‘Executive order 5 not backed by law, can’t be enforced’
Mr. Ajibade Oke is the president, Association of Consulting Engineers of Nigeria (ACEN) and fellow of the Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE). He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on how activities of quacks have worsened building collapse and non-patronage of indigenous engineers. He harps on the need to improve the capacity of engineering graduates.
Engineers have described lack of support and patronage from government at all levels as having a negative impact on their practice. Do you still have such a problem? How has it impacted the quality of engineers in Nigeria?
Lack of support, patronage and encouragement still persist in the profession, although some improvements are noticed, especially with the Federal Government. To have the desired impact, there must be a systemic approach.
The government must know that they are not just bringing up the engineers; they are also developing the country. Engineering is development and no nation wants to develop another nation. They will hold on to the string. Unfortunately, the major spenders on technology are governments. This makes engineering unattractive. Graduates of engineering are making waves in other professions.
Quackery and building collapse are major issues affecting the construction and building sector in the country. What is ACEN doing to eradicate quacks and tame the menace of building collapse?
Quackery and building collapse are closely related. A mechanical engineer who designs and supervises civil work is a quack. In Nigeria, the situation is worse.
People with no formal education and apprenticeship are trusted with building construction generally without designs. Where there are designs, they even disregard the specifications. Association of Consulting Engineers of Nigeria (ACEN) is collaborating with Council for Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) and relevant branches of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) to arrest the menace.
The problem is deep; it is a systemic issue stemming from ignorance, greed and lack of awareness of the inherent dangers of cutting corners. The system includes the approving, supervising and enforcing authorities. The general public needs education. ACEN has started doing this.
One of the reasons Executive Order 5 was initiated is to ensure that Nigerian professionals don’t depend on expatriates. How has the policy addressed challenges faced by local engineers in job procurement?
Executive order 5 is fantastic, but it is not enforceable as there are no laws backing it. Other tiers of governments are not bound by it. Even the Federal Government is not enforcing it. The benefits are tremendous but can only be harnessed if there are laws backing it. The private sector will then be forced to comply.
There have been concerns on the competence of graduates of engineering. What is your assessment of the standards, how do we improve them? What are ACEN’s plans to boost graduates’ capacity?
The major issue is that the technology used for teaching is not in tune with worldwide stride. This throws out another issue, which is funding of education. Apart from formal education, competency comes with practice.
If the facilities to practice are impaired, how can the new engineers acquire competence? Our engineering graduates are the toast of industries outside the country. ACEN has an endowment fund set up to help in addressing some of the issues affecting skills, competencies and proper mentoring of engineering graduates.
For instance, I know that COREN is looking into the engineering curriculum in our tertiary institutions. COREN, ACEN and other engineering stakeholders are collaborating on the improvement of engineering skills and competencies.
How has ACEN championed an innovation-driven society and contributed to the development of engineering education?
ACEN has a School for Consulting Engineering through which engineers, especially consulting engineers, are trained in the theories and practices of engineering. We had a four-day training on the use of International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) books of contracts. We package in-house training of engineers in government and private establishments. We talk to governments.
We also advocate in the news media and publish an educative magazine three times in a year on themes that are relevant and trending in the engineering field. We hold a quarterly business evening at different locations in the country to discuss engineering issues and talk with government officials and other stakeholders. Our extraordinary general meeting and yearly general meetings address contemporary engineering issues. We always have government officials and other members of the built industry in attendance.
Through our endowment fund, we plan to reach out to engineering students and young engineers. We mentor young engineers through FIDIC’s Engineering Future Leaders.
Nigeria’s economy depends on how well the country’s infrastructural development is sustained. How do we address challenges of engineering development in the country?
Nigeria makes some advancement in infrastructure, but the pace is too slow, when we compare ourselves with other nations that were at par with us at independence. For instance, we have no business with power failure. We have allowed too many issues to weigh us down mainly because we have too much sympathy with mediocrity.
The gap between our contemporary nations and us is too wide. The only way to ensure the gap is reduced is for us to focus on technology, which also implies looking inward and relying on our engineers, technologists, craftsmen and artisans. Nations are selfish, and they will keep other nations perpetually behind if they can.
Most engineering projects in Nigeria require huge sums of money in funding, which has led to several-abandoned projects. How can the government reverse the trend?
Nigeria has huge amounts of money, but we must reduce corruption to the barest minimum. We must strictly enforce our laws. Motorcyclists and transport drivers disobey the laws with impunity. This cascades to people at the top and possibly vice versa.
I believe Nigerians are not difficult to govern. The War Against Indiscipline (WAI) episode was a testimony. If what we have now is properly engaged, we have enough to move the nation forward.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.