‘Why Nigerians don’t have access to safe drinking water’
Michael Ale, an engineer, a water resources management consultant and development expert is the national president of the Association of Water Well Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioner (AWDROP). He is also Chief Executive Officer of Male Integrated Sciences Nigeria Limited, the largest indigenous borehole drilling company. In this interview with
Daniel Anazia, he spoke on the ways the government can provide safe drinkable water for Nigerians and the problems associated with the involvement of indigenous companies in the provision of potable water.
Many Nigerians do not have access to safe drinking water. What do you think has accounted for the failure of government in this regard?
I would say the root cause of not having access to drinkable water or safe drinking water starts from the government. You know that there is this United Nations human rights law that says we should all have access to safe-drinking water. By this, government responsibility is to provide water for us, and in the provision of water, government has been so magnanimous enough to come up with initiatives of different project activities that is tailored towards providing safe-drinking water for communities. It could be through senatorial activities or through budgetary allocation.
Government comes up with a policy direction and framework designed to achieve the set target, but they fail to come up with kind of operational procedures that will ensure that what they have set as a project development goal, go through a SMART procedure. By this, I mean a specific, measurable, articulate, reliable and time bound.
Government alone should not be blamed. Government gives out the contract, but to whom? It monitors the project, by whom? It hands over the project to whom? Billions of naira has been spent on dams and they are still the way they are.
Looking at the River Basin Authorities, to what extent have they been able to actualize their mandate?
Well from personal perspective, I would say that the River Basin Authorities have done much if you want to evaluate them. A study can be carried out on the activities of each of the River Basin Authority to know what they have done in recent time. The new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, through the Minister of Water Resources has started well with the setting up of a committee that will see to the re-organisation of the River Basin Development Authorities in Nigeria. Without the re-organisation, I can tell you that there is no activity in the water sector in Nigeria that will succeed.
Some of them in terms of administration and awarding of contracts have not been transparent. The River Basin can still be the best if their activities are well harnessed. We cannot continue to develop and develop without looking at the aspect of management. Some of them have done well, particularly in the North, South West and East but they are not doing enough. Many of these infrastructure are embarrassment to the authority. So, there is need for restructuring, and I’m happy that the minister, Suleiman Adamu, has started on a good note by re-organizing the River Basin Authorities.
What essentially do you think is wrong with our dams?
Our management, monitoring and reporting skills or output is low. When you give an assignment to somebody there is need for a feedback. For instance somebody has been awarded a contract to repair a dam to the tune of N500 million, after the repair must have been carried out, all that is needed to be seen is the output; government is not concerned about the outcome, the impact or the result that the intervention brings to them. If you look at it from this angle, you will discover that all that is needed is a change in management or the reporting mechanism between the federal government, who is giving out the money and the River Basin Authorities that are responsible to carry out that intervention Government should go beyond spending money for intervention, but inquire why the problems keep recurring.
The bigger problem is that impact assessment are not usually carried out on government projects, all they are after is the output. Government has never considered project monitoring and evaluation reporting procedure as key to sustainable development of any of their project, which invariably if they come up with a very good detail framework, it is easy for them to see that money spent on any project is effectively utilized and there is good result. The problem with most corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects is that after they are beautifully designed and executed, there is usually no start-up money for maintenance, and by so doing they end up putting the benefitting community in the problem of looking for money to maintain such project.
Don’t you think that leaving water production to the private sector would make it too costly for an average Nigerian to have access to safe drinking water?
Talking about water, you have the ordinary water and safe-drinkable, portable water. The difference is that there is a lot of commercially inclined processes that goes into processes of that ordinary water. For example, alum is one of the value chains of processing water. It coagulates and makes the water look neat. Chlorine is also another. These are reagents, which are produced in the lab. In the dam site there are components of treatments, this includes the engine, which are bought with money. If you go to the dam site you see that water is usually not clean as all manner of dirt goes into it, but by the time it undergoes the processes, it comes out clean and pure for drinking.
Even in the developed climes, it is the wastewater that is collected through a central sewage system that is refined and passed back to the people. Even if government refines the water, pumping it, they need diesel. For instance, in Ibadan, the water scheme is at Asejire, and the distance between the place and Ibadan is about 100 kilometres. Therefore, pumping water for such long distance involves a lot of money. So, if you take these processes into consideration, you discovered that safe, drinkable and portable water can never be free but ordinary water can.
What would be the role of government, particularly in providing social services if they cannot provide drinkable water to the citizens?
There is nowhere in the world where drinkable water is provided free for people. I have been in the U.S. and the UK, and water runs in my house and I pay the bill. I buy water provided by private individuals from stores. The private individual manages water run into homes because people pay for services and not for water.
If smartness were inculcated into our governance, government would not be running after anybody to pay tax because the system makes the individuals pay. This same thing is applicable to water, if government can inculcate smartness into water management, they don’t need to run after anybody to pay their water bill because there is a process in the system that makes them to pay. If government pipe public or state-owned water into our various homes and it’s running 24 hours, nobody will think about drilling a borehole and they will pay their bills. If the bill is extra-ordinary, the individual citizen can decide to opt out by demanding that he or she be cut off from the supply. Because people pay more than four times when they are running on government utility compare to the privately owned and managed utilities.
Government has failed in their responsibilities.
Your Association has been at the forefront of safe water in this country. To what extent are you trying to eliminate the incidence of quacks?
When we regulate, we make the quack inactive. We are not eliminating them. A quack can still become a professional, so I would not look at the aspect of eliminating them, they are human beings and they have got their own wisdom of getting things done in their way.
Any company under this amalgamated association must have the pre-requisite to be a driller, you must have been trained and certified and the company accredited by the Association and licensed by the government. If we have the framework well established, it is then we can compete and meet international standard.
As a body, our activities go beyond accrediting drillers, we also support government. Part of our responsibility is to develop ideas for the government. We have so far ensured that our members are compliant, but the deviants, whom we refer to as quacks are those we are trying to find a solution to. If government hands off in regulation, then we can set up a regulatory committee and I think that is going to be the next line of action.
How has Male Integrated Science Nigeria Limited been able to contribute to the Nigeria water industry and cushion the situation in the country?
Male Integrated Science Nigeria Limited is not only into borehole drilling we are also into software management. Water has both the hardware and software components, and that is the initiative that Male Integrated Science is bringing into water sector, especially water utility. We want to support any utility with software aspect of water management. We have handled several projects, and at the moment, we are handling one for the World Bank. We have for the Federal Government and some state governments. We are presently setting up the largest alum plant where alum raw materials used in treating water is manufactured locally with use of bauxite which is converted to alumina.
We have an NGO that runs on a programme: Safe Water For All Africa Children. The project is being owned by whoever that is the first lady at any particular time. We would be approaching the wife of the current president, Hajia Aisha Muhammadu Buhari to take over the chair of the project.