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How our customer forums, trainings have seen revenue go up
Dame Okoro, Ag. GM, Water Board
September, 2021

With the support of her principals, Dame Joy Okoro has gradually been solving the many issues that plagued Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Water Board with the immediate noticeable result being that revenue has shot up apparently for the first time in a while. How did she do this? What magic wand did she cast?

The Acting General Manager (GM) fielded questions from Abuja Digest Weekly team of Felix Durumbah and Mambiyen Nantip on her methods, and more, during an interview recently.

Abuja Digest Weekly: FCTA has been stressing the imperatives for revenue generation drive. How has Water Board responded to this? And what are the results so far under your tenure?
Okoro: The FCT Water Board is on top of the game. As you know, we have 16 Area Officer and Abaji's is still coming; all the Area Offices are working very hard to see that we generate revenue at least commensurate with the infrastructure that has been put in place at Lower Usuma waterworks.

We have units within FCT Water Board also; part of their aim is to go about revenue collection. So, it has been a hardworking venture that nobody is at rest, to make sure that every month we will be able to generate much more than we have been doing in the past. And with what I have put in place since I came on board, having team work---we have this kind of family relationship---I have tried to motivate my colleagues with a lot of manpower development, not just outside the environment but within.

We found out that even the staff themselves can stand and mentor and educate others in revenue generation and I know that as time goes on, there would be a great improvement. Now we have been able to make over N200 million a month. In March this year, we made N277 million and I have informed my people that we have a target of N350m-400million every month and there is this enthusiasm and ambition for us to be able to improve, which is the most important thing and we are getting there.

So, I feel that as we are moving, we will get to that point and that will be great assurance even for the authority that has kept us here.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Recently, the FCTA authorities paid a visit to one of your tank facilities where illegal shanties and the like were sighted, leading to removal of those unwanted settlements. What have you done to ensure such situation doesn't crop up again? Also, did the unsightly items around the facility affect the quality of water?
Okoro: It hasn't affected the quality of water because we still deliver table quality water. As to the environment, I can testify that it wasn't good enough. I have been there, that is Tank Four wall and I have been talking with the staff over there.

Items such as the shanty huts, I have pleaded that they should be removed and to keep the environment neat. Even the mechanic's workshop that was there, I have asked that it be removed and the man promised me that he will move all the vehicles out. Unfortunately, he didn't do that before the Honorable Minister came.

On that day, I was there. I was disappointed equally for sure. So, we moved into action, even today the Deputy Director in charge of Facility Maintenance, Engineer Femi, his staff, the HOD (Distribution), the Assistant Director (Electromechanical) and I were all there. We asked Development Control Department to pull down all the shanties.

I told my colleagues that debris is still there and we are going to take our vehicles down there and move them out ourselves. I have put a press statement that nobody should erect anything again around there and I am happy that there is compliance. Also, for the security post in the facility that wasn't properly commissioned, I have called back the contractor and I am happy that he has started doing something. I believe that such an ugly incident will not repeat itself.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Since you assumed duty as Acting GM, there has been a noticeable flurry of intense staff trainings on customer care and other areas of your board's workflow. From your perspective, have these paid off in any way?

Okoro: Very well. The impact is enormous. First and foremost is the public; we have trained our staff, even the Information Officers. We have trained them to know how to comport themselves in public. Like I do say, the image of the organization, what comes out of them (officers) speaks a lot about the organization. So, they (staff) are equal to the task.

The trainings were very exciting, the performances great. And I am happy to tell you that one of our partners, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), was there and their official was so impressed. In fact, during the send forth we had for him, he mentioned before his colleagues that he was so excited over the training.

Not just that, but in the course of the training you get feedback there; so it was highly interactive and that has even helped our revenue because when our customers come, our staff now treat them better. Our Information Officers, we make sure we post them to the Area Offices. There is no Area Office where we don't have an Information Officer there.

They are there and assist with the Remita method of payment. Some customers would come; they will say they don't know how to do that (paying via Remita); we have trained the Information Officers on how to derive the RRR for the payment of water bills. We have equally trained officers from the customer care section of Water Board and we have spread them around also. These are the people that generally make us have more revenue and that training has impacted so much and it is very effective and we are still moving on.

Our in-house training which we have been able to do through our operational cost has helped greatly and I believe we will continue doing it so that our aims and objectives will be achieved.

Abuja Digest Weekly: Your tenure has witnessed, and continues to witness, the holding of customer care forum meetings. Many FCT residents say they cannot remember the last time such official interactions with them occurred. What has the board gained from these meetings so far?
Okoro: We have gained a lot. FCT Water Board has gained a lot. The recent one we had at our Area Offices in Kubwa 1 and Kubwa 2 were very exciting. The residents came and we had wonderful interaction. We learned from them: what are their problems. And funny enough, what we do is just going to meet the public; we put ourselves in a situation to solve the problems they have.

When we go for the customer care forum, we have the customer table; then recently, I brought up a Non-Reflection Unit, which sought to tackle one of the issues we have with Water Board whereby people make payments and when another bill comes, it doesn't reflect that they have made that payment. So I had to establish that unit called Non-Reflection.

It was done independently; so, when customers come, the matter is treated immediately and the ones we cannot deal with there (at the forum), we take it down to the office and we have encouraged customers to pay their bills and not use any middle man or third party. With the RRR or Remita we have, you can pay your bills from the

comfort of your home, from your bedroom, from your sitting room or anywhere. You can pay your water bills; no need to send your house help, security man, driver because sometimes, the persons you give the cash to make this payment do not really do that. It will definitely reflect that the bill has not been paid. So, we do encourage customers to pay these bills themselves. We have even come to the extent of pleading with them not to give money to any of our staff to make that payment because we have discovered such fraudulent attitude. We have encouraged customers; got them to pay their bills themselves so that you get the resultant effect. So, the next customer care forum will be in our Area Office in Gwagwalada Area Council and it will give us a very wide scope on our achievements.

We get so objective when we get to these fora and because of the interactive nature it takes, everybody is relaxed. They can tell you that 'we had a pipe burst and there was no attention to it'. We do tell customers, 'if you notice any pipe burst, inform us because pipe burst is not planned for, it just happens suddenly'. You might walk through a street and as you are coming back into that street, water will be flowing and you will be wondering what must have got this pipe burst; but it is just nature. It does not announce when accident will come.

We do beg customers that 'if you notice any pipe burst, kindly go through your bill paper, we have our numbers there, very effective telephone numbers; three, two customer care staff and one in the Information Office. They are very active, just give us a call or even send a text message'. I equally tell them, 'please my number is free 24/7, you can send a message or make a call'. Once this is done, we arrest the situation immediately. And I am happy to announce that for some time now, I wouldn't say within my stay here, I am bold to say that pipe burst has become, maybe, a thing of the past.

Any due to negligence, we move on a head on to arrest the situation. Why do we do that? Not to waste well-treated water. It costs a lot to treat water and the Honorable Minister, FCT, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, the Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, and my Permanent Secretary, Mr. Olusade Adesola, have been on this issue to make sure that water is given high priority. Like we know, water is life and there is nothing you can do about that. It is easier to take water than to take food. Our water is quite cheap also and we distribute it.

So, the customer forum has been a very tremendous success to this organization and it has brought us closer to customers. We have also told customers that they don't need to bother themselves coming to FCT Water Board headquarters in Area 3 for your problems. We have Area Offices where you can sort out your problems. We have well-trained staff that will deal with those problems and, if by any means the problem cannot be sorted out there, it is the staff that will bring the complaint to the head office for it to be sorted out. We have made everything possible so that our customers not just enjoy our facilities and pay us, but they are friendly with us.
Abuja Digest Weekly: What's the reaction to your revenue drive? Are customers paying up or is it backlog of arrears?

Okoro: People are paying. My staff have been motivated and they are making sure this revenue is well generated. They are not paying as it should be because considering theā€¦ Our water is one of the best in Africa; we have four treatment plants and all of them produce optimally. We distribute this water; some go by gravity depending on the area, and some we need to pump; for instance Asokoro and Maitama areas.

Because of the topographic nature of these areas, we pump. So much effort is being put into the distribution and it is not commensurate with what we are making. With all hands on deck, revenue will keep increasing till we get there and our best bet is N400million every month. We still plead with the public not just to enjoy our facilities but to pay for the facility. A cubic millimeter of water is only N80 for domestic and commercial is N150---which is too small. One cubic millimeter of water is five drums; you can imagine that, too cheap! And I don't know why residents or consumers would not want to pay for that.

A bottle of table water that is just 45cl is sold for N100. You go to big hotels, it is sold for N1000, some N900 and here we are selling one cubic millimeter of water for N80. So, we want to plead with the public: please pay for this facility we are giving you. Without water, you cannot live. The first food you give to a visitor in your home is water, everywhere in the world not just in the African setting. So, as important as water is, we should be able to pay for it since it has even been made cheap for us.

We also beg the public to stop illegal connections because some of these illegal connections waste our water; many go to get private plumbers to dig here and by so doing, our water is being wasted. We have the report of water being wasted, non-revenue water; you can imagine in the city here where you have about 57 per cent of our water being categorized as non-revenue water because of waste!

So, we plead with the public to stop using unqualified plumbers. If there is any need and you want water, come to Water Board. We have well-trained staff, trained engineers, trained chemists, all sorts of professionals that will do the necessary thing and get the water running. We also plead with the public, some have so many cars. They use the pipe borne water to be washing cars, thereby wasting the water. Water ought not to be wasted at all. Some water their plants using the same method; a lot of water is being wasted. We get to some homes where a child will be exposed to use the hose to wash clothes.

We have car wash outfits in the city; they waste our water. When I came on board, we called on our Rapid Response Unit here; they move round the city to ensure we don't have these car wash businesses all over the city. They move today, disconnect them; the next day, they are on the streets again. We want to discourage the public from patronizing them because if you don't patronize them, they will not be there. So, we are arranging with our sister agencies, Abuja Environmental Protection Board and Department of Development Control to see how we can put them off the streets because if they are not there, the water will not be used.

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