Professor: We gave a N30 million quotation but they spent N200 million (Interview Part II)

prof-mkc-sridhar

Professor: We gave a N30 million quotation but they spent N200 million (Interview Part II)

In this concluding part of wastesmart.org’s interview (“Prospects of waste management in Nigeria”) with Prof. MKC Sridhar, we examine solutions to challenges facing waste management in Nigeria. Prof. MKC Sridhar, an Indian national, started his love affair with Nigeria in 1977. Since then, he has been involved in various developmental activities in Nigeria. He is a well respected Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Faculty of Public Health, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Read the first part of the interview here.

 

 

Is the Government aware of the prospects of and how much we can as a country benefit from waste management?

Prof: I’m sure they are not that blind. They know what is happening but I have a feeling that they don’t care. Unfortunately, what they are aiming at is what they can gain immediately without wasting time as individuals but not as an Institution. While we continue to encourage this (recycling) venture, the (what’s-in-for-me) mindset has to be done away with.

 

I’m sure they are not that blind. They know what is happening but I have a feeling that they don’t care. Unfortunately, what they are aiming at is what they can gain immediately without wasting time as individuals but not as an Institution.

 

As Nigerians, we understand the problems with the bureaucracy in our polity. In response to that and other avenues for public wastages, one of the models wastesmart.org is advocating is removing or greatly minimising government’s involvement in projects of this sort. Would that be ideal? Is it a workable model?

 

Prof: That is what we are aiming at too. We have failed with government. The typical example is the Bodija Fertilizer plant initiated in 1990s supported by the Oyo State Government, UN Habitat, UNICEF, and people from Ghana attended. Participants came from Ghana, and other neighbouring countries, learnt how to do it and went back to replicate it in Kumasi and other locations. Then, we (my team with Federal Ministry of Environment) went round the country (Nigeria) organising 3 training workshops: one in Minna, one in Owerri and one in Sango Ota, then, covering all the 36 States. All of them were trained. In the training programme, we all gained.

 

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The UN Habitat also said that if any State could volunteer to start a project, they would give counterpart funding. Sustainable Ibadan Project played a very prominent role in this programme in bringing all stakeholders. Nobody came forward after the training programme. All of them were there in the training programme and they appreciated it but at the end of the day, nothing. That was an eye opener there. After that, the Bodija plant which was novel. We didn’t spend much money. Today although the structures are intact, all the machines have broken down. That was in 1996. Several Governors have changed after its initiation.

 

The UN Habitat also said that if any State could volunteer to start a project, they would give counterpart funding. Nobody came forward...

 

And then, we went to Ondo State when the Late Segun Agagu was the Governor. In Ondo State, there was a problem there again, we provided the knowledge. What we proposed was not a gigantic project but a very small scale one but the Governor committed it into the hands of some people and they said “No, we want a very big one for the entire waste we want to manage”. We gave a N30 million quotation but they spent several times more than that, but they spent several times more than that (N200 million). Several Project Managers came in and left but the challenges were not addressed by any of them.

 

 

Prof. MKC Sridhar, one of the most respected experts in waste management in Nigeria (Image credit: wastesmart.org)

 

After we handed the project over to them, we resorted to monitoring it. We used to see and discuss about what needed to be done. Anytime a bolt went missing, or anything went missing or water supply broke down and the workers go to report to him that a bolt was missing, the response was always “No money”. Although the facility was generating revenue, they did not spend any money on the maintenance of the machines. One of the Project Managers, retired, I met him recently. He came to embrace me and said when he was in charge of the recycling, he made a profit of N5 million. Then I told him right there, “I have known you for many years. We told you to run the factory and put some money back into it but what did you do with the money made? You ran it down.” Now that he’s retired, he started his own recycling factory. You see that kind of thinking? When he was there he couldn’t make any difference; that is what government/leadership is about to some people.

 

What we proposed was not a gigantic project but a very small scale one but the Governor committed it into the hands of some people and they said “No, we want a very big one for the entire waste we want to manage”. We gave a N30 million quotation but they spent several times more than that.

 

There is another experience I had in Minna, Niger state. We provided the needed things. Every time a new commissioner is appointed, they will phone me from Niger State saying “We want to revive the plant. Can you please give a quotation?” Recently, we sent another quotation. If you can spend another N4 million, you can put back all the machines. Meanwhile, all the equipments there are rusting. Then, there was a change in government. Then another man said “We are a very poor state”. (Long and short of the story) nothing was done.

 

The private sector has a peculiar problem. Ayeye community (Ibadan) is community-based. UNICEF gave some money and we gave technical expertise and the Local Government also gave some money. So we put up a very small plant that didn’t cost more about N2.5 million. There is a shed, a sorting center .and there are machines that were locally fabricated, everything is there. Some people in the community patronize them; some people don’t because the Chairman of the facility was not friendly with them. That created a problem. But we told, don’t involve politics, whatever you’re gaining, share among yourselves, carry yourselves along. If you sell plastics or bottles or metals, you’re to share among you. But now, one group is running the show, the other group is not. That kind of situation could create unnecessary problem for the community.

 

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Aleshinloye market is still running because it’s because it was “Build, operate and transfer type of facility” and we have put a private plant manager among our own teams. We also developed the management structure with guidelines. When you are running the plant, we don’t get involved. We only help you with things you have a problem with. There are two types of management structures: one is market level, one is at the plant. Every day, that plant manager complains that some of the people in the management come to him to ask “What do you have for us today?”, thus, a part of the money (generated from the recycling plant) was not going into the (plant’s) account. We also told them not to encourage the State and Local Government people to come and “spoil” their facility. That problem must be corrected. But still, they are making some money.

 

Aleshinloye market is still running because it’s because it was “Build, operate and transfer type of facility” and we have put a private plant manager among our own teams.

 

When the Akure project was being flagged off, the then President commissioned it. Then he (the President) left everybody and came to me shake hands and said “This is what we want for the country”. I said “No problem. Whenever you want us, we would come and help for the good of the country.” Till he left the Government, nothing happened, perhaps for different reasons. Recently, he commissioned an “educational facility”, where we provided 3 (recycling) units: Organic Fertilizer, Plastic Recycling and Biogas. We have handed over 2 units: Plastic Recycling and Biogas. We’re yet to properly hand over organic fertilizer because they have not released the full money yet. So you see, there is ample opportunity in waste recycling but problem is that people are not working with government.

 

There is another area, Abule Egba, in Lagos. In fact, the entire street has recyclers. I was there. They don’t pay taxes as they are in small businesses but they are doing serious stuff there. What we are trying to do is to bring them out and give them opportunities. Anytime they want consultancy, we can provide. The environment gains.

 

Our aim is to mobilise a fresh wave of youth who are interested in waste management but who currently lack requisite skills. Through our platform (wastesmart.org), we hope to equip them to go into this line of business. For the benefit of those who would read this, what are the emerging opportunities in waste and environmental management that interested youth could invest in or learn? What emerging opportunities should they look out for?

Prof: Of course, mobilizing the youths is very important. But how do you do it? I know that as a private body you can easily mobilise the youths. What they need is training; they need skills development. How do we do that? Another example I will give you is in Abia state. The present governor, Ikpeazu when he was about to become the governor, somebody came for us, and asked for what the governor could do to celebrate his 100 days in office. Of course everything went into politics and then, it was delayed. At that time, we proposed a recycling village to him. As the governor, he has the land, he has everything. Don’t commit mobilizing the youths or managing the facility to the government to manage, rather, involve the private sector.

 

Don’t commit mobilizing the youths or managing the facility to the government to manage, rather, involve the private sector.

 

So you could gather youths and tell them, this room (Kiosk) is yours, what can you do? Some could take to plastic, some glass, some grinding. Suppose you develop a team of 50 to 60 people,give each of them one task, and then, some support, infrastructural support in the form of water, light and then roads. If these few things are supplied, they should be on the run. If with these they cannot run, then, they are not fit for the job. So that kind of proposal is workable because the government to some extent, will rush for it.

 

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Aleshinloye market was successful because we didn’t rely on the government. In fact, so many of them came; representatives of the State Government, as well as officials of the Local government used to come every week for distractions, complaints and all kinds of things. Luckily for them, Professor Oyediran was the Chairman of NINAAFEH who built it through MTN Foundation funds. He was very firm and he took care of everything from documentation just to ensure everything was perfect so nobody could really touch it. Even when the government came to inquire about who provided the land, permits etc., he was ready with necessary documents. So what we have done (at Aleshinloye) is to give them (the market women and men) something to help them grow but without dabbling with its day-to-day running.

 

Prof Sridhar with volunteers on the interview team from wastesmart.org. (On the far right is Mr. Michael, one of Prof’s PhD students)/(Image credit: wastesmart.org)

 

However, there is another part people are also questioning, “How can you manage a thing without government support? Whatever you do ultimately, government has to play a role, minimal, clear-cut roles. Government cannot be totally boycotted. So that is why in some proposals, government’s involvement is very minor. You should also be plain in your dealings; this is very important.

 

“How can you manage a thing without government support? Whatever you do ultimately, government has to play a role, minimal, clear-cut roles. Government cannot be totally boycotted.

 

Whatever you’re seeing in Aleshinloye can be replicated with hands-on training. These are trainings we do particularly for biogas and smokeless charcoal. Hands-on training means we provide materials, our technical group goes there to train and we build together. So we’re building and they are watching. That was how we did in several places FUTO, in Makarfi, in Calabar, there’s one in Malete (Kwara state) and others.

 

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At the time, one of the States wanted to learn, and we told them, fine, play your part. So they funded it, and all of them were 60-80 people due for training. We built with them, there’s no secret about it. That kind of programme will help a lot. So if you know what you are doing, you will know how to go about it, hands-on training, that’s what the government should do, they should fund it, but to some extent don’t commit it solely to the Government. That kind of it can only happen through NGOs or the youths. Maybe NGOs can bring it to them, some coming in by donations, some kind of contributions.

 

Whatever you’re seeing in Aleshinloye can be replicated with hands-on training.

 

But are there some bodies that you know that can readily support the youths that are interested in going into it? Are there bodies or maybe scholarships or some funding agencies that will readily support?

Prof: When President Buhari announced that they will give#5,000 relief to youth unemployment, I was not too comfortable with that kind of a thing. When you give #5,000 to these people, they will spend it in a few days. What next? For someone who wants to come and establish something (e.g. a recycling facility), the government can only provide part of the percent or other appropriate support, so they know how to work; that is what’s very important, not money. It can be improvement on some facilities like the power sector. That is the kind of thing the government should do; and they should be properly documented and should not misuse it. In all these ventures, the secret of success is leadership style, team spirit, multidisciplinary team, openness, transparency and accountability in all the activities.

 

Prof, thank you very much.

Prof: Thank you!

 


Interview and Editorial teams

Gbenga-Martins Abisola

Idowu-Kunlere Tosin

Ikuforiji Michael

Kunlere Idowu

Kuteyi Damilola

Olusesi Taiwo

 


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Kunlere Idowu

Kunlere is an environment and sustainable development strategist with years of active experience in environmental compliance monitoring and enforcement. You may follow him on Twitter via @kunlere_idowu

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