SAFE DRINKING WATER, A RIGHT OF EVERY NIGERIAN -AKONOBI

By NBF News
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Every household in a variety of situations on daily basis uses clean water.  Water is needed, in addition to drinking, for bathing and washing of all sorts of things.  From the clothes we put on our bodies to the cooking utensils, etc.  Clean water is also used in preparation of some drinks.

So, water is not just needed to maintain the biological fluid equilibrium of the human body, but also to keep our surrounding clean to reduce incidences of water transmitted and related diseases.

Unfortunately 'access to safe drinking water in Nigeria is far less than 30% on the aggregate' and that 'denial of portable water is a major source of water borne diseases, in particular among the rural and urban poor, and reductions in life expectancy'. In a chat with Daily Sun, Chief (Engr.) M. Akonobi, MD/CEO of Sylko Water - a major sachet/bottled water production company in Lagos, Nigeria discussed the need to provide safe drinking water to Nigerians.

Provision of safe drinking water to Nigerian citizens.  Whose responsibility?

There is this Igbo adage that says that 'mmiri bu ndu azu', which literally translates to 'water is the life of Fish' The Wikipedia notes that '… body water is 75 percent of the water content of the body.  A significant fraction of the human body is water'.  What this means is that water is not just good for the fish but to all humans and other living things.

Good water is the reason the United Nations (UN) general assembly designated March 22nd every year as the World day for water.' It further noted that over 1.8 million deaths, the world over, is directly or indirectly caused by water related diseases.  Incredible this is.   This seems even more devastating when you look at the statistics provided by the Ministry of Water Resources – that about 317 Nigerian kids under the age of 5 years die yearly due to lack of access to portable water.  What is more dangerous than that? Elsewhere there is avalanche of presentations on the need for portable water.

So it would seem that
everybody is aware that there is need for Nigerian Government to make haste and increase access to good water to her citizenry.  It is evident from all discussion on portable water availability that there is unison amongst discussants that water is necessary for life on earth.  This is just reinforcement to natural instinct. Whereas some other elements of life are elitist in nature – such as motor cars, travelling by air, wearing expensive ornaments and jewelry, etc – water requirement is just like breathing in and out of air.

Remedy
Because of this scourge, my conscience prevailed on me in 1999 to start a water company with the initial objective of meeting the country's need for clean, purified good drinking water to the Nigerian populace. Later the company diversified into bottled water.

The demand was so high but the process of production was poor and unhygienic. My company, Paul Silk, was the first to pioneer the most modern way of table water production with his initial deployment of form, filled and sealed packaging system. Very improved and technologically most modern system of production was employed. Our Goal is to ensure Silk becomes a number one brand.

Today, Silk water is a household name in Lagos and its environs. We have continued to receive long-standing good will and brand loyalty from people over 20 years. As one of the pioneering leaders in mechanized sachet water production, our products (sachet and table water) are accepted in all sectors.

Challenges;
My company spends not less than six hundred thousand naira (N600, 000.00) monthly on electricity provision.  This is in addition to other major components, machineries and packaging materials.  And more embarrassing is the activities of the agents of government who come with all manners of taxations.

And I know this is what obtains in the entire table water production companies across the breath of Nigeria.

This is where one finds it difficult to understand the kind of governments we have in Nigeria.  A government that cannot provide portable water, that cannot provide electricity, that cannot provide good road and yet goes about harassing private companies who are supposed to be seen as compatriots in the building of a nation. If government cannot provide these amenities due to corruption, can't government wave taxes for these

Companies?  This would have become a subtle incentive to encourage them to fill the gap governments have failed to provide for the citizenry. We pay a lot of local government levies, mobile adverts, tenement levies and taxes. These monies we pay is so much for a company of our magnitude so it seems like the government is not encouraging the small and medium scale enterprises based on the levies they impose.

The cost of raw materials for this business has been on the increase for years but the price of sachet water has remained N5.00 without regards for this increase.

The cost of production has risen to over 400% and this affects the productivity of the company as all efforts to increase sachet price has been met with hostile resistance. On one occasion, one of our drivers suffered injury and had his vehicle windscreen smashed when some students staged a riot over a price hike on one of the campuses.

Share of the market
We have a very stronghold in the Apapa area; the entire Apapa local Government, Lagos Island, Ajah axis and Lagos Badagry express way. Our Goal is to see Sylko water in every Home and office in the country although I must sincerely add that Nigerians lack a lot of things not just portable water and Sylko water alone cannot provide water for the whole populace. We can only contribute our quota. We are doing all we can to help provide portable water.

The role of NAFDAC as a regulatory body.
NAFDAC has done a great job especially during the tenure of Professor Dora Akunyili. To a large extent they have helped the water bottling companies come up to the required standards. Before, companies sealed sachets manually with the hand seaming but NAFDAC made it compulsory that they use the automatic machine because it's more hygienic.

Their inspectors come around for routine inspections with a lot of focus on hygiene and if the companies are found wanting, serious levies are imposed on them. In fact if there is any regulatory body that has come up to par it is NAFDAC. You can hardly satisfy NAFDAC so it is important that they give companies time to come up to their requirements.

Role of the government.
I believe that whatever government wants to do they can achieve it. When they set their minds to demolishing the bank of industry building, it was accomplished. The same also applies to BRT and road works so government can also look at ways to improve water supply to the masses. The government can do more concerning the water supply issues considering the level of taxes been paid by business owners and individuals.