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Experts demand roles for indigenous engineers in railway modernisation

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Train leaving Ebute-Meta (EBJ) terminal in Lagos.<br />PHOTO: SUNDAY AKINLOLU<br />

As the federal government intensifies efforts to improve railway modernisation projects, stakeholders have stressed the need for indigenous engineers to aid technology advancement in the country.

No doubt an efficient transport system is a catalyst for economic development in the world; therefore experts say rail transport plays a significant role in the socio-economic activity of any nation.

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However despite the importance of the sector to the Nigerian economy, the federal government still largely depends on foreign expatriates in the construction work.

Although the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi had often argued that there is no money to fund the railway construction and no country is willing to assist Nigeria except China, which gives the condition that its construction firm CCECC would implement the project.

Amaechi had also argued that engineers are being trained in China to understudy the Chinese firm in the construction work.

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But many Nigerians question the government on its over-dependence on China for its railway modernisation project.

The Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) had often lamented the poor usage of local content in the construction of public infrastructures.

The President of COREN, Kashim Ali had called on the government to patronise and utilise ‎local engineers for the technological advancement of the nation.

He said: “Nigerian society is also under-utilising the local engineers in the nation, hence, the dearth of infrastructural facilities in the country, until the Nigerian Society begins to take her engineers more seriously, technological advancement would continue to elude it.”

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A policy analyst who spoke to The Guardian called on the Nigerian government to review the local content law to include compulsory utilization of local technical manpower resources in the area of construction engineering and agriculture production before foreign alternatives are considered.

He pointed out that although the federal government is utilizing some local engineers in the Lagos-Ibadan railway, there is room to do more. According to him, Nigerian engineers have demonstrated the capacity to undertake infrastructural development.

He said: “Let me advocate that Nigerian engineers be given more opportunities to bid for contracts for infrastructural development, saying it’s in the country’s interest to give indigenous companies priority. Except if they demonstrate inefficiency or lack of capacity then they can allow the foreign companies to come in.

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“Anywhere in the world, in China, Europe, local engineers are given the opportunity to bid for jobs except they don’t have expertise, and that is why you see companies like CCECC among others springing up. Most of those companies are privately owned but with government equity, and even if they are failing in terms of capital, the government still supports them, because if they fail a lot of jobs will be lost and the government will have the burden of paying social security allowance.”

He said the government needs to look into ways developed countries are supporting local engineers so that they can create employment opportunities for Nigerian youths. In addition, indigenous companies that successfully execute jobs in Nigeria will also be able to bid for jobs in other African countries based on what they have been able to do.

He stressed the need for the government to encourage indigenous engineers adding that COREN should be encouraged to build the capacity of its members in international best practice so that they can transfer it to the development of the Nigerian economy.

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In a chat with The Guardian, the Managing Director, Metrotech Nigeria Limited, Mike Okoye, said it is time for the government to fashion out a well-thought-out plan for indigenous companies.

He said the Federal Government needs a strong commitment to building a substantial stock of human, social and physical infrastructure by engaging indigenous companies.

According to him, most indigenous companies across the country can rehabilitate old existing tracks as it is not necessary to invite Chinese companies (CCECC) to do it.

“There are tracks Nigerians have constructed far back and it is no big deal for us to handle it because we have the resources and it will also save the country the legacy of accumulating debts.”

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On some of its achievements in railway construction, Mike explained: “As far back as 1993 and 2000, our company was part of companies that gave accurate data on railway construction of its First slippers.

“Some of these Chinese companies don’t know it but they bid for the contract and won. We constructed 15killometers from Iju to Ijoko from 2006 to 2008 for track dualisation.

“We also did the 61killometres between Zongoma and Gombe town and we also did the rehabilitation of rail from Ashaka branch in 2007, 2008, and 2009,” he said.

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