Indigenous engineers must develop capacity for projects, says Ogunmola
Mr. Olutosin Ogunmola is the Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Ikeja branch. He spoke with VICTOR GBONEGUN on how to bridge infrastructure gap and deploy engineering for national development. He also touched on challenges of carbon emissions and benefits of building information modeling in construction sector.
Despite the signing into law of Executive Order 5, participation of indigenous engineers in projects has remained low, what do you think is responsible for this and how can local engineers contribute to national development?
We must realise that Rome was not built in a day. In terms of the low participation, we have to grow overtime and the next thing we must work at is capacity building. Indigenous engineer must develop capacity for recognition in projects and building capacity comes in various forms: financing, equipment and skills.
There must be a framework where commercial banks will need to support engineers. If we do not have policy somersaults, government must remain consistent in supporting Nigerian engineers and advancing what Executive Order 5 stands for so that we can see results in years to come. Engineers need to work on themselves, go beyond engaging in a job just to pay bills, be conscious of growth and development, and liaise with government and financial institutions to compete globally. It is not correct for engineering professionals to compromise standards to advance national development. Standards and quality make most Nigerians to prefer foreign products than the local.
The major aim of engineering is to identify problems and proffer solutions, and so, it is the soul of national development; you can only talk of development in terms of engineering. It is only when engineering plays its role that Nigeria can get ahead. It has a wide spectrum from conception to design, procurement, construction, operation and maintenance.
Nigerian engineers have over the years, played role in operations and maintenance, it’s for engineers now to up their games and influence national development.
They need to come together with those in the universities, the field and evolve a framework of development where they can translate research and development and make contributions across the different parts of the spectrum of the profession.
Nigeria can’t get ahead without engineering, the government and citizens must begin to recognise the role of engineering. The nation must understand how engineering education flow to practice and developmental direction.
Experts have expressed worries on the capacity of engineering graduates to compete with other young professionals. Why do we have this challenge and what is the way forward?
It has been a general challenge and not limited to engineering, it is the drop in the quality of our educational system over the years. Peculiar to engineering is the gap we had over time between the academia and the industry. We have seen a situation whereby in other professions, they have been able to introduce house-manship for like a year to undertake practical examples of what they have learnt in the university.
Engineering created the industrial training framework and has been driven by government through the ITF but over time we have seen a situation where the industry has not been forthcoming and we see situation where students we continue to look for places to undertake their IT and sometimes you see some of them ending up in irrelevant organisations. We have a lot of obsolete equipment in the school laboratories and the industries are not favourably disposed to giving opportunity to students to have practical trainings.
Stakeholders must involve more of collaborative framework. The Nigerian Society of Engineers, Ikeja branch, has been working with the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria, the National Youth Service Corp and others, trying to grow the network of engineering organisations as partners so that when we have a pool of them, we can request for engineering graduates and they would be exposed for a year to the right practical experience in organisations.
There is also the need to collaborate with Industrial Training Fund to strengthen industrial framework and ensures that companies can expose students to the reality of the field.
Limited funding is hampering Nigeria’s infrastructure gap. What new options can authorities deploy to mitigate the challenge?
The infrastructure deficit of Nigeria is estimated at about $3 trillion, whereas, on yearly basis, we are spending just about three per cent of yearly gross domestic product. So we will talk about spending about $20 billion on infrastructure yearly to fill a $3 trillion gap.
It is for government to take bold steps around financing infrastructure through public-private partnerships. The idea of IFRACORP is a direction to go but as much as the government is at the driver seat, we must have private players. They will now need the confidence, the insurance and guarantee that inconsistent policy will not negatively impact their investment. Nigeria can’t continue to build infrastructure by paying loans. We must come up a functional socialist/capitalist framework and market driven economy in which investors’ confidence is build at low risk to drive more investment.
What innovations and idea are you introducing in the engineering profession and how do plan to mentor young engineers?
The branch has a rich heritage with foremost engineers leading the branch and so when we came in, it was a case of stepping into big shoes. We have been working on a number of initiatives, building an engineering resource centre nearing 75 per cent completion and the focus is to house an engineering innovation hub for incubation and product development.
It involves building on the past initiatives such as, bringing in secondary schools students, university undergraduates, graduates and practising engineers to come up with projects that has capacity to grow from their raw stage to becoming commercially viable. When they bring it, we showcase. We are looking at ways of collaborating with universities and polytechnics to convert project prototypes to what companies can adopt.
We are working on infrastructure score cards in politics and have picked Lagos State as a catchment area. The branch has worked on preliminary report on Lagos engineering index and infrastructure scorecard.
Our goal is to work with other branches in the state to develop the full report by next year. We believe that this will guide government in budgeting and identification of key areas of focus for infrastructure development.
There is also the development of engineering resource portal for projection of member’s profiles for easy access by employers of labour. Aside the issue of school, industry collaboration, we have taken mentorship seriously, and so, we have a mentorship platform named after one of our past leaders and a framework has been developed along whereby members who are willing to mentor are been matched with mentees. We have matched participants based on their fields of study, career development interest as well as match senior engineers with young ones. The branch is working hard to strengthen the framework and drive values from it.
Nigeria is still grappling with the issue of electricity 60 years after independence, what are the challenges in adopting alternative energy supply? How do we solve the power challenge?
One fundamental thing is the issue of capacity. What volume of investment ratio will get us a substantial level of power to drive the economy? The issue of power can be addressed; it is only for us to rise up to the occasion. We must talk about full privatisation, what we currently have now is pseudo privatisation and we won’t get anywhere with it. Firstly, we have a situation where privatised companies have coverage areas and has such consumers do not have choices. It makes service providers feel that no matter how bad they perform, the consumer can’t move elsewhere. It limits the incentive to do well. The current framework, is also limiting the capacity of the distribution companies to perform effectively. It will surprise you to know that every single kobo that goes to the distribution companies does not get to them directly. It goes to a pull where the generating company take their, the same for transmission company and at the end of the day what come back to them from what the Distribution companies generate is not up to 5 per cent and doesn’t get to them until after two months.
We also need grid portfolio diversification because government cannot afford to leave power alone in the hand of private operators due to its importance and there is need to decentralised the grid power system, talk of more mini-grids and remove policy bottlenecks. After this we can begin to talk more of renewable energy for residential purposes and industry. We must approach issue of power holistically with sincerity of purpose.
With the threat of climate change and resource depletion, achieving net-zero carbon emissions are high on the agenda. How best can Nigeria toe this line?
The best way for Nigeria is to become interested in best practice that is adopted globally. By that, I will refer to the carbon credit framework. We need to strengthen the carbon credit framework to de-incentivise carbon emissions. Organisations should begin to see the limit of carbon they can emit and that will serve as a source of revenue to the government. By doing that organisations would be forced to deploy initiatives that limit carbon emissions. Starting from now, the Nigerian government must utilise the carbon credit framework to ensure that companies can have the incentive to reduce carbon emissions.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers is adopting Building Information Modeling by using civil 3-D, Infra-works and BIM-360. What are the benefits of this new concept? Has it reduced construction risk?
It is part of the innovative evolution of the engineering profession. It speaks to two things; project cost because you are able to have the models before committing to physical development. You are able to come up with the model of what you want and at the end of the day; it reduces wastes in construction and project management. It also speaks to the issue of project failure as the risk of collapse is minimised, improve safety and quality of work. Above all it reduces construction risks.