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Fishermen in grief as fishes ‘go on strike’ in River Yobe

The river, which is a tributary of the Hadejia-Jama’are-Kumadugu basin, passes through hundreds of communities from Kano through Jigawa on the northern part and then…

The river, which is a tributary of the Hadejia-Jama’are-Kumadugu basin, passes through hundreds of communities from Kano through Jigawa on the northern part and then Bauchi State on the southern part and moves down to the Lake Chad through its pathway in Borno State.

Before now, the stretch of the river supported the economic fortunes of many people who engaged in irrigation, fishing and other water supported activities.

However, unlike what obtained some years back when the water freely flowed everyday of the year, the situation has changed as the fishermen only see the water for few months during the rainy season.

When Kanem Trust visited many towns and villages including Nguru, Karasuwa, Gashua, Garin Alkali, Bayamari, down to Geidam, it was discovered that fishermen and other people whose livelihood revolved around the River Yobe were in a state of confusion.

“These are not the best of times for us,” Imrana Sa’idu, one of the fishermen in Nguru, exclaimed.

He said the boats they were using to catch fishes were now an the banks of the river “because their (boats) usefulness is seriously threatened. There is no water and kachalla (typha grass) has colonised everywhere.”

“Fishes like tilapia, cat, electric, ‘tarwada’, ‘ karfasa’ among many others, have gone into oblivion,” he said, adding that while in the olden days, a fisherman could get a basketful of fish with little stress, it now takes many hours to catch few.

Suleiman Mohammed, an irrigation farmer in Karasuwa, equally cried out over the difficulties they are facing. “Tomatoes are very difficult to plant now because the water is not there,” he said.

He said many families now buy tomatoes because fresh ones were hard to come by. “A basket that ordinarily sold for N800 is now N4,000. In fact, it is even difficult to get,” he said.

“When you go to the river, the fish is not there,some people say its normal to have shortage of fish whenever the rainy season arrives but I am not sure if that is true,” Buba Sulaiman, a fisherman in Nguru, said.

He attributed the problem to a preponderance of typha grass which dries rivers. “We have been fishing for the past 30 years but the shortage this year is unique,” he said.

In Gashua, a carton of fish that sold for N2,000 in 2004 now costs N13,000. “The prices have skyrocketed and therefore, fish is no longer the delight of an average income person,” Ikechuku Obinna who claimed to be a fish monger from Onisha told Kanem Trust.

The Emir of Bade and Vice Chairman of the Yobe State Council of hiefs, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Suleiman, had expressed fears that the dwindling fortunes of the River Yobe has affected the social, cultural and economic lives of the people.

The emir said there was the need for complete overhaul of the basin so that economic activities could be revived.

Our correspondent learnt that even the Bade Fishing Festival which used to hold yearly, was suspended many years ago because the basis of the festival which is catching big fishes is no longer tenable.

“We only get finger size fishes now. It is really unfortunate,” Halima Salihu, a resident of Geidam town, said.

Dr Hassan Bidliya, the administrative secretary of the Hadejia-Jama’are-Kumadugu-Yobe Basin Trust Fund (HJKYB) said the estimated demand for water in the basin by formal users stands at about 2.6 times the available water now.

He said the basin was an area of dense population in a dry land region, with the population of over 15 million people critically and increasingly dependent on its scarce resources and an additional 15 million who equally relied on it to a greater extent.

Observers say at present, the basin which covers an area of about 148,000 square kilometres is under threat even though there are many interventions from governments and agencies at different levels.

Dr Bidliya said long term failures in the management of the river system and climatic variations, has also led to the blockage of channels by silts and invasive weeds and the consequent inundation or desiccation of thousands of hectares.

“As a result of the pervasions in the flow of the river water, poverty has been on the increase, having increased tenfold between 1998 and 2003 in some key localities. There has also been the loss of biodiversity, in particular, the loss of economically viable fish species,” Dr Bidliya observed.

 He said another cause of the problem was the collapse of the hydrological data bank of the basin in the 1980s which resulted in the pervasion in the flow of the river.

He said scarcity of water was the motive behind the formation of the HJKYB which came into being following an agreement between the federal government and the six states of Plateau, Bauchi, Kano, Jigawa, Borno and Yobe.

“The enormous challenges of how to address the problem has placed the integrity of the HJKYB at risk,” the administrative secretary said.

He said the Trust Fund had done a lot in terms of intervention and capacity building which according to him, began to yield results.

“We have executed infrastructural projects (gates, dykes and channel clearance) that facilitate the desired flow of water,” he said.

He said the Trust Fund had also taken steps to ensure adequate data collection along the basin so that water would get to its desired destination instead of flooding places that it is not needed.  

According to him, “primary data collectors are critical actors in the survival of the basin. They are the ones who will read and record according to standardized format, information on hydrology from the equipments that have been installed.”

Our correspondent reports that the federal government recently approved N300 million for the optimisation of the Tiga and Challawa dams which would allow free flow of water into the Hadejia-Jama’are-Kumadugu Basin.

“If that is done, we would be happy because many bread winners would go back to work,” Sunusi Tanko, a fisherman, said and like Tanko, many fishermen relying on the River Yobe believe that unless steps are taken, the hard times they currently face may only bite harder since fishes are nowhere to be found.

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