A 24-year-old Nigerian woman, Remarkable Mary, in August last year made a record achievement in her humanitarian work – she built a borehole water project for a neglected oil-producing community in Akwa Ibom, South-south Nigeria.
It was the first time in several decades the people of Edonwick, an island in Eastern Obolo Local Government Area, would fetch water from a tap, before now they were used to scooping water from ponds or the Atlantic Ocean.
The water project, with two overhead tanks, is built on a piece of land donated by the community. There are four taps for the people to fetch water from.
A whiteboard clamped onto the borehole steel pillars has the inscription: “Donated by Mary Remarkable Foundation in support of the United Nations Development Goals 6 – Clean water & Sanitation. Individually we are a drop of water, together we are an ocean. Let love lead.”
“Our community should be more than hundred years, this is the first time we are having this kind of experience,” the community chief, Edwin Nte, said of the water project when he spoke with PREMIUM TIMES Thursday.
Mr Nte said the day the project was inaugurated would be remembered forever in the community. “It was like a day a woman has given birth to a child for the first time after several years of marriage,” he said.
“I was very happy myself, we all danced that day,” the chief added.
On the day of the inauguration, Ms Mary, a student of political science and public administration, University of Uyo, invited her friends to witness the event.
She and her nonprofit organisation – Mary Remarkable Foundation – wanted to make it a big event to cap all their efforts in carrying materials for several days from Uyo to Eastern Obolo, about 59 kilometres, the risk they took to cross the river to get to Edonwick, and the nights they spent sleeping on the island in thatched houses without bathroom and toilet facilities.
Edonwick is not connected to the national grid, so the community does not enjoy public power supply. And no person in the community seems to be rich enough to buy the cheapest of the power-generating sets. In fact, most communities in Eastern Obolo have never seen light from an electric bulb before.
Adults and kids on the island do not have the luxury of watching television, listening to radio or playing any electronic device. Darkness covers the community whenever it is nightfall.
“Some (of us) slept on the ground with wrapper, while I and another lady slept on the wood,” Ms Mary shared her experience with PREMIUM TIMES.
“(It was) extremely dark, our phones and torches were the only the source of light at night,” she said.
Eastern Obolo lies on the coastline of the Qua Iboe River and covers a landmass of 117.000 square kilometres according to state government record.
The local government is rich in oil and gas deposits, with multinationals like Mobil Producing Nigeria, Total E&P Nigeria Limited and Amni International Petroleum Company Limited operating in the waters close by for decades.
Between 2010 and 2016, federal records show that Eastern Obolo received N8.2 billion in allocation that sifts through the state monthly. But there is hardly anything on the ground to show that the people benefited from that money.
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), an interventionist agency set up by the federal government to quicken development in the Niger Delta region, has made little or no impact in Eastern Obolo.
Poverty lives and walks around everywhere, among the people. With no sewers, most locals in Eastern Obolo defecate in the open, a common feature of Nigeria’s slums and rural areas.
At Edonwick community, men defecate along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, while women go over to the shores of the tributaries of the Qua Iboe River where the mangrove there provides some cover.
Oil spillages have polluted the ecosystem in Eastern Obolo and disrupted fishing which is the major preoccupation of the people.
The local government, more so, lacks voices to advocate for its development as people from the area are hardly considered for state and federal appointments.
Ms Mary’s first visit to Eastern Obolo was in May 2018. She was prompted by a PREMIUM TIMES story depicting the sordid state of the communities in the local government area.
She was particularly intrigued by a photo of a makeshift government primary school in Isotoyo community, Eastern Obolo.
The school, because of its wooden skeletal structure loosely covered with dried palm fronts, could easily pass for a shrine.
Ms Mary, after confirming the school’s location with a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, visited the community to see what help she could get for the school.
She later sent to PREMIUM TIMES photos she took with kids inside the makeshift school.
“It would take about N5 million to build a school for Isotoyo community,” she told PREMIUM TIMES, last year. “We have N1 million, and we are still shopping for funders for the project.”
One year after, Ms Mary and her foundation are still looking for kindhearted people and organisations that could help with funds for the Isotoyo primary school. “We still have that particular school on our budget,” she said on Monday. “We are trying to strike partnership deals so that when we start we can see to its end, and not leave it halfway.”
In February last year, Ms Mary and her team travelled again from Uyo to Eastern Obolo, to organise a party on Valentine’s Day for Edonwick community, just so that the people could feel loved.
At Okorette, Eastern Obolo’s headquarters, the team hired a small boat for N15,000 to cross a river to Edonwick, without wearing a lifejacket.
“None of the boat operators we wanted to hire had it (lifejacket),” Ms Mary said. “So we had to take the risk.”
The boat also ferried utensils, chairs and tables, musical equipment, and other items they needed to organise a feast in the community.
“It was about 25-minute’s journey to Edonwick,” Ms Mary said.
Except for Ms Mary, who had been to Eastern Obolo before, the young men and women who accompanied her in the 2019 Valentine’s Day trip were shocked by the absence of civilisation in the community – no electricity or pipe-borne water, no school or health post for the population of over 6,000 people.
All they saw were thatched houses and a vast shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, dirtied through open defecation.
The people in the community settle for unclean water sources or travel a distance, across the waters, to buy their drinking water in sachets from other neighbouring communities.
“The kids there don’t go to school,” Ms Mary said. “Those whose parents can afford it, have to cross the river to other communities to go to primary school.”
“People don’t have mattresses; they sleep on bamboo and the bare, sandy floor.
“When we saw the people’s living condition, we felt very privileged. We reflected on life generally and appreciated what we have as individuals,” Ms Mary said of herself and her team members.
From Edonwick, Ms Mary and her team members had a good view of the ocean.
They could see platforms belonging to oil companies – they imagined the amount of oil that was being drilled there, the petrodollars made for the Nigerian government and the companies involved.
They also imagined the sharp contrast in the living conditions between the company and the Nigerian government officials on one side, and the poor and forgotten people of Edonwick, on the other side.
The team set up a buffet having meals like – ‘afang’ soup with garri, white soup with pounded yam, fried rice with salad, yam porridge, plantain porridge, and cake – for the community people, the elders, women, the youth, and the children.
The people were served chilled wine and malt drink. They also drank bottled water, some of them for the first time.
‘Called to serve humanity’
During the inauguration of the water project, Ms Mary spoke of her passion to lend a helping hand to people abandoned by society. She wondered why Eastern Obolo, with its status as an oil-producing community, could be so neglected and forgotten.
“Humanity survives on the premises of love and compassion,” she said to a crowd of community people who thronged the event venue to behold the “little girl” who has done what the government and the international oil companies could not do for their community.
“It is on this note that we count it a great privilege to have been called to serve humanity and contribute towards solving societal challenges as we hope to do more.
“While we give God the glory for this great testimony and possibility, the story of Edonwick village is one that questions the heart of man and the place of a constituted authority. Despite being an oil-producing community, they have never had access to electricity, a school building, a medical centre, not even a blockhouse.
“How pathetic it is to note that our water project according to the chief was the first time cement is entering the community,” she said.
Oh no, there’s a snag!
When PREMIUM TIMES called Mr Nte, the chief of Edonwick, on Thursday, to inquire about the water project, he said, “The tap is still flowing, the only problem we have is with the colour of the water and the taste.”
“When we fetch the water and keep it overnight the colour would change, it would become yellowish. The water also looks oily on the surface,” the chief said.
But nevertheless, he insisted the borehole is one of the best things to have happened in his community. “The borehole water has helped us so much, we didn’t have any source of water before now,” he said.
The complaint about the borehole water changing its colour and taste “needs to be looked into”, Ms Mary said when this newspaper raised the issue with her.
“We had access to the clean water even when we revisited (the community),” she said.
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