Saturday, 13 April 2013

Ikere Gorge Dam Must Not Die

Saturday, 23 March 2013 00:00 DEBO OLADIMEJI Saturday Magazine - Saturday Magazine Ikere Gorge Dam is about 35 kilometres to Iseyin, Oyo State. Apart from fishing and irrigation, the dam can generate six megawatts of electricity that can be linked to the national grid. Mr Emmanuel Oke, the vice chairman of Iseyin Elders’ Council spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on why the government should revive the dam. Why your present agitation for the revival of Ikere Dam? As the vice chairman of Iseyin Elders’ Council which was inaugurated by our Monarch, Oba Adekunle Salau, two years ago, I have been in the vanguard of trying to see that Ikere Gorge Dam does not die. Since 2004 I have been in that crusade. But my present position gives me a good opportunity to actually intensify my efforts to actualize my dream that Ikere Gorge Dam must not die. That is why I have been telling the government of Federal Republic of Nigeria to revive this dam. It is designed for electricity generation. It can produce six megawatts of electricity. As far back as 1983, the project was awarded to a French company to produce electricity. Subsequently, it was abandoned. The irrigation farm which the former president Olusegun Obasanjo commissioned in 2006 has never functioned. This is probably due to error during the start of the execution of the project. We are trying to request our government to ensure the irrigation farm is not dead. This will also provide jobs to our youths. A lot has been said about agriculture. It does not take long to produce rice. The dam was designed to have an irrigation farm of about 3000 hectares. It was meant to help Nigerians to produce more food and vegetables. Are there access roads to the dam? Today, there is no good road leading to Ikere Gorge Dam. The road that was constructed by the farmers remains there till today. Before the road became so bad so many institutions and universities used to go there for excursions. We appeal to the Federal Government to make sure that the Ikere Gorge Dam becomes one of the tourists havens in Nigeria. We also want the government to re-assess the electricity capability of Ikere Gorge Dam. If Akosombo Damin Ghana could produce 1,200 magawatts of electricity, Ikere Gorge Dam could do something similar or even better. A natural dam cannot be compared to an artificial one. What is the government now saying about the dam? The Minister of Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Reng Ochekpe, has been so fantastic. The two times we met her, she has attended to us. She even promised during our last visit that she would arrange fingerlings in millions to be dropped into this big dam. But then there is a problem: the dam is so expansive that the supervision may not be thorough. The fishermen should be educated not to use nets that will only catch fingerlings and subsequently destroy the intention of the minister. Recently, we noted that there is a pivot irrigation farm coming up. Pivot irrigation farm is now coming up. But this is so small for the people in the area. There is potential for market and tourism. The Federal Government has previously built chalets that could house tourists. You can go on the dam for about 40 kilometers. It is a natural gorge. Our main issue at that time was to appeal to the federal government to make sure that the access road leading to the dam is constructed. It will encourage first of all tourism. I had personally taken many students to the place before. But today, you cannot go there because of bad roads. I have been to Akosombo Dam in Ghana two times. It is about two and half hours by road from Accra city. Villages are springing up. Even at the back of Akosombo Dam, there is a commerce bank. Tourists from all over the world are now going there. The same thing can happen to Ikere Gorge Dam. If the road leading to the place is made motorable. What has been the efforts of the government to develop the place? The Western Nigerian Development Corporation, through Chief Obafemi Awolowo, discovered the dam and eventually transferred it to the Federal Government around 1950-51. Then the Western Nigerian Development Corporation also developed a big farm there by relocating the inhabitants. I do not know whether any farmer was compensated with ten kobo ever since. The starting point was very good. During the Awolowo period, there was a big farm. That could be compared to even in Argentina where meat production is their major mainstay. Around 1966, which I know very well, there were about 10,000 herds of cattle in this area. There was also a large cashew plantation. And it is a product of delight needed everywhere in the world. The oil and every other thing that can come out of it is very good. Why are you just waking up in letting the government know your ordeal? We have been helpless. There have been no political will. The irrigation project started as early as 1983. About three thousand hectare has been irrigated. There must be an error in the process, because no irrigation farm can be effectively monitored on diesel generator. Generators were to be used to provide water for irrigation. By that time diesel was about three naira per litre or even less. When these caterpillar generators were purchased. One of them can even produce electricity for a city as big as Abeokuta. What is the consumption of diesel they will need? They will need a minimum of 2000 litre of diesel for 8 hours farming. The owner of the dam is the Ministry of Water Resources. It is from there that all efforts will be going out. Can the private sector also invest in the project? Yes, but before the private sector comes in, the Federal Government has to do the visibility study of the place. We are glad that even the minister mentioned that private participation will be encouraged on or before the end of this year. Foreign and local investors may be interested to come and salvage the dam. The place is very peaceful. There is a peaceful interpersonal relationship between the people in the community and other ethnic groups fishing in the area. At the dam we have the people from Benue, Taraba, Ijaw living there and fishing peacefully. So when are you going back to do a follow-up with the minister? We are trying to collaborate with Ogun-Osun River Basin Development Authority. That is the Federal Government parastatal in charge of this dam. There activities have brought about the pivot irrigation farm in the area, our only plea is for them to expand the project. Many of our retired officers are trying to go back home. We have solders among them who are interested in farming. We need enough land for irrigation. But with just 20 hectares of land for irrigation, it is just not enough for the farmers. It is a starting point but we appeal to the government to see to it that people in this area are gainfully employed. The land is good for planting tomatoes. cucumber, water melon which can easily flow to Lagos. What do you think the state government can do? The state government, through the dam, can provide water for the whole of Oke Ogun. The dam was meant to provide pipe-borne water in those days to about four local governments. The problem is that water is not a sort of priority to the government because many people now make use of water from well and boreholes. I think it is a national issue. The water level at Ikere Gorge Dam is about 38 metres deep. Akosombo Dam is 36 metres. If there is the political will, Ikere Gorge Dam could be expanded at least three times. It is a natural fortune for human beings to enjoy. It is about six miles wide and 10 miles long. It is the source of Ogun River.

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