COREN act should be reviewed, says Fadayomi
President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers and Chairman, Safety Buildings Committee of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Mr. OREOLUWA FADAYOMI, is a fellow of both the society and institution. He spoke to EMMANUEL BADEJO of The Guardian on the future of his profession, the way out of building collapse in Nigeria among others.
Why did you vie to head the structural engineering body in Nigeria?
So many things propelled me. First of all, I have an experience to impact on the younger ones, having practiced for over 40 years. When you consider what goes on these days, you ask yourself whether many are still interested in doing the work. Better still, those that are interested are they given the needed encouragement? And we said to ourselves, how do we take over? If we don’t want charlatans to take over and be ruling engineering, calling themselves engineers, we just need to rise up to protect the profession and save lives and property. Based on what has been done within the profession, you need an experienced hand to be on board to pilot the ship of our profession. I came in to straighten the paths of engineering profession, particularly structural engineering.
What programs would you be putting in place as the president of structural engineers?
One, I am not reinventing the wheel because it is not as if some of those things are not there, but the problem is that most of those things have been forgotten. Therefore, we need to train and retrain our people to be proud of their profession. We also need to educate the people for them to know the difference between structural and civil engineers, the better for everybody and the society. Also, we need to teach the students to know what they are up to, so as to prepare them for future engagements. We want to create a different platform whereby the people can understand what we are doing and then, we can have a threshold as a pattern for the profession. It is a known fact that, engineering is growing and we cannot afford to remain at a point and yet claiming the title of an engineer. No! We must update ourselves and do so many things in a structured pattern.
So many structures are failing in this part of the world, what could be done to prevent collapsed building in Nigeria?
It is a wide chapter but we will start from somewhere. First of all, there is a law and if you run foul of the law, particularly with impunity and there is no repercussion, it is obvious that, you’ll do it again. Why do we have issues of kidnapping, commercial drivers driving one-way, it is simply because we lack enforcement of the available laws. The first thing is for the governments to live up to their responsibility of enforcing laws. The starting point is to put flagrant breakage of laws and order under control.
Another thing is the design. All projects begin with planning, then, the design, approval, the bidding process and the usual construction. For the design, we, the structural engineers, are taking care of that. And we are putting together series of training sessions to update and expose the younger ones to latest technologies and how to handle all issues relating to soil test and foundations before going into super structure in another module. After the design, the clients are expected to see it to be sure that it is still pocket friendly so as to avoid the project being abandoned. Every client has the role to be diligent to know the kind of structural engineers he or she is giving his jobs to. It is quite unfortunate that most clients fail in this responsibility. Most government projects also fail and that is why you find contracts awarded to the wrong people. There is need to train those who award contracts in government. All these are to ensure that the right team is on board to handle your project, as this will eliminate low quality jobs, which often leads to project abandonment. Clients should ensure that the right people are patronized and allowed to do their jobs.
As the president of the institution, what enquiries have you made on the collapsed Lekki Gardens building?
I was there on the day it happened, though for rescue operation. Honestly speaking, it is too early to begin to deduce. Besides, it is not what our own institution can single-handedly handle, as it has become a state matter. As you know, the government is involved; COREN, NSE are involved. There is nothing we can do on our own other than to try to sensitize the general public. What has happened, has happened, we need to move ahead to raise the tempo of campaign through various forum by which we shall be putting the public on a red alert on signs that could lead to a building collapse.
Some building or projects were recently advertised by the Lagos State Government as being abandoned or distressed. As a structural engineer, what is your advice on the way to handle such issue?
The Lagos State Government would not just come up and say that any building is distressed because they have professionals in-house, who would have classified those buildings, as either distressed or unsafe. Having classified them, the first thing is that we have to be sure that it is true. If you say, my house is distressed, I will naturally ask for a proof. Also, I expect that professionals should inspect the buildings to ascertain the reported status. If confirmed distressed, you need to ask if the building is not beyond redemption. Then, experts should be contacted to do the needful in terms of repairs to avoid the building posing danger to the populace. For each of those identified, the state should not go ahead to demolish; each should be treated on its merits. Take for instance, a building with roofing problem cannot be categorized with another one with foundation challenge, as the remedial work for the two are different. The problem with each of the buildings should be analyzed and the owners should be adequately informed.
Some young structural engineers are finding it challenging to break even, leading to brain drain in the sector. What are your plans to stop the trend?
Brain drain can come in many ways. We usually associate brain drain to an expert leaving his country to practice elsewhere. But when a potential expert leaves his profession for another field, to me that is equally brain drain. There are many of our engineers that are no longer practicing engineering; some are in the banks, some are in other sectors, some are just doing any other thing to make ends meet all because they are impoverished. This is one of the challenges.
To reverse this, it takes the will of government. If we look back into the Obasanjo era, there were policies on construction, if they were followed, it would be a different ball game and the young engineers would be happy doing their job. So, if there is lack of political will on the part of government to implement their own’ policies, this problem may remain with us for a longer time to come. Another issue affecting this is instability with government policies, as successive governments try to undo the previous ones, forgetting that, government is a continuum. Since we know that the major issue is from the top, we cannot fight them but engage in advocacy, appealing to the government and civil servants to do the right thing in awarding projects. Many of our younger ones should be given the platform to expose and gather the experience needed to do well on the chosen field.
Does structural engineering have an answer to the challenge of replacing or renovating buildings to minimize environmental impact, for example, achieving carbon neutrality, while at the same time, yielding impressive financial return on investment?
The answer is yes because that is actually engineering, as there is nothing on earth that does not involve structural engineering, which helps to put the shape before construction. In achieving this, we have to change our ways of doing the same things we are doing now. We need to understand that there are new materials that would assist in neutralizing the carbon effects. Our professionals need to learn and gain mastery on designs that would minimize pollution. These are ways some of these things can be achieved. However, as our environment stands now, not many people will understand what green house or designs are all about. For instance, those living in the villages cannot understand this concept. Notwithstanding, we, the professionals should not relent in exposing our people to the reality of climate change and the need to adapt very, very fast.
What would you do to raise the standard of education in the tertiary institutions of learning for would-be structural engineers?
The lecturers must on regular basis update themselves to be current and relevant to the society. We as professionals are also going to some schools to orientate and help the systems and the students. We would continue to train them and carry out technical works so that after their studies, they would have had better understanding of what they are doing. Also, the issue of tutelage is still there, whereby the young graduates are attached to their seniors on the job before you apply to take the seven-hour professional exams for our people, without which you cannot claim to be a qualified structural engineer.
With the rate of building collapse in the country, what do you think is the role of developers?
Some developers either building for either public or private use, pose serious problem to the building industry. They have borrowed money and want to do the project at record cost and time. Really, there is nothing wrong with that. But when you now want to do it yourself, as in if I do it myself, I can negotiate cost; I can call anybody instead of a qualified engineer to put block on block. As a result, you underpay the professionals, you don’t do due diligence. In some cases, you engage inexperienced young graduates, whom you can supervise yourself; you buy the materials yourself. You do not have quality control, as some of them believe it is a waste of money. Even those who try to engage these professionals for the sake of it, they do not abide by the advice of these professionals.
I have seen a developer, who engaged a developer who engaged somebody to sink the casing of a pile and comes pours the concrete on the pile. They are always in a hurry to meet the date and time. There was a collapse around Airport Road so many years back because the bank that was developing the building wanted it done in a hurry. A developer somewhere some where on Victoria Island when he refused to abide by our instruction, we had to leave their site and reported him to the ministry. There have been other cases of developers. It is about time they are properly regulated; it is about time government stands up to do what it needs to do, when issues like this need to be given as an example.continue.
There are agitations for the review of COREN law. Which section of the law do you think should be altered and why?
COREN is under the Ministry of Works and the minister is the overall supervisor of its activities. The Minister should not be regulating COREN. If COREN, an independent man wants to punish the minister, can it do it? There is no way that could be done. The bar association is independent and they can look at the president in the face. Right now, two of their own men, who are senior advocates, are facing allegation of corruption, and I don’t know whether that would have been possible, if the Minister of Justice regulates NBA.
There has to be law for structural engineering practice in Nigeria, as it is in the United Kingdom. If is clearly stated that you cannot do structural engineering work if you are not deemed qualified by the Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers. No other group has the power to do that in Nigeria and that should be backed by legislation either through COREN or the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE). Meanwhile, we are stepping up the campaign to popularize structural engineering practice in Nigeria.
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