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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Water wars in arid north Nigeria
By Senan Murray
BBC News website, northern Nigeria

Public water tap
Lack of electricity means the pump works once a day, or every two days
In Kagadama, a very poor neighbourhood in north-eastern Bauchi town, a dozen housewives and children are having a heated argument over rights to a public water tap in Nigeria's poorest region.

Edith Obeta, a petty trader and mother of two accuses another woman, Hadiza Haruna of pushing her jerry can aside to get ahead in the dodgy queue. Mrs Haruna denies the accusation and a fight seems to be brewing.

"Look, this water pump works only once a day or once in two days, when we have public electricity supply," Mrs Obeta explains.

"So, you have to do all you can to collect some water before the electricity goes off again. As you can see yourself, it's not a tea party."

The water is not free. A 20 litre jerry can is sold for 20 Naira ($0.16).

Little impact

This water tap row could have been anywhere in northern Nigeria, a semi-arid region plagued by grinding poverty, widespread illiteracy and lacking in the most basic infrastructure and services despite being in political control for more than 30 of Nigeria's 46-year history.

Edith Obeta
You have to do all you can to collect some water before the electricity goes off... it's not a tea party
Edith Obeta
Petty trader, Kagadama

Most of Nigeria's military rulers since independence in 1960 had been northern Muslims, but there is little evidence of any impact being made on the lives of ordinary people in the north.

The region has some of the worst roads in the country and with a weak economic climate, only a handful of industries have prospered in the region.

"Poverty, very bad infrastructure, widespread illiteracy, poor healthcare and above all bad leadership have all combined to destroy our region," says Yakubu Lame, a former university teacher and a leader of the Northern Union (NU), a pressure group campaigning for a northern successor for President Olusegun Obasanjo who stands down next month.

"These are the issues for the north as we go out to vote," says Mr Lame.

"There is also the issue of desert encroachment which has eaten away arable land in the northern region where majority of the people are farmers."

'Sharia is no longer an issue'

BBC's Mannir Dan Ali in Sokoto says the picture is not any different in the far north-western edge of the country.

Minibus driving along bad road
Roads in the north of Nigeria are some of the worst in the country

He says trans-border banditry was also a major worry for the people of the region who say they would only vote for a president that would secure their livelihoods.

Surprisingly, Sharia law which was introduced in the region in 2000, is no longer an issue in the region where thousands of people have been killed in rioting related to the adoption of the Islamic legal system.

"Sharia is no longer an issue. Even General Muhammadu Buhari is no longer talking about Sharia now. He's talking about poverty, insecurity and real issues that directly affect people's lives," says Mr Lame.

map

Sharia may no longer be an issue in the election, but there are genuine fears about how long the current peace between Christians and Muslims in the region will last after last Saturday's governorship elections seeming to have re-awakened old fears, as was seen in central Plateau State.

But the region is going into next Saturday's presidential poll hopeful for a change in the years ahead.

Irregularities

With all three main candidates in the presidential election coming from the Muslim north, ordinary northerners hope that things will change.

Hadiza Haruna
Things have to change
Hadiza Haruna
Housewife, Kagadama

The governing People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and his All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP) counterpart Muhammadu Buhari are both are both from north-western Katsina state.

The second main opposition candidate, Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, also a Muslim, is from north-eastern Adamawa State.

"Things have to change," says Hadiza Haruna who was part of the squabbling crowd at the water tap in Bauchi. "We cannot continue coming out to struggle and fight like this."

If last Saturday's elections are a sign of things to come, then this weekend's voting may be just as violent and full of irregularities.

It is not clear whether the violence seen in places like Kano, northern Nigeria's biggest city, can be brought under control for elections to take place.

But Nigeria's army and riot police are confident that they will go ahead in volatile Kano and elsewhere.


If you would like to join Africa Have Your Say to debate the issues that affect northern Nigeria LIVE on air at 1600 GMT on Thursday 19 April, please include a telephone number. It will not be published. You can also send an SMS text message to +44 77 86 20 20 08.

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