FeaturesHow Shagari Dam, Failed Promises Put Sokoto Riverine Communities at Risk

How Shagari Dam, Failed Promises Put Sokoto Riverine Communities at Risk


On May 10, 2022, 29 children died in a boat mishap at Gidan Magana, a riverine community in Shagari Local Government Area of Sokoto State. The only way Abdullahi Sani could make sense of what happened on that day was to assume that the incident was an act of God.

Sani, a 40-year-old farmer and father of 10, had just returned from his farm and was about to rest when he was informed that some children had drowned in River Shagari.

The informant knew that nine out of the 29 children that perished in the river, belonged to Musa, but he decided to be silent.


Upon his arrival at the riverside, Musa joined some local divers who were struggling to recover the bodies of the children, even though he knew some of the victims were his children.

“It was the saddest moment of my life, having seen my children’s lifeless bodies being removed from the deep water,” Musa said.

Recounting the sad moment, Musa said his children, aged between 8 and 15, had left for a nearby village in search of firewood for commercial purposes.

The bereaved father bemoaned that the sudden demise of his children had left him and his two wives in excruciating pain. One of his wives is battling mental illness as a result of the trauma resulting from the sudden loss.

Musa was not only the bereaved father on the spot, his neighbour, Maka’u Dan-Gado, whose two children were among the dead, had also joined the local divers I n their rescue mission.

“I can’t still imagine that my children died in a single day. Another thing is that these children did not die through illness or something inevitable, but just because the government has failed to pay attention to our plight, “Dan-Gado said.

He recalled that the victims were returning from a nearby community where they had gone to fetch firewood when a strong current caused their boat to capsize.

“Since there was no school in our community, they usually go to inland areas and search for firewood for commercial purposes. Unfortunately, that day was their last outing.

“Their deaths have caused us more pain than ever,” the bereaved father said.

Counting The Dead

Checks by THEWILL indicate that between January 2021 and May 2022, three cases of boat mishaps were recorded.

In June 2021, at least 13 people lost their lives when a boat ferrying wedding guests capsized at Doruwa Village. Most of the victims were women, children and aged persons.

THEWILL recalls a similar incident that occurred at Dangawa village with seven people dead. Majority of the victims were farmers and labourers working for a large-scale farmer across the river.

The scenes of devastation in Shagari communities replicated the plight of riverine communities across Nigeria at the mercy of floods in the past years, while the Nigerian authorities made no effort to curtail its negative impact.

Data from the Nigeria Watch showed that 1,607 lives were lost in 180 boat accidents between June 2006 and May 2015. Also, in 2020, about 350 lives were lost to boat accidents in the country.

Experts say that the absence of suitable and modern motorised boats to enable the locals navigate the water level within these communities is the major cause of loss of lives. For the residents of Gidan Magana and its environs, the experts’ submission reflects their current ordeal.

Narrow River Turns Turbulent

Until recently, 31-year-old Haruna Gidan-Magana had never had cause to worry about the calm, narrow river that now torments his community.

Haruna, who fishes around the river, recalls how 13 people drowned when their boat capsized in June this year.

Findings by THEWILL indicate that River Shagari was a smaller stream and tributary that was not previously perceived as a threat to these communities until 2003, when the Federal Government, through its Ministry of Water Resources established earth-filled dams in some states.

The river, swampy in nature, was one of the irrigation schemes selected and expanded to the earth dam during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, while erstwhile Minister of Water Resources, Mukthar Shagari, had facilitated the dam project.

Records from the Sokoto Rima River Basin Development Authority (SRRBDA) indicate that the dam was initiated by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources through the Basin Authority in 2003.

In 2008, the dam construction was awarded to Messrs. C.G.C Nigeria Ltd, an indigenous construction firm, at the cost of N1.3 billion.

Nasiru Adamu, who works as a technician with the construction company, said the dam, which measures 2-kilometre diameters and 13-metre high, also has a 100-metre long and 11-metre high spillway.

“It is an earth-filled dam that was designed to supply irrigation and potable water for agrarian communities within Shagari Local Government Area, but that is not what we got from the dam,” Muhammadu said.

Since the construction of the dam, residents and media reports have continued to share ugly tales on how excess water from its drakes has caused several deaths and displaced thousands of people in the past.

In August 2018, Sokoto was among flood-prone states that witnessed the downpour that triggered massive flooding. The impact swept through several houses and destroyed public buildings.

It also caused a portion of the dam’s structure to break away. Umar Magaji, a 40-year-old indigene of Gidan Magana, a locality in Shagari community, said they had never imagined that such a situation would arise in their neighbourhood.

“That year, all the 23 local government areas in the state were impacted. Shagari was among the most affected in Sokoto state. The year came with excess rains that were more than the normal average,” he said.

Magaji and other residents believe the construction of the dam is affecting their lives and livelihoods. They claim that the dam has been dormant and not put into good use since 2007 when it was completed.

“The torrential rain triggered several landslides, forcing the release of excess water from Goronyo and Shagari dams in the state, further aggravating the impact of the flood,” Magaji says.

Since the flood incident, aggrieved residents, mostly farmers and fishermen, have complained to the managers of the dam to redesign it in such a way that would not obstruct the course of the river and their farming activities.

They said the current state of the dam is hampering their means to livelihood and needed to be addressed.

The Dam, The Damages

During a recent tour of the dam by our correspondent, the impact of the flood was visible. Shehu Garba, a farmer from Gangam Village said the dam had caused his compatriots more harm than good.

“This dam is the cause of immense destruction. The idea on the paper may be brilliant, but the reality is what you are seeing now many years after it was constructed. Its irrigation scheme purpose was never achieved,” Garba said.

In response to the communities’ claims, a Freedom of Information enquiry was filed by THEWILL and dated September 19, 2022.

It was addressed to the Managing Director, Sokoto River Rima Basin Development Authority, asking details about the dam execution and steps it had taken to improve dam safety in the face of climate change.

But the Authority, in a phone conversation through its Head of Procurement, Hashimu Guluma, responded that the office had no such data on the dam.

He told THEWILL to redirect such enquiries to the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Abuja, saying, “the authority has no official responsibility on how the dam project was contracted.”

But, contrary to Guluma’s claims, the River Basin Development Authorities Act 1979 section 1 (1 and4), which listed the SRRBDA among 11 Basin Development Authorities says each shall undertake the function “to construct, operate and maintain dams, polders, dykes, wells, and drainage systems …”

Further enquiries from climate experts reveal that at the root of the Shagari communities’ problems was the fact that the earth dam was designed for the atmospheric realities that could no longer withstand the present climatic change in the area.

It is also believed that Shagari Dam was ill-constructed and not adequately equipped to respond to the demands of climate change in the area.

“The Shagari ‘earth’ Dam remains a major adversity within Shagari communities because rainfall patterns have shifted and extreme weather events increase yearly.

“This has rendered the dam incapacitated and more vulnerable to the people living around the riverside. Most of our dams are incapacitated due to climate change.” Danjuma Hosea, a climatologist, asserts.

A Community Begging For Amenities

When THEWILL visited Gidan Magana in August, the sun shone brightly, but the shadow of death hung over the community.

A cross section of residents interviewed by our correspondent said that with each passing day the entire community is reminded that it will remain neglected by dam authorities and the Sokoto State Government.

They recounted how the tragedy of losing their loved ones is now compounded by the failure of the state government to keep its promises.

Faruk Umar recalled how Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, had, during a condolence visit to the community, promised to provide two modern boats and lifesaving equipment that are suitable to navigate the river.

“The governor promised us that two modern boats and life jackets for passengers will be provided to our community without any delay. But, there was no sign of keeping to the promise,” he said.

“That was not all. A few days after the governor visited our community to sympathise with the bereaved families. Some government officials from the state emergency agency came to us to distribute relief materials, we told them that we were lacking other essential amenities, such as good roads, elementary schools and a big Mosque.

“They promised that the government would provide these for us, especially the road which is in a deplorable state. But since they left, we have not heard any feedback from them.” Bashir Magaji, a youth representative claimed.

The Director-General, Sokoto State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Nasiru Aliyu, in an interview with THEWILL admitted that the recurrence of such boat accidents was a source of concern to the state government.

He recalled that his agency and officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) had since visited the community and donated some relief materials to the affected victims.

The SEMA boss, however, maintained that enquiry on the governor’s promise to provide modern boats among safety equipment was not for the agency but between the state’s ministries of Rural Development and Community Development.

However, officials of the National Inland Waterways Authority, a body in charge of waterways transport to improve and develop inland waterways for navigation were unavailable for comment. As of the time of filing this report, there was no response to an email sent to the for enquiry.

When contacted, the Commissioner for Rural Development, Isah Bajini Galadanci, faulted the media inquiry about the governor’s promises on Gidan Magana community.

“The governor has done other capital projects, but the media are not reporting this. Why can’t you see that?” Galadanci asked.

The State Commissioner for Local Government and Community Development, Abdullahi Maigwandu, promised to send a reminder for the governor’s quick response to the needs of such communities.

As it is, the residents of Gidan Magana, like other riverine communities in Sokoto State, may continue to suffer the negative effects of lack of good waterway transportation and other essential amenities until the state governor’s ear falls on their pledges.


*** This story was supported by the Africa Data Hub Community Journalism Fellowship.

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