Quiet, soft spoken and quite unknown to the ‘outside world’ as consultant, he is the brain behind the multi-billion naira pollution control facility that is nearing completion at the high -brow Snake Island, Tin can Island port in Lagos, Capt. Suleiman Baiyee is a reporter’s delight. Without any previous appointment, I was never-the-less ushered into his presence on that slightly wet Tuesday morning last week for this illuminating encounter. Captain as everyone calls him around there, educated me about the challenges of building the world class African Circle pollution control facility in Nigeria. Quite undaunted, he told me that with a little more patience, Nigerians will soon have the best facility for recycling of wastes in sub Saharan Africa.
How challenging has this work been?
I took over this project about 18 months ago and African Circle has brought it to the level where they needed some level of expertise to be able to integrate everything that they have done. It has been challenging; in the sense that a lot of what we use in facilities like this are long-live items, for instance if you order something, it can take up to six months and others, about nine months before they come in.. We were dealing with Jagal where there is a lot of civil works to be done and we are dealing with a very sandy area. For instance, we wanted to put up our tanks and then we discovered that we had to do a lot of piling, which also delayed us for about six months. So, there are issues that are not within our control, but as we meet the huddles, we cross them. All I can say to you right now is that we are very close to the end. Most definitely by the end of August we will be starting our test run.
Obviously, the commissioning is being delayed. Why?
You have come here, you have seen the works that are being done, people who say that there is a delay here need to come and see what we have achieved, yes we had our problems. I will give you a typical example, I thought I would have finished painting the tanks about two weeks ago, but the rains did not allow me, so what am I supposed to do? People may come and say anything, but I am waiting. I wanted to use the cranes to install the equipment, I ordered it on Monday, but I could not get it until Friday and half way through the installation, it was called away for an emergency on the Island, the next time I might get it again to be able to do the work I have to do is next week. We are doing the best that we can within the constraints and the resources that we have, my job is to deliver, I don’t like delays and for people who know me, I try to do things on time, but then, man proposes and God disposes.
Is it certain that the test-run will come up in August?
The guys from G-Force who are those that manufactured the machines are going to be here from the middle of August to do all the wiring, but meanwhile, now we are putting the pipes, we have pipes that link our tank farm and the plants, we are installing those pipes now before they come to do the test-run.
How polluted is Nigerian water?
I have seen worse, but I have said this before to people that we can not clean our waters, all that we can do is to stop polluting our waters and the waters will clean itself. The reason why the water is getting dirty is because we are not giving it the chance to clean itself. Water cleans itself; human beings do not have the knowledge and the power to clean the waters. You know that the earth is three quarter of water and one quarter of land mass. Our seas in Nigeria are not that polluted; with a little bit of efforts from the public and the private sector, we can clean up our seas, shores and everywhere and not only that, everybody has a responsibility: if you dispose of a pure water plastic or sachet properly, it cleans the place, so we all have a responsibility, its not only government, it’s an attitudinal issue and we have to do it.
I asked hat question because if you move by water from here (Tin Can Island) to, say, Ikoyi, you will definitely see that our water is littered with all sorts of wastes; including polythene bags, nylons, water sachets and so on.
This gives the impression that Nigerian waters are probably the worst in the sub region?
It is not. Let me tell you something, I think it is Uganda where water in sachet and plastics is banned because it was blocking all the drains. Floods are much in Lagos today because of the plastics that have blocked the drains, they are not degradable and therefore it stays and just continues growing and until we are able to put some elements of control, Lagos will continue to be flooded. We are installing a plastic granulator here and what will then happen is that if you bring all these plastic bottles, we recycle them to be used again. There are many things that we can do with them, we are buying compactors and other things, all should be in place by the first week of September, because they should be arriving here towards the end of August.
How clean are the ships that come to Nigeria?
Let me put it this way, ships hardly pollute, because they are the most cleansed. African Circle actually inspects every ship that comes here to ensure that it conforms to all requirements, collects its garbage properly and stores it properly so that we can take it up from there. So, in-coming ships are well policed, the ones that are not policed are the local, small crafts, canoes, boats, etc. How many people do you see on a ship, drink water and throw the cans overboard; you will hardly see a ship that throws its garbage overboard, it’s against the law.
Outside of Lagos, where else do you have your facilities?
Don’t forget that the contract that African Circle has is with NPA and for it’s for four navigational district of Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri.
What are you doing to replicate this massive facility in ports outside Lagos?
First of all, this is a proto type that we are doing, everything that we are setting up in Lagos, we are going to replicate in Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar. Warri and Calabar will be a little bit smaller, we are hoping that Calabar will be set up within the next four or five months, a small scale of what we are doing here will be done in Calabar and after that, we go to Warri. But, you know that for security reasons, one will need to be sure before going there. We are actually setting up a complete waste management facility here; I think everybody’s focus is on that G-Force plant that it is not working yet. But, a lot of people do not know that we have been using our incinerators, we have been burning garbage here but nobody has said anything about it, we have a crusher and many other things that can handle most of the garbage that we are dealing with. Only last month, we went to the United States where we placed orders for our sorting machines and various things that we will be using and because of the power problems in Nigeria, we are bringing a 500KVA power generating plant here to be able to do the things that we are doing. Now people are saying to me that we are slow, even if I could run this plant here and now, every now and then we have power outage, I am not going to be able to run it properly, so we want to make sure that when we start, we are working properly.
But the truth is that people think that you have not started anything. In specifics, what have you been doing?
Let me give you an example, we brought in four boats that we bought in Turkey. They are pollution control vessels. For example, when a ship spilled tonnes and tonnes of fuel some months ago, who responded?, it was African Circle that responded to it with our boats, nobody else did anything. These boats are parts of this project and they are already working, so maybe people chose to see whatever they want to see, African Circle is very active. I am a consultant to the organization, I am the one managing the projects, so if anybody wants to know anything, they are free to come and see me; it is open. After all, you came in here, it was not by appointment and you are speaking with me. It is not an issue, it is open, come here and you will see what we are doing. I am not a project manager that sits in the office, I work, I get my hands dirty and do what I have to do, we are dealing with technical issues, people should not politicize it, we are going to get the plant running, it’s here for the benefits of the country and people will see the benefits soon.
I will like you to put a figure on the exact cost of this project, if you don’t mind?
From a technical point of view, I can not give you the total. If you are asking me to estimate how much this Snake Island facility has cost African Circle, I can give you only from a personal point of view and from what I have seen. I don’t think they would have spent anything less than US$20Million here, it’s a lot of money, but I tell you that when it starts working, it will bring a lot of things to them. The plant has the capacity of processing 120 tonnes of waste everyday, that is 120 tonnes less rubbish that will go in somewhere in the world, it may not be in Nigeria, but we are all part of the same earth. At the moment, what we burn here everyday is approximately 16 to 20 tonnes of rubbish; that is, 16 to 20 tonnes of things that will not be allowed to pollute. Our drum crushing machine will be doing something like 100 drums a day, there are so many things I could tell you, let’s look at what it will stop from happening when this facility is fully in place, let’s not be impatient, for Gods sake. You can go and talk with African Circle about the actual cost and everything, but all I will tell you is that the delay in this project is not as a result of financial constraints.
How environmentally safe and friendly is this facility?
Very safe and friendly. It’s a world class facility; everything that has been done here has environmental impacts analysis carried out on them. Our incinerators were designed to operate without what is called scrubbers; scrubbers are: you put the gas coming off after your dirt and clean it with water to remove all the poisonous gasses from it, The manufacturers told us that we don’t need it, that what we have is so efficient and clean, but we said, no, we invested a lot of money to put scrubbers. Those incinerators will meet EEC regulations, if we are to pick all what we have here and take them to Europe; they will pass all their requirements.
Before you got to this place, what were you doing?
My background is very simple, I was trained by Shell, I was one of the Shell scholars that were sent abroad as part of the marine training scheme, I trained and became a master mariner, worked on ships and left the seas in the 1980’s, went back to the university to study operational research which is, the use of computers to manage organizations, I was an IT consultant for many years in the United Kingdom. All that I have done is that I have taken my project management skills from IT and my knowledge of marine and merged them together and I am trying to use technology to make sure that we do things better. That is why, from a technical perspective, I know a lot about what is happening, and then I am a mariner, it is in my blood, because I have spent many years at sea.
I will like you to be more explicit about the commissioning and the exact date.
There are two types of commissioning; one is technical and the other one is commercial. Commercial is where they do all the fanfare, that is not my area, mine is that I am going to get the project working. While I am doing my testing, I am running it and as far as I am concerned, I am going to test it and do the things that I have to do and it will be running. Like anything else, we will start but then we could have teething problems, because the G-Force plant that you are seeing there has been in this country for more than three years, but I can assure you that when we switch that plant on, it will roll, you only need to go and look at it’s state, you will see that it is brand new because it’s a high quality plant and they paid a lot of money for it.
So, what is delaying the commissioning is not money?
It’s just the very nature of setting up a waste management facility, if you ask me if this place is running, I will tell you it has started running because we are burning rubbish, when you come in you’ll see that there are people, so its not as if it’s closed down, you will see welders, people measuring for pipes and so many others, work is still going on, but these things take time. Do you know that it will take me three weeks to do the piping between one rack and the other rack and the one for the tank farms because I want to have quality piping; you can’t rush it. Now, the pipe rack itself took six months to produce, things follow a particular sequence. Try getting your child walking at six months, he may walk, but he may have very bad legs when he grows up, so let’s follow the natural pace. Yes, we said this thing was supposed to start running, we gave dates, but I’ll tell you this; when we wanted to start running this thing, I advised the organization that instead of you to have a fully automated plant and you have a tank farm and you just bring pipes across, I said to them, no,, we must put a completely automated system in place and then it will merge together and it took us six months to be able to get the right pipe working , that is, six months delay, but I tell you that it is a worthwhile price to pay for transfer of technology. Otherwise, we could have started running this place since December last year and I will be at risk of polluting the environment because the system will require too much control to make sure it’s safe. We ended up discussing this and we agreed that we should put up an automated system in place and that is what we have done, so that includes the delay of another six months. Let somebody talk to us and we will tell them what we are doing.