The sound of birds chirping and frogs croaking annoyingly loud are perhaps the first indication of what lie ahead as you make your way into Moro.
Tucked in the heart of large swathes of uncultivated land dotted by odd-looking trees and thick bushes in the extremes of Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State, the town, with about 3,000 inhabitants, is completely cut off from the eyes of the public – except for individuals, who know the area quite well.
Lacking traces of modern life or other elements suggesting normal daily living, the community, like the mystery surrounding many of its practices, is unique in many ways.
Arriving in the town, whose inhabitants are of the Ketu tribe and largely farmers, after about 40 minutes ride from Oja-Odan – a densely populated and semi-urban area more than 12 kilometres away – during a recent visit, our correspondent witnessed first-hand the plight of residents of the agrarian community.
Apart from being greeted by the sight of rash-infested faces as he made his way into Moro, more gruesome discoveries awaited our reporter as he trudged deeper into the sleepy town. With irritation of all kinds firmly settled on the skins of the locals – young and old – it was not so difficult to see how unpleasant life was in this part of the world. Combine this with the unfriendly smell emanating from the bodies of most of the residents – and a first-time visitor is sent into a state of temporary asphyxiation.
A barrage of challenges
Plagued by dozens of challenges that have since reduced daily existence to a living hell for many of Moro’s impoverished inhabitants, each day brings a different level of uncertainty to the area.
But more than anything else, it is the unavailability of potable water in this Ogun town and neighbouring settlements that has wreaked the most havoc on the land. From farmlands to the many old buildings dotting the landscape in Moro, the pitiable sight of dejection and fast fading hope is all your eyes show you.
“There is no word to describe our suffering in this community,” traditional head of the town, Nathaniel Esun, told Saturday PUNCH. “We wake up every day not knowing how to survive because of lack of water to do basic things.
“The closest source of water to us, which is about five kilometres away, is a pond of muddy water where Fulani herders mostly take their cows to for a drink.
“But because we don’t have options, we are most times forced to drink that same water and then fall ill for several days. We have complained to the local government authorities on several occasions about this problem but each time we go there, all they tell us is to keep enduring the situation.
“Our people are dying in droves as a result of the lack of clean water,” the 75-year-old added.
Indeed, life in Moro can be likened to swimming across a crocodile-infested lake. For instance, due to the lack of clean water, residents of this community are forced to go several days without even pouring a cup of water on their bodies. During the visit to the town, our correspondent discovered that what is generally regarded as bathing in the literal sense is not the same as the people’s definition here.
While in communities where there is adequate water supply, individuals wash their bodies at least once a day; in Moro, having a bath means dipping a small piece of cloth in muddy water to mop your skin once in 10 days. On some occasions, it could take up to two weeks before such ‘ritual’ is performed again.
To keep the skin moist and help combat irritation, those, who can afford it, apply heated palm oil over their bodies from time to time. It is the same for most of the town’s growing army of children, who as a result of the situation, go to school without bathing or brushing their teeth for at least 10 days.
That is not all. These young pupils, like the majority of Moro’s 3,000 inhabitants, only have the chance to wash their clothes, including school uniforms twice in six months. This is done when residents, in batches, take their dirty laundry, including those of kinsmen to Oja-Odan or Ibayan, where they spend at least two days trekking through bush paths. In between the three-month period, the people of Moro have to rely on an old method to keep their clothes a bit ‘fresh’ and wearable.
“Before the time arrives for us to take our clothes to wash in Oja-Odan or Ibayan, we try to keep them wearable by spreading them outside so that the sun can heat them,” Jonathan Adeisa, one of the town’s youth leaders, told our correspondent. “Due to the lack of water in our community, we only wash our clothes once in three months by going to those two places.
“As a result of this problem, we are only able to mop our face and few other body parts with a small piece of cloth once in 10 days, sometimes in two weeks, in fact.
“Our children, due to the lack of water, attend school without bathing or even washing their mouths. This is the kind of life we endure in this town,” he said.
To stay hydrated, most households in Moro where the average monthly income is around N4,000, have to buy 25 litres of clean water for N200 at faraway Oja-Odan to drink for several weeks. On days when luck deserts such families, the keg of water falls off motorbikes billed to deliver them, leaving households that can’t part ways with another N200 with only the option of settling for the muddy, unsafe water five kilometres away from the town.
“After toiling so hard to cough up N200 to buy water, sometimes, we never get them because they fall off motorcycles coming to deliver them,” Adeisa continued as he sheds more light into their predicament. “But when we are lucky to take delivery of such kegs of clean water, we preserve it like gold. We dare not use it to bathe or even wash our mouths because it is strictly for drinking, for at least three weeks,” he added.
According to the World Health Organisation, adults need to drink an average of two litres of water a day to stay healthy while children require half of that to function normally. But in Moro, the situation is a far cry to these recommendations by the global health body, raising fears of an impending catastrophe in the Ogun town.
Lamentations all the way
“The damage the lack of clean water is causing us in Moro is unquantifiable,” Adeisa, whose skin is not also free from the blemish prevalent on the bodies of most residents of this community, said.
Heat rash, eczema, ring worm and boil are common skin irritation here.
“As a result of this lack of clean water, diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea are common here,” the 50-year-old went on. “In fact, we have lost many of our relations over the years due to the muddy water available for drinking.
“We have tried several times to dig wells but have always been left disappointed after not finding any water. We are told that our land has limestone deposits in large quantity and this is preventing water from coming out of the ground irrespective of how deep we dig.
“The only time we are happy in this town is when there is heavy rainfall. Such periods always seem like there is a carnival because there’ll be enough water for everyone to drink, bathe, cook and do other domestic chores.
“But as soon as the rain stops, our problem surfaces again,” he said.
Decrying the disturbing situation on their health, a woman, who identified herself only as Iya Kemi, told Saturday PUNCH that many children in the community have developed swollen necks and a throat disease known in local parlance as ‘belubelu’ (Tonsillitis). This, according to her, is in addition to high body temperatures the kids also contend with for most part of the day due to severe heat and dehydration.
“Almost all the children in Moro have high body temperature and ‘belubelu’ due to lack of clean water,” she revealed. “Our skin is in terrible condition; rashes have taken all over our body.
“We cook with muddy water and even to get that, we have to trek up to five kilometres. This is really making life very difficult for us, especially as parents with little children,” she said.
Apart from the issue of poor hygiene in Moro due to lack of clean water in the area, the growing mortality rate among the young and old owing to a combination of other factors, makes the plight of residents in this Ogun town more pathetic, and in fact worrisome. For example, in the last five years alone, at least seven persons have died from ailments linked to the consumption of the muddy water found on the road leading into the town.
This is aside from a handful others currently battling all manners of health challenges also suspected to have been caused by the same issue. For family members of the dead and even those battling to stay alive, the brownish water five kilometres away from them is a constant reminder of the horror that may eventually consume them.
“My husband became a shadow of himself before finally dying in August last year,” Iyabo Esan, a 52-year-old widow, told Saturday PUNCH as she recalled her partner’s painful demise. “He complained of stomach pain on several occasions in the days leading to his death.
“When he visited the hospital for medical care, he was told that the bad water he was drinking was the cause of his sickness.
“He was told not to drink it again but because there was no better alternative, he had to continue to drink it. He died eventually, leaving me with the burden of taking care of four children alone,” the heartbroken woman added.
Barely able to walk without the aid of a cane these days, Biola Sanu, a 35-year-old father of two, told Saturday PUNCH that years of drinking the muddy water has damaged his right leg. According to him, medical examinations by doctors indicated that the problem was from the bad water he had been drinking.
“It is the bad water that we drink in this town that damaged my leg,” he said as tears slowly flooded his eyes. Doctors confirmed this to me when I visited the hospital recently. I am currently in pain and I find it very difficult to walk without a walking stick.
“I have spent practically all the money I have on drugs and other types of treatment. Many of our people have died from drinking this water, I just pray to God that I don’t eventually end up like them,” the emaciated and pale-looking young man added before finally succumbing to his emotions. It was the sight of a bruised man crying his heart out.
One community, numerous problems
In addition to the lack of potable water in Moro, the non-existence of a medical facility in the town and surrounding communities to cater to the health needs of the people means that residents continue to watch their loved ones fall by the day to preventable deaths. The closest hospital to them – more than 12 kilometres away at Oja-Odan – often times prove to be a refuge whose relative safety they never experience before tragedy strikes. Increasingly, Moro’s old and young have become endangered species in their own land.
“My sister died while being rushed to a hospital at Oja-Odan,” Olusin Tinuade, a young mother, told Saturday PUNCH. “She was pregnant and came to visit me at the time after I gave birth.
“On one of those days, she fell into labour but before we could get her to hospital that night, she died on the way. We have recorded several needless deaths in this town due to the lack of hospital.
“In fact, two years ago, I lost a child. The boy was drenched by rain while in school and by the time he got home, he had fallen ill.
The shambolic state of Moro’s only primary school further highlights the tough life residents of this town are made to contend with on a daily basis. Made up of a combination of decaying blocks, wood and palm fronds, the facility is a classic example of what an academic institution should not be.
With only four teachers, the school’s 120 pupils or thereabouts are crammed into about four classrooms that lack doors, windows and good roof to protect them from the elements. On occasions when the cloud opens its window, the ensuing downpour completely drenches the pupils and even teachers – automatically bringing learning to an abrupt end.
“Whenever it rains, we are usually drenched in the classroom,” eight-year-old Comfort, a Basic Three pupil, told our correspondent inside the school premises. “As a result of this, our teachers tell us to go home because we cannot learn in the rain.
“If the rain continues the next morning, we won’t go to school because the entire place would have been flooded,” the little girl added.
A handful of other pupils our correspondent interacted with during the visit though expressed worry over the decrepit state of their school; they showed more concern for the lack of potable water to cater for basic daily needs.
“We mostly find it hard to concentrate in class because of how uncomfortable we feel from not bathing regularly,” Olayemi Ige, a 10-year-old girl, who dreams of becoming a nurse, said. “Our bodies itch all the time due to the rash on our skin, making learning difficult for us at times.
“We want government to provide us with clean water so that we can wash our dirty school uniforms and have our baths regularly,” she added.
The lack of access to clean water in many rural communities across Nigeria has indeed reduced life to a living hell for most residents of such places. According to a June 2019 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organisation, one in three persons around the world today do not have access to safe drinking water. The report further states that the presence of contaminated water in such places, not only leads to poor hygiene, but also promotes the transmission of diseases like cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.
Laboratory test of the muddy water most of Moro’s residents drink conducted at a Federal Government-owned tertiary institution in Abeokuta, Ogun State, revealed several harmful organisms in the liquid. According to the experts that carried out the test, these deadly bacteria can cause severe gastroenteritis and other illnesses, eventually leading to death if untreated. The result further declared that the water was totally unfit for human consumption.
In a 2017 report, the UNICEF ranked Nigeria among the top five countries in the world with large number of people without access to safe water. To further put the problem in perspective, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in November 2016 disclosed that about 150,000 children die of diarrhoea-related diseases each year in Nigeria for drinking unsafe water. According to him, concerted efforts at all levels of society must be made to address this sad situation.
“About 150,000 children under the age of five die annually from diarrhoea-related diseases that are mostly traceable to unsafe drinking water.
“The situation is even more depressing in the rural areas where polluted ponds and streams remain the only source of water for drinking and other household chores. This trend must change,” he said.
Long road to ‘Canaan’
Goal six of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water. Though Nigeria is a signatory to that agreement, clean water is still far from the reach of many households, especially in rural communities today.
In the 2018 national budget, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources earmarked N155bn for irrigation and water supply – an amount the National Coordinator, Society for Water and Sanitation in Nigeria, Benson Attah, believes that is too poor compared to the volume of work at hand.
“The 2018 budgetary allocation to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources could be likened to a situation where a parent gives any toy to a weeping child in order to engage the child’s attention to enable them to go about other more important issues.
“In the document prepared by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources on the overview of water, sanitation and hygiene, the ministry claimed that Nigeria requires $2.74bn annually to achieve 100 per cent access to basic water supply and sanitation services by 2030.
“This is grossly low and far away from reality,” he said.
In November 2018, some members of the Nigerian Senate called for an investigation into spending on water supply in the country. Leading the call, lawmaker representing Kogi West Senatorial district, Dino Melaye, said there was an urgent need to monitor funds earmarked to provide clean water for citizens.
“There can be no better welfare than the provision of water for the people.
“There is a World Bank report that pipe-borne water on premises have declined from 32 per cent to seven and in rural areas, it has declined to one per cent.
“Nigeria needs to invest at least three times more to achieve SDGs goal,” he said.
When contacted over the plight of the residents of Moro, Chairman of Ketu Local Council Development Area, under whose control the town falls directly, Moses Adegbite, said that efforts have been made in the past to drill a borehole in the community but the topography of the area due to large deposit of limestone, made it difficult to have clean water. He however, admitted that they do not have the kind of funds required to provide potable water for Moro.
“We are aware of the challenges faced in Moro, especially the lack of clean water but at the moment we do not have the type of resources required to address that problem.
“In the past, we have tried to provide them with wells and borehole but because of the large limestone deposit in most parts of Yewa North Local Government Area, we couldn’t get water.
“There is water in nearby Ibeku, if we had the resources, we could have run pipes all the way from that place to Moro to at least alleviate the suffering of the people there,” he said.
Also, commenting on the issue, Chairman of Yewa North Local Government Area, Fatai Adeagbo, while revealing that all LCDAs under it are independent of their control, told Saturday PUNCH that they only play administrative role as the headquarters when the need arises. Speaking further, he disclosed that Ketu LCDA, like others, gets monthly allocations directly from the Ogun State Government and is responsible for providing amenities and developmental projects in its jurisdiction.
“The LCDAs are independent of the local government authority.
“The responsibility of embarking on developmental projects lies with them. They are the ones that can address the problem of water in Moro,” he said.
While those, who should alleviate their sufferings continue to drag foot on the ground, for the people of Moro, each day brings a different kind of toruble – one that may eventually consume them if help fails to arrive fast.