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Engineering profession and challenges of infrastructural deficit

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Adekunle Mokuolu

Nigeria’s slow economic development is often attributed to its infrastructural deficit.

While there is no consensus over where exactly to place the blame, the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) has over the years maintained that thrusting the building of physical infrastructure on foreign expatriates is akin to ‘thinking global’ while neglecting ‘local’ which shoiosnbe the base of industrial development. The Society holds that for Nigeria to grow her economy, she must develop within her cultural intelligence and indigenous nuances.

Speaking at the fellowship conferment lecture and ceremony in Abuja on the inability of the local engineering firms to emerge from the shadow of their foreign counterparts which has stunted the infrastructural growth of Nigeria, the President of NSE, Adekunle Mokuolu, said Nigeria does not have an economy that benefits all Nigerians.

His explanation: “It is high time we stopped ourselves in this country. We do not have an economy that benefits and sustains all Nigerians; Nigeria’s economy sustains only a few Nigerians, especially those in the corridors of power, in collaboration with foreign contractors. I say this because our economy is dependent on export of our national resources, and the prices and processes of extraction of these resources are not wholly determined by Nigerians.”

Mokuolu faulted the processes of appropriation in Nigeria saying it is lopsided and tilts more towards supporting recurrent expenditure at the expense of funding for capital projects and development of common engineering infrastructure.

“This is not helping engineering and, by implication, it is not helping our nation. As Engineers, this unwholesome practice frustrates us. Just as many young Nigerians are getting frustrated and seeking to cross the deserts and the Mediterranean at all cost, thereby losing their lives. Accumulation of the neglectful governance, distasteful legislative practices and frustrations of citizens is an indication of self-imposed slavery in Nigeria,” he said.

Wale Babalakin

The NSE boss said the engineering profession sees the Presidential Order 5 for planning and execution of projects, promotion of Nigerian content in contracts and science, engineering and technology signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, on February 5, 2018 as a well-intentioned document that seeks a greater future for the Nigerian nation by opening the space and opportunities for home grown development.

He called on Nigerian Engineers and other professionals to take advantage of the opportunities thrown up and support the implementation of the directives of the Executive Order 5.

He added: “We must all rally round ourselves and ensure that Nigerian Content gets priority consideration in all projects. We are not saying that foreign professionals are not welcome in our country, but they must demonstrate that they truly love Nigeria by investing in establishing of industries in Nigeria, in active partnership with indigenous Engineers as leads.”

The NSE chief insisted that that the Society would not only be ensuring domestication of global codes and standards, but will be discouraging frittering Nigerians commonwealth in payment for government contracts which are awarded to foreign nationals, saying that is the only way to guarantee sustainability and growth for such industries.

Delivering a lecture entitled ‘Constraints of implementing infrastructure projects through Public Private Partnership (PPP)’, Dr Wale Babalakin of Bi-Courtney Limited, spoke extensively on threats to concession arrangements in Nigeria.

On what transpired in the Lagos-Ibadan expressway which was concessioned to Bi-Courtney, he said: “The concession of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was done in May 2009 and we proceeded to assemble a formidable team that involved the best of the relevant sectors that would deliver a world-class expressway.

“The design we put in place appreciated the peculiarities of the road especially the emergence of new towns that have been established on the road since it was built in 1977. These new towns include Ibafo, Isheri, Mowe, Ogere and Redeemed Church. Our design provided for entry and exit to these towns without obstructing the flow on the expressway. We realised that simply resurfacing the road, as being done now by the Ministry of Works was a serious disservice to Nigeria.

“We expended over $186m for various services which included preparation for construction, rehabilitation of the road, payment of over 50 consultants and travel expenses.”

He hinted that the concession agreement was terminated three weeks after former President Goodluck Jonathan gave directive for the project to kick-start.

He explained what transpired thus: “We had series of meetings with the Federal Ministry of works and finally with former President Goodluck Jonathan. At the meeting with the then President, we were able to show very clearly how much progress we had made and how the project was going to be a turning point in the development of new infrastructure in Nigeria. At the meeting of 1st July 2012, President Jonathan directed the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission to negotiate with us and conclude the deal within two weeks in the presence of all our financiers and consultants who had flown from their various countries to meet the President.

“Against the run of play, less than three weeks after the reassuring meeting, it was announced on a national television that the project had been terminated. The partners were amazed and dazed that a project that the President gave an assurance could just be terminated irresponsibly.”

Babalakin, said wanting to complete the project expeditiously as the reason for terminating the agreement is still yet to be realised six years after.

He also submitted that the road being constructed is completely inappropriate and out-dated.

His words: “The present road is the resurfacing of the 1977 road. It is a road that is inadequate to accommodate the geographical developments that have taken place on the road since 1977. These include the emergence of towns like Ibafo, Isheri, Ogere, Mowe and the Redeemed Church camp.

“Most of the busiest roads in Nigeria are built without things that should accompany highways. When we were working on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, there were 54 petrol stations on it. This necessitates that the road must be built in a way that people should not just drive into the filling station directly. If petrol stations can be driven into straight from the road, then it is not an expressway road. There are so many things that are ought to be done on the road that are not done. This is a challenge to the Nigerian Society of Engineers.”

Babalakin, highlighted that arbitrary stopping of contractual agreements is a collective effort, saying, “this task is a going to be a collective effort. We have to educate ourselves. No country has enough money from government treasury to provide the needs of its people. So, it is better to allow private capital to do those projects that can be sustained as private investment so that limited government resources can be used for other areas that are not commercially viable.”

Babalakin, said the NSE must lead from the front in order to ensure that local Engineers play more than passive roles in the infrastructural development of Nigeria.

He added: “They have to do whatever it takes to seize the momentum. I do not believe the large foreign firms have the emotional capital that is required to develop Nigeria infrastructure. Most of the things they seek to do here; they cannot suggest it in their home countries. But if Nigerian Engineers lead from the front, they will be able to insist on certain parameters and minimum quality of work.”

Babalakin, maintained that Nigerians still do not understand the Public Private Partnership as a concept.

He explained that average Nigerian think that the PPP concept is about taking government money away, adding, “that mind-set must be corrected. We built Murtala Mohammed Airport Terminal Two and we have been running at a loss for the past 12 years. But to the undiscerning person, we are making a lot of money without knowing the cost of putting that infrastructure in place.”

As foreign leaders troop to Nigeria in search of business partnerships, Babalakin urged government to act in the best interest of Nigeria as a country as they negotiate trade deals.


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