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'Mama Kanga' digging deep to become Nigeria's 'well woman'

IGBOGBO, Nigeria -- Fortified by a faith in God and a Guinness stout — or a tot of something stronger — Ololade Rabiu reckons she must have dug hundreds of wells in her time.

But the 46-year-old mother of six is a rarity in Nigeria, where forging deep into the red earth to find precious drinking water has historically been a male preserve.

“I am extremely happy that I am the only woman so far in this profession of well-drilling. I love and enjoy it,” she told AFP at her home in Igbogbo, about 40 kilometers east of Lagos.

“There is no well I cannot drill or enter,” she said proudly.

Megacity Lagos and its surrounding state are crippled by over-burdened and neglected infrastructure, with safe, clean drinking water in particularly short supply.

A study by the Lagos State Water Corporation found that the city's 18 million people needed 540 million gallons (2.5 billion liters) against actual production of just 210 million gallons in 2010.

It has vowed to dramatically increase production to 745 million gallons per day by 2020, by which time the city is expected to be home to 29 million people.

But in the meantime, households are forced to rely on tanker deliveries for their water or private wells.

Purification to eliminate disease is not guaranteed and street vendors selling “sachet” water in cellophane bags are a common sight — as are the discarded empty packets on the streets.

'The well woman'

The shortfalls in public supply mean there is plenty of business for well diggers like Rabiu, who first began drilling for water in 1997.

She learnt her craft from her Ghanaian second husband, Daniel Ajiraku, and has since carved out a niche for herself along with a nickname in the Yoruba language: “Mama Kanga” — “the well woman.”

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Children look as 46-year-old mother of six Ololade Rabiu tries to get into a well at Igbogbo, about 40 kilometers east of Lagos, on March 15. (Children look as 46-year-old mother ...

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