from other expenses.”

Another resident, Mrs Sade Awoniyi, laughed heartily when our correspondent asked about the water situation in her house. She told our correspondent that when she recently moved into where she lives, she opened the tap which gushed out brownish water.

Awoniyi stated, “I asked my neighbours what was going on and they told me it was the situation they had been coping with before I moved in. At first, I thought it was something I could treat alone in my apartment. I tried many things to clear the water. I bought alum, water guard and other things but nothing changed.

“I tried to use the roving water seller but I am not even sure of how clean their water is. Some greenish particles come out of the kegs as they pour the water into my drum. I don’t know the source of the water. When I was tired of it all, I got connected to a water tanker firm that supplies me water.”

The Awes who occupy a five-bedroom apartment in Lekki Phase 1 said the issue of bad water was a general one on the Island because they had similar issues when they were living in Lekki.

“We were experiencing the same issue where we lived before now. Then it was salty water but having to deal with a coloured water wasn’t what we bargained for,” Mrs Timilehin Awe stated.

She added, “We had to use pure water to cook plenty of times; I disinfected bathing water because of skin irritation and reaction. We were used to the island water before now, but not coloured water. My husband got someone to wash the tank but nothing changed about the water condition. Then we used two tankers of water every week to meet our daily water needs.”

Residents resort to water filtration
Mr Awe who seemed to have resigned to fate said they eventually had to use water filtration to cope with the situation. Online sources state that water filtration is the removal or reduction of the concentration of matter and other undesirable chemical and biological contaminants from contaminated water to have drinkable water.

Awe said, “Our water is brownish. We don’t even use it to wash, not to talk of drinking it. What we then adopted was that we treat the water so that it could at least be used to wash clothes and toilets. We have a water treatment plant in the house. After treating the water, we wait for about three hours. Then the water becomes white. Only then can we use it to bathe or wash toilets. Even at that, one still has to pour disinfectants in it. That’s how we have been surviving.’’

The Awes felt they wouldn’t need to spend more money if the water was clean or if the government tackled the water crisis in Lekki.

Awe said, “It’s so painful that a coastal environment like the Island does not have the intervention of the government on water. We pay taxes, yet we have no potable water. It’s so sad.’’

Also, the Chinedu Uzors who live at Lekki, Phase I, told our correspondent that it’s expensive to have clean water for use in Lekki.

Uzor said, “We managed some methods for a while. When we saw that the water was not safe for drinking, we tried to connect to a water grid in the estate which is expensive. There is someone in the estate with a water plant grid. It’s painful that the Lagos State Water Board cannot supply us water on the Island knowing how much it costs to get potable water. To dig a borehole beyond 300 metres is expensive and not everybody can afford it. Our landlord doesn’t even live with us, so the house maintenance is on us. We moved into the house when it was new.’’

A likely ray of hope
A surveyor and estate agent, Mr Dipo Fakorede, said many of those in the area were aware of the water situation in the place.

He said, “That is the nature of the area, it’s an Island and many of them are aware that it’s the nature of the place. When you live on the Island, around the lagoon, the taste of the water is always salty. It’s only the extremely rich people that are able to dig boreholes beyond the sea level. That’s about 750 feet deep to get clean water.”

Fakorede said that the majority of Lekki residents use a water treatment plant.

He added, “Most of the residents have water treatment plants and even with that, they can’t drink the water. Some can’t even cook with it because after dealing with the dirt in the water, it’s still salty.

“They use such water to wash vehicles, clothes, plates and other things. It’s not just in Lekki, it’s like that in Victoria Island and Ikoyi. In Lekki, to get water, one needs to dig 50/60 metres while on the mainland, one needs to go 200/250 ft deep to get clean water. The reason is not farfetched; the Island is surrounded by water, only that the water one will get is salty.

“If one wants to get clean water, one has to go 750ft deep and for a residential place, it will cost one about N8m to N10m. That is what they are going through, after spending exorbitant money to buy lands, houses or rent apartments. They still have to battle the water issue and pay more to get clean water.”

Also, a professor of Hydrobiology, Udoiding Okon, said Lagos is a coastal community and small, so there is no way the residents wouldn’t have what he described as salt water intrusion into the aquifer.

He said, “There is a part of the earth where one draws potable water from and when one has salt water intrusion into that aquifer where the clean water is, one can’t have clean water; the water would always be salty.”

The professor added that it was the reason people dig boreholes in such areas and the water would still be salty. Okon noted, “The water level is high and it comes up and meets at the sea level, then the salty water infiltrates. That is the reason such an area will always have salty water. It’s only on the mainland where the land is far from the sea that one can get fresh water.

“If one digs a borehole in a sea area, one will have salty water. The only solution is to dig beyond the sea level, to get clean water; anything outside that I don’t know. Maybe a water engineer might be able to proffer more solutions but that is the candid opinion I can give as a hydrobiologist.”

Commenting on the issue, outgoing president of the Lekki Residents Association, Mr Kayode Otitoju, said the problem of lack of potable water in the area started when the Lagos State Water Corporation didn’t extend its operations to other parts of Lekki when the community began to expand.

Otitoju, who is a former commissioner for Information, Culture and Sports in Ekiti State, stated, “There is Lagos Water Works in Lekki and it is opposite the central mosque. They met with us (the residents) and provided water as far back as 2000/2001.

“Pipes were laid by the Lagos water corporation in 2000/2001 when the population of Lekki then was not much. I moved into Lekki then and because of that the water pipes ran through my own house, so I have the water from the water board.

“But since the extension and new people have moved into the area, things are still the same. There is no extension to the other side of Lekki. We didn’t even have the other side; the one close to the beach as at then. All the areas do not have the water from the government board.”

Otitoju added that lack of water from the water corporation made people opt for a borehole as an alternative which he said wasn’t the best.

He added, “What people adopted was the use of boreholes but the water is salty. Those within the shallow area get clean water and those who try to dig beyond the salt level get muddy water. Then we have those who dig the borehole down to the sea level to have good water. Individuals are more or less the local government of themselves.”

Otitoju further said that one of the reasons why it had been difficult for them to proffer a lasting solution to the water problem was because of the lack of cooperation and unwillingness to join forces to work for the overall good of the neighbourhood.

He said, “We have held different meetings on the water issue. Some people tried to bring in a private organisation to attend to the water problem. But again, in Lekki, everyone knows it all, so the company might run at a loss because they won’t patronise it. They prefer to buy the plastic water because they can afford it and also buy big bottles and dispensers and use the expensive water for everything.

“That’s how people live here. And all attempts to proffer solutions have proven abortive because people aren’t often disposed to accepting help. There was a time we tried to adopt 24-hour electricity. We distributed questionnaires to sample opinions and they didn’t even fill them. We had to keep the issue aside. The same thing happened when an internet company wanted to make free internet available to the residents. They kept complaining about their flowers, gardens and other things. It’s so difficult to solve problems here.”

The former commissioner said he believed that with the government’s intervention, Lekki would have access to potable water even if it would be at a cost.

He stated, “I believe that it is only the government that can help solve the water problem of Lekki even if they commercialise it, people will patronise them. It’s not likely that an individual will make headway with this water issue. It’s my personal opinion and I started living here in Lekki in 1998.’’

We’re looking into the water issue, says govt
The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotosho, said the state government had constituted a committee to look into potable water challenges across the state.

He said, “I don’t know specifically about the people in Lekki but I know that the government has put a committee in place to look at all the problems of water in Lagos; what we can do in places where there is no water. The committee will submit its report next week or so. It is after then that I can say exactly what can be done. But the government is working on it.”

(PUNCH)

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