Jos: A PlaceWhere Water is Gold

A typical Jos resident, especially those that lived there in the ’90s and early ’20s would have a vivid mental picture of the water scarcity situation in Jos.

Water scarcity in Jos was terrible and it forms the greater part of my unfavourable childhood and teenage experience. Remembering what myself, my siblings, my friends and members of the whole community went through because of lack of water and search for water sometimes still makes me sad and laugh at thesame time.

I grew up in a suburban area in Jos city called Utan (you-tan). Utan is surrounded by mountains and rocks. Bedrocks cover most parts of the community. In fact, most houses don’t dig to lay foundations, because we build our houses on rocks, and because of this reason, most people could not dig any well. Only a very few people were lucky to have a little part of their compounds not blanketed by underground rocks. No one dug a borehole.

The last time we saw water dropping from a tap supplied by the government was in the early ’20s, somethings around 2001 and 2003.

We trekked as far as 4 kilometres away from home with empty plastic buckets and jerry cans, without any destination in mind, hunting for water. We go from one well to another along our path, some were completely dry and full of all manner of rubbish, while some that were suspected to have little water in them were locked with heavy padlocks by owners as a survival instinct. Water was gold.

If we managed to get water out of sheer luck, we would carry heavy buckets and jerry cans of at least 20 litres and trek back home. The irony of this long-walk that was supposed to be torturous and agonizing is that we didn’t usually feel the pain of the heavy water on our heads against our necks because we have grown up getting used to it, and also the joy of finally getting water alone was more than enough to neutralize any form of pain.

Smiling boy carrying water on the head

I remember the day I cried while carrying a heavy bucket of water from the usual long-distance. I was younger and my neck was not yet strong enough for the capacity of weight it was supporting. It felt like my neck was sinking down into my chest. When I got home, my Dad quickly dropped the bucket from my head and lifted me by the head as if he wanted to pull out my neck back to its position.

What my Dad did was a part of our major exercise routine growing up — neck stretching to release tension and stress from the necks of younger kids and girls, while teenage boys indulged in weight lifting to build muscles around the arms to enable them to lift heavy jerry cans of water with both hands from a long distance at a stretch without dropping them too often or at all depending on the distance.

Having many children was a blessing during the water-hunting season because one successful trip means you as a parent will get a drum-full of water. This could be the reason most families had at least five or six children — just maybe.

Those that had wells were the kings and queens of the community. Everyone would do anything to be in their good books, although their reigns sometimes come to a halt during intense dry seasons.

The ones that dug boreholes later in the ’20s when richer people began moving into the community were the real MVPs. Most of them sold their water, while others shut their gates against water-hungry nuisances.

We became so used to water scarcity that during raining seasons we would fill everything that has a hollow with water — drums, buckets, bowls, and even plates and spoons (laughs).

Every drop of water mattered. An average secondary school student back then in my community can count the number of times he or she had a full-bath throughout their stay in school. What we did was called Koskorima, a slogan given to washing only your face, limbs, armpits and feet. You can’t know your real complexion as a typical teenager, because almost every one of us was dark. Lack-of-water-induced-dark-complexion.

We spent most of our Saturdays travelling a long distance by foot to a small rafi (river) called Rafin Dani (River Dani.) The river is small and it was the only river serving hundreds of people from different neighbouring communities combined. If you get to Rafin Dani late, anything around 9 am upwards, just know you are using tea-brown-colour water to wash or you will wait till evening when those that washed in the morning had left, and the water had settled before you wash.

Fun Fact — Rafin Dani dries up during intense dry seasons. You mostly find water there during raining seasons and shortly after raining seasons.

In the place I grew up, the popular saying “Water is Life” has a concrete meaning.

Most houses built pit toilets. What is the essence of having a water system when you will still have to use your precious water to flush?

Those that insisted on having a Water System relied on soapy water gotten after washing and rinsing clothes to flush. In my house, you dared not throw away water after washing. There was a special bowl for collecting such water in the toilet.

But here in Lagos, the case is different. There is an abundance of water. In fact, 40% of Lagos is covered with water. You can find large water bodies all around you.

Almost every house has one or more bore-holes. Taps work occasionally, while those who live in less developed areas have wells always filled with water. Never have I heard nor experienced a dry season where people would be roaming about searching for water. There could be some areas suffering from water scarcity, but it cannot be as severe as the situation in Utan.

The rain is currently falling heavily here in Lagos as I am writing this. I stood close to my window and peeped outside, and I cannot see any bucket or drum placed directly under the roofs of buildings to collect rainwater. No one under the rain desperately collecting water and storing it. This will be a strange scene to a person coming from where I grew up.

It’s my fourth year here in Lagos and I can barely remember all my water-scarcity-ordeals as a young boy growing up in the Northern part of Nigeria.

It’s a pity that some people are still going through this same avoidable problem and even worst.

On a final note, anytime you pour away that bucket-full of water for no reason or that soapy water after washing, remember that you are pouring another man’s gold down the drain.

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David Akeju

David Akeju

I think, I research, I write.

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