Complaints about the quality of water produced by the University of Ibadan and alleged monopoly of the market by the institution are generating controversies. OLUFEMI ATOYEBI writes
The two entrances to the University of Ibadan are guarded like a military barracks. Perhaps, this could be due to the threats of an alleged terrorists group to bomb the school last year.
No vehicle can go into the school without being checked and given a tag. Similarly, no vehicle can leave the school without dropping the tag collected while coming in. Commercial motorcycles, buses and taxis are not allowed into the school because as a community, the institution has its own transport system and activities of all operators are closely monitored.
Apart from the surveillance of vehicle movement into and out of the school, the vigilant security men keep their eyes on everyone that enters the school from both gates. Thus, it is difficult for anyone to smuggle any good considered unwanted into the school.
Among unwanted goods is water (in bottle or sachet) not produced by the school. But this has become a source of controversy, with some people claiming that those who live, work or study in the community should be free to consume their choice of water inasmuch as it is not narcotic substance banned by the government. They also claim that the UI Water ‘forced’ on the community is below standard.
Although the institution’s Director of Public Communication, Mr. Olatunji Oladejo, denied that the school has a policy that bans bringing in other brands of water into the school, a complainant alleged that he was prevented from bringing water into the school and that the one he bought in the school had odour and taste.
“Eight weeks ago, I had bought 10 bags of branded water from this great institution. When I drank the water, I discovered it had taste, but I kept quiet. Water is supposed to be colourless, odourless and tasteless. Then, my wife drank it and said, ‘This water has taste! We won’t buy from there again, even though I know you think everything that comes from them is the best in this city.’
“Shortly afterwards (six weeks ago), I bought six bags of water from another company, but needed to see a friend in the said ‘Great Institution’. They denied me entry at the gates. My offence: I was carrying water in my vehicle that wasn’t their brand. Appalled, I turned around, thinking the gatemen at that end were being overzealous. I drove to the main gate only to meet the same brick wall. I was shocked at the self-centeredness, incompetence, myopia… behind such a decision.
“Long story short, I had to park outside and trekked in to see my friend. Eventually, I complained to two friends who work in the institution and they affirmed that virtually every staff knew that ‘their water’ is of inferior quality and that they – my friends – don’t even drink the water. Therefore, people have devised ways of ‘smuggling’ water in.
“I felt ashamed and grieved all at once! Forcing people to buy inferior water that you know cannot compete is a crime in my book. How are the decision makers in this institution better than the misfits at Abuja?”
Our correspondent visited the school twice with bags of water on the front seat of his car but he was not stopped by the security men at the gate, even when he stopped long enough for them to detect that he was coming in with another brand of water.
At the halls of residence and some other places in the school, food vendors, students and staff of the school spoke to on the issue. While some of them corroborated what the complainant said, others said they had not paid attention to the trend.
In one of the male hostels, a vendor said that it is an offence to sell any other brand of water than the UI Water. She however said that somehow, she finds a way of smuggling in other brands and conceals it in her shop, blaming poor supply for her action.
“We actually sell only UI Water because no other brand is allowed into the school. But the supply of UI Water does not capture the actual market, so we smuggle in other brands so that we can always have something to sell,” she said.
Asked if customers complain about the quality of the water, the vendor said she had yet to receive any.
“I don’t know if the water has odour or colour because I have not received any complaint from the students or anyone. In any case, they have a way of reaching the school authorities if they have complaints. They don’t have to complain to us except if the water we smuggle in is bad.”
At the Students Union Building, some of the vendors had similar complaint about inadequate supply. But a consumer of the product said the quality of the water should be improved on. According to him, the water tastes sometimes, alleging that it might have been stored for too long after production before being supplied to the public.
“If you visit the UI Water factory, you will know it is a big place. They produce lots of water but what I notice is that once in a while, the water has taste and my colleagues have complained of the same problem. It might be that after producing so much, the company stored for too long before selling them out. That can change the taste of the water,” said an engineering student of the school who identified himself as Anthony Chuks.
Some of the lecturers that spoke with our correspondent said that it would be a good idea if UI could break the monopoly.
“UI will be doing itself a lot of good if it breaks the monopoly and allows other products to be sold in the school. The UI Water idea is good but if people are complaining, then the management of the company (UI Water) should make amend,” said one of the lecturers who preferred anonymity.
When contacted, Coordinator of UI Water, Prof Tajudeen Akanji, said the monopoly was put in place because of health concern of the university community. He said although the project is non-profit oriented in nature, water producing companies who have been finding a way of breaking into the school market find a way of smearing the UI product.
He said, “The allegations are sponsored and unfounded. The school water project is used by students for research work and it is not profit oriented. During events organised by students and staff, we give out free water.
“You can take a sample of the water to a laboratory outside the school and test its content. You can then visit the open market, take a sample there and make comparison. Relevant authority has tested and verified the quality of the water we produce in UI.
“In the past, we had bad water supply from outside the campus which caused serious health problems. As a university, we have the duty of checking against such situation. If we as a research and training institution cannot produce good water, why then do we exist with all the accolades?”
During a tour of the UI Water factory, manager, Dapo Matiluko, said no company would break even with the type of equipment that the institution put in place to ensure safe water for the community.
According to him, the final production passes through various purifiers and that instead of using alum and chlorine, the school uses modern agents to ensure safe water production.
Matiluko said, “The source of our water is borehole which is based on NAFDAC recommendations and approval. We have three boreholes in the company. One of them is 180 feet in depth while the second one has the depth of 380 feet. The third one is 280 feet.
“Elsewhere, after the water has been pumped into the tanks from the borehole, chlorine and alum will be added to force sediment to settle and disguise the taste but we do not do that because it is not hygienic enough. Those who do that do so to maximise profit but at UI Water, profit does not come first, hygiene is our watchword.
“We use modern treatment composite made up of fibre treatment plant. It is the latest treatment plant in water industry. It has no iron content, compared with stainless steel which over the time could develop corrosive agents or materials. Iron content in water is injurious to human beings.
“We also use micro filters which have sand and carbon filters. Because we release that despite our efforts, some sediment could still escape, that is why we install another gateway to ensure nothing unhygienic goes into the final production. The only thing that will come out is clean water.”
Matiluko said those who complained about odour in the water might have stored the water wrongly. He also said the company has the capacity to supply the UI market.
“The major problem is how our people store water in their shops or at home. What UI Water produces is of high quality and standard. Our facility is one of the best around. No company with eye for quick profit or heavy profit will install all these machines just to get pure, clean and safe water.
“Apart from what we sell inside the school, we have customers from outside in large number but it does not limit our supply into the school community because it is a large factory that produces huge amount of safe water every day.”
The school image maker, Oladejo, said drive for competition can result in mischief making, adding that those who wanted a share of UI market are capable of sponsoring campaign against the school product.
“In competition, there is tendency for mischief. I want to see the evidence of mischief in all this. The allegation that we are restricting people from bringing water into the school is a bit mischievous because there are other products being sold in the school and we have never clamped down on anyone not to sell such product.
“What we are saying is that we have the capacity to supply our immediate environment. There is no policy in UI that restricts anyone from selling good product but we shall always guide against sub-standard goods being circulated in the university because of the effect on the health of people living in the university community,” said Oladejo.