Wednesday, 29th November 2023

‘Govt should implement facility management in public buildings’

By Victor Gbonegun
12 June 2023   |   4:05 am
The spirit of this Order is to ensure government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) establish maintenance departments to make public buildings efficient and conducive workplaces, as well as encourage purchase of necessary equipment for their maintenance.

Lekan Akinwunmi

Lekan Akinwunmi is an estate surveyor and valuer, as well as President, International Facility Management Association (IFMA), Nigeria Chapter. He spoke to VICTOR GBONEGUN on facilities management and stakeholders’ expectations from the new administration, ways to revamp the real estate industry and mitigate fire outbreaks in buildings.

The Executive Order 11 on the maintenance of national public buildings was signed last year. What has been the impact, role of the facility managers and association in this?
The spirit of this Order is to ensure government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) establish maintenance departments to make public buildings efficient and conducive workplaces, as well as encourage purchase of necessary equipment for their maintenance.

The order is putting our public buildings in functional state, as many of our heritage buildings have lost their significance due to poor or absolute non-maintenance. Buildings don’t only warehouse people; they must look appealing and functional, comfortable to work within and out, and provide conducive ambers to ensure optimal performance.

We have begun to see changes in a few of the Federal Secretariats across the six geopolitical zones, as the government engaged facility managers to manage them in a professional way. The facility manager’s role is to plan the maintenance, cleaning, security and janitorial of these buildings and ensure safety precautions for users. We need to ensure optimal use of government properties, which is just a function of space management, as many of them are wasting away.

At the creation of this order, our association and two of our past presidents participated in the drafting of the bill, thus the operation is just in its embryo. Perhaps, with the new administration, the order would be fully implemented, which would generate millions of jobs across the geopolitical zones.

Our association will continue to encourage practitioners to keep to standard and not to turn the space to all comers’ affairs because we are talking about national wealth that needs to be guarded jealously. We encourage training and retraining of personnel, as well as innovations on a daily basis.

What innovation does Nigeria need to incorporate into facility management? Does your association have an agenda for the incoming administration that would ensure growth in the industry?
The art of Facility Management (FM) is wide; it cuts across every sector, including tourism, education, healthcare, transportation (water, road, and air), industrial, commercial, residential, agriculture and security. We have been advocating that FM should be part of the planning of any infrastructural development; it should not be after the development has taken place. While other professionals are looking at the feasibility, we are checking the art of sustainability.

Under this new administration, we will like the government to pay attention to facility management in the country. We can manage public infrastructure across the country, as we are a multi-disciplinary profession.

FM is one sector that creates more employment and as large as government infrastructure is, not to mention the private sector as well, it creates room for artisans, cleaners, caterers and others to be engaged, which trickles down to the society.

There should also be an overhaul of the power sector, there are issues of over billing, even in the contract, you have an instance where a tenant acquires a meter in his name without the landlord’s consent, but later passes the debt to the landlord, which is not part of the contract.

So, beyond the power supply, the government should have a policy or mechanism that tackles the teething problems that create rifts between facility managers and occupiers, by extension, landlords.

FM should be recognised and adopted in every level of government to ensure the sustainability of the infrastructure, while the government should pay keen attention to our technical colleges, which are the foundation for technicians. This will stop importation of artisans from neighbouring countries.

I believe that outsourcing of FM will ensure our public buildings perform optimally, while the staff should focus on the core of their schedule. This could be extended to other public buildings, including the gateways.

Junior schools should have basic knowledge of facility management through their syllabus; this would create interest in maintenance culture and discipline. Government should invest heavily in infrastructure; so, it should have control over the management, which will be the rallying point.

The FM units in MDAs should be full-fledged departments. Till now, we don’t have the Facility Management Act and the government could allow this to dovetail to the Executive Order 11, and ensure that the Act is professionally minded to meet the international best practice.

Experts are canvassing the adoption of high-rise development in cities to maximise available lands. With frequent building collapses, how can we guarantee fire safety in such developments?
It is true that in some cities, especially in Lagos, land is scarce and the rate of urban growth is at a hyper rate. Land reclamation is happening on a daily basis and government organs must be ready to supervise and enforce the laws. Due recognition should be given to registered professionals in the built environment, from the design stage to the final occupation.

Enforcement of town/urban planning laws is key to the realisation of high-rise buildings. The route to the building is important because, most times, fire service personnel cannot access the buildings. The way and manner our so-called estates are designed, especially on the road network, are of great concern.

There also must be a standard assessment by the fire service and safety commission, as well as fire-fighting equipment. The fire service can decentralise their offices to be closer to people. There are various fire-fighting substances that can be installed in buildings and the occupants must be trained on the available equipment, while the state fire service should inspect and guide residents on the installation of these equipment.

Government should look at the cost of approval that could tempt people to cut corners, just as punitive measures for heretic staff should be motivation for the good staff.

Flooding and fire outbreaks in the building and construction sector have been on the increase in some cities. What should the government do for victims to mitigate these shocks?
The cure for flooding begins with the approval of the site, many buildings are obstructing the waterways and the government has to be up and doing in enforcing the planning laws and carrying out public advocacy.

People’s concerns should not be dismissed, as the effect cuts across social status, which will cost the government more than preventing the occurrence. One thing people do not realise is that any flood-prone area is devalued.

Our cities should be well drained to allow easy flow of water into the ocean, but our attitude towards our drainages is of concern. Many of our waste ends up in the canals and drainages and so, people should be encouraged to recycle their waste, especially the solid waste.

Our urban management should be practical, not just on paper. As the population increases, the management of our space should be technologically driven, while the focus should be on our riverbanks. Nature should not be disrupted and there must be a plan for replacement.

Urban management should be inclusive; all relevant professionals should be engaged and involved, while standard materials should be adequately used to mitigate the effect.

Fire outbreaks can be checkmated from the installation stage by procuring the right materials for wiring our buildings and letting professionals assess the load and use before procurement. There are several substandard building materials in the market, this is where Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) should be up and doing; this is also where our role as facility managers come to play. The occupants need to be properly sensitised to put off all electrical appliances after the close of office and in their living houses, they should not forget to put off power when the power supply is switched off.

Avoid overloading your extension box; you must service your fire extinguishers regularly, conduct a routine check on your electrical wires, be conscious of storage of flammable products, keep your surroundings clean of any naked light, and especially in your kitchen. The fire service should create a programme or awareness to educate the citizens about fire prevention. Finally, people should insure their property against fire outbreaks.

Despite existing laws that create roles for facility managers in the real estate sector, professional facility management and practice are still low in Nigeria after several decades. What are the issues and what should be done?
I mentioned earlier that there is no regulatory law on FM, but individuals belong to different professions that are regulated by Act. We have to be further trained beyond our primary profession to meet international best practices. This is one area that we need to come together to ensure a unified body that will be locally acceptable and function properly as a professional body.

You are right that we are not where we ought to be. International Facility Management Association (IFMA) is 26 years old in Nigeria and we are trying our best to ensure FM gets real attention. We encourage training locally and internationally, as well as engaging in advocacy in schools, especially in technical colleges and providing jobs to them on graduation.

The acceptability in various cadres is also a challenge; many considered us to be spenders, but indirectly they are the spenders. To ensure proper functionality, you don’t ignore maintenance. FM service is a thankless one, people remember you when the facilities are not properly functioning and are dissatisfied when they are unable to enjoy the facilities.

The management gives facility managers a tough time before approving their budget, as if they are spending the money for personal purposes. The truth is without proper operations and maintenance, the business and the environment will be unsafe and unappealing.

The management should look beyond the cost, the benefit and the operation of the business is important. We are advocating within the government circle and private sector our acceptability, having collaborations in various sectors. The stakeholders are coming together as one formidable team, which will be helpful to the profession. I think we are making a significant impact and people are being engaged in various areas of FM, which is a plus for the industry. We are formidable in terms of domesticating the principle of FM at all levels.

There are some states that have created Office for Facility Management. This has impacted on their various infrastructure… you can compare their facilities with other states that are FM friendly.

Construction inventory dropped significantly in the supply of residential, retail and commercial offices due to the poor state of the economy and other socio-political factors. How can the industry be revamped?
In general, the world economy is challenged, but we should look beyond the economy. What is the system in place to mitigate the impact? If you are unable to collect your payment as at when due, inflation will erode the value of the money, which will affect purchasing power.

People finance construction with their personal money, through cooperatives or family help. There is little these can go; we need a pool of funds to finance housing construction in the industry.

One of the key organs to make the industry active is a good mortgage system. Our mortgage industry is not friendly, but we need a mortgage system that could allow any citizen to access the fund to build or buy; our various housing policies should be revisited and properly executed and interest rates should be reviewed.

Currently, the construction industry cannot be funded with commercial bank funds; the gestation period is not like cash and carry business. Any developer relying on the commercial bank would put buyers under the financial burden. The development bank should rise to the occasion. The pension fund could be invested in this area; the fund should not just be locked up. With sincerity of purpose, they would get a better deal.

We should also encourage the use of local content; our research institutes should work to reduce dependency on imported building materials, which is being influenced by foreign exchange.

In general, our economy should move away from mono-products, there should be diversification to improve the economy, which will rub off on the citizens.

Experts have listed inadequate budgetary allocation and inadequate skilled professionals among factors hindering facility management development in the country. How do we tackle these challenges?
In a stable economy, you can have an adequate budget for FM, but it is difficult to make an accurate budget; the market prices change per hour. At the beginning of last year, we were operating with the budget of N500 per litre of diesel. Two months into the year diesel prices rose to N800, which made managers review their budgets.

The budget would only be adequate when the economy is stable; that is why as a facility manager, we have to be strategic in planning and researching alternatives, such as alternative energy.

The market dynamic will always affect the budgetary allocation, and lack of understanding from the approving authority also creates problems. That’s why the management must take time to understand the working of the facility manager before cutting down their budgets. For the public building, the budget should be prepared to achieve near perfection by the relevant authorities. The private sector should know that the functionality of the facility is what makes the business thrive. The facility manager should take them through the budget before scaling down.

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