‘Government is not serious about curbing high construction cost’
Godwin Idoro is a professor of project management at, University of Lagos. He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on how the establishment of the Construction Industry Development Board will impact the sector. He also lists ways out of the industry woes, especially the high cost of construction, the shortfall in housing supply and project failures.
Construction experts have decried the excessive cost of building and other infrastructure projects in the country. Apart from the high cost of construction, there are also concerns about prolonged delay in project delivery and poor quality of works. What do you think are the critical challenges and the way forward?
THESE are issues that are prominent in the construction industry, are of great concern and really affecting the performance of the sector. If you talk about the high cost of construction, many factors are responsible. One is what I summarised as the Nigerian factor, which has to do with the fact that you have to settle some people. You get a contract, you have to settle some people and sometimes we have to discuss and agree on the terms possibly the percentage.
In some cases, it might be up to 50 or 60 per cent of the cost. In some fair cases, after you might have prepared your bid or cost, you now expected to add that and so the result, of course, is high cost. People feel that the industry is just the easiest way to make money, particularly politicians. When you speak with contractors, they would tell you that it is the most serious issue responsible for the high cost of projects.
The issue of the high cost of construction materials is another factor. You really find out that prices of construction materials are on the high side when you compare them with what is obtainable in other neighbouring countries not to talk of developed countries, the prices are on the high side. You build up the cost of projects from the cost of materials. When the cost of materials is high, definitely you expect a high cost.
Delay in payment for work done by the contractors is also a factor. When you anticipate a delay in work done, you have to add a percentage for that delay because you tied down your capital and once you tied down your capital, you must have to build something to compensate for that. The inferior materials in the market is nothing to write home about.
If you go to the market and hoping to buy ordinary waste pipe, you will get almost 10 types. Even for experts in construction might find it difficult to differentiate between the genuine one and the fake pipe and the result, of course, is high cost. The fact that most of the construction materials are imported and the impact of importation of technology for construction are part of the issues that contribute to high cost. We have the experts in construction, although they might not be exposed to technology because a big chunk of technologies used in developed countries is not available in Nigeria. Even importation of experts to handle technology has impacted on the cost of construction.
We have done many types of research on the reasons for the high cost of construction; it’s just that the government is not really serious about it.
To move forward, there is a need for production of construction materials, local building products and materials, plants and equipment locally would reduce the cost of construction
How can we get transparency in the construction industry, is it possible, especially in the award of contracts? There is no transparency in the award of contract. Transparency in the construction industry will reduce the high cost of construction. Contracts are awarded on the basis of political, family and friendship affiliations. Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) is preaching transparency in the Procurement Act of 2007 but is it really possible? It is not. But not until we are transparent in all the affairs of the construction industry, the Nigeria factor cannot be removed. Transparency in the Nigerian construction industry is very difficult because of the Nigeria factor.
As a researcher, how can the academia contribute to the evolvement of policies and programmes that could enhance the built environment?
Firstly, you have to involve them and secondly, you have to make them get involved in problem-solving issues. Researches in this country are not directed towards solving practical problems. Most of the research conducted even at PhD level end up on the shelf. We are trying to put the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) together and we believed that once it is established the CIDB would really establish a synergy between the academia and the industry. The CIDB will collect the problems in the industry and provide them to the researcher to solve, develop policies, and review existing regulations.
Presently, what you have in the industry is an isolated approach to problem-solving. There is no collaboration between the professionals, the engineers, quantity surveyors and others are working on their own but once you have the CIDB, it will bring all the participants together and create a good synergy between them. It will look at the problems in the industry and formulate ways of bringing solutions to them. It will also look at innovations in the industry, develop policies for innovations in the industry and through that there would be a drastic change in the industry. It might take about six months before people would start having an impact on the board.
The shortfall in the housing sector is very huge yet authorities seem not to have shown the strong political will to address the shortfall. Why do you think achieving housing for all in line with the United Nations mandate has become so difficult in the country?
There are some categories of housing that are vacant and that can’t be occupied. The issue lies in affordable housing, providing homes for the low-income and middle-income earners. These are the category of people that lacked accommodation and the main issue is that government support has not been directed towards housing for low-income and medium-income earners. Government attention, funding and resources have been directed towards property developers who are businessmen/enterprises working for profit and so they want to maximize their profit. The property they developed is not for low-income earner or middle-income earners. Government efforts are not directed towards the provision of houses for low-income earners. That is where the problem of the housing shortage in Nigeria is. There is no housing shortage for high-income earners. The government should direct resources towards the provision of homes for low-income earners. Until that, the problem of housing will remain serious.
Nigerian construction industry has been inundated by the structural challenge of failed projects in recent times and it appears that there isn’t an end in sight to this problem. How can this be solved from the perspective of project management?
Failed projects are categorised into failed roads, collapsed buildings and the rest of them. One thing I want to point out is that the right professionals are not used in most cases. There are so many aspects, even our building regulations; there are regulations that are faulty. People are trained for specific purposes. Construction is such a wide area that requires wide knowledge and so many people are trained in all these areas to get construction right and so if you don’t engage the right professionals who are trained on the structural aspect, feasibility and others, you are bound to have a failed project. Project could be structurally defective. There are projects that have failed even from the design stage when designs are not structural good, that project is awaiting failure on the field.
There are need to take another look at our regulations, those that are engaged in the development and construction of the project. The use of inferior materials is also part of the problem and contributes a lot. When a building collapses, the whole world will hear but when a road collapses nobody will hear because the road is on the ground, the collapse of the road could just be a pothole but it is a failed project. When a building collapses, lives might be involved and everybody would care and it is also a failed project. All these could be because of the design fault use of inferior materials, construction fault particularly having to do with cutting a corner or that you have settled somebody. There are cases where people will put the asphalt directly on the surface of the ground and so how could that one last?
If we review our regulations, there are so many aspects that are defective and we should be able to control the influx of inferior materials into the market through an agency for the control of construction materials. Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON) as it deals with so many industries. Why is SON not controlling the health sector? The enormity of the problem deals with the inferiority of materials that we have in the construction industry. If we have one for the health sector, why is it impossible to also have one for the construction sector?
SON is dealing with so many industries and when you are not specialized, there is a limit to what you can do.
What is your assessment of the level of compliance with the global standard by Nigerian contractors and building managers on this?
They call it a developing country but are we actually developing? But there is no cadre below developing. The fact remains that we don’t have the capacity, which they have in the developed countries. The technology is not here. The advanced countries have better technologies that we have in Nigeria; Contractors are not really ready to embrace the technology that they have in other countries. For those of us in the academics, you find out that through Building Information Modeling (BIM), you can really see the picture of everything about a project, which you wish to construct, but the technology to even adopt the technology is not here.
We don’t teach our students on BIM because we don’t have the facility. There are so many devices that are in place to check so many things so that if there are any faults it is detected. There is proactive action on construction in the global world, there are devices that could detect errors but they are not available because we lacked the capacity and the technology. The Nigerian government is encouraging foreign contractors, why don’t they want to develop indigenous contractors? Technology is never imported but could be stolen. Having to import technology is something you can’t really achieve but when you develop the local capacity, they would get there. What we are doing now is to import foreign companies to come and work for us. When you do that you destroy the local capacity totally and no country ever develop on the basis of foreign partners. Nigeria is far behind n terms of global standard in construction and that is because we lacked the technology and the capacity.
Importing technology has its own limitations and the strength.
Some practitioners in the built industry have expressed dismay on the low quality of graduate been produced from the tertiary institutions for the built sector. Would you advocate curriculum review to rejig the situation or what is the way out?
We must not deceive ourselves because when we talk about software, we don’t even have and so the students don’t have access to it. The teachers just have to explain it and leave them because we don’t have the facility. The school we tell you there is no money, you want to do practical for the students, there is no money, want to acquire one thing or the other, there is no money. Government efforts and resources are not directed towards improving education and government is not encouraging education.
The curricular of so many programmes are reviewed from time to time based on changes especially in the University of Lagos in line with what you have in developed countries but do we have the facilities and the workshops to implement them? Sometimes you want to teach a particular subject, there are devices that showcase the whole topic to students for them to understand better but we don’t have them. It is not as if the standard of education has fallen, look at the graduates of these days, they are younger in age than graduates of the past. Sometimes, you have somebody of fifteen or sixteen years old in the university who doesn’t know the application of knowledge been impacted. In the old days, some of us went to school at over twenty years of age when you teach us, we try to look at how to apply the knowledge. Some people now want their children to be a graduate at the age of nine and when you graduate at such an age, you have only read and not really acquire the education, you cram and pour it down and that is the end.
The attitude of students again is another thing that makes people feel that the standard of education has fallen. It is not really the standard of teaching that has fallen, it is the standard of the interest, facilities and the negative attitude o students that are responsible for the so-called fall in the standard of education.
The students that I teach these days acquire more than I acquired when I was at the undergraduate level. They are given more than we were given in terms of knowledge impact. We shouldn’t also measure standard of education by the so-called spoken English. There are so many programmes that you terminate your knowledge of English at secondary school level after which all you are faced with is your discipline. Ability to speak English is not a yardstick for measuring standard of education. There are different ways of measuring standards, someone in engineering who can’t do some calculation; you might say there is fallen standard.
The standard of teaching hasn’t fallen; the quality of teachers has also improved over the years and so the rest is left for the government and the students.
What are your projections for the construction industry in Nigeria by 2020?
I see the establishment of the Construction Industry Development Board and a lot of innovations coming into the industry as well as a starting point for the change in the sector in Nigeria.