We need regulations on materials, codes of practice, says Gidari-Wudil
Tasiu Sa’ad Gidari-Wudil is the 33rd President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. He has over 30 years of industrial experience in the Nigerian electricity sector and was the former Head of Networks and Engineering Standards at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission.
Issues of technical competence, best practices in project designs and adherence to business/professional ethics have remained a challenge to Nigerian professionals. How can we promote international best practices in the industry?
Engineering is based on standards and these standards are universal with few changes depending on the environmental condition where you are in the world. So, if Nigerian engineers are going to be part of the comity of nations, our engineering practice should be based on international best practices, where the same design criteria used in Europe are the same design criteria that will be used in Nigeria. Though, there might be some differences in safety factors, which are mostly dependent on the type of weather and process engineering employed, depending on your field of engineering practice.
Participation of indigenous engineers in the nation’s infrastructural development, especially the railway project is still at a lower ebb, what do you think is responsible for this and how do we involve indigenous engineers?
In the past, haulage and movement of people all over this country were through railway and we had railway engineers.
Our railways were abandoned over the years and this has negatively affected the development of the sector as well as the professionals within that industry. Nigeria has a huge railway infrastructure from the north to the east to the west. We have the capacity in railway engineering and our colleagues are showing their skills in the global arena.
We have a colleague who is the project manager of a railway project in Iraq, so, for anybody to think that we don’t have the capacity, is not fair to Nigerian engineers. We have the capacity; we have enough mechanical, telecommunication and transportation engineers that will be able to work in the industry.
What is NSE doing to promote local content in science, engineering, and technology in the country?
Let me pay special tribute to fellows of the society, like the Ministers in the Federal Cabinet such as the Minister of Science and Technology, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu and Minister of Power, Abubakar Danlami.
These are fellows of the society, who have worked assiduously to make sure that the Federal Government issued Executive Order 5, which is to enshrine Local content in the execution of projects in which engineers are the direct and indirect beneficiaries. These initiatives will no doubt help to showcase our potential as professionals. So, we are calling on the Federal Government to implement Executive order 5 across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies for the overall wealth of the country.
On our own side, we will continue with our advocacy on the implementation of the order.
Despite the fact that the society has been in existence for over 31 years, some of the challenges leading to its formation have remained. What are the challenges facing the profession and how can we tackle them?
Our challenges are first; our colleagues are contented with their own field of practice. Secondly, lack of patronage, in which a lot of Nigerians would rather employ the services of quacks to do their engineering jobs and in the end, the infrastructure fails, and the blame is on us.
As we speak, the 21-storey building that collapsed in Lagos is still being investigated. We have our members in the committee set up by Lagos State Government and COREN. You will find out that developers/owners of projects do not listen to the advice of Nigerian engineers rather they try to cut corners and that is where the problem arises. Thirdly, I will not say the government is not involving us; we want to be more involved.
We are everywhere and unfortunately, in some key areas where engineering professionals are involved, non-engineers are made to oversee such projects at the expense of the trained professional. However, we are still calling on the government to put square pegs in square holes, where engineering agencies are checked even at the National Assembly, most of the committees handling engineering are not headed by engineers and hardly have you seen few engineers in those committees, and as such those committees are not properly guided.
We want the National Assembly to ensure that seasoned engineers head the chairman of the committee of engineering-related activities like Water, Sanitation, Aviation, and Agriculture, Works. In those places, there is nowhere you will not find an engineer, even in the National Assembly. We have many of them and they are very active and very professional.
Building and infrastructural collapse have over time posed a disturbing phenomenon in the housing/construction sector. What can Nigeria do to solve the problem?
First, we must have regulations that are based on international standards on the materials and codes of practice, where only professional in a particular field of Engineering performs specified tasks in that area. But now, you will find that out that electrical engineers will be doing the work of a civil engineer and sometimes, civil engineers do the work of an electrical engineer and that is quackery. We have to standardise the processes to ensure that the engineers work on jobs based on their field of specialisation, as this will curb failures due to structural or material defects.
We have cases where an engineer will do a design, but the owner will say he wants to get someone else to supervise and he may not get the right professional to supervise the project and in so doing, the quality of the material is compromised not to the standard designed by the engineer and the material and project fails. Most of these failures, I will call engineering failures. However, we pay more attention to buildings only but there are many failures we don’t pay attention to like roads, bridges and power. These are all engineering failures that we should also pay attention to. The engineers have a standing committee on failures and investigation, which will be incorporated across all our branches all over the world to study failures in engineering projects to guide against future occurrence
How can we tackle challenges regarding lack of standards in building materials and over-dependence on importation of building materials?
Nigeria is a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and cannot disallow the importation of materials but whether imported or locally manufactured materials, it must conform to the standards.
As I noted earlier, everything about engineering is standard, once the standard is compromised in any form, definitely, you are about to have failed in your building or engineering project. Our materials must therefore follow set standards whether imported or locally manufactured.
Then of course, if we have difficulty importing materials used for engineering projects, we can look inwards and source alternative materials that will have the same effects as the original one designed by the engineer.
Likewise, the supervising engineer must make sure that the specification by the designing engineer are adhered to because usually, you find out that the design doesn’t have a problem but it’s at the implementation stage, that you will discover distortions. Sometimes, the builder may build to exceed its defined capacity and safety factor in the original design which in turn leads to project failure.
What are your plans to improve engineering in the country as the thirty-third president of the society?
Our administration is going to concentrate more on two key areas ‘professionalism and welfare of our members.’
We will ensure that our members develop, maintain and improve on their skills through interaction with each other, through mentoring of our young engineers and projects. We will collaborate with academia and industry to ensure that problems within the industry and society are addressed through knowledge from our ivory towers.
Let me sound this warning: an injury to one is an injury to all, we have seen situations whereby our members are victimised, and our members are denied and not allowed to grow. We will take up such matters, as we intend to protect our members.