Who is Michael Ale?
Michael Ale is a development practitioner, project development and sustainable development expert. I am also a geologist, water resources and energy expert, That is what I am by profession and by virtue of the number of degree(s) that I have. But who is Michael Ale again? He is dogged, erudite and a fighter when it comes to helping the poor. Helping the poor because I am more or less, a philanthropist. I give what I have within my coffer(s) to people and that is water. I have done quite a number of development works, giving people access to the most precious gold in the world which is water. So, water is my passion and if you call me a water man, you are not mistaken because that is what I am. I am a Christian, married and blessed with children; I’m an Ekiti man from Ayegbaju Ekiti in Oye Local Government. My primary school and secondary schools education were here in Ibadan. My first degree was at the University of Ilorin and then came back to the University of Ibadan for my other Masters degrees. I have companies that are into water and sanitation. So, Michael Ale is an erudite professional in the water sector who loves his job and passionate about water for the poor essentially
What is the attraction between you and water? Are you a marine spirit?
(Laughter) I am not a marine spirit but I love water. Initially when I was growing up, I was made to know that, in terms of choice of career, its ether you become a medical doctor, an engineer or a lawyer. Those were the three professions we knew. As for me, I wanted to be a medical doctor. Unfortunately, with my cut-off mark, I couldn’t make it to study Medicine. But I was a first aider. I loved to save lives and give respite to affected people. So, my uncle who was the deputy VC at the university at that time advised that I settle for Geology and Mineral Science. By the time we were get to the final year, we had to specialize and I chose Water. I first started in Oil and Gas but that industry was not good for me because there were lots of atrocities being perpetuated in the sector, which I will not like to talk about now. And in Water, I started with charity. I didn’t start with the fact that I needed money, I started with the passion to help the poor. Along the line, I became the youngest World Water Governor which had never happened to any African at that time. We were three that contested in 2006 and my passion took me to the highest point of my profession to become the governor. I found myself sitting with veterans at the age of 76-80, that have been in the industry for long, and I was just 33. It was so surprising. I was the youngest to ever assume that position, and as a black African. It’s good now that Nigerians are doing brilliantly well across the globe and being celebrated. Those days, we were not so recognized even though Nigerians were equally doing well at that time. My passion for water was a way of doing something similar to what I would have done as a medical practitioner and you know, water is life. A common slogan of doctors is “We Care, God Cures”. The slogan of my company is “God gives water; we find it”. So, when I see you have water problem, I see you as a patient who needs my assistance. But it’s not because I’m an expert in the field and can give you water, God gives that water that you desire, I can only find where it is. So, you don’t put all the responsibility of failure on me. In hospitals, not every operation is successful. Sometimes, people die. So, even if I am not a medical doctor, I want to save lives in my profession. It is the passion for saving lives that brought me into the water business and I love what I am doing.
What is the Independent Project Management Group (IPMG) all about?
Well, I am the founder and CEO of IPMG. When I finished my Professional Masters in Project Development and Implementation at the Department of Sociology, the University of Ibadan I, with a few colleagues, established the Association of Project Development Professionals. And we had several other people, and every student that graduated from that department joined the professional body. In Nigeria, we have budgets with all manner of names, Budget of Reconstruction, budget of this, budget of that. I know there are different consultants teaching different ministries and agencies how to develop their templates and budgets but those templates may not be adaptive to the desired impact expected for growth as a country. If you make it mandatory that every year, you just bring the template, just fill in and it becomes a budget document and you take it to the House of Assembly to be passed. By the time you are monitoring how far the budget implemented had affected growth of Nigeria, you find out that instead of moving forward, we are retrogressing. This is the reason: When an allocation comes from Federal Government to Ministries, Departments and Agencies, no body monitors that budget. I give it to a few young guys who expose activities of certain Zonal projects or constituency projects, but IPMG is a group that was formed out of the concern for the success of the project called Nigeria because there are so many of the projects that are not monitored. They are not well supervised. We give our independent opinion, outside the M & E department set up to monitor that project, and we do some of our jobs pro bono. Before you look at what the impact of a project can be, you must go back to the basis of the conception of that project. That is why IPMG is a monitoring group. And we have associates from universities that can come in when you have a project and you want us to independently assess it.
How successful has your group been in interacting with top government officials knowing fully well that money is to them than the impact of the project?
You know how projects go in Nigeria, although I am happy with the aspect of trying to stem down corruption in Nigeria which is an herculean task. For example, if a project is 100 per cent, the contractor will only have 40 per cent to execute while the remaining 60 per cent goes to government officials at different levels in the contract process. We know we have the issue of disclosure, so, we have a back-end strategy. For instance, we won’t go the Ministry of Water Resources to ask any director to tell us about the contract executed. Of course, it is public information. I may not have the details but I will see the budget document. From the document, even if I see a new project going on in a community, we can go in there, and trace the project to where it started from. That is for a project being executed. But for projects that they are not executing, it might be very difficult. You can invite us to monitor your project instead of singing your own praise. Instead of ministers coming to tell us what they are doing with our money, I will rather assess that minister by what people say going by the mandate given to him or her. The way it is, the Ministry of Water Resources cannot solve water problem in Nigeria. Simple. It’s not supposed to drill a single borehole. It’s supposed to look into management, capacity building, policy enhancement and other things which are soft copies. It’s not supposed to issue contracts. We have water contracts coming out from states, we have water projects by agencies and philanthropists, how do you want to bring all those projects from different sectors and be reporting them, it as yours. You can see it is complicated. So, if you really want to act according to your mandate to see that water is available, all you need to do is merge all the sectors, both private and public, and ‘minister’ to them on what to do. I find it very funny in Nigeria where the Minister of Works is the one implementing projects. They are for policies. Just go and check their mandate. You’ll see they are not supposed to issue out contracts. Sometimes there is misplacement of priorities. So, we use backend strategy to get our information, but not to witch-hunt. So, if you have a project, you invite our group, we assess it, rate it and give you the scorecard of how you have performed. Although, we focus more on projects from Word Bank and development partners. They are the ones that make use of independent assessors. They want an independent view of their projects outside their M & E departments and our report is more credible because we are not bias. It’s even good for government. Government releases money to different agencies. They should get an independent assessor to go to different ministries and bring reports. You can’t use an internal person; he will be partial. So, the Ministries of Finance and Budget and Planning should have sets of independent assessors to check their projects. I don’t know if they are doing it but if they are, it will be evident.
Let’s go to your state, Ekiti. What is the backdrop of GIND?
GIND is Global Initiative for Nigerian Development, otherwise known as DevNig. It is a new initiative established last year. As a sustainable development expert, I am part of the UN Sustainability Development Programme and the only way I can be useful and can be impactful as an expert in that area is to establish GIND. And as a GIND co-founder, I can only say a few things about what the initiative does. I was in US for a World Bank meeting and I saw a lady with a badge with an inscription, “Development Japan”. I moved close to her and said, “Why are you here, you are already a developed country?” She said, “No no no, we keep developing even if we are developed, we want to move higher. You may tag us as developed country, but we are still developing”. Here, we see ourselves as giant of Africa but that giant mentality has made us complacent. GIND, which I prefer to call, Development Nigeria, started because we want to develop Nigeria, just as I borrowed from that young lady. What causes development? We may have different ministries and departments but if you are not working together towards a common goal, you will not develop. Everybody will be doing their thing haphazardly. If the Ministry of Communications has a programme that doesn’t go in line with the Ministry of Water Reources, and they are not borrowing anything from Ministry of Agriculture, and not looking at Ministry of Works, and Housing, you’ll find out we are developing but haphazardly. For instance, Ibadan where we are now, is developing, but I’m sorry, we are developing haphazardly because somethings are lacking. One, we are not looking at what development is. We are not looking at the roles people should play. Now you can see several Housing Estates springing up from our green areas. And they are coming up without any reason or mindset of basic infrastructural needs put in place. And you are putting pressure on the government of the day. Electricity will spread to that place; we don’t have that capacity. Water will not get to that place from public water, private people like us are the ones enjoying. Roads, how many of those new places do you want to extend the roads to. This is robbing off on true development. How many of the states have a development plan? Oyo State has a development plan, how are they following the plan? Are the activities of the Ministry of Housing based on the plan as designed and approved? No. We are just spreading on the surface. It is robbing off on the responsibilities of the Local Governments. I saw on the billboard, Local government partnering with a company to build or sell land. In developed countries, you will see the local government are responsible for all the buildings. Nobody owns any building. That is why they can have their mosque, hospital gas pipeline and water sent to different houses, and they use private companies to charge for it and get their money. But here, what are our local governments managing? So GIND is out to bring reorientation to aspects that make development work for a particular administration. In Ekiti State, we are in the conceptual stage. I am sure Ekiti doesn’t have development plan. All these development plans must come in line with the national plan. GIND is going to see how we can bring all these sectors together and make civil service work effectively for development. Civil Servants are not working. They are not effective. It’s not about salary. And it’s only the government that can create that enabling environment and bring those policies together. Look at all the buildings springing up everywhere in Ibadan. We can have simple storey buildings, everyone staying in their apartments comfortably, but instead, everyone wants to have their own house. I wish a policy should come that nobody should build a house in Nigeria again. It is going to help us. It will be hard but it could be done for our own collective good. Most of my colleagues who have been in US, UK and elsewhere, for years will tell me they buy houses, occupy for certain number of years and sell it again, and move to another one. But you see them sending money down here saying “build house for me”. Why don’t you build that house in the country you have stayed for 40 years? And when you build the house in Nigeria, for how long are you going to stay, and you pass on. So, when we look at that, even if you build your house and you stay in there for 30 years, it’s the grace of God. How many houses are empty when the owner is gone? Check. The children cannot even come back to those houses. And you see them abroad, staying in one house that somebody built 200 years ago. The only construction going on abroad are for industries and offices, not live-in houses. So, we must change our mindset. When you want to create economic value for anything, you must change your policy. You concentrate on what brings impact. So, there are so many things that we are set to do. Our strategy involves using our students and lecturers, and we have a think-tank. Ekiti is proclaimed an academic environment but we have like four universities. In Ibadan, more than 10. So, which one is more academic. When you go to Massachusetts in the US, they are known for academics. Texas is known for oil; Colorado is known for water. They have strengths. So, if education is money for us, let us concentrate on education. Let’s have more than 100 universities in Ekiti. It will develop. Even in my small community where we have one university, come and see development. What stops us from having more than 20 universities in Ekiti and let everybody know that as children are going on holidays, they are coming to Ekiti. By that you are making everybody effective and not depending on federal allocation. So, GIND is set to do a lot. But you know our Nigerian factor, so we pray God gives us the grace to do all we wish to do.
How did you crash the price of borehole drilling?
That is an interesting story. And I have to ask for forgiveness for doing that. In those days, we had sub-standard equipment. They were not obsolete or bad, but just sub-standard. That was what all of us were using. A lot were locally fabricated and of course helped many people. I got my second equipment from India. I bought my first one in Nigeria, it was brand new and imported by my financier. I was able to pay their money back in one or two years. They were happy. After that, they gave me another offer and I went for the fund. But this time around, I said I wanted to go and get the equipment myself. So, I travelled to India. That is why I said I’ll ask for the forgiveness of the artisans. In India, we have the turners that could not speak simple English other than Indian language. They started from nothing and grew to become something. They were able to use their money to develop their activities in terms of developing iron and turning it to rigs and going to get compressors, mounting it and from local production, they became exporters. And they could not speak simple English. The business boomed in their country because of scarcity. The scarcity gave rise to many of them and they became great and started getting things right. And they were getting support from their government. They were using the money to train their children who are now the second generation in the business and now putting their own children, the third generation in the business. But the foundation was their fathers who were uneducated. These new guys went for business administration and were able to hire graduates and PhD holders to man those operations. And India became the best exporter of rigs all over the world. We also had Korean rigs, Japanese rigs and locally fabricated rigs but my rigs came from India. With that equipment, I could finish my job in four hours and that was when I started my advert, four-hour drilling and people were like “Ha ha! Are you sure?” Because in those days, you could remain on a job for two weeks. Some will even leave their equipment and go for one year. So, invariably, those were the drastic changes that came into the business. But like I said, I will ask for forgiveness because I am sure the business would have grown if the equipment had not come. But then the Indians saw the opportunity with my first rig. The ones that came saw that I was doing like 5000 jobs in a year and they realized there was business in Nigeria and they bombarded our market and created a glut. That sent most of our colleagues out of the business. Almost half of our colleagues were out of the business. Whereas if that hadn’t happened, and I was able to probably help in terms of developing their character, which is difficult, by now we would have people using Made in Nigeria rigs. But that is what our association is canvassing for now. To right the wrong, canvass for Made in Nigeria rigs, ask government to come and support the local artisans and everyone will be happy. We have water problem and it keeps growing. Nobody has water, everybody is going for borehole and it is the new normal and so, government must now look at a way to bridge that and say instead of importing more of these rigs, why not take advantage of this glut since they know they can’t solve the water problem. Now, the question is: Is it the Ministry of Water Resources that will be looking at that? No, Science and Tech can look into that. Their agency can look into that and make things happen.
Does the multiplicity of boreholes have any geological implications in cities and across the nation?
I’ve argued this at several fora. Irrespective of what implications we have, first thing is about profit. I’m just being blunt, not being diplomatic. I know we’re talking about Climate change, depletion of the ozone layer and other issues. But, has the issues affecting marine life stopped the superpowers from deploying their sub-marines for operations? The airplane that we fly all the time, you think it’s not toxic. Those fumes the airplane releases also deplete the ozone layer. Why not tell the airlines not to fly because the polar ice caps are melting? You want to tell the military not to plant mines even when it is dangerous to land and people? Same way, you won’t tell anybody who has built his house not to drill a borehole when you have not provided alternatives. If you had given me a line that could give me water everyday why would I need a borehole? If you had allocated a house for me, why would I need to spend N25million building my house when throughout my life I cannot pay N25 million as rent. And mind you, banks are not even looking at house for conditions for loans again, so your C of O is as good as nothing. In the olden days, we were having wells which are of shallow depth like 30 to 40 metres. And we have it in such a way that it doesn’t affect the basic fracture zones. We have water in-between these fractures and they are act like buffer and suspension for the earth where we are seated now. We have the cracks and we have water helping the friction between the upper layer and the lower layer. When you punch through and extract the water, you are causing a vacuum. The vacuum is then, filled with water. But you are drilling the water out to the point that there is a shift either side-ways or depression. Recently, you heard of buildings cracking or collapsing because the amount of water being extracted is too much. By the time rain falls, the rain water goes in there and fill those spaces again. Don’t be surprised that during dry season again, you’ll see houses falling down. Let’s go to the herders and farmers clash; from April, May, June to November, you won’t hear of herders-farmers clash. Why? Water has taken over. There are green areas and the cows can drink. But from November to March, you start hearing of herders- farmers clash because the herders must give water to their herds and feed them with green shrub. That is one issue we have when it comes to water. So, it has its good part and its bad part. In the herders-farmers clash, we are looking at other things other than the fact that water is he cause of those fights. When they get to a place that is green, it means somebody has invested in there, but the herder sees green for his cattle. But if we had it in abundance, would there be fight? Is the government looking at the root cause of farmers-herders clash? So, generally, we are not saying it’s not going to have any side-effect, it will but how do we manage it? When we don’t even have water to live, is it side-effect we should be worried about? The person that has to go to the stream to get water to drink, does he look at the side effect to his health?
You have interacted with a lot of stakeholders, especially in Abuja. What do you think is essentially wrong with our politics?
The fundamental issue with our politics is the perception we have about politics. We may think the problem is the constitution but the real problem is the perception that policy drivers have about politics and the loopholes created in the past. For example, politics cannot go without he activities of the civil servants. We have the executives, the legislatures and the judiciary. The executive work with civil servants; the legislative arm works with civil servants; the Judiciary also works with civil servants. So, you see that civil service cuts across all the lines of our politics in Nigeria. So, whether we like it or not, we cannot exonerate the civil servants from the political problems we have in Nigeria. A politician will not know how to steal except a civil servant teaches him. A politician will not know how to siphon money except he is working with the Permanent Secretary or Director. And they are the ones who go to the politicians to teach them the ropes. You may not have the mindset to steal but when they come with that kind of idea, its left to you. Secondly, anyone getting to position of power as a politician, sees that the politics is for you to have juicy opportunities. Most times when I go to Ekiti, I hear people saying things like: “Fayemi did not even support us, this four years, he’s not doing anything for we that are the core APC”. Why must he do something for the core APCs? For what? If he’s doing his work across board, why must he do something for you as a member of the political party. How many people can he satisfy? You put him there because you want him to work. Why not allow him work and see that his work is going well and praise his work. You can’t have politics alone as a business. You must have other things you do. And if you have invested your money in that politics for the person to emerge, you can have your terms. But if you are doing it without having any agreement, I don’t see any reason why that should happen. So, the gullibility of our people has made politics look like you must have something to gain. And you know that when you are there, the naughty behavior that you exhibit makes people focus on you and know that you are not a good person. The important thing is that we have not really come to appreciate what politics is. You are there as a politician to make policies that will improve the lives of people. Look at the problems, the lacunas, the issues and develop policies that will make life easier for the people you are representing. That is why they voted for you. If you are there as a member of House of Reps and you have a constituency that lacks water, what are you going to do in that House? You are making policy for regulation of aviation industry whereas your constituency lacks water. We need people who have good understanding of their responsibilities. It is what you bring to the table that we follow. That is the politics. It is the attitude you bring. And politics starts from home, to the office and to the general public. And it’s not the fault of the politician. It is the fault of we the people. When we put them, we must be able to say, this is what we want. I’m part of a group in UK. All they do is monitor those Mayors and MPs, and invite them for talks. So, they are always going for meetings. That’s why you don’t see any governor or MP sitting down. They make policies, they don’t implement projects. Have you ever seen them commissioning roads or gas plants? Or doing ground breakings? So, what is the problem? It’s the civil servants and we the people. Most of the time, we deal with consequences and forget the root causes. We say the politicians are stealing our money, who made him steal the money? Whenever they come home, you see people gather to collect their own share. So, tell me, who is the problem. When a politician knows you are coming, he’ll go and look for money to give you. As a politician, if you don’t do that, they won’t recognize you the next time you come.
If per chance as a technocrat and development expert, you are invited to government, would you serve?
Well, service is broad. Okonjo-Iweala today, wouldn’t have been so known if she hadn’t served as a World Bank MD and served as a Minister for Finance for two terms, pursued her career in other areas before the WTO opportunity came. If an opportunity to serve comes to me and it is an opportunity to solve people’s problems, why would I refuse? If it’s an opportunity to put my mindset to work, it won’t be a problem to me. I will definitely take the offer.
In the absence of mentorship in Nigeria, what advice do you have for the youth?
The question is who wants to mentor who? May be out of your own generation, you have like one percent of you that are good mentors, the remaining 99% have lost hope in the project called Nigeria. So, what do you want to tell the youth about hope? If you are mentoring them, you’ll be mentoring them in the negative. But for those showcasing good traits, Adesina, Okonjo-Iweala, and others, how many of them do we have. They can be mentors but their position will not allow them except as virtual mentors. If I become a mentor to somebody, that person must have seen something tangible in me but how many of them can I mentor. Today, you must mentor them by what they can see. Stop mentoring our young guys when you can’t show them anything. These days, they want to see where has this man gotten to? What can I even emulate from this man? What has he done? You see, with all these things we are doing, they’ll rush to us later because they can see results. When children of nowadays don’t see results, it’s not mentorship. Go to churches today, they are not looking at anyone as mentors. On Friday, they are in clubs, on Sunday, they are in church. And when they come, they will not hear any message of salvation except prosperity. And so, Friday, they go to club, Saturday, weddings and Sunday Church, and it becomes a routine. So, what mentorship are we looking at?
Is 2023 feasible to you, given what is presently happening?
We don’t need to go far. The bye-election that happened in Lagos after EndSARS, did anybody saw it coming at all? After EndSARS when people were killed, did we see that election coming? Did we see that the same authority will clinch all the tickets for that bye-election? Did we saw it coming? It happened about two weeks after that EndSARS issue. And they still won. If the whole country got burnt, the 2023 election will hold. However, the circumstances and situation will still come back to a round table negotiations. And you see the permutations already going on.
Is this self-determination voices getting louder?
It’s one thing to get louder, it’s another to be persistent, and then another to be resilient. They are getting louder and persistent. Aisha Yesufu is still out there. We are still hearing of Sowore. Even Sunday Igboho has become a factor. I know 2023 will happen. Our youths just have to know how to play the game.