FG should take over management of state water boards – Ezeji

Dr Joachim Ezeji has a grass to grace career progression in Nigeria’s Water resources management sector over the past twenty years, starting from being a civil society activist early 2000s to his present position as a  Programme Manager (Water Resources Management and WASH) in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Nigeria, since July 2016.

  • In 2003, he co-founded the Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP), a social enterprise he led to win the  African Development Bank 40th anniversary innovative project’s premier award in 2004 and the World Bank Development Marketplace competition in 2006.
  • He was the National facilitator of the UNHabitat Water for African Cities (2004 – 2006) for Nigeria.
  • In 2013 completed his PhD for his thesis on: ‘‘Increasing the resilience of water systems to extreme weather events’’ submitted to Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) in the School of Architecture, Civil and Building Engineering, Loughborough University, United Kingdom.
  • Team Leader of the USAID -funded Sustainable Water and Sanitation (SUWASA) project in Rivers State IN 2013-2015.
  • Acted as the Technical lead for the Non-Revenue Water reduction project at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Water Board, Abuja, a Japan International Development Agency (JICA) funded project, IN 2015
  • Currently the Programme Manager for the Lagos Urban WASH (LUWASH), a US$45 million USAID-funded intervention for the larger Lagos metropolitan areas.
  • Over the years, he successfully facilitated sector governance reform programs, including managing resources ranging from $ 10 million to $200 million.
  • Dr Joachim Ezeji is happily married to Ogechi – an attorney, writer, and the happy mother of lovely kids.

How do you interview a friend and colleague of 20 years without being subjective? How do you avoid biases, knowing his views on various issues, some of which you have previously argued or debated, without reaching a consensus? That was my challenge in interviewing Dr Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji, a water and ecosystem specialist.

In this interview with Dr Babatope Babalobi, Ezeji advocated that the Federal Government should take over the management of State Water Boards since none of the 36 state governments has been able to turn around the fortunes of these public water utilities. He shared his views on other issues. On prepaid water meters, he describes it as a potential barrier to the right to water for the poor. He also called for the certification of sector actors to enhance professionalism.

ezeji joachim Dr
Dr Joachim Ezeji

Barely a month ago, new political leaders were sworn into office at Nigeria’s national and State levels. Assuming you have an opportunity to meet the new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, what would be your key messages to him on behalf of all WASH professionals in Nigeria?


Okay, suppose I am lucky to meet the political leaders of this country led by the President. I will ask him to get the State government to make the Water Boards functional or that the Federal Government should take over the responsibilities of the Water Boards. The Federal Government can manage the Water Boards since the State governments have failed to make the water boards functional. I know what I am saying might sound outlandish. However, I’m just trying to think outside the box because the way things now seem, there is a genuine commitment to make the Water Boards function effectively. My point is a call for specific prioritization of municipal water services. The President, not the Minister of Water Resources, should handle this as a desideratum.

The President should prioritize this level of service provision as it has always done in other sectors such as primary health care, agriculture, and even sports. Let him prioritize and say that within my first 100 days in office or the next 365 days as the President, we will work together to ensure the Water Boards in Nigeria function.

So, why did you suggest the Federal Government should take over the Water Boards? Is it borne out of the belief that State Governments do not have the capacity to manage Water Boards?

Yes, I think there are enormous vulnerabilities that currently weaken service provision. There is a need to interrogate why the State governments struggle with water services despite all the assistance from various sources. It is troubling that when you visit a typical public water utility, you see a typical reflection of governance failure. The team dynamics in many water boards are negative. There is no transparency in that environment; certain groups who run things often feel it is their own share of the state cake. I once discussed with a man, and he said if you appoint me as a General Manager (GM), I will not even go there because the current GM has built his loyalists who can frustrate any other newcomer. So, this is a part of the problem.

So, do you think the Federal Government has a magic wand to turn around Water Boards because people will also argue that even at the Federal level, the Federal Government also have challenges managing its agencies?

Yes, the Federal Government has its own challenges, but, in Nigeria, the only semblance of good governance is governance that reflects what is happening at the federal. It is not perfect, but overtly better than what we have in most states. People can speak and criticize the Federal Government, but this is absent in the States, where people are commonly afraid to speak out.

I am saying that people are more interested in the Federal Government, which is why you see them more concerned about who should be the President. There is the element of good governance at the Federal level, but if you put the State government on a governance index, many States do not even come near to what good governance is.

Talking about the role of the Honourable Minister for Water Resources in this issue, within sixty days of inauguration, the President is expected to form a new cabinet. What do you think should be the qualities of the new Minister of Water Resources in Nigeria?

A new minister should be a person of integrity, a transformer, and one with a vision. We need an inspirational leader as a minister. The person should not be a sector consultant, contractor, or whatever. A person who has been a consultant, engineer, or contractor in the system may understand the system; but may want to compromise the system or even be corrupt. If it is an outsider that has the passion, mind for transformation and integrity, even if the civil servants want him to compromise and he says no. One who will set targets and plan to achieve targets. I know it is good to set targets, and even though you cannot achieve them, you should record what we call actuals and let the ones you record be tangible. Not coming there and nothing happens, and it becomes the same cycle show.


Let us go to the National Assembly,  an arm of the Federal Government. If in the same way, you have an opportunity to meet the leadership of the National Assembly, what are you going to present forward as key messages, especially to solve the stalemated National Water Resources bill?

When you have a conflict of interest, it becomes a problem. The Buhari administration was accused of a lot of conflict of interest and that the bill was presented at the wrong time.

I will ask the national assembly to correct that bill. There is a lot of distrust between the Government, and people do not trust their government. People are watching because we play bad politics in Nigeria.

There has not even been a national consensus on how the bill should be, because that bill was hurriedly put together. It was consultants who were instructed and told what to do. That is why when people like us questioned it, they disagreed with us. There was not good and effective stakeholder engagement. So that bill should be allowed to be on the shelf till a lot of things are sorted out. It should not be a priority now.

States should be supported to have their water resources laws. Federal Government should provide a guideline, not a law so that States can draw their policies and law from that guideline. The bill should be stepped down now because it will cause a lot of disaffection, which is not what we need.

One of your professional interests is enhancing water security, Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), and promoting good catchment management practices. You will agree with me that most of the discussions in the water sector have been in utility management, urban utility management, and open defecation. IWRM has not properly been treated in the sector. What do you think accounts for this and how do we bring these issues to the fore?

The sector needs to validate its professionals through a novel certification program. There is a need for ongoing sector education and training. Some practitioners feel that if they promote Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) through a nongovernmental organization (NGO) and find themselves in the limelight, they have become WASH professionals. Yes, they are WASH professionals, but they are not experts, they have not been trained. They need to understand the basis of the sector.

Sector experts should have a mutual understanding and speak a common language on water security. For example, the Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) concept is water security. However, many practitioners seem not to understand that. When you say WASH, you should also know that WASH is a component of water resources. We have water for economic purposes, water for agriculture, water for health, and water for ecosystem services.

ezeji joachim Dr

But Nigeria used to have a Country Water Partnership, which seems inactive now.

I know there was this Global Water Partnership (GWP), and it did not die. However, the thing is that there are a lot of many interests, possibly leaving it comatose. When we set up things at the National, we should understand that whatever we do at the National should be copied by State, which is why we are a Federation. It should be a model that should be taken down and not floating there. At the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, there are a lot of departments with their responsibilities for planning, monitoring, and others.

There should be a register of Civil Societies that are effective and known to work, not the ones that are known to people in authority. The Government at the top level should be able to work and ensure things happen at the lower level.

River Basins Development Authorities should act as regulators at the river basins level. However, in most cases, most of them turn to service providers, drilling boreholes and engaging in water supply, abandoning some of their roles of regulation, allocation, and water rights at river basins. How do they get it wrong and how do you bring the river basin authorities to be concerned more about IWRM at the basin level?

Thank you for this question. This has been troubling my mind. When I was doing my PhD, my supervisor once asked me who regulates water resources in your country. I said it was the river basin but was unsure, so I researched for the correct information. When you look at the water bill we just discussed, what responsibility will you give the river basin?

That responsibility of regulation has been taken away from the river basins. The river basins have been turned into Agricultural outfits. I do not think that was the river basin’s original aim.

Yes, I share with you that the river basins were originally structured to be water resources regulators and the managers of water security, at least within the context of the basins; by my knowledge of water resources, a watershed is the same as a basin. The words basin, watershed, and catchment are synonyms. Thought leadership is a desideratum in the sector, and no one discipline should dominate the sector. Everyone is important for the growth of the sector. That was what was supposed to be done to manage water bodies.

Another problem is that we try to separate WASH from water resources management, it should not be so. If you want to discuss water security, consider the two as integrated. However, we want to see WASH differently, forgetting that

WASH is useless without Water Resources because water must come from somewhere.

Once you are dealing with water, you deal with River basins, Watersheds, and Catchments. The river basins should be reactivated, reunited, and training for their staff. Money is king but when money is not used properly, nothing will be done.


In the past interviews that I have conducted, we discussed that we had placed so much emphasis on groundwater, there are so many groundwater potentials in Nigeria that are untapped, and there are several utilities abroad whose water source is groundwater. Secondly, we should start thinking more, at least in the brief time of household water systems. What are your takes on these issues?

When we talk about surface water and groundwater, I do not think the two are in competition. Where you have surface water is based on needs and accessibility. The first option for water exploration development usually should be surface water because it is easily accessible and, groundwater on the other hand is not easily accessible. So, in Nigeria, those two are developed based on accessibility and technology, both of which are cost-related. I have also seen places where groundwater has a lot of infrastructure to support it, like Port Harcourt and Rivers State. There are some places you have surface water. However, in Nigeria, it is becoming more groundwater because the surface waters have not been managed in the most effective way, the one you must contend with and treat it.

In New York, USA, the Catskill watershed is unique because it produces exceptionally clean water. A water utility in New York that takes water from there rarely needs further treatment because it is naturally clean. The Catskill watershed is a natural delight because it is a great case study of how a watershed should be.

I do not think surface and groundwater are competing, but the problem has always been technology. Even groundwater needs to be treated, even though some easily conclude that groundwater does not need to be treated because it goes through filtration. It may be free from biological contamination but that does not free it from other contaminants which mostly include metals.

Pertaining to pipe and household systems, you know I started my WASH career as a promoter of household water treatment. I remember when I introduced it to a local Rotary Club. At that meeting, a club member asked me where the water would be sourced. Household water treatment means there is water already, and some of the problems we complain of in water are accessibility and pollution. So, one must have water first before household treatment. There is also the harvesting of rainwater and then treating it. Even pipe water also needs to be treated. There must be quality assurance before people can take water. It either comes from the pipe or is treated at home.

The bacteria load of any water system grows with time, so you can imagine the water from systems that lack integrity. Integrity should be a product of effective quality assurance. The challenge we have is adaptive. The people that manage the systems are the problem.

Regarding Sanitation, the last administration at the Federal level prioritized what was called Clean Nigeria Campaign as an approach to sanitation coverage in Nigeria. However, people will say nothing changed drastically. Open defecation remains an issue.

It is challenging to place a horse before the cat or the cat before the horse. Sanitation is a socio-economic challenge. Poorly makes the elimination of open defecation difficult. Asking a tenant to build a toilet is an aberration when the property owner is not bothered. The land tenure system and poverty are the greatest constraints to the ownership of toilets in Nigeria.

We cannot get Sanitation right if Government does not improve the socio-economy status of the people. Government should prioritize housing and give public toilet facilities. You cannot actualize Sanitation for low socio-economic status people; that is the problem we are making with all this Clean Nigeria. People who are tenants cannot build toilets in a house that is not their own. The government has done well for the Clean Nigeria campaign; there was a minister that said he was going to build one thousand latrines but unfortunately could not build one. The toilet is not something you build and donate to somebody. Will you build a toilet and donate to someone without a house? He would rather live in it than use it.

Water and Sanitation should go hand in hand. A clean toilet requires the all-around presence of a resolute cleaner, not just to be cleaned occasionally. That is why open defecation remains a big challenge because of the unavailability of dedicated hands to clean the public toilets made available. That is why I said we have an adaptive problem: people employed to clean the toilets look down on it and refuse to do their duties, and the attitude to asset management is also extremely poor; toilets are broken, and no replacements or repairs are made on them. Are there no budgeted allocations for them to be replaced at least annually? We should have a running attitude for maintaining these facilities and ensure the availability of water because using these facilities without water is an assault on cleanliness.

 How can we enhance donor coordination and approaches because there has been criticism that some of these external support agencies have turned Nigeria into a laboratory?

When you talk about donor coordination, it is something that should be looked forward to. But donors have different business models and approaches. Some donors work with loans; their models will be different from those that do not give loans. The ones that give loans are doing business, and the ones that do not give loans are not doing business. Therefore, one will be more sensitive than the other, so that should be put into consideration when dealing with them.

Some work with the ministers, and each of these organizations has a country strategy, or country development plan, which can be accessed on the net. They are aligned with the priorities of the Federal Government, so each approach should be different based on the business model each of them is using. When you pay attention to them, you can achieve an elevated level of coordination.

The problem is the people receiving it. People in Government, key stakeholders, continue to misdirect and provide false information because they want to be beneficiaries, to benefit from these activities, and then things go bad. Donors are facilitators and helpers, not mainstream developers. The mainstream development is the Government. The donors come to improve and develop some things in such regard.

They do not come to change everything or fund it to the full. They bring the little funds they have, bring experts, and show you how to do it in a year or two. But do we continue these laudable initiatives when the donor departs? They feel like they should be donor-dependent, and this creates fatigue. The situation is misunderstood severally, so people need to rethink and advise themselves on a commitment to get things right. The donors do their best and will not be here forever.

You rose through the ranks, starting as an NGO WASH advocate and now a WASH Programme Manager for a leading donor body. Reflect on your career in the sector, what helped you rise, and what advice you will give young professionals.

I will attribute my rise in the sector to my local upbringing as a social entrepreneur. I stuck to the streaks of integrity and professionalism to grow. I was just like any other person. I had to hustle around to complete key tasks that later became a ladder for upward mobility. I also had, going for me, an entrepreneurial spirit and a penchant for learning. I had to combine my N.G.O. work with consultancy. I enjoy what I currently do and am not hurrying to leave. After 8 years in Loughborough, UK, I returned to Nigeria to help turn things around in my country. I am happy to be home in Nigeria. I want to stay around my family and watch my kids grow up.

Outside the WASH sector, what are your other interests?

I try to provide thoughtful leadership. I have specific topics but am best fitted for extant topics on politics and environmental matters. You can see me on the television discussing politics and environmental matters. I also write. Till recently, I have maintained a column in some local newspapers. Also, I have a group called The Peoples Assembly. It started as a WhatsApp group of my closely-knit friends where we talked, met occasionally, went mountain climbing, and did other fun things. If not, you will see me at home with my kids. That is how I spend my time. I may no longer have enough time to read books, but I read newspapers and stay updated on WhatsApp and Facebook.

Are you planning to put your hand into politics in the future so that you can be at the steering wheel?

I can say yes, but that will also be circumstantial. I am bidding my time.

How do we increase the quantity and quality of the participation of women in the sector?

When you look at a utility, you see the upstream and the downstream. When you go downstream, you see the consumers, people who use water, and most of the consumers are women. Then as you go upstream, you see it keeps thinning, making for fewer women, which is why we need a certification process in the sector, where no matter your background or gender, you can be certified as a practitioner so that people who did Sanitation, or sociology or whatever course, and have interest, can be certified into being WASH professionals, so that they can understand the sector. Because many of them do not understand the sector, they are only experts in promoting Sanitation because they have more intuition in Sanitation than water resources, so it must be deliberate and targeted.

Women should be supported to become decision makers because where you have women, there be more solutions proffered. I do not think the omission of women is deliberate. However, the effort must be deliberate in bringing them into the sector. Women must embrace the sector to make those tangible imputes we, men, often ignore and take as intangible. We can do that through certification for those who are interested. Because over time, we see that they are tangible impacts. We can do that through the certification process for everybody interested in having opportunities.

So, we must be deliberate in bringing in women, and I can bet you that we would have enough of them.

You mention the need for certification of WASH professionals; what should be the framework for certification?

It should not be difficult. Firstly, there should be a national institution that would be responsible for that. Suppose you read Engineering and see the need to become a Chartered Accountant. In that case, you will need to get the ICAN form, go for classes, and write the stages exam before you become a Chartered Accountant. As WASH Professionals, we can have a process people can go through. More women will be encouraged to pass through that because the number will decrease if you limit it to those who study Engineering or Geology at the University.

Even if you have one hundred women that graduate from the University in this course, once they come out, they do not even know how to set their first foot on the ladder. They get married and give birth. Before you know it, the husband opens a business for them, or they get jobs in other sectors and lose interest. But when they do not have a job and feel like being chartered in Water Resources Management, they enrol for the course and are chartered for a year or two. It will clarify what they want to do, involving the rudiment and the basics of water management. With this, more women can easily come into the system.

Climate change is an excessively big issue, and there have been many initiatives outside Nigeria to respond to climate change. So, what do we need to do differently as we go forward under the new administration?ezeji joachim Dr

I know there is a climate change commission, but I do not know the actual name. However, I know the bill was passed in the last administration. They have a climate change commission that will help to consider climate change in national affairs. I do not think the ministry is ignorant of the impact of climate change. Look at the National Water Councils and all the communications they have released. You will see that climate change is always a focal aspect of it. But whether that is limited to talk without action is entirely different because activities have shown that climate change is being considered in water resources management. It may be happening, but I do not think it has been given the visibility required. They do not know how to communicate it.

I googled your name shortly before the commencement of the interview, and one of the results brought forward was an article you passed on gamji.com many years ago. In the article, you said prepaid metering is anti-poor and akin to the commodification of drinking water in Nigeria like a recharge card will expand poverty. Will you say your views have changed over the years, or do you still hold on to these views? If your views have changed, what informs new thinking?


My views have not changed. That remains my view because when you see the poverty rate in Nigeria. I was not fully opposed to the prepaid meter in Nigeria. Water is a human right, and as a human right, people should not be denied access to it. You cannot make a call when you don’t have call credit; that’s how it is when you make water prepaid. So, if you do not have a water credit, you will not drink water, and it will not be easy. If water is a service, people should be able to afford it. This will be difficult for people with low incomes. Prepaid meters are for the rich, and the rich do not need the Government water because they can afford many things for themselves. A rich man can easily drill a borehole in his house and put a filter in it.

Do you have any final comments?

When I criticize, I do so without bitterness. I do things with no hatred of anyone but passion to get things right. I want things to work and governance to improve so everyone can live in this country happily. When I started working with USAID, people asked why I left England to work here. I said I have a passion for working to develop my country because when I did my PhD, I was the first to work on climate change in water resources in my department. Within the first month of submitting my thesis, I recorded over one thousand downloads.

We are here to make things work; people should not become an enemy because they feel we are critics. I am very friendly and like to interact with people.











  1. Greetings, Mr. Babalobi.

    I read this interview with mixed feelings concerning the accuracy of the Nigerian professionals’ judgments about the WASH sector, particularly the failure of water utilities in Nigeria. My comments therefore is not about this interview but general.
    So my worry is, what is the major motivation that will ensure effective management of WASH services at the state level?

    The country is abundantly blessed with resources especially ground water. As you are aware,ground water is poorly regulated in Nigeria unlike other parts of the world, so are the SWAs.
    The organizational/institutional structure of state governments is comparable to that of the federal government.
    The organizational ethos is no different.

    As a recent administrator in the sector, I believe that practitioners’ thinking regarding sector diagnosis should be adjusted to reflect the Nigerian context.
    In view of the aforementioned, I would like to suggest that the motivation for achieving quality WASH services in Nigeria should be identified in system wide approach and stakeholders roles that are enforceable put in place to achieving the motivation.
    My thoughts as a novice.

  2. It will be very interesting, jubilation will be all over the city as we will stop buying water from water vendors.
    Thanks for this important information. let me read the story

  3. The federal government already has too much to bite. State governments should prioritize provision of water and allow professionals to manage the agencies. Home grown solutions to provision & maintenance of WASH facilities (similar to what you did in Ekiti) should be encouraged and developed. Corrupt officials should be strictly sanctioned while excellence should be rewarded.

  4. Thank you Dr. Babalobi for including me in your mailing list for such an important discussion. They help a great deal in making me updated on current issues related to WASH. So, I thank you.
    With regards to the interview with Dr. Ezeji which I find very interesting and educative in parts also.
    Dr. Ezeji made some interesting remarks like the call for the federal government to take over the management of the State Water Boards. I find it very interesting. See Dr. Babalobi, I have spent over two decades in the sector and have interacted with actors in the industry over the period at various levels. The Federal Government will not do anything different from what is presently ongoing. I agree that capacity is at the center of the problem. But does the FG have something different except a larger purse of fund to paper the problems and that is being blown open now that the FG is now broke.
    There is a dearth of knowledge to manage these agencies in the most organized, orderly, and expanded technically, geographically, and sustainably in terms of service regeneration and environment. Or let me rather make it mild that the dearth is the know-how to sorting out the overwhelming chaos in the large service supply arrangements of some states (Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, etc. being typical examples). Some states do not have this bogus geographical supply coverage but still have sustainability issues. For those ones, capacity is the issue. I have traveled to some of these states and would not want to mention them except to you personally and a common denominator exist in corruption as a big factor too.
    He also made a good point in the conclusion of this point about some semblance of good governance at the Federal level compared to the state where everyone is gagged and cannot voice out contrary opinions.
    On the issue of prepayment meters, I respected Dr. Ezeji’s comments but defer in the sense that the so-called poor will need some advocacy and education in the management of water usage will prepayment meters will offer, however, tariff policies could be used to ensure no one is left out.
    My rejoinder to this interview.
    Thank you Sir, for the opportunity

  5. Urban water supply sector has not performed well under the state government controls but they are not likely to do better under federal government control because the services that are under the federal control are not doing better take for example the petroleum industry and the security sector. I think the way forward is to gradually handover the WASH sector to private operators. On the issue of metering, prepaid meters discourage water wastage and conserved water to reach the poor. It provides for the poor through multiple tariff settings that allows you to set lower rates for poor neighborhoods.

  6. I do not really agree with him. It is the Federal Govt that got the State Water Boards and Corporations into the mess they are. The whole decay started with the National Water Rehabilitation Projects and went on with the National Urban Water Sector Reform Projects. All these interventions have not amounted to anything. I remember in those old days of the Western State Water Corporation and subsequently the Water Corporation of Oyo State, Lagos State Water Corporation and others like them, the corporations were well funded, well run, with well trained manpower. But no sooner than the integrated water resources management and the federally sponsored projects came into being, the water boards went down the drain. The Federal government has not been able to handle most of what they have taken over. Rather they have messed them up. There has been a lot of waste and nothing to show for it. All the World Bank loans, grants and aids facilitated by the Federal government are all money down the drain and have not solved any problem. Rather all the state water boards are under performing despite the huge investments on them. The utilities are too top heavy, no fresh recruitments and as such the knowledge gap is low. Technical and management capacities and capabilities are low and funding of O & M is not there. I believe we need to find a way to get the Water Boards to function rather than transferring the problems to the national level, which will be too big and will not be able to serve the people. The day Federal Govt started midwifing funding of infrastructure development in the States marked the death kernel of the Water Boards in Nigeria.

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