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Engineering not rightly applied to developmental efforts, says Rabiu

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COREN President, Ali Alimasuya Rabiu


Ali Alimasuya Rabiu is the president, Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN). In this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, he spoke on the importance of manpower survey for engineers, menace of building collapse and the benefits of patronising indigenous practitioners in the construction industry.
There are concerns over the quality of works by Nigerian Engineers. What measures should be taken against engineers or firms who do shoddy jobs in the country?
Unfortunately, we in COREN have different opinion on this. The truth is that government is the biggest spender in this country. The Federal and State Governments’ investments in infrastructure, are in the region of N50 trillion and the large chunk of this goes to foreign contractors. This is no fault of the indigenous practitioners. Consider a situation, where the roads and railways contract amounting to about 80per cent of the capital budget is presently going to China in form of loan financing and the protocols of the loans require that design be done overseas, including majority of the constituents.

If there are concerns about the quality of works, which works? On measures to be taken against engineers who do shoddy works, we have mechanisms for dealing with such occurrences but they have to be brought to our knowledge before we can take action.

We have an engineering investigating panel, which would investigate to establish any culpability on the side of the engineers or firms. Thereafter, it would present its recommendations to the registrar, who would pass it on to the COREN president. Those with prima fasciae cases are made to appear before the Engineering Disciplinary Tribunal, where they are tried and appropriate sanctions meted.

At this juncture, I want to commend those in the Nigerian private sectors for their confidence in the ability of the local manpower. Nigerian private sector in its quest to cut wastage prefers to engage indigenous practitioners in their design, construction and rehabilitation projects. Our engineers have engagement, mostly with the private sector, particularly in the manufacturing sector. The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) is not complaining about the quality of their practice and delivery.

There were plans in the past for manpower survey for Engineers in the country. What is the situation now? Is it still feasible? What are the key roles of the proposed bureau for engineering manpower?
COREN and ACEN in 2013 commissioned a survey of the Nigerian engineering manpower. The objective was to ensure we create a database that will reveal the numerical strength of engineers in the country in relation to the population and needs of the society, which is necessary for planning.

The survey is still feasible as it will assist professional and regulatory bodies track basic information, such as those in practice but not registered. The first draft report has been submitted and presently being reviewed. As an early take away from the survey, I want to confirm that engineering, as a profession is rightly not applied to our developmental efforts in Nigeria.

Directly connected to this is the fact that the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) is presently involved in engineering manpower survey, engineering manpower compensation survey, impact of technology trending and innovation as well as engineering manpower inventory and directory.

While it is the responsibility of government to plan and determine manpower needs of the country, but as a professional association, the NSE is properly positioned to provide the data. The data will assist government to sponsor STEM programmes, including appropriate requirements of all cadres of engineering such as technologists, technicians and craftsmen for engineering activities.

By COREN records, we have about 50,000 engineers who are in 25 different practice registers. This number is very small compared to the country’s population. Yet, these engineers are not patronised or allowed to participate in the various developmental programmes of government. The present administration has given us Executive Order Five, which if applied will encourage the participation of indigenous professionals and help to build capacity. COREN will support any effort that will lead to the establishment of manpower bureau in this country, since it will create a platform for easy engagement of qualified professionals across board.

Building collapse seems to have come to stay in Nigeria. What is fuelling the menace? What role should engineers play to reduce the menace?
I do not agree that building collapse has come to stay in Nigeria. While it is true that the country in the past had experienced some cases, but the incidence of building collapse has seriously reduced as people are now wiser. They now want to protect their investment by engaging qualified professionals for their building projects. The experience in the past is a situation, where everybody wants to build and in most cases they want to cut ‘corners’ by not engaging relevant professionals and the use of sub-standard materials.

This menace can be reduced and even totally checkmated, if concerted efforts are put in place by key stakeholders toward the uplift of structural safety, material standards, effective supervision of design and construction, adherence to codes of practice and detailed geotechnical investigations amongst others.

However, the curve is seriously flattening and we hope it goes to zero very soon. COREN is also ready to sanction any engineering practitioner found wanting; hence, we have through the structural division of the NSE increased the advocacy to the public and private sector players to always engage indigenous engineers. While, engineers are warned to practice only in the regime of their COREN license.

Experts in the built environment have raised concerns quality of engineering graduates from the nation’s higher institutions. How is COREN changing this narrative?
Engineering practice is about age and experience. COREN will advise that for any service engagement the client should review the resume of the prospective engineer to be engaged.

The capacity of the professional improves with age of practice. If you do not practice regularly, you definitely cannot excel as it is said that practice makes perfect. That is why we are always calling upon our governments at all levels to patronise our indigenous professionals as a way of contributing to building their capacities.

COREN registrants are also encouraged to always build on their capacities by attending workshops and conferences. Very soon, the issuance of COREN practice license will be based on the submission of verifiable list of relevant workshops and conferences attended. In addition to this, COREN is looking at current challenges and limitations to Nigeria Engineering education with a view to transiting from the present traditional approach to the Outcome Based approach, which is now what is obtainable globally.

To compete in a global economy of the 21st century society, Nigeria requires an engineering workforce that: can solve problems; is creative; has above -average communication skills; is flexible and can work interactively, amongst others. These are some of the missing links that the outcome-based engineering education seeks to address. We are in the process of sensitisation and meeting with relevant stakeholders on the imperative of embracing this new approach, and we are making good progress.

There are plans to establish an infrastructure company, which will be public- private sector driven known as infraco? Is this ideal at this period? Do you want engineers to play specific roles in this?
I would say that the proposed infrastructure company otherwise known as Infraco is a right step in the right direction and it’s the way to go now. But all levels of government must be involved. Most of the Chinese companies you find around are creations of both private and public from their home country.

Government should as a matter of urgency hasten the inauguration of the infrastructural company and allow the exportation of their capacity to other neighbouring countries.

Government should be the backbone by way of funding and guarantee for the group. While, engineers by their number and various areas of engagement should be made to lead.

Professional cohesion in the built environment is still a problem. What do you consider as the way out?
It is not easy to get cohesion in an atmosphere of corruption. People who are corrupt will want to work with their cohorts. However, at this critical time of our national development, I believe we all need one another to succeed in the discharge of our professional responsibilities. All professionals in the built environment must come to terms with this and form a united front, if the challenges confronting us are to be surmounted on a sustainable basis. The quest for relevance and dominance by some professions within the built environment has led to some misunderstanding in the past but it is time now for the regulatory bodies in the built environment to correct that.

How has your tenure impacted the engineering profession?
Let me first state that I inherited a COREN with a new law following the amendment of the law establishing the council. We now have a COREN that is regulating engineering practice in both private and public sectors. The composition of the council has increased with the inclusion of representatives of Federation of Construction Industry (FOCI), MAN and the military. The amendment has made it criminal to practice engineering as a personnel or firm without COREN license, particularly make it a criminal offence to prevent COREN and its agents from entering any site, where engineering is being practiced.

My administration has therefore been able to leverage this new law to inaugurate a new Department of Engineering Regulation and Monitoring. The department is charged with the duty of enforcing all the regulations enacted by the council and ensuring that engineering is practiced in Nigeria in accordance with relevant codes and standards.

COREN is presently working on the review of the engineering curriculum of our universities to outcome based as I earlier mentioned, in the quest to become a member of the Washington Accord of the International Engineering Alliance (IEA). This will grant mobility to our engineers such that they can practice in any of the member countries of the alliance without going through the rigours of licensing in those countries.

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In this article:
Ali Alimasuya RabiuCOREN
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