The Benue State government refused to pay the water-works contractor, triggering a strike.
The five-month-old strike embarked on by the contractor handling the Katsina-Ala and Otubi water works in Benue State, has caused water scarcity in the state. The water scarcity has, subsequently, led to a cholera epidemic leading to the death of at least eight people, according to official estimates.
Investigations by the News Agency of Nigeria showed that the people of Benue North and South Senatorial districts were the worst hit.
The investigations revealed that the contractor handling the project stopped supplying water on grounds of contractual breaches in October 2013.
The state government had signed a two-year contract with CGC Nigeria Limited for the maintenance, operation and training of staff of the ministry in 2012.
A reliable source in the Ministry of Water Resources said that the government had not paid the contractor, which triggered a strike.
The source who pleaded anonymity, said: “the contractor had not been paid a single kobo.
“As I said earlier, it is not possible for the contractor to operate without funds as they need funds to acquire chemicals and other necessary materials needed for water treatment.
“Apart from buying chemicals, they have to pay their staff and at the same time run the company.
“They were also given the task of training our engineers to ensure effective take off.”
Scarcity leads to cholera epidemic
The Chairman of Otukpo Local Government Council, Innocent Onuh, had earlier blamed the outbreak of cholera epidemic in the council on the lack of potable water.
Mr. Onuh, who spoke in a telephone interview, said that 20 infected children in the local government had been hospitalised.
“For the past one month, Otukpo residents do not have potable water; the water works is no longer pumping water because the staff had refused to work. The workers have embarked on strike to press for the payment of salaries,” he said.
“As a result of this, cholera epidemic has hit the local government; people are dying and over 20 children are currently on admission at the General Hospital, Otukpo.
“As for the number of deaths, I cannot specifically tell you now because most of the cases are being recorded in the hinterland.
“But we are also collaborating with the state government and the state Ministry of Health to stem the disease.
“I can assure you that we are on top of the situation; people are also receiving treatment at few private hospitals in the town.
“Apart from that, we have also intensified publicity around the town, informing the people of the need for them to boil their water before drinking.
Meanwhile, the Benue State Government had confirmed the outbreak of cholera in Makurdi that had already claimed eight lives in addition to 240 others diagnosed with the disease in February.
A cholera outbreak had been reported in Wadata, one of the settlements in the state capital, Makurdi.
The Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Orduen Abunku, said this on Friday, during an interactive session with newsmen in Makurdi.
“A total number of 240 cases have been reported while eight deaths are recorded so far. The trend is gradually reducing as very few cases were reported yesterday and this morning.
“We are collaborating with all the necessary agencies to mitigate the spread of the disease.
“WHO, Federal Ministry of Health and other organisations had visited the affected areas to study the situation,” he said.
He said Cholera is a deadly disease that needs urgent treatment to avoid death and efforts to develop vaccines have not been effective.
He, therefore, enjoined the people to improve on their personal hygiene to mitigate its spread in the state.
He said that people should cultivate the habit of eating hot food, making use of clean water in everything they do.
The clean water, which the government has failed to provide, has now become a source of worry for residents.
A cross-section of Benue residents have appealed to the state government to come to their aid, to prevent deaths and the possible outbreak of the disease in other areas.
Janet Abutu, a resident, who spoke on telephone, lamented the continued spread of the epidemic among the villages in the council.
Ms. Abutu attributed the outbreak of the epidemic in the local government to the lack of potable water.
She said that many people would be affected if the situation was not controlled through the provision of potable water.
“This epidemic started in Otukpo town few weeks ago when we could not access potable water,” she said.
“The ailment has continued to spread to other parts of the council and the fear is that it is becoming prevalent.
“The situation in the villages is alarming; people are dying, and nobody seems to be talking about it.
“These people do not have access to potable water all year round; as they rely on well water or rivers to sustain their thirty for water over the years”.
Also speaking, Matthew Terwase, a resident of Katsina-Ala, decried the continued lack of potable water supply in the area.
Government officials in blame game
In his reaction, the acting Commissioner for Water Resources in Benue, George Edeh, said the responsibility of the ministry was to build water plants and not to operate it.
“Our responsibility is to build water plants and hand them over to the Water Board for operation. So any questions about water scarcity should be directed at the water board,” he said.
The General Manager, Benue State Water Board, Michael Dzungu, however, said that the two controversial water plants were yet to be handed over to the board.
“These plants are yet to be handed over to us; the contractor that built the plants has an agreement with the government to operate and maintain the plants for two years.
“So as you would agree with me, it would be unfair of me if I am talking about a project that is yet to be handed over.
“The ministry is the people dealing with the contractor and they are in better position to talk on the issue”.
Despite the scarcity and the subsequent cholera outbreak, the Benue State government says it has spent over N11 billion on water projects.