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Funke Adepoju At 51: Tribute To An Amazon Revolutionizing Lagos Water Sector

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By Tunde Opeseitan

Today is a special day. A special day because it is the day marking the 51st birthday of a special and unflappable being, Mrs. Funke Adepoju, the extraordinary and amazing Amazon who currently sits atop the Lagos State Water Regulatory Commission (LSWRC) as Executive Secretary.

This special and real woman of substance with exceptional education and outstanding breeding is unequivocally passionate about making positive impact and leaving an indelible footprint in the sands of time, and this is evident already with the reforms that she has brought to bear since assuming office last year, following her appointment by the State Governor, Mr Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu.

Adepoju was trained at the Lagos State University and University of Ilorin for first degree in English and Masters of Business Administration (MBA) respectively, as well as an Alumni of the prestigious Harvard University School of Government, and had previously served meritoriously as Executive Secretary of Lagos State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board.

Before her current appointment, Adepoju who is generally regarded as a seasoned administrator with impressive track record of excellent service delivery, also served Lagos State Government in various capacities, the last being in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

The LSWRC is a strategic agency of government specifically set up with the mandate to ensure that water and wastewater services are properly managed in the State.

Before now, not much has been heard about the activities of the Commission, and this obviously led to the failure of players in the sector to accord the Commission the respect it deserves as the regulatory agency of government established to standardize the sector.

The administration of Mr Governor came into office with the mantra of T.H.E.M.E.S, the development agenda which encapsulates the vision of government for Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology, Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy, Entertainment and Tourism, as well as Security and Governance.

The second pillar talks about Health and Environment and this aptly underscores the fact that there is a symbiotic relationship and clear nexus between environmental management and health of residents and realizing the certitude that there is no way to divorce health from environment and the need to have a thoroughbred professional at the helms of affairs in a sensitive agency as the Water Regulatory Commission, the gauntlet pointed in the direction of Adepoju who wasted no time in hitting the ground running.

For clarity, the LSWRC holds the legal mandate pursuant to the Harmonized Environment Management Protection Law (2017) of Lagos State to regulate, monitor and control the production, distribution, abstraction, consumption, supply, sale and use of water, the quality of service, the tariff and charges payable to ensure the financial stability of the water sector in the State and regulate allowable returns to the operators.

One of the first steps taken by Adepoju-led management was to get the backing of all relevant stakeholders in the sector on the reforms she had intended to embark upon. The stakeholders included representatives of the Organized Private Sector (OPS) such as the Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), financial institutions, Association of Water Well Drilling and Rig Owners and Practitioners (AWDROP), Water Producers Association of Nigeria (WAPAN), Association of Table Water Producers (ATWAP), Lagos State Water Tanker Association (LSWTA), Private Estate Owners, filling points, among others.

In quick succession, the stakeholders’ engagement was followed up with a well-attended Lagos State Water Conference put together by the LSWRC. The conference, with the theme: “Repositioning Water Governance and Regulatory Dispensation In Lagos State,” held on February 12, 2020 at the Muson Centre in Lagos, with the aim of sensitizing stakeholders on issues affecting sustainability, governance, and economic regulations of water resources in line with the T.H.E.M.E.S agenda.

In furtherance of the efforts to ramp up quality of service, eight major guidelines were launched by Mr Governor at the water conference. The guidelines, which were results of painstaking efforts of Adepoju and her team to engender transformation, clearly spell out how operators in the key areas of operation are to conduct their services in line with the vision of the State Government, and it was the first time in the history of the LSWRC.

The guidelines are Packaged Water Service Guidelines, Regulation for Drinking Water Quality, Practice Order for Water Tankers, Groundwater Quality Control and Drilling License Regulation, Guidelines on Application For License/Permit To Operate Water Supply And Waste Water Service, Guidelines for Septage System, Guidelines for Water Abstraction and Impoundment, and finally Water and Waste Water Tariff Structure.

The above obviously led to improved regulatory activities in the areas of Water Use Audit, Water Quality Monitoring and Compliance, Water Treatment Plant Certification, Borehole Registration and Regularization, Issuance of Operating License to Service Providers and Issuance of Operating License to Water Producers.

Regulatory visits were also paid to Adiyan and Iju Water Intakes, as well as facilities of private water producers, while sanctions have been applied where and when necessary.

Another strong point for the Adepoju-led management is the massive public enlightenment. The areas focused on included Safe Water and Save Water Campaign, Water Conservation Campaign, Service Level Agreement Moderation, Water Borne Diseases Awareness, General Campaign on Borehole Registration, and Drillers’ Registration Awareness Campaign.

For instance, in terms of safe water, the idea basically is to ensure that residents do not consume unhygienic water which is why the LSWRC has been very strong on regulating activities of water producers in line with international best practices. The truth is all water-borne diseases are deadly and it is a common knowledge that there are lots of unwholesome activities going on in the sector, with some recalcitrant players taking undue advantage of the hitherto lacuna in enforcement of standards and regulatory activities. But the narrative is changing, thanks to the ramping up of enforcement by the LSWRC.

In terms of save water, the LSWRC has been aggressively pursuing water audit and water use in the State in the overall interest of the people and environmental sustainability.

In parts of India, South Africa and others, they are already experiencing ‘Day Zero’ which is water drought due to over-abstraction, and this has further reinforced the downsides of over-abstraction.

In Texas, United States, they recently experienced widespread land subsidence due to unregulated abstraction. These and many more are the reasons why the LSWRC under Adepoju has been strong on how to ensure that over-abstraction is addressed such that it does not affect the people negatively not just today but the future with emphasis on pollution, contamination of water bodies, saline filtration, degradation of infrastructure, among others.

At this juncture, emphasis must be placed on the licensing regime on unregulated drilling for which the Commission under Adepoju has gained traction and trust of drillers, which is a proactive measure that is in line with international standard.

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In terms of regulating packaged water and sachet water, as well as activities that impact negatively on groundwater, Adepoju has equally been up and doing, and this area is highly important towards protecting the health of residents.

According to a recent report, the liquid waste being hauled by trucks from homes and dumped into the lagoon untreated in addition to salt water incursions have already contaminated the aquifer in the State, reaching depths of 300meters. It has also been revealed that microbes from homes and hazardous wastes from industries and hospitals are dumped into the lagoon, with attendant health risks.

All these coupled with unwholesome practices of some water producers are putting the health of residents to great risk, and this is why the Commission has been massively deploying its arsenal to address the anomaly and protect the health of residents.

These efforts, I must add, have paid off. Due to reforms initiated by Adepoju, the LSWRC was able to secure partnership in terms of capacity building from multilateral agencies such as WaterAid UK, OFWAT, SEPA and The Environmental Agency, UK, while international agencies are now looking the way of the State Government for support in community water provision.

Also, as part of measures to curb further spread of Covid-19 pandemic which brought about unprecedented health crisis in human existence, the Adepoju-led LSWRC carried out sensitization tour to motor parks, banks, local government areas and public places to enlighten the public on how to ward off the threat of the disease.

The campaign, tagged: “StopTheSpread”, was in furtherance of WASH, an acronym for Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene which is a key health issue with international development and the focus of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6.

As we speak, another strategic engagement designed to give back to the community is currently being planned by the LSWRC to train and retrain water producers on safety measures and international best practices, all geared towards safety of residents and to enhance their productivity.

Obviously, a lot has been achieved under the leadership of Adepoju who is brilliantly combining her professional and political acumen to deliver the right results for the LSWRC. To the people who know Adepoju very well, the political angle may not be surprising considering her background as the daughter of a political phenomenon in Lagos State, Cardinal James Omolaja Odumbaku, popularly known as ‘Baba Eto’, and the good thing is that she is not slowing down. She recognizes and appreciates the fact that more grounds still need to be covered

As this remarkable and quintessential public servant marks her birthday today, September 25, 2020, I join her numerous well wishers to wish her sound health, peace of mind, long life and above all wisdom from above to successfully pilot the affairs of the LSWRC, and more importantly to continue to positively impact humanity through her selfless service.

Opeseitan, a Journalist and PR Expert, writes from Lagos.

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