Ochochepo Isa cast his net upon the water. It was a late September morning and the second time that day he was fishing at the Ikere Gorge Dam in Iseyin in Oyo State.
He looked forlorn. His catch had been poor, only 11 pieces of tilapia fish as of 2 p.m. “No fish in this river anymore,” shrugged the fisherman, an Idoma from Benue State in the north central region of Nigeria.
How can a 565 million cubic metres reservoir, the biggest in Southwest Nigeria, run out of fish?
Ikere Gorge Dam is one of the major dams constructed by the Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority to tap the water resources of the Ogun River basin.
But the reservoir now lays in ruins due to neglect.
Nigeria produces about one million tonnes of fish yearly – 313,231 metric tonnes from aquaculture and 759,828 metric tonnes from fisheries. That is less than half of the local demand of 2.7 million tonnes. To bridge the gap, the country imports over 600,000 tonnes of fish —primarily marine fish — annually.
In September 2019, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, said Nigeria spends about $1.2 billion annually on fish importation.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Nigeria is the fourth highest importer of fish in the world.
Aquaculture in general, and facilities like the Ikere Gorge Dam serving their purposes can help Nigeria produce enough fish domestically to meet local needs.
High fish permit, meagre returns
Water resources seem abundant in Ikere. But the challenges of infrastructural deficit and a creeping climate change have made fishing no longer a lucrative business in the town.
It was the fishing potential that attracted Mr Ochochepo to move from Benue with his family of six to Iseyin in South-west Nigeria in 2017.
He had been encouraged by his kinsmen who had lived in Iseyin for some time. But he has been underwhelmed since his arrival. The year 2020 was particularly a nightmarish year, Mr Ochochepo told the reporter.
“We have not really experienced constant rainfall this year. That is why the fish are not much. But whenever it begins to rain, the harvest increases.”
Experts say the call for global climate action has never been more crucial than now. Various researches say human activities such as bush burning and deforestation are contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer.
“The use of firewood for cooking, which is not a clean energy, is common in our rural communities,” Alison Adedayo, the Principal Consultant of the African Energy Advocacy Initiative, said.
“Felling of trees is an act of deforestation. It will depopulate trees in the environment which absorb carbon dioxide within the atmosphere,” Mrs Adedayo said.
Rivers also dry up through evaporation when this happens, she added.
Water shedding of the reservoir is another action that affects fishing.
“When they open the dam, the movement pattern of the fish changes and they become very difficult to catch,” a fisherman explained to the reporter in Ikere.
Many of the men and women exploring the Ikere Gorge Dam for fish said they catch between 10 and 20 pieces daily when the dry season is extended.
Depending on the size, they sell a piece of fish for between N100 and N200. Which means a lucky market day yields no more than N2000 for a fisherman.
Despite the environmental problems, Mr Ochochepo said they would catch more fish if they have good fishing equipment. He said the equipment would allow them to explore the dam more efficiently year round.
“There are some materials that can work throughout the seasons but we don’t have them here. With good materials, fishing will be fun,” he said.
But another fisherman, Simeon Johnson, was skeptical when asked how the government could intervene for them. He said although they pay for fishing permits, OORBDA provides them nothing in return other than access to the dam.
The agency used to charge each of the about 100 fishermen N2,500 yearly for a fishing permit but doubled it to N5,000 from 2018.
The state of the road to Iseyin also discourages traders from going there to buy fish.
“We eat our fish ourselves because the roads are not good to transport fish to the city,” Mr Johnson said.
The 30-kilometre road is in a deplorable condition. Pot-holes on the route turn a trip from Iseyin market to Ikere from a 45 minutes trip to a one hour 30 minutes nightmare.
A man recollected an accident on September 22, 2020, when a motorcycle conveying a Togolese couple and their young child to the farm ran into a truck. Only the child survived the accident, he said.
Failed hydropower project
The neglect of the dam affects more than fishing in Iseyin. The dam was designed to support a hydropower project, but lack of equipment and climate change have kept the project a mirage.
Most of the people in the area have no access to electricity.
Ali Yusuf, a fisherman, said he has lived in Iseyin for 25 years.
“If we have uninterrupted power supply, we will enjoy life more than those of you in the cities,” he said.
He said sitting in Spillway Camp in Ikere, relishing roasted fresh fish or alligator captured from their natural habitat, and without the humming vehicles of a busy metropolis, is like paradise. But noisy generators everywhere have stolen the paradise, Mr Yusuf said.
Mobile telecommunication services are also poor in the area.
The federal government flagged off a 33-KVA rural electrification project in the area years ago. But only the concrete poles stand as reminders of that project.
A hydropower project conceived with the dam by the government of Nigeria’s first elected president, Shehu Shagari, in the 1980s was also abandoned. Even the German company, Garbe, Lahmeyer & Co, that manufactured the two turbines intended for power generation from the dam folded up in 1993.
As a result of the 40-year abandonment of the project, the multi-million equipment including alternators, two turbines of 3-MW each and other electrical components are now rusty.
The 40-metre wide tunnel constructed for the project now serves as home for bats. The bats flipped their wings in the air as bulbs shone light on them when the project manager switched on the reservoir’s giant Perkins generator.
This tunnel – like most power-generating dams around Nigeria – is built under the 565 mcm (million cubic meters) reservoir. At the pinnacle of the tunnel, this reporter saw the Ikere Gorge Dam as it famously appears in literature books and the map. The network wires are stationed at that top – also for the power project.
During the reporter’s visit, the water level had reached the reservoir’s maximum capacity of 36mm and therefore needed to be shed of water to avoid the risk of the dam bursting and flooding the surrounding communities, according to Timothy Olu, the project manager of the dam.
The water shedding is the reason behind the fishermen’s complaints of the disruptive flow of the dam.
If the proposed power generation had been completed, water shedding would have been minimal.
Back in the tunnel, there are several tiny pipes. Some are now leaking water, making the tunnel slightly slippery. This particularly made climbing the 203 staircases that leads to the ‘rooftop’ dangerous.
At the foot of the tunnel also are two pent-stocks (pipes) that transport water from the dam. The pent-stocks have dual purposes. One is to supply clean water to its host state and irrigate 12,000 hectares of land.
The Water Corporation of Oyo State is in talks with OORBDA on providing clean water from the dam to the Oke-Ogun axis.
But the second purpose of conveying water to the turbines for hydropower generation remains a pipedream.
No change after concession
Late March 2019, the federal government approved the concession of five small and medium hydropower plants. The 6-MW Ikere Gorge Dam was concessioned to Messrs Power Control and Appliances Limited.
The 2MW Omi-Kampe Dam in Kogi was concessioned to Messrs Quaint Power and Infrastructure Nigeria Limited, while the 300 KW Zobe Dam, 4 MW Jibiya Dam in Katsina state and the 3-MW Bakolori Dam in Zamfara state were concessioned to Messrs Pan-African Global Infrastructure.
The power minister then, Babatunde Fashola, said the concessioning was to increase the nation’s power supply by 16.49MW and to cater for the power needs of their immediate and essentially rural communities.
However, there is no visible mark of Messrs Power Control and Appliances (PCA) Limited in Ikere since it got the facility.
The Managing Director of the company, Dayanand Kadam, directed the reporter to their spokesperson, Mr Ibrahim, who promised to reach back after checking details regarding the project. But he never did. A text message to remind him was also not acknowledged.
Power generation in Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa
In Nigeria, there is inadequate power supply from the national grid. The country’s peak power generation is 5,112 MW, according to the Nigeria Electricity System Operator.
Hydropower potential in Nigeria accounts for about 29 per cent of total electricity supply.
As quoted on the Presidency’s Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC)’s website, Ikere reservoir was designed to generate 3,750 units per hour of electricity through turbines and an estimated annual energy generation of 34,891,000 kw/h.
A megawatt of electricity can serve one thousand households on the average. This means the two turbines (6MW) should generate electricity for six thousand households.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) puts power in Nigeria at 12,522 MW installed capacity, out of which hydroelectric source provides 2,380 MW, representing 19 per cent.
Ghana, which taps power from Nigeria, has 4,399 MW installed capacity out of which hydroelectric source provides 1580 MW, representing 36 per cent.
South Africa, the second largest economy in Africa after Nigeria, has an installed capacity of 51,309 MW out of which its hydroelectric source is 661 MW, representing 1.29 per cent.
South Africa generates the largest megawatt of power among the three countries. While South Africa was generating 32,770 MW as of 2019, Nigeria generates 5,112 MW. Data further reveals that Nigeria has more households without power than both South Africa and Ghana combined.
20 million households live without power in Nigeria out of a population of 206 million while 1.2 million households are without power in Ghana out of a population of 32 million. South Africa has 2.2 million households without power out of 59 million living in the Southern Africa country.
Mrs Adedayo of the Principal Consultant at African Energy Advocacy Initiative said increasing power generation would expand Nigeria’s economy.
“The manufacturing sectors, for example, pay so much to generate power and run production. This affects their operating expenditures and automatically results in the inflation of cost of goods and services,” she said.
“A stable power supply is a key to removing the economic burden on Nigeria. So, abandoning power projects like Ikere Dam is of no good for Nigeria’s economy,” she added.
Authorities avoid questions on Ikere Dam
Efforts to obtain the comments of the ministry of power for this report were frustrated by its officials.
Aaron Artimas, the spokesperson to Sale Mamman, the minister of power, promised this reporter in their last telephone conversation on November 27, 2020, to reach back after consulting the “director in charge.”
But he never did at the time of the report.
OORBDA also refused to comment.
The Managing Director/CEO, Olufemi Odumosu did not respond to questions delivered through his secretary, Abiodun Ogundele on October 30.
(Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) through funding support from Ford Foundation).
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