In Ballah, a community in the Asa Local Government Area of Kwara State, the dry season comes with many challenges for farmers. The agrarian community experiences a shortage of water supply during this season, frustrating the activities of the peasant farmers.
Isiaka Anafi, a youth leader in the area, said farmers prefer to engage in other menial jobs for survival during the dry season. This has been happening for many years, but in 2012, Moshood Mustapha, a federal lawmaker, raised their hope when he nominated a N100 million irrigation project.’
Representing Asa/Ilorin West Constituency at the House of Representatives, Mr Mustapha reckoned to erect the project on the 25 hectares of land in the Ballah community. The project was meant to provide irrigation water drawn by damming the River Aro, a popular stream in the area, for farmers.
But a decade later, the project remains abandoned, dashing the hope of poor farmers in the community.
“We hoped the project would end our frustration and sustain our farming during dry seasons, but we lost that hope when the project was abandoned and uncompleted,” Mr Anafi said.
Mr Anafi is not alone. UDEME interviewed several other farmers who expressed their resentment over the failed project despite promises by the lawmaker that initiated it.
“During the dry season, we look for other work to do so that we can put food on the table for our family,” said Akinola Samson, another farmer in the area. “We farm less during the dry season.”
N100 million irrigation project rotting away
When the UDEME reporter visited the Ballah community in April 2022, he discovered no irrigation water project existed. As he ventured into the community, he observed that the project signpost was erected on the roadside.
This reporter also observed that the River Aro, the proposed source stream to be dammed to impound water which would be used for the irrigation, was running dry. Even in the rainy season, farmers said the river does not reach a volume high enough for such irrigation, suggesting a poor feasibility study before the commencement of the project.
David Ojuade, a farmer who has farmed in the community for over 44 years, said the farmers in the area had hoped the project would end their frustration during the dry season but have now been disappointed.
“They knew the irrigation would never work in that area. That’s why they left,” Mr Ojuade said with frustration written all over his face. “The river from which they wanted to use as the source does not always have water, especially during the dry season.”
Investigations by UDEME revealed that the project was awarded by the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority (LNRBDA), a public scheme created to harness and develop the nation’s water resource potentials, to TOS Global Concept Ventures Limited for about N100 million (N99,606,937.50).
Over N90 million was disbursed to the company for the project with a two-month deadline to complete the work, according to information provided by the LNRBDA.
A response to the FOI from the LNRBDA revealed that the project was planned to be in three phases, but only the first phase was executed. The response detailed that the project’s aim is yet to be achieved because Mr Mustapha or his successors didn’t nominate the project for continuation for other phases in subsequent year’s budgets, which include the “construction of a dam” and the “provision of irrigation infrastructure.”
“The 1st phase was the provision of basic infrastructure which included a 2km project access and farm road, clearing of 25 Ha (hectares) of irrigation field, 5 nos concrete ring culverts, construction of project office/accommodation and installation of a solar-powered borehole with overhead tanks,” the FOI response reads in part.
The LNRBDA stated that all the items in the 1st phase were completed. However, a visit by UDEME found that these items were shoddily executed, and some were already vandalised.
The graded farm road is now bumpy due to erosion, and the 2km asphalt access road is filled with terrible potholes.
Oguntundun Josiah, a farmer, said the road would have been better if they left it the way it was than how they constructed it poorly.
“To ride or drive through the road they constructed, you’ll experience more pain in your body, adding to the stress you had after farm work.”
The solar-powered borehole has also become history as it no longer exists on the site.
“The borehole first worked for like five months, but suddenly it just stopped, and we couldn’t repair it,” Mr Josiah stated.
Reacting to the claim that LNRBDA allocated some farmland to them to facilitate the project, Mr Josiah said they were occupants of the land they currently farm before the project.
“Although they said they will allocate it to us for farming, we even formed a ‘farmer association’ then, but when they didn’t come to do anything there again, everyone kept using the land area they occupied before.”
Other farmers corroborated his story.
New project in the mud
Unfortunately, the borehole project tagged “the rained agricultural farmland project,” was shoddily executed by the contractors. Residents said it was executed in 2013.
UDEME observed that the borehole had been vandalised and no component remains on the spot except the foundation base of the stanchion, which is now covered with grasses. Broken pipes were observed all around the area and the pumping machine is gone.
“Unknown people started vandalising it till no component of it exists again,” Mr Josiah stated.
UDEME couldn’t speak to any females as only men were farmers occupying the farmland. Their female relatives live miles away from the isolated farmlands.
When contacted, the contractor, Sangoyomi Kayode, asked that all inquiries be directed to the agency that awarded him the contract.
“The youth there said they are not releasing the land.
Boreholes were put in place,” he said. “But ask the client because I don’t want to say what I don’t know.”
Although he was evasive in his response, the contractor suggested that a lingering land dispute on the project site stalled the execution of the work.
When contacted, Zainab Ghali, the FOI Desk Officer of LNRBDA, said construction work could not continue on the site due to the grievance expressed by the original owners of the land.
Although N5 million was allocated in the project’s ‘Bill of Quantity’ as compensation to the land owners, LNRBDA said it was not released to the contractor because he couldn’t present the requisite details of the beneficiaries.
The amount is part of the contractor’s outstanding balance of N8 million on hold by LNRBDA.
Mr Mustapha, the lawmaker who initiated the project, ignored our inquiries and failed to respond to several calls and messages placed on his lines.
However, Isiaka Busari, an expert in irrigation engineering, said the government should avoid inconsistency in budgetary provisions for projects leading to abandoned projects littering the country.
Reacting to UDEME’s findings in this report, he said any irrigation project can only be achieved when there is water availability, adding that the water source has to be examined alongside an accurate feasibility study.
“There is no doubt that you can use boreholes to do irrigation. People have been using it, especially in South Africa, and they use it in other countries too. So we use boreholes to irrigate successfully provided you do all the needful,” Mr Busari said.
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