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Doma Dam: A Long, Boring Wait

A drive along that road to the dam brings one face to face with the realities of decades of the pipedream, with some standing in…

A drive along that road to the dam brings one face to face with the realities of decades of the pipedream, with some standing in the form of the abandoned pipes or worn out signposts advertising various projects connected with the dam initiative. They are: the dam project itself, various unsuccessful projects of both the old Plateau State and the current Nasarawa State, to run water schemes for domestic supply and fishery conservation. The three projects have all been abandoned.

The dam project was initiated with fanfare as part of the noble dream of that administration to bring socio-economic development to the door steps of the communities connected there with. According to the Managing Director of the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority (LBRBDA), Engr. Usman Musa, whom our correspondent interviewed during a visit to the agency’s headquarters at kilometer 10, Makurdi-Otukpo road in Makurdi, Benue State, Doma dam was initiated to serve three purposes: irrigation, fisheries and domestic water supply to a host of communities spread even far off. The project was handled by the then Nigeria Construction Consortium Limited (NCC).

The dam was constructed off River Ohina which links the communities of Ohina, Aragye, Gongon Lemu, Ruwan Bake, Umaku in the present day Doma, Nasarawa State and a couple of other local government areas of Nasarawa State. The dam runs 16 kilometers in length, with the content of over 35 million cubic metres of water. It provides a natural habitat for various aquatic life, including fishes of many species.

When the military coup of December 31, 1983 terminated the administration of Shehu Shagari, many ongoing projects were immediately stalled. Doma dam was one of such projects as the regime of General Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon had no time to attend to it before the coup that brought in the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida on August 27, 1985, ousted it. Like that of Buhari, Babangida’s administration did not look the way of Doma. UTC was frustrated. The multi-national company then pulled out its engineers, sacked the local workforce – the labourers, which the local Doma people called liebera. The company also abandoned many of its equipment at the various sites where work was ongoing, when the coups took place. A visit to the dam confirmed this, as it brought our correspondent face to face with earth moving machines abandoned at the gateway to the project. There also lie tippers, cranes, graders, excavators, and all such heavy equipment. They have become worn out by the past three decades of sun, rain and disuse. But the equipment remind visitors to the dam of the good old era when the Nigerian governments had a vision, and worked to meet the people’s aspirations. The equipment have all been over grown by shrubs, with some overgrown by trees.

Like the equipment, the large pipes that litter the farmlands of Doma, kilometers away from the dam, are the physical aspects of the pipedream to take pressured water from the dam, and sprinkle on crops. The pipes are rusty from the three decades of exposure to rain and sun, with some of them half covered by the fertile soil of Doma. They lie in lengths, choked by shrubs and the roots of trees, that have grown over them in the last three decades. They have taken over the very farmlands that they would have been irrigating, if the noble project had not been abandoned mid way.

The IBB administration, nevertheless, sprang a surprise, bringing another contractor, UTC to site for some rehabilitation. UTC provided the complete installation of the machinery needed at the engine house to pump water to farms: water pumps, panels and generators for power supply. Pipes were laid from the dam up to Rutu, some distance from Doma. In all, 20,000 hectares of land around Doma was projected for gravity irrigation. But the administration of IBB saw to the laying of only 1,500 pipes, covering 1,600 hectares,  to make up for a part of the Phase I.  UTC engineers test ran the irrigation system, using the gravity system that was installed. But the main pumps were not used. Only the auxiliary pumps were used, records at the headquarters of LBRBDA show.

The administration went ahead to commission the Phase I of the project in 1988. Between then and 1998, a couple of skeletal farming activities took place, with crops like water melon and maize grown on a small scale. Inquiries at the headquarters of the agency showed that a onetime military governor of Benue State, Col. Idris Garba, cultivated 10 hectares of maize in Doma, using the skeletal irrigation system.

But the Phase I of the project did not stand  the test of time, as the pipes began to burst because of high pressure from the gravity system, just as the usual Nigerian problem of inadequate funding hampered the general function of the project. Even the test run was done using alternate power arrangements – the three number 500kva generators with high diesel consumption. When the purse of the agency began to shrink, the generators were abandoned, culminating in the complete abandonment of the skeletal irrigation system.

Our correspondent observed during the visit that the dam and its pump house, give the impression of a grave yard, with nobody in the vicinity, apart from seven sleeping guards living in some makeshift structures. Only one of them – a skinny Mr. Joseph Gonsa, was around when this reporter entered the yard of the pump house. He was obviously bored, and waiting for an opportunity for anybody to stray in, so he will engage in some talk to kill time.

Gonsa, in his mid 40s , was happy to receive this reporter. But the issues he had good authority to speak on, were only those of the quietness of the area, the fishes that show up occasionally and the worms that come out to eat them up instead of the other way round.  The hunger and boredom that have become permanent companions to him and his colleagues, the starvation wage which hardly comes, or comes only in arrears, the over 10 years of guarding rusty and abandoned Doma Dam pump house, were also some of the issues that interested him. He spoke very well on these issues, carefully avoiding inquiries on the dam project and its pump house.

But this reporter went round capturing vividly, the decay that has attended the engineering installations. The entire premises is overtaken by thick grass and shrubs, playing host to reptiles and rodents , while the concrete  that was  provided for the foundation  of the steel houses , have attracted thick layers of spirogyra, often baked by the afternoon sun.

Four large water pumps still stand firm in the pump house, but are merely another physical aspect of the dream that has not been realized, three decades after. They have attracted layers of dust, so thick that the blue colour on them has been buried. The cobwebs that have taken over the large room are so thick, such that the spiders have no space to lay new ones.

Few metres from the pump house stands the project’s panel house, another installation for the complicated water engineering project. The small, steel house is hardly visible from the thick grass and shrubs   that have sandwiched it.

This reporter went down the dam itself. Sixteen kilometers lie there in length wasting, with water content that was initially over 35 million cubic metres. This dam has not been put to any good use apart from fishing. But the water content must have drastically reduced, because it has silted much, and the authorities at the LBRBDA in Makurdi confirmed, although they would not want to be quoted. Now, the dam is hardly two feet deep, and the base is obvious from sight. Water hyacinths have also taken over with weeds encroaching deep into the body of the water. The fishes which show up occasionally are mere fingerlings, as fishermen have long depleted the dam of any life. They have, during the past three decades, indulged in various dangerous fishing practices, entering the dam with chemicals and dragnets, and clearing it of fishes. Now, not a good quantity of fish breed there, as the chemicals have affected the habitat that was once Doma dam.

At the edge of the dam sits what was once a Jukun hamlet of fishermen and women. It is called Jukun Camp. It was a growing community of over 30 people, an elder, Pa Ilimia Alahaji, told this reporter, saying Jukun Camp used to bustle with commercial activities of buying and selling, when the dam was functioning. Now, Jukun Camp has only two families: that of Pa Alahaji and his kinsman, Pa Bulus Adawon. The former is about 70, and the latter about 57. Both have lived there for over 20 years, having reached the banks of the dam for fishing, when it was barely old enough to breed fish.

“I came from Cameroon, where I was staying with my wife and first children. We reached here about 20 years ago. A few years later, the rest of the people started coming. It was a burstling community of fishermen and business was good, because the dam had good fish in great numbers.

“Now, there is nothing in it, as you can see yourself, nothing. And so, the rest of the people have left. Some have gone to Makurdi and others to Ibi in neighbouring Benue and Taraba States. We are now only two families left. But we too are on our way out of Doma dam”, Pa Alahaji told this reporter in Hausa.

This reporter sighted two dragnets spread on one of the hovels housing the Alahajis. It was freshly removed from the dam. Alahaji’s first son, Samuel and his newly married wife, were sorting the catch of the day – fingerlings, barely the size of an adult’s little finger. “Even this, we have not seen in the past one week. We have not been making catches. There is noting there to catch”, Samuel said.

At the barely roofed shanty standing as family kitchen, a clay pot of family size boiled on top of blazing firewood. The aroma that issued from the local spices was great. The content was smoked fingerlings of the past couple of weeks. Alahaji’s first daughter, Lydia, tasted the soup for salt. “Traders don’t come any more to buy. So we cook and eat the catch, while we prepare to leave the Doma dam”, Lidia, a 30 year old spinster said. Her dream is to leave Doma dam to run into some luck in a bustling city, and marry a man there. She offered this reporter some fish from the boiling pot.

Opposite Jukun Camp is the massive water works of the Nasarawa State Government, called the Doma Water Supply Scheme. It is an inheritance from the old water works of the former Plateau State which was constructed by SCC Nigeria Limited and commissioned by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha on September 21, 1995. Staff of the water scheme and their families were busy doing their Saturday clean-up. Basins of water newly fetched from the dam stood by. They have been entering the dam to fetch water for domestic use at the staff quarters, suggesting that the water scheme has not been serving, or at best, functioning on a skeletal level. They insisted on not saying anything to this reporter, as it was against government orders. Sunday Trust however recalls that the administration of Governor Aliyu Akwe Doma awarded a contract to rehabilitate the water scheme, with ongoing plans to extend water supply to neighboring towns and villages. Government showed serious commitment on this project, in spite of dwindling resources, and epileptic power supply. Abdullahi Oga, the former commissioner for Water Resources in the state, had said government procured an additional 1000kva generator to keep steady power supply, raising the supply level from 1.5 million gallons a day, to the designed supply level of 3 million gallons per day. But staff and their families at the foot of the water plant were fetching from the dam for domestic use, just as the densely populated town of Doma was busy with water vendors who are making brisk business, selling the scarce commodity for N10 per 20lt jerry can of water, from the many individual boreholes.

Sunday Trust sought comments about the dam and its three planned projects of irrigation farming, water supply and fishery conservation. The traditional ruler of Adudu in Obi local government area, Alhaji Mohammed Abdullahi, commended the initiative that saw to the construction of the Doma dam project. He called it “a fulfilled dream of the Shagari administration”, explaining that “it was executed according to specification and the job was nearly 100 percent completed.” He said the problem of the dam project is the usual Nigerian government attitude, where successive administrations would not go on with projects started by their predecessors. “In fact, IBB praised the regime of Shagari that constructed the dam. I think lack of continuity and finances hampered the dam project.” He recalled that Yahaya Attah was the minister for water resources who awarded the dam contract, while Hassan Mohammed was chairman of LBRBDA at that time.

An elderly farmer in Doma who gave his name only as Oga, described the dam as a drain of public funds, explaining that it has served no purpose, in spite of the noble dream that went with it. “Farmers, even around the dam depend on the short rainy season for cropping water supply is only a campaign promise by politicians and successive administrations in the state and fishery is a forgotten venture there, because government failed to regulate the fishing practice, giving room for illicit fishing practices like application of chemicals.”

Arago, another farmer whom Sunday Trust met on his farm along the road linking Doma with the dam, pointed at the rusty pipes that littered the farmland, and commented, “we can’t farm on this portion of the land and yet the pipes can’t give us water to water our crops,” describing the dam project as a pipedream for farmers.

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