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‘Craze for certificates is bane of professional competence in Nigeria’

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Sir DIPO AJAYI is the president, Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON). In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on issues affecting architectural practice in Nigeria, especially building collapse and the disparity between architects and HND graduates.

Architecture has come a long way in Nigeria and different issues are emerging, how will you assess the practice presently?
ARCHITECTURE in Nigeria is growing just like in any developing country. Most of the architects in Nigeria were trained in Nigeria and Technology and Creativity Advisory Council can really assess the development in other parts of the country. But if you look around Lagos and Abuja, most of the buildings that are architectural oriented are works that have received international approvals. Some of the buildings are already competing with the best in other continents.

The new building code is waiting ministerial approval but professionals are already identifying inconsistencies in the code. How could these be possible bearing in mind that a lot of professionals were consulted before it came to be?
Government supposed to be a continuum. Of course, we had a stable government during this democracy unlike the military era.The problem we had is in that of individual’s interest. Somebody, somewhere wishes to be known and just put rules that will favour him or her, that is what is causing the inconsistency. Government is different from individuals working for government. That is the problem we have in the country. Again our laws do not prescribe consequences for defaults. The government itself meant well but the some people operating the government is the problem. That is what is happening there.

We thought professional bodies were involved in drafting the code?
Yes, there are professionals but it is not all the time that you have professionals handling some of these things. Somebody somewhere has interest and at the end of the day what is taken may not be the product of such committee. There is no reason why what you did last year should not be consistent with what we should do this year. In summary, it is just because our people do not love the nation. If they do, you don’t need to be a foundation member of an event, you can contribute your own quota and build on what someone has started.

What impacts have these made in the construction industry with the recurring incidences building collapse?
Coming to building collapse, clearly will you see quacks both in engineering and architecture in Nigeria, because it is very difficult to track down professionals. Any body can wake up today and said I am a journalist without going to the school of journalism.

Anybody can pick up a textbook and said I am a medical doctor and so any body can come out of the University and said I am an architect. So there is confusion all over the places. Those buildings that you can see that have collapsed, scarcely will you see any architect involved in them because we really try architects that err or participate in building collapse. We have independent panel of architects, checking those that are to practice. We also have a tribunal that was set up by the Chief Justice of the Federation and once you are found guilty depending on your misconduct, your licence may be withdrawn and you may be barred for some years, depending on the penalty. It is like a court and you name will be gazzetted and people will see it in Nigeria. So, most buildings that are collapsing in Nigeria today is not really for professional negligence. There are quacks, which have infiltrated the industry not in our industry alone, in medicine, architecture and in all areas of our lives.

There are laws but nobody backs them, no implementations, no consequence, indiscipline is at the root of these things. For example, at Ita-Faaji, where the building collapsed recently, you discovered that these buildings have been there for over 100 years. They have been in bricks and some developers, who want to make money, start adding on top of the buildings loads that the foundation cannot sustain. So, we have been told that the place has been marked for urbanisation. Urbanisation means there is a life span for human beings and buildings but would they keep with these in Nigeria, No. They kept on putting in more floors on top of buildings that when it gets to about 99 years, the building will be so weak and if you put another one, it will collapsed.

So naturally when you said that the place is due for urbanisation, they supposed to demolish the buildings and start afresh. That happened in those days when I was in civil service. We demolished buildings when some of them are sinking. Then, we divide the place into two, the money we got from those that had money, we are able to build for high renters. We had a partition wall, where we built low cost housing, the money we are able to make from the places that are high rise, we used for low cost for the poor. There are still there. We did the same thing at Oluwole; we took them to Ogba in those days. This thing should have been a continuous process because the pressure is so much. In some areas with high intensity like Ajegunle, Ogba, Ajangbadi area, they should build low cost housing for the people and if they are not able to access these buildings, they should be sent to the villages.

You mentioned the issue of quacks; my understanding is that quacks are people that are not registered by professionals’ bodies. Is it true?
No. It is people that are not trained. But it is said in some quarters that if one is trained but not registered, you are still a quack, how true is it?
I agree with you. Yes.

We have some architects that had gone to school but are not registered by ARCON. Why the delay? Will it not be encouraging quackery?
You will not say because you want to discourage quackery and go and put somebody who have not gone to college of medicine and acquire certification to be a medical doctor because you want to prevent people from dying. It does not work in any part of the world. So it is either you certify the laid down education, rules and regulations that is the only time you could be registered. This is where sentiments have put us in this country, because you think there is scarcity, therefore you can just register anybody to become an architect, you lowered the marks, it means you are producing half baked architects.

So, if they are able to do what people like us are able to do and they passed their examinations, nobody will say they will not be registered. In fact, we have created windows for them, those whose schools were not accredited, it is not their fault for many years, and it is the fault of lecturers. I personally led that group before I became president to ensure that they are all registered, they are almost 300 of them. So, I will not buy to anybody’s blackmail to say you are out of school for ten years and yet not able to do the examinations and the programme, yet, you are saying you are not allowed to practice. I don’t think in journalism, you will take that.

Recently, some architects have expressed concern on the issue of BSC – HND dichotomy, even a protest was staged. What is your take on that?
Yes, they are in court, I am not supposed to comment on that. All I can say is that we are in the process to ensure that they do the needful and be registered. Let me also tell you that there is a difference between HND holders and HND with additional professionals qualifications. There is a procedure when you have HND, you are to do your Professional Practice Examination (PPE) and get registered. But people terminate in HND. There is nowhere HND will be equivalent to Masters in architecture, or Masters in journalism will be equivalent to School Certificate. So we should have a standard. We are developing; it is only that they are not registered. Anyone that has HND of course cannot be registered as architects, it can only be registered as a technologist, he is a draftsman but anybody, who have gone to do the Professional Practice Examination PPE or Professional Practice Programme, of course, he is going to be registered. Some have been registered. Some have even rose to the level of vice presidents of Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA). So things are changing.

Some have claimed to have gone through the examinations like PPE but are still not registered and therefore cannot practice as professionals?
Are you able to see their papers that it is true that they have passed the examinations? If they have the papers today, my doors are open. I am less than one year in office, If I said I was able to clear about 300 cases in less than one year old in office, you will know that I am serious about that.

But many architects were pointing accusing fingers to ARCON for their inability to practice. How true is that?
ARCON has three responsibilities. Number one, to raise the standards of architectural education in Nigeria empowered by the Federal Government. Number 2, to manage and regulate the practice of architecture in Nigeria, Number three, to register people and give them licence to practice architecture those are three major things. So if they are found wanting, you cannot be registered. If today because someone said he is frustrated and along the line you said, he should be registered. I take an exception for that. But we have said that those people, who are able to passed the examinations after HND, will be registered soon. We all know what HND means in this country; don’t let us put sentiment to it.

In Asia, you have the middle level manpower, you have the HND working and they have more money than those that are even practicing why? They take what they have. They made use of what they have. But in Nigeria, we are certificate crazy. Unless, we become an architect or wait for ten years, you don’t want to do something else. It is not compulsory to be registered; you can still be a technician and still make it more than a registered architect. But that does not mean we should bend the rules because somebody is kind. The least is that we should do the needful. This is my position. I can tell you that those that have passed the examination and have certificates, they are going to be considered. Nigeria, every body wants to start its own.

As a member of investigative panel for the recent building collapse in the University of Lagos, what are your findings ?
I was just a member of the four-man panel and we have submitted the report to the chairman in council. I can tell you that nobody was favoured and we did a thorough job. The report has been taken to the council for actions with far reaching findings and recommendations, which I do not feel is right to disclose now to avoid embarrassment.


In this article:
ARCONDipo Ajayi
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