Ifeoma Malo is a lawyer, a policy maker, and co-founder and executive director of Clean Tech Hub. A Harvard Law School and University of Massachusetts graduate, she has extensive experience in the power and energy sector and was the senior technical advisor to the former Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo, between 2013 – 2015. In this interview by Kingsley Alumona, she speaks about her education experience in the United States, her work, the Nigerian power sector, and her advice for young people.
As a child, did you always want to be a lawyer?
I guess being immersed in books and loving storytelling and learning to articulate my thoughts using sophisticated language was a good indication that I would be a lawyer pretty early. My experience leaving Nigeria to abroad was also a prodigious one as it gave me new insights into the world beyond Nigeria, made me independent and instilled in me a resilient spirit.
Briefly tell us about your Harvard Law School and University of Massachusetts experiences and how they shaped your career.
My experiences at UMASS Boston and Harvard Law School differed greatly. While one was a private premier Ivy League university that catered to global elite, the other was a public university that catered to working-class families. At UMASS Boston, I had much older classmates on their second, third careers—who having gone through life, had a unique perspective during class debates and discussions. At Harvard, I was challenged, and I learnt first-hand about power dynamics, about this competitive world, and more importantly, that the only limits I’ve are those I see for myself.
Do you practice law regularly?
I left law practice a year after my bar qualifications and call. I don’t actively practice law, but I still remain an active member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). I do continue to volunteer my time and resources for a number of human rights causes, especially those that serve lower income families, those related to gender and women’s rights and those that impact humanitarian casualties—including victims of atrocities. I do this by focusing on the policy barriers that make them often seem intractable.
What inspired your interest in power, energy and policy sectors?
I admit that I’ve always been a policy wonk and worked in the public and private sectors in the USA around global policy issues. A hot ticket policy issue between 2011 and 2014 was the power sector privatisation that Nigeria was going through. I attended a lot of high-level meetings at that time and made a concerted effort to remain in the power/energy industry, because I saw the potential that the emerging Nigerian power sector could be—as the catalyst for Nigeria’s development and the country’s ability to leap-frog into the modern world.
You are a co-founder and executive director of Clean Tech Hub. Tell us about it and how you use it to better lives and businesses.
The core of our work at the hub is building ideas, companies and projects that can advance sustainable energy access across sub-Saharan Africa. We also focus on addressing issues of climate mitigation. Some of our projects at the hub include running gender programs that mainstream more women actors, participants and businesses into the renewable energy sector. We also focus on educating and empowering students to become renewable energy entrepreneurs in their communities and helping SMSEs across the country to drastically increase their profits and savings; reduce their operation costs by adopting affordable clean energy solutions to power their businesses. On environment and climate change issues, we’ve held social impact programmes for schools and communities aimed at building and ensuring a safe and habitable ecology.
Part of your work involves business incubation, ideation facilitation and fund raising for businesses. How could business start-ups and SMEs benefit from these your services?
Starting Clean Technology Hub came about as a result of my frustration in meeting several brilliant young people with amazing energy access ideas that they couldn’t pursue or nurture because of a lack of support or structure. The hub focuses on these very early stage businesses and works them through an ideation, incubation and fundraising process whilst helping them put in place the structure that would make them investible and attract financial support. We run a 6 – 12 months’ incubation program, which focuses on supporting their business processes and make them scalable enterprises. This ranges from teaching them to register and protect their business, teaching them to pitch their products and concepts to potential end users and investors. For later stage companies, we work with them on growth and business continuity planning, including linking them up to potential local and international investors, etc.
Despite the privatisation of Nigeria’s electricity infrastructure, there seems to be monopolism in its operations. Why is it that individuals and states/local governments are not investing into power generation and distribution?
States and local governments cannot invest in power distribution in the country because it’s the responsibility of the various private distribution franchisees or distribution companies (DISCOs) in the country. In the area of generation, the cost of investing in generating infrastructure is very costly and in many cases requires getting off takers. However, with the emergence of renewable energy options especially solar mini-grids, some of these barriers around costs, and around DISCO monopoly are being dismantled. Yet, despite the progress being made in the renewable energy sector, there’s still a low level awareness around the potential of renewable energy solutions, available to power communities, households, and economic clusters. This’s where we’ve to ramp up our advocacy and awareness raising around how much more cost effective and quicker it’s deploy these solutions than it’s to build conventional grid based power plants.
Billions of dollars have been injected into the power sector by the government, yet power supply in the country is still mediocre. Why is this so?
There are several factors ranging from poor infrastructure to debt legacy issues across the value chain. However, the current administration is doing their best to improve this situation, with the implementation of the Power Sector Recovery Program (PSRP). In addition, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) is driving the deployment of decentralised renewable energy solutions to provide stable power to off-grid communities, economic clusters and federal universities across the country.
There is currently a bill in the Senate seeking to ban the importation of generators, and a 10-year jail term for offenders. What is your take on this?
While I feel the bill is being made with the best intentions, in order to get the electricity supply industry working and also to encourage the adoption of clean energy solutions, a better approach would be for the federal government to provide incentives for clean energy distributors, developers and consumers through tax rebates, removal of import duties on clean energy products and components thus making these products more affordable for the end users. This will lead to quicker displacement of diesel generators.
In your expert opinion, how can we ensure that the country has 24-hour power supply? And, how long would it take you to achieve this?
The Nigerian power sector is way too complex to give a definite timeline for ensuring 24-hour power supply. Nevertheless, there needs to be greater synergy and partnership between the electricity transmission, generation and distribution sub-sectors. We also need to improve on the existing power infrastructures in the country, particularly in transmission and distribution, and diversify the energy mix of the country by especially tapping into our enormous renewable energy resources, as well as encouraging the adoption of decentralized clean energy solutions for remote off-grid locations.
What are the major challenges you face in your career? And, what do you like doing at your leisure?
I barely recognise challenges, but rather I see opportunities to change these things that appear as barriers. For leisure, I read books, lots of books especially fiction or autobiographies.
What advice do you have for young people, especially the female ones, who are aspiring to be like you?
As you go about your career path get ready to drop your ego at the door and put in the work as nothing easy will be handed to you just because you’re a woman. Also remember to keep adding value as the impact, respect and recognition will come eventually as you seek to add value.
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