51 years after giving land for Kainji hydropower, host communities wallow in darkness, poverty

AFEEZI HANAFI, who visited the Kainji Dam area in Niger State, writes that the communities who migrated to other areas to make a way for the hydropower projects are in the grip of darkness and poverty

Fifteen-year-old Seyida Ahmed doesn’t have even the faintest idea of city life unlike her peers residing in urban centres. Her world is stuck in dreary rural life.
She has learnt functions of home appliances at school, but longs for the day she will physically see a refrigerator, an electric cooker or a pressing iron working .
For her and other children in Shagunu, a drab suburb of Borgu Local Government Area of Niger State, watching films on television is a rare privilege they enjoy once or twice a week in the evening. They only savour such moments after trekking a two-kilometre distance to the residence of a villager, Mahmud Adamu, located near Shagunu Government Day Secondary School.
A farmer, Adamu is one of the three ‘respected personalities’ who have televisions in the rural community. He powers the TV with his small generator for the young villagers like Ahmed to socialise on weekends from 8pm to 10pm. On such days, boys and girls cram into his room, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the motion pictures.
“At times, we are more than 50 in his (Adamu’s) house,” Ahmed, a secondary school pupil, told Saturday PUNCH in her local dialect.
“My father wanted to buy a television too but he said he could not afford a generator and fuel cost,” she added amid a warm smile that animated her dark-complexioned face.
Some metres away, Ahmed’s grandfather, Jibril Inua, couched on a bench under a shed. The elderly man had tried in vain to turn on his radio transistor that hot afternoon to listen to the news. He would later realise that the pair of batteries powering the device were dead.
“The radio is the only thing that keeps me alive.  Since there is no electricity in this place, I use it to listen to the news and local music,” he said.
Amid uncertainties, Inua, in 1968, grudgingly relocated with his wife and two children to Shagunu on the banks of River Niger to start a new life, about 85 kilometres away from his ancestral home in Old Bussa, abandoning his hectares of farmland.
In his late 20s at the time of resettling, he was among thousands of dwellers of Borgu Kingdom within Kainji Dam in Old Bussa, who vacated their houses, farms and cultural heritage for dam construction and establishment of the hydropower plant generating electricity for the country.
In compensation, the Nigerian government assured him and other displaced indigenes that basic amenities such as schools, potable water, electricity and good roads would be provided in the new domains.
But 51 years after the 760 megawatts power plant began to serve the nation, Inua, now the Magaji N’geri (a high chief) of Shagunu, and other settlers scattered across over 100 localities in Borgu and Agwara local government areas of the state still grope in darkness, longing for a day they will be connected to the national grid.
“Agwara was carved out of Borgu LGA in 1991,” Inua, now in his late 70s, told our correspondent during a visit to the community early this month.
“Government promised us electricity, water, schools, hospitals and roads which they have yet to fulfil. Only New Bussa which is the headquarters of Borgu LGA and five other resettled communities enjoy electricity.”
As dusk sets in, the few signs of life in Shagunu and environs disappear into the approaching night. It is a moment of imminent dangers that residents always wish to escape in a hurry.
“We witness snakebites at night due to the blackout,” the village chief explained, gazing at a dusty standing fan at a corner of his room. The worn-out fan is the only appliance visible in his spacious apartment.
“We take victims of snakebites to New Bussa for treatment because there is no electricity in the health centre to preserve snakebite medicines (antivenom) in a refrigerator,” he added.
Another gruelling way the villagers have learnt to survive is by travelling 80 kilometres distance to New Bussa – about two hours’ journey – to grind grains whenever the diesel-powered machines in the community are faulty.
According to Fatima, Inua’s first wife, one of the four grinding machines has packed up while the three others are wearing out fast.
“If we want to grind rice and guinea corn, we take them to New Bussa because the machines here cannot grind them,” she said.
Over the years, the blackout has compounded the poverty heaped on most of the inhabitants and stripped them of the basic comfort they should enjoy as ‘kind hosts’ of the hydropower dam.
Instead, ancient lifestyles such as burning firewood to illuminate the surroundings at night and pressing clothes with ember-filled irons are commonplace in the neighbourhood. Each day brings forth untold hardship that cements the locals’ existence in boredom.
“It is difficult to live in this place. My pupils were amazed when I told them they can cook with electricity. They did not believe me because they have never experienced it before,” Abdullahi Sulyman, who teaches Civic Education in a secondary school in the area, said.
Born and raised in the Power State metropolis, the 35-year-old father of three forfeited an exciting life nine years ago when he took up teaching in Shagunu, residing in a hut-like-one-room apartment.
The house, one of the uniform structures built for the resettled residents of Old Bussa by the government, has a fitted tiny window that stifles ventilation.
Sulyman is among the seven instructors that teach pupils in both junior and senior classes. He told our correspondent that they used to be 10 teachers before three left to search for jobs in the city because they were tired of living a boring life.
He said, “Even policemen posted to this place ran away after spending two weeks or a month. When there is heat, our rooms are hot. We have to sleep outside at night using mosquito nets most times. People use lamps and burn firewood to see at night. Only three houses have generators.
“If the generator is on in any of those houses, you will see many people rushing there to charge their phones and lamps. Lack of electricity is a major setback for the community. There is no meaningful business here.”
Sulyman added that the outage in Shagunu forced many youths to permanently relocate to the cities having felt the ease attached to electricity after travelling out of the communities.
“Two years ago, a senator put up some wires and poles, but we don’t know when the rest will be completed,” Sulyman added, sounding hopeless.
The story is sadder in Amboshidi village, about five kilometres farther Shagunu. The houses the government built for those displaced by the dam dot the nook and cranny of the village, but there is no sign that electrification will commence in the village soon – 51 years after resettlement.
In the whole area, only Yakubu Rilwan, an assistant health officer in charge of a state-government owned clinic in the community, has a generator and television.
“Whenever I switch on the TV in the evening, about 100 people will throng into my room,” Rilwan said.
In Luma, another suburb of Borgu LGA, the people’s plight is no different. More than 13 years after power installations were carried out in the community, the residents have no idea when they would be connected to the national grid.
A community leader and head teacher, Luma Primary School, Musa Yerima, said some people came in 2007 as PHCN (Power Holding Company of Nigeria) workers and collected between N15,000 and N30,000 from them.
He stated, “They said they would use part of the money to connect us to the national grid. Different people have been coming here to tell us lies. They keep saying the installations will be energised soon. If you see politicians here, they come for campaign . After casting our votes for them, we won’t see them again. In fact, it was recently that we have a hospital in this community.”
Also, a former president, Federation of Borgu Youths, Mr Aliu Usman, told Saturday PUNCH that power supply in Borgu Kingdom, comprising Borgu and Agwara LGAs, had not extended beyond 10 kilometres from Kainji Dam.
Usman, who resides in New Bussa, explained that it took years of protests before six communities were connected to the grid.
“Right from the inception, we were not part of the plan to be electrified. As of 2008 when Kainji Dam was 40 years, we staged a protest to commemorate the anniversary. We lamented that 40 years of Kainji Dam, we were still in darkness.
“A substation was installed in 2013 after continuous protests and New Bussa was connected to the grid. Apart from New Bussa, Karabade, Dogo Gari, Munai, New Awuru and Wawa, which is the farthest covering about 10 kilometres, were also electrified. Many other communities that were resettled have not enjoyed electricity till today,” he said.
The current president of the Federation of Borgu Youths, Sadiq Aliu, lamented that power installations in Agwara and few other communities had been abandoned since 2007. He added that while some of the electric cables were vandalised, many poles caved in.
“The state government awarded a contract worth N300m for the rehabilitation of the installations two years ago but up till now, it has not been completed,” the president added.
Outage clouds Shiroro, Jebba
Aside from Kainji hydropower plant, Nigeria boasts of Jebba and Shiroro power plants with an installed capacity of 578MW and 600MW respectively. The three power stations are located in Niger State, with Kogi, Kwara and Kebbi states, where River Niger runs through, being among the host states.
After the power sector reform in 2005, management of the three power plants shifted from the defunct National Electric Power Authority to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, and now, under two electricity generating companies – Mainstream Energy Solutions Limited and North South Power Company Limited. The former manages Jebba and Kainji power plants while the latter runs Shiroro plant.
Like in Kainji, hundreds of host communities within Jebba and Shiroro dams languish in darkness because they had yet been connected to the national grid, said Muhammad Aliyu, a former coordinator, Hydro-electric Power Producing Area Development Electricity Commission.
According to Aliyu, over 250 host communities around Kainji and Shiroro dams are without electricity.
He stated, “In Zumba, Shiroro, where staff members of Niger North South Power Company reside, part of the community does not have electricity, school, road and drinkable water. In Jebba South (Kwara State) and Jebba North (Niger State), over 100 communities are in darkness. Also, several communities in Kogi and Kebbi states are affected.”
Aliyu blamed the ordeal of the resettled communities on the lack of continuity in the policy implementation occasioned by the change of government.
“There is no building the government will provide for people, most especially on compensation, without putting electricity there. Maybe the ministries saddled with that responsibility were not able to complete the project. That is the problem we have in this country,” he added.
Speaking with our correspondent, a resident of Shiroro, Sanni Yusuf, identified 27 of the communities without electricity as Manta, Gurmana, Bassa, Allawa, Chukuba,  Kwaki, Kurebe, Kushaka, Egwa, Gijiwa, Kato, Beri, Kokki, Magami.
Others are Jiko, Kini, Fiyi, Sundna, Gwaja, Jabuki, Sarkin Zama, Guto, Palalli, Yalwa, Kasumi, Ajata Aboki and Tsohon Gari.
Losses from hydropower-induced flooding
On a yearly basis, hydropower host communities battle with flooding caused by heavy rainfall and excess water discharge from the dams, thereby resulting in devastating losses. Many people are killed, houses submerged and hectares of farmlands destroyed in the process.
It was equally observed that the drainage system in the affected communities visited by our correspondent is either poor or non-existent.
Aliyu Abubakar, a rice farmer, was among the flood victims last year. The 29-year-old resident of Shagunu watched helplessly as water swept off his five hectares of rice farm in August, a month before the crop would be due for harvesting.
“I would have made about N200,000 from the sale of the rice,” he explained, his voice laden with sorrow. “The flood washed away everything.”
His friends, Azeez Muhammed and Kehinde Adelakun, from Oyo State, also recorded similar losses.
Statistics obtained from the Niger State Emergency Management Agency by Saturday PUNCH showed that “over 60 people” lost their lives to flooding from 2014 to July 2019 while “more than 600 communities with over 16,000 farmers were affected.”
The record obtained through the agency’s Director General, Muhammed Inga, stated further that “more than three million hectares of farmlands were destroyed during the period.”
It added, “The two major causes of flooding in Niger State are excess rain with high intensity and duration and releases of excess water by the three hydropower dams in the state. Since the creation of Niger State in 1976, the state has been experiencing flooding but the magnitude and impact vary.”
Despite suffering hardship from flooding, the host communities are plunged into darkness for decades and still counting.
Speaking with our correspondent at his New Bussa residence, the traditional ruler of Agwara, Alhaji Zakari Muhammed, highlighted the impact of the Kainji dam construction on the people of Borgu and their traditions.
The monarch said although he was not born when the dam started, he was told of thousands of historical sites and farmland lost to the project.
“Our ancient buildings and artifacts in the Old Borgu Kingdom were lost because we had to move from Old Bussa,” Muhammed recalled.
“Some of the cultural practices that we need to know now, we don’t know them. For example, we lost two of our traditional drums which are part of our history. They disappeared into the river. Also, the first palace of the Borgu Emirate was submerged which pains us the most.
“With all these sacrifices, we have not had electricity in Agwara in the past five decades. This can never happen in the South-East or South-South if the dam is in their domain. It is high time the Federal Government and the state government came to our aid. We are suffering.”
The Duatsu of Agwara also said the population of the council had been depleted with people leaving in droves due to the lack of electricity. “People doing business in the place have relocated because we are in darkness. The population is now meager,” he added.
Suffering communities, struggling HYPPADEC
HYPPADEC was established by an Act in 2010 to look into the ecological menace in the communities affected by hydro-electric dams. Curiously, nine years after its establishment was approved by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, the commission has yet to take off.
In a report in October 2017, the Senator representing Niger East, David Umar, said N150m was granted for the takeoff of HYPPADEC in 2017 out of which N18m was released to the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
But a former HYPPADEC boss, Aliyu, said the the government was still foot-dragging, urging that the commission should be inaugurated without further delay.
He explained that remittances were being made by electricity distribution and generating companies for the development of the affected communities, adding that the funds could only be accessed upon the inauguration of HYPPADEC.
He said, “The companies are mandated to remit 10 per cent of their monthly earnings to HYPPADEC. The funds are with the Federal Government. Presently, we should have between N5bn and N9bn, depending on the companies’ revenues. The money is supposed to be used for the development of the host communities.
“We are still pressurising the government to inaugurate HYPPADEC so that the commission can fight for the affected communities. In fact, as host communities, 10 per cent of the power being generated is supposed to serve them. They are supposed to be considered first before giving any locality or state electricity. It is not a favour; they earn it. Sadly before the privatisation, the government did not take these issues seriously.
“NERC, TCN and other agencies under the Ministry of Power are supposed to provide one project or another for the affected communities in their annual budgets. You cannot be a beneficiary while destroying the actual source.”
Aliyu added that the government did not take proper measures in resettling the displaced people.
Commenting on the electricity issue, the spokesperson for the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors, Mr Sunday Odutan, said the Rural Electrification Agency and other relevant stakeholders were in a position to explain the reason for the non-connection of the communities to the grid.
He said, “We are in support of all communities to be connected to the national grid. In the case of those who have not been connected, that is where the Rural Electrification Agency can help. You need to speak to other stakeholders why the host communities don’t have light. I really don’t know why they have not been connected.”
The Director of Promotion, Rural Electrification Agency, Mr Ayang Ogbe, told Saturday PUNCH that he had forwarded the enquiry on the issue to the agency’s director of project for appropriate comments. He asked that the agency be given some time to reply to the enquiry.
However, an official of the agency, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the agency, said the plight of the host communities without power predated the agency’s establishment.
The official said, “It does not have anything to do with the agency. That is the truth. NEPA came into existence in the 1970s before it metamorphosed. Rural Electrification Agency only came on board in 2005 via Electric Power Reform Act.
“When the dams were established, NEPA was in charge. They must have made some promises which they did not keep to and the agency was not established as of then.”
On his part, the Public Relations Officer of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, Mr Ndidi Mbah, has yet to reply to an enquiry on the electricity issue as of the time of filing this report on Friday.
Also, the spokesperson for the National Electricity Regulations Commission, Mr Usman Arabi, said he would find out why the affected communities weren’t connected to the grid.
He promised to get back to our correspondent, but he had yet to do so as of the time of going to the press.
However, the Managing Director, Mainstream Energy Solutions Limited, Mr Lamu Audu, in a response via text message, said most of the communities around Kainji and Jebba dams had been connected to the national grid.
The message added, “For example, New Bussa which was resettled because of Kainji Dam construction in the early 60s got connected by us in 2015 which eventually linked all other communities in that area to the grid. We can talk more about this issue.’’
Calls made to his mobile by our correspondent did not go through and he had yet to reply to a text message sent to him on Thursday, requesting why other resettled communities such as Shagunu and Amboshidi had not been connected to the grid.
Source: Punchng.com

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