‘Lack of motivation slowing down local engineers’
Nigerian engineers are known to compete favourably with their counter parts in the world. However, members of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) are saddened that foreign firms still employ local engineers as contract workers to execute projects. The chairman, NSE Apapa Branch, DR. OMBUGADU GARBA reveals that the only way out of the problem is for government to adopt new policy framework that will encourage local capacity. He spoke with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA on the issue and other matters.
There are growing concerns over the quality of works by Nigerian engineers. What is your branch doing to curtail such incidents in the construction industry?
The quality of infrastructure in any nation is key to the quality of life of the people that can guarantee economy prosperity, good educational system, quality health as well as good social network that will impact positively. Most often than not, Nigerian engineers appear to be remembered mostly when there is failure of infrastructure. Nigerian engineers can compete favourably anywhere in the world, unfortunately, the system and the environment in which they operate, inadvertently make them to engage in so many unwholesome practices. The past and present leadership of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) had made several efforts to stem the tide of shoddy works in infrastructural development such as building construction, road construction, equipment fabrication and telecommunication. These efforts include but not limited to; introduction of ‘Prevention of Infrastructure Failure Analysis Committee, (PFAC) with the mandate of monitoring all engineering infrastructures to prevent failures, continuously engaging all the arms of government, the State and Local councils to be transparent in awarding of all engineering projects and engagement of only professional engineers / technologists / registered engineering firms in engineering projects.
Other efforts include engaging with the National Assembly to amend the relevant laws that will empower the NSE to regulate engineering practices, supplying and always pushing the idea of seamless flow of engineering and technical information among government ministries, departments and agencies and establishing engineering monitoring regulations for monitoring engineering firms /personnel from project design to project completion to reduce quackery. The NSE presently has designed a mechanism to discipline all erring engineers and firms that do shoddy works or fail to comply with engineering standards. Also, Engineering Regulation Monitoring Committee monitors all engineering project from project design to project completion to entrench best practices. Some of the existing laws that need amendment to empower NSE are being addressed with the National Assembly.
There have been complaints about the neglect of engineers in the sector, where they ought to be in charge, what do you consider as responsible for their omission in projects?
The neglect of Nigerian engineers in the sector could be attributed to lack of government policy framework to encourage and support local engineers and firms. Consequently, this has led to slow capacity development of local engineering personnel as well as the engineering firms. The prevailing policy framework has encouraged major engineering projects in Nigeria to be handled by the multinational engineering firms as most local engineering companies are either considered to be amateurs, professionally inexperienced or as lacking capacity to execute such projects. It is sad to note that most of these foreign firms still employ engineers as contract workers to execute the projects that were hitherto not given to them for lack of capacity. Therefore, the argument in some instances that Nigerian engineers lack capacity is laughable.
What is your branch doing to ensure reversal?
NSE has carried out advocacy drive and will continue to engage government at the various levels to bring out policy frameworks that will encourage local capacity and ensure that only engineering professionals in the industry are engaged. The NSE is also working with the National Assembly to amend the existing laws that will improve and encourage local capacity building in the engineering profession. NSE is also engaging the Executive arm of Government to appoint more engineers to occupy appropriate position of authority that will help ensure right state of affairs in the engineering sector to reduce the deplorable state of infrastructures across the country. There is also the need for the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs to seek clearance from NSE / Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) before granting work or resident permit to foreign engineering personnel. This will in no small measure check the quality of foreign engineering personnel practicing in Nigeria. Government must make deliberate policy to support the efforts of the NSE to ensure capacity development of its local engineers such as implementing. Nigerian engineers practicing in other climes are often rated amongst the best. This shows that enabling environment is key to performance and development of quality infrastructure. Government must always insist that all projects, irrespective of value or complexity, must be awarded to Nigerian engineering companies that may have partnership with highly reputable foreign counterpart
The quality of roads in Nigeria has been a major concern for stakeholders, how do we address this concern?
The quality of infrastructure such as road is usually of great concern in Nigeria. The dilapidated condition of some Nigerian roads occasion by poor quality of construction with attendant poor maintenance culture has given rise to loss of many lives and properties. Furthermore, the cost of road construction in Nigeria appears to be always expensive when compared to some other countries, especially the developed countries of the world. The quality of our roads can be improved amongst others by always ensuring that; good design that has thoroughly considered the topography, soil type, drainage as well as vehicular traffic on the road among others. Also contracts award processes should be transparent and devoid of corruption and non- engineering contractors should not be given such road projects. We should ensure that there is strict adherence to codes and standards, independent experts monitor compliance, existing laws are well strengthened enough to regulate the construction industry and a collaboration/synergy among the relevant bodies that have the responsibilities to discipline erring practitioners.
Do you think that a concrete road model could solve Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit?
Concrete road model in my considered view cannot completely replace the use of asphalt in road construction. What is important in road construction using asphalt is the quality of roads. There are some instances, where concrete is used in paving roads, for example parking lots, construction of stacking areas and ports access road due to movement of heavy duty equipment (like in the port). In comparison to asphalt, concrete paving is usually very costly in road construction considering the limited resources at our disposal. Also, removal and replacement of damaged concrete is difficult, time consuming and costly whereas asphalt is simple, easier to apply and cheaper to replace. Complete asphalt resurfacing is usually fast and cost effective compared to concrete Generally speaking, concrete road construction model has an advantage over asphalt where the road could experience heavy vehicular traffic; heavy-duty trucks or the road is running through a, marshy environment. We must recollect that no matter how well a road was constructed, it will still require adequate and regular maintenance to preserve its quality.
For decades, the country has been lagging behind in embracing maintenance culture, why?
Maintenance is key to sustenance and durability of engineering infrastructures, e.g. our roads. Unfortunately, lack of maintenance has been a great challenge in our country. To ensure continuous maintenance of roads, the federal government introduced tollgate on federal roads and established Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA). When it was not effective, the tollgates were removed and replaced with petroleum tax on every liter of premium motor spirit bought. There must be deliberate and sincere policy of appropriately utilising whatever is raised as taxes or budgeted for in maintaining our roads. All budgeted sums must be channeled into maintaining our roads to reduce the loss of lives and properties on our roads. Government should strengthen FERMA Act in order to check all the abuses associated with it.
Can we as a country consider the option of composite pavement for construction of major highways in the country to make it more durable?
Generally, some major high ways in Nigeria can be constructed with Composite pavement. This type of pavement combines concrete sub-layer with an asphalt laid on the top layer. This approach can improve the durability of our roads. The challenge sometimes is the movement between the undelaying joints, which could cause deflection of the concrete slabs from the axle loads.
Lack of synergy between Nigerian Building Road Research Institute (NBRRI), universities and colleges on appropriate research has also been identified as a problem in road construction in the country. How can it be addressed?
There appears lack of collaboration/synergy between the relevant research institute/universities and colleges in Nigerian. The relevant bodies that accredit some of their programme should look at areas where these institutions will work collaboratively in certain areas to address certain research problems of the construction industry. There is a disconnection between academic institution and the industry. There is the need for industry/academic collaboration. This will involves the construction companies to partner with academia in the area of sponsoring research. This will enable research to be tailored to specific industrial problem that could be a breakthrough in the industry. To address the problem thereof, there should be industry/ academic collaboration in research.
Research exhibition forum’ should also be created to bring all the relevant bodies together and we should ensure that special grant for specific industry problems be given for research within the relevant academic/research institutions. This will encourage collaborations and partnerships.