AWDROP’s colaboration with FG is for Nigeria’s wellbeing, economic growth – Michael Ale
As the world celebrates the 2020 World Water Day, Michael Ale, geo-scientist, hydrologist, and the National President, Association of Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners had a chat with The Guardian on the activities of AWDROP in Nigeria’s water industry, expectations from the synergy of the Association with the Federal Government, and sundry issues. Excerpts…
AWDOP and Nigeria’s Water Services Industry
AWDROP is an umbrella body of drilling rig owners, practitioners, and development experts in the field of drilling which people commonly refer to as borehole or water-well. The Association also consists of companies and individuals who are professionals in the field of extraction of groundwater for the welfare and wellbeing of the populace, and national economic development.
Unfortunately, right now about 70% of Nigerians has access to groundwater while those who have access to the piping system are just a little over 20%!
The World Bank recent diagnostic report shows that the number of households that have been piped is just 7% which was actually 25% in 1990 but by 2015, it went down to 7%. That is, for three decades there has been a retrogression as far as the water supply is concerned in Nigeria. This is absurd and unacceptable to the status of the country. Therefore, the role of AWDROP is to bridge the gap in the source of water supply to the nation.
Meanwhile, the preponderance of unprofessional elements operating within the industry remains a disturbing trend which prompted the Association to embark on an aggressive campaign for the Federal Government to regulate the industry. This started with the creation of AWDROP six years ago and we are extremely delighted that government has rejuvenated the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Commission (NIWRC), whose mandate includes licensing of practitioners and companies operating within the industry. Today, ten of our registered companies and two hydro-geologists were issued licenses.
This is a good development for Nigeria because it is a common practice in other countries, even in Africa. A good example is Uganda, where there is a system – the law that established the ministry and other parastatals in the Water Sector have the power to license operators in the industry.
With this new development, we now have a lot of professionals coming into the business as part of an effort to phase out quacks who have hitherto dominated the activities in the sector.
Professionalism and certification in Water Sector
As mentioned earlier, before now unqualified and unprofessional drillers took over almost all activities in the industry. Unfortunately, the general public contributed greatly to this ugly trend because of the level of understanding of the sector and its importance. In addition, it was not openly embraced by the professionals who would have been in a better position to enlighten the citizenry on the importance of groundwater and the benefits to the nation’s economic growth by contributing to gross domestic product (GDP).
Interestingly, people across the country have protested and condemned lack of power supply, good roads, fuel, etc, but we hardly witnessed protests against lack of potable water supply whereas many die daily because of water-borne diseases. No politician has ever been rejected at the poll for not being able to provide water for the people.
Although, water has been regarded as a human right by local and international institutions, it is being treated as a commodity and purely a business concern. Since the government has slacked in its responsibility of providing adequate potable water for the citizenry, people take it upon themselves to make water available for essential use by merely looking for a plumber who is not a trained geoscientist or an expert in the field to do a professional job.
That is wrong. We employ quacks because the service is cheaper? For few who approach the professionals, they price the service instead of costing it. Borehole is not just a commodity, it is a project that attracts a cost.
Appraising government’s effort
All issues surrounding the development of water services in Nigeria has not been coordinated properly. Nevertheless, we give kudos to the Federal government especially, the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources under Engr. Suleiman Hussein Adamu who has been active in ensuring that the industry operates within the best global practice.
We want him to do more, in order to make water the business of the professionals, create jobs and generate wealth, without disregarding the human right aspect of water. The surface and ground waters are within the purview of the Federal Minister of Water Resources and none of the two is less important than the other. It is very important to conserve and preserve these precious resources.
Most importantly, Government should re-declare the State of Emergency on Sanitation and release fund for massive water Borehole Projects across the nation to support the masses, since many depend on on-site off-grid water supply for their livelihood.
Finally, the Emergency Water Fund should be released under the State of Emergency declaration to support rural people that may be affected because of the current economic situation.
Expectations from practitioners, FG collaboration
With the rejuvenation of the Nigeria Integrated Water Resources Commission (NIWRC), the regulatory body for all activities in the water sector, all persons that have no business within the sector must be screened out. This must be followed by quality training for the different cadre of the operators. However, in consideration of the unemployment rate in the country, those that are categorized as quacks can also be trained to upgrade their status to play another lesser role in the industry – not as professionals. A professional must have gone through the university to obtain a degree in a relevant field before being licensed to operate.
We cannot bend the rules based on sentiments. There are three categories of actors in the industry. The first is water well drillers, who do not need a school certificate but can be trained. Secondly, the water well drilling contractors, who must be a hydro-geologist and a member of the Council of Nigerian Mining Engineers and Geoscientists (COMEG) registered with a stamp. This group can get licensed by the Commission to operate and deal with the public.
The third category is the water well companies where anyone who has a rig can fit in. Meanwhile, the company must employ a certified hydro-geologist as Manager. This arrangement is aimed to take away quacks in the industry. We are quite delighted that the new leadership at NIWRC under its Executive Director, Alhaji Magashi Umar, is doing its best to ensure that things function properly within the nation’s water industry.
Local content and backward integration in the water industry
The collaboration between operators in the water sector and the government is a great development. By the issuance of the licensing runts to water well practitioners have really established one fact that henceforth government can be sued if they contract businesses that would have ordinarily given to indigenous firms to a non-licensed operator. In addition, NIWRC has the power to warn other agencies of government on the implication of dealing with non-licensed operators.
Presently, because the water services sector is not well coordinated, expatriates still get over 80% of the business. Foreigners came in because the laws and rules guiding their operations were not implemented but going forward those laws will be enforced to sanitize the industry and ensure indigenous companies take their right of place.
Soon, there would not be operators with no office or structure – this will not happen again as the lack of coordination has put many drilling companies out of business. With the current development, the financial prospect of the business is bright, licensed companies can approach banks for loans to deliver their projects.
Before now, no drilling company was able to access the much talked about SME funds because drilling business was not attractive to lenders – any unregulated business will be unattractive to banks. But right now all that would change, we are bankable industry.
Next level for AWDROP
AWDROP has resolved to fight. We are ready to take a lot of people and entities to court. If the government has deemed it fit to issue us license; that means there is a need to protect our rights by informing the public to engage only licensed operators in their services – not patronise quacks.
In addition, we expect the government to give training on the use of the license given to us. This is because we are still new to it and one of the conditions attached to the license is that we must display the same in our offices – any operator without an office cannot be licensed.
Furthermore, an operator is required by law to give a photocopy of the license to the client to enable fairness and possible ligation in case such an operator fails to fulfil the obligations of delivering a contract.
There is also the need for enlightenment on the rights of the client. Therefore, AWDROP can get involved in client – operator issues only if such member is licensed.
We also planned to draw the attention of the law enforcement agencies on our license and how to support us, clamp down on unlicensed operators in achieving the best in the industry, as well as, the overall wellbeing of Nigerians.
We shall also set up a task force to ensure every organisation or individual operating within the sector in any part of the country are licensed. Similarly, we need to sensitize the public to be wary of unlicensed operators engaging in unethical practices.
Just within the six years of its creation, AWDROP is recognised internationally and has presence in all six geopolitical zones with chapters in 17 states, soon to be expanded to 27.
Water has no boundaries. Presently, we are fully engaging with AWDROP in other countries within the continent and across the globe who are registered practitioners. This is to enhance peer review and comparison, share ideas and experience, and see areas for improvement in our activities. AWDROP Nigeria already visited counterparts in Europe and the USA and we are copying a number of their processes and procedures to improve our deliverables here at home.
Although government regulations and policies are different, there are still areas of concern across the board to ensure global best practices. There must be sanity in the nation’s water sector and we want people from other countries to come and take positive examples from Nigeria.
Connections between coronavirus and water
First of all, AWDROP wishes Nigerians and people across the globe a ‘Happy World Water Day’! Sadly, the Coronavirus which has ascended a pandemic status is quite worrisome and has dampened the excitement which would have naturally come with the global event.
Coronavirus is not air-borne, it is a surface organism that clings on any available surface. If it is airborne, the entire human race will be exterminated. It is a surface virus where an individual can be infected by touches. When the person touches other parts of his body or other persons, especially the face, the virus moves to other vital organs like the eyes, mouths, ears and the nose for onward transmission to the respiratory system where it wreaks the most havoc. Once it is in the respiratory system, it increases body temperature and affects other internal organs.
Meanwhile, over the years we have emphasized WASH, an acronym for ‘Water Sanitation and Hygiene’: Here, the central role of water is demonstrated. The water and sanitation aspects have been the major campaign all over the world which is coming to play currently.
Recently, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) demonstrated how people should wash their hands in a video that went viral. It is all about WATER. After using sanitizer or soap, one still needs water to complete the process and achieve the purpose of cleaning and removing germs. Interestingly, there is no face sanitizer or antiseptic yet, so everything depends on water.
We advise the Federal Government to follow what is being done in other climes – containment. China was able to achieve this success because the entire population has water in their homes. But the Nigerian situation is a pathetic one. How many Nigerians have access to pipe-borne water in their homes? The piping system here is very poor, just like electricity. Anyone in isolation needs two basic things to survive: water and energy.
That is the correlation between water and COVID 19, water is essential. The apt theme for this year should have been “Water and Human Health”.