So close, yet so far: The water problem in Fori community of Borno



Things can be so close, but yet so far.

This community is surrounded by what ought to be a formidable source of water, a river, but the ‘taps still don’t run’.

The community is said to have ‘200, 000 houses’ by Shettima Lawan, the bulama—a local traditional leader in charge of a ward—but that is obviously inaccurate.

This obvious exaggeration buttresses the extent of how dense the community is; but the figure is not even up to a tenth of the figure.

The community and the challenges of getting water:

The community is Fogoli—but the name has already been corrupted in popular use as Fori.

Despite its location next to a river, water is one of this rapidly developing community’s problem.

‘We usually wait until around 11pm - 12 am at night to fetch water because there is less queue during that time,’ a young girl, who has now normalized as her routine, and grows up to know fetching from hand-pump boreholes as the only way to have water, said.

This is true for almost every young boy or girl, except for a few who have the boreholes drilled in their houses.

Buying from the carts

Other households have learnt to make-do with buying from the several cart-pushers crisscrossing the town—without minding about the source, despite growing cases of kidney infections, cholera and other environmental hazards.

A cart of 14 gallons of 20lt goes for between N200 and N300.

Fetching from community boreholes

Others who cannot afford to buy it, have to scramble for whatever community borehole built by non-governmental organizations or philanthropists—often by trekking long distances in desperate searches.

While some pay through the nose to get water, others said they walk for several miles to fetch it, mostly from handpump boreholes.

The river

The river behind the community also serves as a source of water, mainly for washing of cloths and dishes to some members of the community.

‘As an internally displaced persons in this community, we struggle every day to fetch water because we cannot afford to buy from vendors. I fetch it myself because none of my children are here with me,’ Rahmatu Hassan, mother of seven said.

Rahmatu now doesn’t know what to think about between four of her children in captivity of Boko Haram and the realities of looking for water every morning.

The previous model of 50-year old Hajiya Malikat Abdullahi—which she however said she can no longer do because of fitness concerns and age—is to, every week, hire a cart at N200, with which to fetch water from commercial boreholes.

What she used to pay at the commercial boreholes, she did not say.

In any case, she has also joined those who pay through the nose to ‘run the taps.’

Like Fori, water supply is a problem to many communities across the state.

Despite several water-related projects and programs by the federal and state governments, as well as years of intense WASH interventions by nongovernmental organizations, some local communities still face such problems within and outside the state’s capital.

They are mostly cut off from government water sources—or were never at any time connected—and thus resort to alternative means.

The case of Fori is peculiar.

The source of the problem

It was cut from the main government source in over 30 years of neglect.

The pipes have been damaged, the reticulation channels are blocked and mother of it all, they are neglected.

Mr. Lawan, the bulama, gave a background to the problem.

Several decades ago, he said the people used what they called Kile.

Kile is a Kanuri (language) term—and it means the local way in which the people source water by digging pits in river banks.

‘With that method, the water is as clean as stream water but due to increase in population and the chemicalization of the water during treatment at the Bono State Water Treatment Plant,’ the people can no longer use it.

Mohammed Goni, former governor of the state between 1979 and 1983, carried out a major water project, under which Fori was connected to a government source.

Even though that is in a state of complete disrepair now, it would still not have met the needs of the increasing population of the people, which has become multiple folds the size when the project was carried out.

New buildings and housing projects further helped to worsen the damage of the water networks—thanks to the abuse of town planning master plan.

The Gov. Goni project extended the water network to Fori, from Galtimari, a township immediately next to it.

The social problem

But there lies the problem now: the major connecting channel has remained blocked and disconnected for decades now.

More than being just a technical problem, the major obstacle is social, various people from the community say.

The Galtimari community is accused of preventing whatever effort invested in repairing the technical problems.

Rivalry between the two communities

The reason given to YERWA EXPRESS NEWS by locals in both communities is not too clear, as they largely attribute it to ‘some sort of rivalry between the two communities.’

The source or reason for whatever this rivalry is about, which they say is longstanding, nobody is willing, or probably in position, to tell—and this paper cannot also immediately establish.

Those familiar with the ‘cold war’, said the rivalry is expressed in such things as local football matches, women (as they only rarely cross-marry) and even house rents, among others.

The bulama further said despite government intervention, this obscure rivalry did not end and the water problem continued to linger for decades.

‘To avoid conflict, we took the matter to the state government to intervene and have met several times with directors and the commissioner of water resources some years ago.

‘Some of them even came and examined the channel in Galtimari and said that it will cost just about a million Naira to fix the problem. They leave here with promises of forwarding it to their superiors for action, but all is still in vain,’ he explained.

Mr. Shettima said that the only government intervention to help the situation is the building of two solar powered boreholes in the community—both of which are also still not functioning.

‘The solar inverters were stolen over a year ago and we could not get another one ever since,’ he noted.

The people now look forward to NGOs, philanthropists

The community is now at the mercy of many NGOs’ and philanthropists’ interventions.

Few hand pump boreholes dot various parts of the township, still with many in state of disrepair.

There is a bad maintenance culture, further worsened by misuse, everything in the community shows.

‘This handpump boreholes are not sustainable, it gets spoiled every few days and people get tired of the continuous repair and because it is a public facility, there is no room for adequate management on how it should operate to last long,’ he added.

An expert’s background to water projects in Borno

While water supply systems are as old as government itself, so are challenges associated to them.

In Borno State, the major intervention taken by government to end these challenges, was during Governor Goni’s regime, 1979 – 1983—after which successive government followed with intervention or the other.

Musa Ali Marte, a geologist and engineer, who had worked in major water projects in the state, gave our reporters a hint about the situation.

Of the three phases of the state sustainable water supply master plan, he said only the first was successfully implemented.

He recalled that the phases include sourcing water from rivers sources, including through treatment and chemicalization of rivers, building of dams and laying down reticulation pipes.

In this way, he said the Damboa, Biu and Gwoza dams were built.

Other are in Damaturu and Potiskum, now in Yobe State, before they were carved out of Borno in 1996.

He explained that if all the three phases were implemented, the challenges would have been long laid to rest or minimized to the barest.

Some of the areas not currently connected to the government water system, he said, were part of the second and third phases.

According to Engr. Marte, who was also a former permanent secretary and secretary to the state government, SSG of Borno, the first phase covered areas such as GRA, Gwange and up-to railway crossing along Damaturu-Kano-road.

The second phase was to include areas like Baga Road and Pompomari, among other places.

The target for the first phase was to provide water to 1.6 million people, with a surplus of 400, 000—while the second and third were to meet the need of the increasing population.

How government can solve the situation

The SSG said that the provision of boreholes will be an easy and quick solution, but he warned that the concentration of many boreholes in a given location will affect the aquifer, the source of the ground water.

He said although the establishment and management of a treatment plant is expensive, it is more sustainable and effective.

However, he added that small communities can be sustained with provision of boreholes, especially with a good arrangement for its maintenance.

Engr. Marte advised the government to proceed with the initial plan and implement the second and third phases of the master plan, which he believes can solve some of the major water supply challenges in the state.

Efforts to get government’s position failed

Our reporter tried to get the position of the relevant government authorities over the matter, but to avail.

The procedure he was asked to follow to get the audience of commissioner at the ministry of water resources—of writing a letter with questions beforehand—does also not conform to our editorial policy in the subject under review.

Other challenges

Fori is rapidly growing—and largely by itself with little or no recourse to town planning.

As such, there is an increasing need for drainage systems, tarred roads and other basic amenities.

Large parts of the township become inaccessible every raining season, as everywhere is littered with water.

It is facing a case of imminent flood.

‘We use to have occasional meeting with some farmers and local leaders like myself on how to avoid tempering of road networks but only little is done to sanitize it,’ Bulama Shettima said.

‘We are not even demanding for so much from the government, don’t even talk about building road, only a drainage system or a gutter that will channel water into the river behind us. That is enough for us so that we can have a healthy environment during the raining season.’

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