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How govt can make water - Energy And Water Development Corp

How govt can make water

By Vivian Onyebukwa

Michael Ale, who hails from Ayegbaju Ekiti in Oye Local Government area of Ekiti State is a graduate of Geology and Mineral Science from the University of Ilorin, Kwara State, He also has a Masters in Sustainable Development Practice, and Project Development and Implementation, from University of Ibadan. He has participated in several professional career development courses outside the country and has held many practitioner positions. He was the youngest member of the Board of Governors of World Water Council, the highest water policy-making body in the world. He is currently the National President of Association of Water Well Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners (AWDROP) in Nigeria. Ale, the CEO of Male Integrated Science Nigeria Limited, is also a sustainable development expert and project development guru.  In this interview with Saturday Sun, he spoke on his life and career, among others.

What motivates you as a borehole drilling engineer?

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I am a geoscientist, hydro-geologist, development practitioner and project expect. I’m moved by the need to save lives. Water is life; hence if you give it, you have given life to people. So my interest is in saving people’s lives.

How has AWDROP contributed in solving water problems in Nigeria?

The result is so glaring even for the blind to see. Solving water problem is one thing; solving water supply problem is another thing. Water problem is quite enormous and it spans several situational problems. One single ministry, agency or department cannot solve myriads of water problems. AWDROP has unnoticeably contributed to the water supply sufficiency in Nigeria, solving many problems associated with water scarcity. Take for example the number of boreholes projects executed by different parties interested in having access to efficient water. There are governments, development agencies and private individuals, not to mention water projects executed by politicians, NGOs and other special groups.  AWDROP as an association has most of her members executing these boreholes. Since the partial collapse of water supply system through pipe systems in various states in Nigeria, borehole has replaced such roles played by various waterworks and AWDROP is at the forefront in providing safe and sustainable water for Nigerians.

If you have the opportunity to change or amend some of the water policies in Nigeria, which would it be?

Policy where documents are only prequalified against expertise; policy where prices don’t match the current economic realities; policy where government gives out projects without considering the experts in the profession is not a good policy. Procurement process has been marred with gross unprofessional conduct by the procurement agents in different departments of government. This policy is a generic one which should be looked into. Specific to water resources is the aspect where the Federal Government executes water projects in different states without the knowledge of the participating state. In fact, the Federal Government should not as a matter of fact execute borehole projects. It’s a shame for government at all levels, especially the Federal Ministry of Water Resources (FMWR), to execute borehole projects piecemeal. They should roll out a nationwide programme and engage or prequalify professional experts to execute the projects. The unwritten policy or issue of the FMWR executing borehole projects piecemeal to only documented unprofessional companies should be changed or stopped.

Do you think there is clean water in Nigeria?

Of course, we have clean and drinkable water in Nigeria. But it is quite unfortunate that the providers of such clean water are the illiterate foreigners and the local non-professionals while the professional practitioners have no means of providing the service or the suitable environment to explore and deliver to their conscience. Most water from other sources are not suitable for drinking except it is worked on through treatment process, but the groundwater is the most improved source of water, except when its use is handled by the non-professionals The percentage of safe and hygienic water in Nigeria has been compromised by the non-adherence to standards by unscrupulous drilling practitioners. AWDROP is distinguished in providing safe and undiluted water for Nigerians.

What are some of the causes of water crisis in Nigeria?

The main cause of water crisis in Nigeria is lack of communication to engender synergy among stakeholders in the water sector. Take for example borehole business is a multi-billion business opportunity in dollars in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the foreign companies have taken the opportunity, which Nigeria failed to see because no department in the federal ministry collaborates with the private sector, except to give contracts to selected non-professionals. So, drilling rigs and compressors are the major equipment we need to develop our underground water resources. So imagine what opportunity we lost. Why won’t we have water crises when we don’t have good equipment? Talk of the water quality, we have problems in terms of who the professional handling the jobs for clients is. What about the access and terrain issues? These and many other issues culminated to water crises. I won’t forget to mention uncoordinated urban development, deforestation and other technical issues. Lastly, government policy inconsistency in project execution is also a problem.

There was a report that Nigeria has made modest progress in expanding access to water sanitation and hygiene in Nigeria. Do you think this is true?

What is the definition of their modest progress and who gave such report? On what empirical information data do they base their justification for their modest progress? Under this government, Nigeria has made staggered progress because there is no coherent systemic idea of people having access to sustainable water supplies; hence the water supply system in Nigeria is grossly endangered by uncoordinated statistics. Nigeria had made modest progress by the number of individuals drilling their own boreholes, or the number of boreholes government has provided for the people. Nigerian Ministry of Water Resources has made progress by the number of their failed borehole projects six months after commissioning or some that were never commissioned and were captured as part of success, when private boreholes close to over 330 in number on the average are drilled daily in Nigeria. I don’t think the modest achievements captured are true as there are many failed programmes as established and verified by the financier, World Bank. I’m afraid we have not made any significant progress towards impact but only output. What is the record of all improved water resources and how have they benefitted the masses in solving their water supply problems? Why won’t the report capture the cholera diseases in Nigeria? At the last count, we have lost over 2,700 people to cholera disease in eight months. So moderate achievement is not only in caricature project execution and doling out contracts to cronies, but in promoting synergy among the concerned ministries, capacity development of practitioners and responsible personnel, stakeholders engagement and, most importantly, adoption of technological innovation.

What are the consequences of water shortage in Nigeria?

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It’s really glaring here, Cholera is right here in Nigeria. We are celebrating the International Day of the Girl Child all over the world in which their rights may be compromised if water is not efficiently provided for their use. Their hygiene is compromised and they find it difficult to attend schools. Production is affected, food shortages, environmental degradation as a result of burning bushes to look for water. Human health is compromised, because many fall sick if bad and compromised water is taken. More so, the capacity of our work force is reduced when water is scarce. Whereas if water is scarce as a result of climate change, it leads to security threat as we have in Lake Chad at the moment. Also, there will be social disruption because of engagement on siting of water infrastructure. Lastly, there will be economic dislocation because the poor have no access to water supply; hence they have to pay heavily for what is their right. Again, so many blue chip companies will take advantage of the poor people. One of the biggest issues that we seem to have leapfrogged over is not dry wells but polluted wells. There are too many polluted wells out there, so all of a sudden Africa has finally realised that ground water is not as abundant as they thought. This is one of the problems of water supply scarcity.

What are some of the life challenges you have faced so far, and how did you overcome them?

I have experienced many challenges especially in my business line. My company is one of the most distinguished and revered drilling companies in Nigeria. We were on the verge of our breakthrough when we looked out for a loan with a finance company from South Africa. Our company was doing well on the initial loan which we were paying as at when due. Then we were qualified for another loan double the first loan due to our performance. Unfortunately, regulation dealt a big blow on our company performance which affected our profitability. Our business needed standards to operate and perform well, but the non-professionals came into the business and changed the operating guidelines to suit the client needs against standard operating procedure. This made us to lose customers and made us indebted to our financier. The finance stopped and we were able to open up discussion with the financier on loan forgiveness and or debenture if it turns worse. But at the moment, we were able to reduce our renegotiated debt significantly and with our other strategy, we have bounced back and better. Although the listing of our company’s name on the credit check as a defaulter has marred our credit opportunity, we are trusting God for a better and sustainable opportunity in the nearest future. Government should protect private companies operating in their domain. They should give adequate support and listen to them. We are really not in a good form especially in the borehole water industry.

Any regrets in life?

The only regret I have in life is that I lost opportunities with many important dignitaries especially with a wonderful woman, Turai’ Yara’Dua the former First Lady of Nigeria and Dame Patience Jonathan.

What would you like to be remembered for?

I love to be remembered for one thing- that life became important for many people through my philanthropic activities to humanity.

Any role model?

Yes, I have a role model. He is Otunba Subomi Balogun of First City Merchant Bank (FCMB)..

What was growing up like

Growing up was good but rough. I was brought up by disciplined parents, but economic situations affected their roles in my life. I’m the fifth born of my parents but the change I brought made my younger sister to follow my path. It was not easy growing up in Nigeria.

Any memorable event?

The main memorable event in my life was when I launched my stellar projects, “Safe Water for all African Children”, where Turai Yar’adua attended the event which was done by proxy, by the then wife of the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience. That was the most memorable day of my life where I can put a project to that level which attracted such calibre of people.

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